Today, on the day I leave India, I thought it would be nice to share this picture, which was shared via my mother’s friends on Facebook a few days ago. This is the great South Asian feminist sisterhood, as we know it, circa 1986. My amazing mother Sunila Abeysekera, wears possibly biggest smile in the room, sitting 5th from the left. This photograph was taken in Bangladesh.
I wanted to share this picture for many reasons; first, because she is always with me, and in some ways more so now than ever before. Many of these women are also always with me — especially in these big moments. Second, because, I think it celebrates a cycle my mother started, that I may have only just completed for myself — a cycle of finding the South Asian part of our identities, the feminist part of our identities, and the part of us that belongs forever in the love and warmth of a sisterhood. India not only gave me my own sisterhood but has brought me closer to my mother’s. In India, I found the parts of myself which closely resemble the best parts of my mother. Removed from the place we both called home, I found her here, over and over again — in classrooms, in poetry, in love, in friendship, in feminism. In all the ways in which my life in India has transformed me, I found her. Removed from the place I always knew to be at the core of my identity, I have found ground to which I inherently feel connected.
To say that my life in India ‘transformed’ me seems simple, too simple, to describe the massive undertaking of my life which was done by my friends, my mother’s friends and my teachers here who breathed life into my life, who opened — broke open — my eyes and my heart and my mind. It seems also too simple a way to describe the way in which my family at home seemed to carry me through every thing challenging, even from afar. But for now, the word ‘transform’ is all I have.
Finally, I wanted to share this picture today because they all look so happy, and this is what I know of my mother’s feminism, and of the feminism of her friends. They have always been the women with the loudest laughs and the warmest hugs; with the sharpest wit and humour; they with their songs and hand-holding, with their stories; they were the women most likely to point out the birds nesting at the tops of trees or how the green on the trees changed gradually with the seasons. This is the ‘happy’ feminism I knew all my life — the reason I get angry when people say ‘feminists are angry’! But this is the feminism I didn’t always fully know how to belong to; my own sisterhood here (not just of women but of men, ‘sisterhood’ as a feeling), and this one I inherited from my mother, they showed me how. India brought me home to an organic, true, and fundamentally joyful feminism, one in which I have learned to think more, love better, fight harder.
I am grateful to my life in India for so many things; most of all, for helping me to arrive.