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 Hairy Caterpillars and I

We lived in residential quarters where we couldn’t draw a line between our lives and the lives of insects. One room led to another. The doors of the house were never shut. Hence, different species of insects such as ants, hairy caterpillars, and snails flocked to our house every now and then. Our lives intersected with the lives of insects. My mother, my sister, and I were terribly afraid of them, especially hairy caterpillars. My father did not kill them. He, an excellent manipulator, was good at fooling them. He laid little bits of paper on the floor of our sitting room, then the stupid hairy caterpillars walked on them. We expressed relief after my father threw them out of our house. They were cut off from their families. The hairy caterpillars inhabited two worlds. In the world of my imagination, they could take any shape. Sometimes, they switched to robust orcs with lots of hair on their grotesque bodies. In my imaginary world, my father was Gandalf and we were the hobbits.

I still remember that day when my father saw me masturbating. It was not his intention to find out what I was up to. He entered the room where I was studying. As I turned my head, he pretended that he had not witnessed any suspicious activity. I wasn’t angry at him for intruding into my space because the ideation of space was beyond the purview of my thoughts. After I watched a couple of American teen movies, I learned about personal space.

At school, some of my classmates boasted about their fathers. They always had something to say about their fathers— their fathers bought them what they were crazy about. I was a good listener. I had to play the role of a listener most of the time. Unlike their fathers, my father could neither buy fancy cars nor take me to classy restaurants. A friend of mine knew about English literature from A to Z. His father would puff on cigarettes all the time. My mother told me that smoking was a bad habit. Yet, she did not give me an answer when I asked her why my father’s maternal uncle, who was a doctor, was a regular smoker. Smoking is an elitist pursuit. What the privileged few do is unquestionable. I wanted my father to smoke. I badly wanted my father to mimic my favourite fictional character, Sherlock Holmes. Had he flaunted hypermasculinity, he would have been the most exciting father. I would have been invited to my friends’ secret parties. Moreover, they would have found me an interesting person. My father could not rescue me from some impudent boys who made my life miserable at school. Batman, Spiderman, Superman and the like are lies. Three years ago, I was removed from a WhatsApp group. I had challenged a schoolmate’s masculinity. I had told him that masturbating could not validate his masculinity. That fellow did not know about female masturbation.

My father and I differed from one another in many ways – the alternate masculinity that I displayed might have severely shattered him from inside. He was against my indecisive behaviour. Instead of sitting for the engineering entrance examination, I stayed at home. He got really angry with me when he learnt that I had been reading literature. The mirror cried out in pain as he punched it angrily. My father, a man of few words, had been harbouring so many dreams. I could have sat for the exam. It would not have been a big deal.

To understand the meaning of any word, we must take its opposite into account. The world ran without petrol or diesel in the past, but it cannot run without binaries—masculine/feminine, boy/girl, day/night, etc. I relied heavily on the dictionary. I wanted to impress our English teacher. I disliked my father as he could not fit into the straitjacket of hypermasculinity. I got separated from my father. I don’t know who should be blamed – I or the world around me that made me believe in binaries. What is the definition of “a perfect masculine dad”?

We now live in a village. Initially, things were going well. Gradually, I realised that the village was/is fraught with gendered spaces, gossiping, backbiting, and misogynist, sexist men. Hardly do men care about women’s opinions. My uneducated mother is doubly marginalised— for being a woman, and for not having any academic qualifications. I am proud of my father. He does not mingle with misogynist men. He has no record of lashing out against my mother. He is a busy fellow. On weekends, he devotes his time to gardening.

There is someone in my life who had a terrible childhood, has had several liaisons and whose father married twice. He says that he hated his father. How would his father react to his son’s liaisons if he were alive? If I love a cyborg or a person of the same gender, how will my father react? Will he acknowledge that there are multiple masculinities? I am currently pursuing a PhD. I am in my late twenties. My friends have jobs and beloveds/partners to get intimate with on weekends. I have recently appeared in two interviews. I have failed miserably as my CV is full of creative writings instead of academic papers. The world of academia is a dangerous place for creative writers—you must read what others have written and produce as many research papers as you can. Was my decision to pursue a career in literature wrong? At twenty-eight, I am jobless. At twenty-eight, my father had a job, a wife and me. If I write a piece of fiction, will my father cast me aside like the interviewers who felt that I was too unfit to teach? I wish I had a cocoon. If I had befriended the hairy caterpillars, I would have been taught how to build one for myself.

Cover Image: Pixabay

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Born and raised in Golaghat, Anupom Kumar Hazarika is pursuing a PhD at Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati. His research interests include urban space, gender and sexuality studies, science fiction, and Indian writing in English. He has had poetry published in The Assam Tribune, The Eastern Today, Nagaland Page, Terror House Magazine, Spark and CC&D Magazine.

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