A toast of red to women with depth


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Category: Women Date: 15 Oct 98

On the train the babble all around me was about relationships. On my right: “Can you believe she left me because she said I never listen to her?”  said one man who talked non-stop for 20 minutes without requiring a response from his friend. To my left, a woman agitating to another: “Why are men so afraid of commitment? As soon as he thinks it’s getting intense between us, he withdraws and I don’t hear from him.” And on and on till the train halted.


I emerged from the underground to a dark wet evening whirling with russet leaves, to the hustle of commuters going home, meeting friends, running to meet trains to the West End for a night out. Autumn had arrived, and people pulled their coats around themselves, bracing for winter. I was waiting (with an armful of bright summer flowers) to be picked up by Jane, a friend of a friend who, hearing I was in town, invited me to dinner.


A fifteen minute drive later, we were sitting in a warm sitting room talking about the inevitable: Relationships. Over the bottle of red.  “There are many ways to live, said the feisty Australian, Sheila, sparkling at Jane. They have been together for nine years.” Then Jane was talking about her visit to Trinidad: “I find it astonishing the way the people on those islands base their entire sense of self on a public display of their sexuality.” Sheila couldn’t resist: “ You, my darling, are also sexy, but in private.” Jane blushed.


Two women in their fifties, from reasonably privileged backgrounds, both artistic, one a published author, the other an embryonic one, being tender, protective and adventurous together.  Then, Jane asked Sheila to help her with the cake made with butter, chocolate and raspberries. There was a struggle, as they tried to get it out intact from the cake pan. They made a charming tableau set against a pretty kitchen, and a window through which you could just see the climbing green veins of a well-tended garden.


I was curious like crazy. And they indulged me. Is a relationship between two women different to that of a man and a woman? They both said yes. Sheila, who has also had serious relationships with men, said, “We talk more. If we are upset we say how we feel. I think that’s the main difference." We were onto the bottle of white. I must have had my mouth open for a full five minutes while Sheila told me how she dressed up like a man for four months and travelled through Pakistan. And being a woman with some dash and class she went to the make up artist who did the actors in ‘A Room With A View’ until she got it right.


I tried to picture her with a moustache, the turban, the Pakistani tunics, sitting and eating with all these highly chauvinistic men and we all laughed uproariously. “There are many ways to live.” What a liberating sentence. Being with these two cultured women whose humanity and humour was so obvious it made me think of the waste. Of all those people who live their entire lives not for themselves but others. Of those who don’t even stop and look away from cardboard conventional values to examine themselves for what they want out of  life.


During a lull in the conversation, my mind wandered to the other side of London where earlier that afternoon, I was having a cuppa with my flat-mate Joanna. She was choking over her cigarette and spilling tears into her tea over the end of her affair with a 28 year old man: “I’m 37 years old, and I’m going to be alone again What am I going to do.” She sobbed:  “I don’t want to be a strong independent woman anymore. I want someone to take care of me.” But I didn’t think it was the right time to remind Joanna that in the last two years she had rejected two offers of marriage because her suitors were either too boring or too possessive. And even as she wept the phone rang for her repeatedly. For every man who breaks her heart, there are two others waiting to rescue her. At 37, she has regrets. She wants security and children. The sensible thing for her to do would be to return to her native Canada and settle down with a safe man. However, she prefers the excitement of London of her work here. She is attracted to interesting but not so reliable men. Obviously, everything has a price tag attached to it. She can’t have it all, but the fact that she takes chances will make her life fuller than that of most people. Unconsciously or consciously it is the choice she has made. And the gamble she has taken is she may yet have it all.


After dessert, Sheila, Jane and I were back on the red wine. It is now a metaphor for some of the women I met on my travels.  Red is not a colour of innocence. But it is a colour of depth, of heady excitement, of possibility, of warmth, of gambles, of options, of blood and pain, of life itself. A colour which says yes to life. It is with a glass of red that I toast them.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur