Sunday, December 30, 2007

Women Who Live

My life is strange and gets stranger. I'll get back to mine in a minute as I'm still thinking long and hard about women in power, women who die, women who may be maryters, heroes, figure heads. Women who live.

Women who may be good.

Women who may be bad.

I think about what Tallulah Bankhead said: Only good girls keep diaries, the bad girls never have the time.

I've always been a fan of old Tallulah. She was a brilliant stage actress but not worth much on film. She was also intensely notorious, maybe a lesbian, definitely a doer. She spent five hours on a hospital bed and almost died while having a hysterecotmy for advanced ghonerra. When she left the hospital they say she told the doctors "Don't think this has taught me a lesson."

She was something else.

Bhutto was not a saint, I've said this before. She was also not a devil. She was merely a woman who did what she could with the legacy she inherited. She was braver than I am, because she was willing to face her future, and near certain death very head on. While she was not perfect she was on the whole good.

Her death made me think a lot about a death that happened in 2001 that very few people noted.

But I remember that I was listening to NPR in the morning as I got ready for work and I heard about it. And I wept, probably one of only a handful of people in the US that even knew about her, who she was, what she represented.

Her name was Phoolan Devi. She was most certainly a bad girl.

The worst kind of bad girl.

She was born in India in the lowest class of society. Married at eleven, suffering the abuses and atrocities that will fall on a girl married young to someone three times her age.

Her husband eventually abandoned her, as did her family. She fell in with a group of bandits, used, and abused at first until one of the gang members stood up for her, taking over the gang through murder, and setting her as the his left hand. She couldn't be the right hand. I don't think.

She was a bandit, and a notorious one at that. When later her bandit boyfriend was assisinated, she was caught, imprisoned, and assaulted by an entire village.

And she escaped, and returned to her bandits. She found strength, amassed a small army and went back to the village and murdered most of the upper caste men whom she blamed for her imprisonment and assult. She was cruel and vicious about it.

She may not have killed anyone by her own hand but she was responsible for it. Her reasons are understandable, a woman who was suffered more abuse than any woman should have to suffer, she snapped, she was angry, and she wanted revenge.

She became known as the Bandit Queen. And later become something of a folk hero in India. After the massacre she managed to stay on the run for two more years before she finally turned herself in, surrendering on her terms, quite a remarkable thing.

She was jailed for eleven years without trial and eventually freed.

And what did she do, with her freedom, after the horrors that had been committed upon her, and the ones she had visited up others?

She ran for government, and was elected to power. She may or may not have been a good leader, but she was something.

A woman who refused to be a victim. I find that very commendable.

She said, to those who would listen, that she would die by violence, her life was steeped in violence. She accepted this.

In 2001 she was getting out of her car after arriving home and she was assassinated. I think she would have appreciated this as a vindication. She would know she was right.

And I wept anyway.

I became aware of her story through a film by Shekhar Kapur (director of Elizabeth and E: The Golden Age). He did a sort of autobiography of her life. Dramatic, accurate, blood-chilling. Devi herself condemned the film and tried to get it banned. I can understand. The film is intensely honest about her. It makes her neither a demon or a saint but shows her as a woman, who has suffered, who brings suffering, and who survives.

It was a fantastic film and I'll never watch it again because it was all too close. All too honest.

Bhutto was a woman who suffered and survived. She remained good.

Devi was a woman who suffered and survived. She balanced her good and evil but never repented for either.

Both of them refused be victims. They lived. They lived and damned the consequences.

Today, I will reflect. Tomorrow, I will live.

Damn the consequences.

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