In wise stories, love is seldom a romantic tryst between the lovers…
Love does not mean a flirtation or a pursuit of a simple ego pleasure but a visible bond composed of the psychic sinew of endurance, a union which prevails through bounty and austerity, through the most complicated and the most simple days and nights.
(Women Who Run With The Wolves, Ch 5, Hunting: When the Heart is a Lonely Hunter)
The above lines are taken from the book Women Who Run With The Wolves, by archetypal Jungian psychologist Clarisse Pinkola Estes. The book is a collection of legends and tales from various cultures, across various continents, collected by the author to delineate the nature of a wise, wild woman.
The Skeleton Woman is a story that is used by the author to speak about love in the life of the wild woman. She is a woman denounced by her family and murdered by her father for disobeying him. Her skeleton lies at the bottom of the ocean for a long time, until a brave fisherman from distant lands dares to venture into the waters beneath which she lies.
I am reveling in the pleasures of a realisation of how this ancient fable so deeply reflected in the central love story of the novel, The God of Small Things. With each passing day Arundhati Roy’s novel seems like an ode to the Wild Woman Archetype. And as I am indulging in these pleasures, I am learning deeply important things about myself and women in general. The latest of which is understanding the nature of love – the pure hearted, fairy-tale kind of love.
The Skeleton Woman is healed and her broken skeleton reassembled by the scared fisherman. First she haunts him with her broken-bones-self but then he embraces her out of pure goodness and kindness (Much like that of Velutha, from Roy’s novel, who is also a fisherman). She is healed by the beating drums of his heart. She goes into his body to take out the beating drums. This also resembles an art piece I had come to love once, for the instant connection I had made to it. It reminded me of someone I loved and I had shared it with him. The woman was holding onto the heart of the man. Her hand penetrated into his rib cage but did not seem to be hurting him. I had imagined that she was strengthening him. I was so wrong.
I was amazed at first by the signs of skeleton on the girl’s body like the skull decor in her hair. But now I know what it meant. She was probably the skeleton woman represented in the art, and she was not giving, but taking strength from the man and the strongest muscle in his body, that of his heart. When I looked at her with this realisation, I saw how her arm had an imprint of bones. As if the marks of being a bone, a skeleton, were slowly wearing out. She was growing muscles around her bony figure because of the passionate heart.
In the ancient story, the man has a heart that beats loud when he is scared or excited. The Skeleton Woman uses his heart’s music and sings to revive her lifeless bones. She sings out for flesh and life. As the night reaches its end, the Skeleton is reaches her Womanhood.
She then sings out for the clothes of the man to be ripped off and they lie down naked, skin to skin. Coming back to the Roy’s love story in The God of Small Things, she uses just those words, skin to skin, to describe the first physical encounter between the lovers, Velutha and Ammu. I think the words are as follows –
She went to him and laid the length of her body against his. He just stood there. He didn’t touch her. He was shivering. Partly with cold. Partly terror. Partly aching desire. Despite his fear his body was prepared to take the bait. It wanted her. Urgently. His wetness wet her. She put her arms around him.
He tried to be rational: What’s the worst thing that can happen?
I could lose everything. My job. My family. My livelihood. Everything.
She could hear the wild hammering of his heart.
She held him till it calmed down. Somewhat.
She unbuttoned her shirt. They stood there. Skin to skin.
(The God of Small Things, Ch 21, The Cost of Living)
Ammu’s character was a divorcee in a conservative society where broken marriages could not exist as an acceptable idea. Her husband tried to sell her body off to his boss, to save his source of livelihood, his job. He was a hopeless alcoholic which was threatening his career. The worst part of it all was that theirs was a love marriage. Yes, Love. Ironical isn’t it? And yet so close to reality. Women never seem to understand which man is truly perfect for them anymore.
Anyways, she was a loner in a world full of people because she was intellectually and emotionally alone. Velutha came to her rescue, with his wild passionate heart. His love was not just of the physical body but emotional in its acceptance of her, her body, her soul. He was healing her. Like the brown man in this art. Like the fisherman in the story of The Skeleton Woman. She was gaining back her womanhood, her life giving capacities, in his presence.
And then in the end, having reclaimed her womanhood back, it was time to express her gratitude. An utter surrender of herself to her saviour, a token of gratitude for his immense kindness. After all, she was but a bundle of bones tangled in itself, when he chose to love her. To disentangle her. To revive her. Coming back to life, she had to thank the one who revived her.
Which part of this togetherness can you call Love? What is love in this story?
The part where he chooses to show kindness to a bundle of bones? Bones are without any gender but love is more often than not associated with gender, especially romantic love.
Or is love the part where she is able to draw life from his wild, hammering heart. And yet not murdering him. Where the passionate heart is refueling her life with passion, passion for life itself. It is an awakened consciousness of her whole being. Bones are symbolic of the lifeless structural member of life. They need to be surrounded and fused with the soft, enduring muscles to keep the being erect and functioning. He is bringing back that life into her, like a doctor, like a healer. Is that love?
Or is it love when they finally lie down, skin to skin. The part that is most overrated in our understanding of romantic relationships today? The sex. The physical.
But what about the rest of the things that have lead to sex? What if the bones could never have been healed, could never acquire the flesh, could never realise that they were feminine and capable of loving the masculine? What then?
It is so easy to forget everything else and just focus all of ourselves on this end moment, when they lie down skin to skin. Forgetting the nakedness is not just of the bodies but also of the minds and the souls.
And I am no less culpable of this crime. After all, I had forwarded this photograph to someone I ‘loved’, long time ago. Without any knowledge of the stories behind it, the inspirations. Without even bothering to observe up close that she was not healing him but actually, he was healing her.
Image Art courtesy Tumblr.com