Reading Gurjinder Basran’s Everything Was Good-bye is making me feel really sorry for my sex. I mean, I know women have struggled throughout history…to have equal pay, to work, to vote, to feel safe at home and out on the street…but, most of the time, the framework in which I have studied and read about these issues is about breaking down staunch, patriarchal institutions and the cultural beliefs that these institutions create.
This novel brings forward an entirely different issue – how patriarchal institutions and hegemony can infiltrate a women’s subconscious so much, that it causes the complete betrayal of women by other women.
The most sacred bond in a woman’s life should be the bond with her mother – but in this novel, it is the older women, the mothers, aunts, grandmothers that keep younger women in line. It is the older women that ensure that younger women are so weighed down by the expectations of tradition and culture that they are not allowed to express their true selves. The main character has to change her first name in order to be considered a good match for the rich, handsome single young man!
I keep reading…hoping that Meena will finally stand up for herself. I keep reading for the moment when she will free herself of the guilt and the responsibility that has ruled her life.
Basran shows that this betrayal is experienced in every relationship in a young woman’s life. The mothers “Bollywood-ing” up their daughters to impress the mothers of bachelor sons, the aunts spying on the girls and gossiping about their behaviour creating ghastly rumours, the young married women insulted by young unmarried women because it is not fair that they have not followed suit, a mother negotiating the return of her daughter to her extremely abusive husband, a mother beating her daughter because she was sexually harrassed by a carful of young men because she must have instigated it…the betrayal is endless.
I don’t wish for this to come across as a criticism of Punjabi culture, because it isn’t. These scenarios happen across cultures – where women are not there for other women. We are ready to criticize, condemn and outcast all too often. Even though Meena is surrounded by women she loves, most of the time she is so isolated and lonely.
I keep reading for the moment when these women unite and together help each other out of this vicious cycle that seems unbreakable and impenetrable. I don’t know that it will happen – my faith in these characters coming together supporting each other isn’t that strong. There are sporadic moments of understanding in a look, a touch, a hug…but these are meant to sustain the women in the roles that are created for them…not to encourage a break from those roles. I am so very intrigued by Meena and her story. So far, I am really enjoying this book. For those of you reading Everything Was Good-bye, what do you think about the characters and their relationships? Am I being too harsh on them? Am I relating to them with too much of a Western mentality? How are you relating to this novel?