Mariana, too, speaks (As a response to John Everett Millais’ painting entitled ‘Mariana’)

Soumi Ganguly
Soumi Ganguly

Exorcising the ghost of patriarchy once it lodges itself in one’s mind and starts feeding on it is a daunting task. Despondency hangs on my face as if it knows no other address- this is how the narrative camera desires you to think of me. The historical construction of my gender is such that the concept of sin is located in my body. Apart from conflating my identity with the construct of fallenness, how else could men have achieved their illusory supremacy? I am repulsed by how men try to write me down to feed into their internalised notion that a woman living alone has to be fallen. In my posture, it is this disgust that I offer you a peek into.

Gray and gloom are parcelled up with all narratives of me. The power relations existent in the society make the knowledge of men’s moral righteousness and women’s fallen nature available to the population through the institution of the church. Men’s discourses demarcate the world in terms of coherent binaries to create historical knowledge. Knowledge that demonises us, knowledge that persecutes us. Consequently, I am shown praying to the Virgin Mary for atonement, and the stained glass in the window reads “In coelo quies" (“In Heaven there is rest"). What feels heavy on my back is the burden of a sin I never committed. But discipline extends only to the woman's body. Here is another narrative of oppression, fetishizing and sensationalising women’s tales like it is one of men’s million prerogatives!

But I do not find myself caught up in your customary cycle of guilt and retribution. “My life is (not) dreary", I do not wait for anyone at my window. “He cometh not" because I asked him not to. Another autumn is on me, but the transition of seasons necessitates that spring, too, will visit me soon. This decaying garden, Tennyson and Millais' artistic vision, this body are not my own. What my windows overlook are a lush green landscape and a huge chestnut tree. Almost a hundred birds nestle there in their nests, chirping like the harbingers of new mornings. In the evenings, I open the windows to watch the sky change colours as if to greet me. My solitude is my own; not engendered by the arrival or departure of anyone, any man to be precise. I soak in the pleasure of being by myself, reading books, playing instruments, touring around, communicating with my friends. I had asked Millais to paint the poetry of those moments that are mine solely. But he is afraid that might be the end of his career. What does it cost a man to let a woman relish her solitude?

Yes, “I am aweary, aweary", and that had given birth in me the desire to dissociate myself from a men's world. But they still hunted me down. Like Syrinx was pursued by Pan because women’s delicate flesh is meant for sexual exploitation, these artists have been pursuing me to achieve fame and glory. Tennyson and Millais have also framed in their narratives the Lady of Shalott, a woman without a name, and still named after a spatial unit she did not belong in. White male artists tailor their narratives to suit your perception of reality. How you fall prey to them, and respond to my tale accordingly underscores the limitations of human knowledge. The mouse on the floor extends beyond the pictorial space and symbolises the worms that are feeding on your imagination. I do not know what it is you take pride in. In systemically making not just others’, but your own minds, breeding grounds of ignorance? It is only out of pity that I let Millais paint me.

My narrative, a woman’s narrative, is like the brightest star that pushes aside the lumps of grey clouds that threaten to engulf it. The taste of freedom is much like the forbidden fruit that men had asked me to not bite into, but alas! 

Another afternoon
Can we feel emotions that we have not written about, that no one has words for? I have spent many evenings looking for stars when there wasn’t any. I have taken too much time to understand what it is I want to hold on to- places, moments, things, or even people. Probably, I do not want to belong to any one thing because of which I kept on deferring the process of knowing who I am. I cannot belong to this world because I do not want to plant my roots in infertile soil. My poetry lies in a corner like linguistically estranged Southerners in my nation. I find no meaning in the charting of this world with the geometrical precision of Kandinsky's paintings. The eddies of time and space, breaking waves and welling nights know no boundary. There is no clear distinction between seasons, between the occasionally turquoise skies and the clumsy lumps of clouds.

Sultry afternoons remind me of unfinished tasks, of all the lost battles I tried to fight, of all the sentences I left unsaid. The image of something is traversing the background of my memory. Our memories are like dreams; we can never remember the beginning of them, or why they started. We can only see ourselves in the middle of the performance, like spaces between words in long sentences. Sunlight is streaming in through the gaps between the neatly drawn blinds in my room. Everything looks so empty, dipped in silence. The synthetic cold of an air-conditioned room is benumbing. It has saturated the room with the smell of death that I was never familiar with. I feel like a bird that is balked of its share of happiness. The old intimacy of the room seems unfamiliar, it has willed itself into separation.

The screens we remain glued to are so uncomfortably transparent.

Bio: Soumi Ganguly is a postgraduate in English Literature from St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Kolkata, India. She takes active interest in feminist and postmodern studies, and wishes to pursue her PhD on the same. She is the happiest when left in the company of books and her solitude. It is an inarticulate thirst for words that compels her to pen down every little emotion that she experiences. 

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