I met Sharada while on assignment at TOI. She was with Outlook at the time. We've been friends ever since. She has also written for anthologies and is a follower of this blog and a well-wisher. Another strong woman who I love and admire is talking about being a girl / woman at home where the men are more vocal with their opinions about the fairer sex.
Growing up in a vibrant city like Mumbai, my future seemed bleak. Well, I did not think that way. It was more a thinking that came from men and society. "Oh, she can’t be an IIT engineer, she is always out playing with the boys and kids, she scores zilch in Maths and science", and then I was a tagged "loser" in my early teens. I was never a typical girl with oiled, long and plaited hair; coy and worried about how a "girl" should be. As a child, I grew up playing football, climbing trees, stealing mangoes, cycling out with the boys, with no worries about the future. Well, I still would, I don’t doubt it.
Even though we lived in a city like Bombay, the men in my family and my extended family had loads of reservations about my dressing, why l did not have a pottu on my forehead, why I never wore saree for occasions, why I never learned carnatic music, why I wore even two inch heels or coloured my lips, and the list was actually endless. Did I do all this for a reason? No. The intention was never to attract men or to go against the family. It was just for me. As simple as that. And why would anyone care? It is my face, my body.
As a boy, my brother did not have to go through any of this. No one would question him why he wore pants or jeans for a family function and not a veshti, why there were no ash marks on his forehead, or if he knew how to cook. We talk about gender inequality in society, but everything begins at home. It is a fact.
My brother was allowed to take his bike and go out late at nights, spend nights with his friends, bring them home, go on a travel vacation without having to worry about hearing a ‘no’ from my dad. The case with me was different. Even on days when I was working for an NGO, coming home at 9.30 invited chaos. I was never allowed to watch MTV or Channel V like my classmates from my posh South Mumbai college. During those times, I used to sit alone in a room, listening to old English classics on FM Rainbow. I was not allowed to dream, to choose my career, but my brother could do all that. I had to break this shackle - being a woman and still choosing my independence and way of life.
Tag me a tomboy, tag me a brash girl, or someone who does not follow traditions, it does not matter to me. Honestly. When the point came to choosing my education, my brother rather ruthlessly dragged me into commerce when my mind dreamed of doing literature and economics and pursuing journalism. Writing was my biggest emotional outlet and it gave me a sense of freedom. Enough was enough. I took a decision to break this indiscriminate inequality right at home.
Think about this. There are two people at home and one is given all the freedom because he is a man and one is stripped of even basic freedom because she is a woman and she is to be married someday. So the girl, in essence, learns Palakkad Iyer cooking, maintains long hair, doesn’t raise her voice, gets up early in the morning, cleans and mops the house, does not mingle with the boys and take a career that is ‘safe’ for women.
When I wanted to make a career in fashion designing or hospitality industry, I was not allowed to give entrance exam because these careers were apparently not good for women. So, I ask what is a good career for a man? And you will hear - "a man can do anything". If a man can, then why not a woman? I hate being typecast into something because I am a woman.
I did become a journalist. I remember the days when I used to come home late in the night after working for a newspaper. My father would be scoffing at me every morning for getting up late and how I would carry off a marital life, if I was like this.
The essence of the thing is control-over the clothes you wear, over not being allowed to go out with boys and party, late night movies, job, everything needed a nod from the men in the family. So who am I in the world, in this godforsaken society and what is my real identity? It was after I ventured out, listening to my heart, that I realised that it was something I had to create from within, and it was something I would live with.
Years have passed, times have changed, people have changed and so has society, and I have evolved from a tom boy to a woman who loves draping sarees, celebrating festivals, cooking and all the other things that women are ‘expected’ to do. The difference is - I am doing this because I love and enjoy it.
It is for ME, not to please anyone. It is not to show off culture, or to prove that I am ‘God fearing’ (as portrayed by matrimonial profiles), or to prove a point that, “Hey, look, I have challenged you and proved to be successful.” Nothing of that sort. I am not here to prove a point. I am not here to argue that I made it.
The feeling of being yourself, making your own decisions despite a hundred odds makes you stand up for yourself. It is as simple as that. After a successful career and moving across cities, I cherished the independence of meeting new people, getting up when I wanted to, keeping my home messy at times, cook for myself, go on a long walk to the beach at night, without having to worry about who will be waiting at home to churn my mind. I breathe freedom. It has elevated me in many ways.
I can take care of myself, without having to counsel my family on every little thing, I am super confident about all the decisions I make, and I have no regrets. If I was the one who would succumb to family pressures of being a homely woman, I would not have reached this far. When you ask a man, why you draw these lines for women about time factor, dressing, going out, you are most likely to hear this - "we care for you", or "we are scared something might happen to you".
Concern is fine, but in the name of ‘we care for you’, you are only imposing and not allowing us to explore the world on our own. We all have our own judgements about people and surroundings. As women, we also know how to take care of ourselves, only if you give us a chance to let that experience enter our life, rather than saying - "don’t talk to this boy, he will dump you, don’t take this as career, you can’t do it, don’t go out at night, something will happen". How long are the women going to be in this cobweb of not choosing to feel and live her life in the name of security, safety, care and protection? Give me a break!
Be it a man or a woman, let’s face it, we make choices for ourselves, not for the family and not for society. As I always like to say individuality is much more important and essential than just bending down to rules of men and society. And to recognise and realise this individuality mandates independent thinking, which can only come when you make decisions, not someone else choosing for you, be it life partner, career or even your way of living!