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To live and die for him

Why is a woman's universe still the man?



Even successful women, define their lives by their relationship with men

Not a single star will be left in the night.
The night will not be left.
I will die, and with me,
The weight of the intolerable universe...

Borges

WE'LL NEVER know for sure. But we guess that's probably how anyone, seconds away from downing a bottle of sleeping pills or kicking off the stool under the feet, must be feeling — universally. But what's with women that so many of them define their entire "intolerable universe" in terms of the men they live with, can't stand to live with, desperately want to love and live with... and so on?

Not statistics

No. This is not something the statistics will reveal. Though there are umpteen research papers on suicides, not many talk of why so many women do themselves in over their men. But several do put factors such as "relationship disturbances" and "marital discord" as important factor leading to suicides among women.

But a cursory glance through history and recent news stories on suicides will lead you to think that men push their women to the brink a little too often. Or, if you want to look at it from the other end, women push themselves to the brink over men a little too often. Needless to say that celebrities are only the tip of the iceberg.

Cleopatra: After the suicide of her husband-lover Marcus Antonius and spurned by the much younger Octavian, the most famous queen of Egypt killed herself rather than submit to the victorious Octavian and be displayed in his triumph.

Sylvia Plath: The celebrated poet of Ariel poems who went on to be a feminist icon after her death, locked her two children in a room and killed herself by turning on the gas of the oven. Sylvia, who had a history of depression and had attempted suicide several times, was distraught over her husband and poet Ted Hugh's affair with Assia Wevill.

Virginia Woolf: The well-known American writer whose famous works include Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and A Room of One's Own, had a history of depression and drowned herself. Though she didn't end her life for a man in the classical sense, her suicide note gives one the impression she killed herself in order to save her husband the bother of living with her. She writes: "You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be... I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work... You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good... Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer."

Kalpana: The Kannada actress had won both critical acclaim and a big fan following for films such as Belli Moda, Shara Panjara, Eradu Kanasu, and so on. Her roles on screen earned her the "tragedy queen" title, and her life seemed to catch up with her screen image. She ended her life by swallowing a diamond when the man she was waiting for (and hoped would marry her), did not turn up for the rendezvous.

Nafisa Joseph: The former Miss India, successful model, and VJ was everyone's darling — from animal lovers to fashion gurus. But Nafisa knocked everyone for a six by hanging herself. Her fiancée had, the previous day, called off the wedding following differences of opinion over his earlier marriage and divorce.

Try to, as a contrast, think of men who died for their women. Not many come to your mind, though some suicide pacts of couples might. The iconic men-lovers are known for immortalising themselves and their notions of love, rather than taking their own lives over their women. Consider a Shahjahan who immortalised himself and his love through Taj Mahal or a Devdas who, over a period of time, became obsessed with his own grief and vilayati whisky. In the eponymous Telugu film, Devdas sings: "Marapurani badhakanna madhurame ledu... " (Nothing sweeter than a sorrow that you can't forget... ).

It's striking that a good number of women who die for their men are those who have made a dent in predominantly male worlds — be it films, literature, or politics. Cleopatra, for instance, died when she was 39 and had been queen since she was 17. But then, she felt it important to master the art of seduction to woo powerful men, and in a sense, hold on to power through them.

Centuries later, we find a talented writer such as Sylvia Plath sacrificing much of her own ambitions as writer for Ted Hughes. After being married, she had spent a lot of time typing and retyping his poems, sending them out to magazines, helping him gain publication. Sylvia the poet and writer, had been overshadowed by Sylvia the wife. Much of her fame came posthumously. Consider how this woman of enormous talent felt towards herself in one of her suicidal moments: "I am afraid, I am not solid, but hollow. I feel behind my eyes a numb, paralysed cavern, a pit of hell, a mimicking nothingness, I never thought, I never wrote, I never suffered. I want to kill myself, to escape from responsibility, to crawl back abjectly into the womb."

Relationships

However successful, a good number of women seem to define themselves in terms of the relationship with their men. And are, in extreme cases, consumed by them. As if death is their last bid effort to call the attention of the man. Sara Teasdale, a poet, left a telling suicide note to her beloved in the form of a poem: When I am dead, and over me bright April/ Shakes out her rain drenched hair,/ Though you should lean above me broken hearted,/ I shall not care./ For I shall have peace./ As leafy trees are peaceful/ When rain bends down the bough./ And I shall be more silent and cold hearted/ Than you are now.

BAGESHREE S.

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