Aisa Kaha Unhone
Translated from English, “They Said” by Usha Narayan
Video: Performance by Andrea Pereira, Heidi Pereira and Katheeja Talha of Space Theatre Ensemble
You should not read thus sprawled on your stomach,
or in bed, or in dark recesses of the house, they said.
You will have to wear glasses, and then your poor parents
will have trouble finding you a husband, they said.
Anyhow, hiding in corners, her face in a book,
is no way for a girl to grow up, they said.
You should be helping your mother, and how can you possibly
be minding your brother while reading, they said.
A woman’s brain is not made for book-knowledge,
your head will heat up and explode, they said.
Your nice hair will all turn prematurely gray
and no man will want you as wife, they said.
Too much reading is bad for a woman,
makes her think she’s smarter than men, they said.
What man wants a woman who reads all day
instead of tending to the house, they said.
Books have given her these terrible ideas,
she thinks she knows more than her elders, they said.
She talks back to them, how impertinent she is,
no man would marry this shrew, they said.
Books have destroyed her respect for traditions,
have made her impious and rebellious, they said.
What sort of an upbringing will she give to her children,
what man respects a woman without piety, they said.
How many more years will she spend on her reading,
she’s getting old, its not respectable, they said.
Getting old reading, and refusing marriage,
she will end up barren with only her books, they said.
Her younger cousins are already married,
what a burden she is to her parents, they said.
They should have been stricter when she was younger,
if only she’d been a boy, they said.
I still read on my stomach
and in dark corners.
My head has not exploded,
though my hair bears some gray.
I still talk too much
and have strange ideas.
I am often impertinent
to elders and gods.
I don’t wish to be mother
to men or to children.
Men who do want me
make room for my mind.
Cloistered in my books
I just carry on
Usha Narayan is Professor of Philosophy at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Hartmann D’Souza, Director of Space Theatre Ensemble in Goa, has adapted her poetry for the stage.