By Sweta Ojha

In your little black dress, In your company of male friends, In your fearless moves, In you leaving the house at hours abused. In your independent tours, In your house of bachelors aloof. In you and in me , provocation strives. Yet a one year old is victimized. Perhaps , the diaper used is wrong […]

via You and I provoke his mind. — Sweta Ojha

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During the middle ages

Yeah, I am 40 plus (in age, mind you) and I absolutely refuse to specify how many years, months and days plus, just like any other smart woman my age. That is why I hate sharing my id proof, I have a push-pull fight every time at the airport. But moving on, one fine morning, or rather, one fateful day, I woke up and realised the most terrible thing in the world had happened, ( no, I am not referring to Sep 11 )  I had become middle aged. My world collapsed. Something drastic needed to change if I could not move the clock back.

I had had the symptoms for sometime but did not quite get that it implied the seven signs of ageing. Firstly my hair started falling at an alarming rate, the washroom drain would get choked daily and I would roll my eyes at the maid for not cleaning it properly till she showed me a headful of hair, after which I shut up. ( not to mention the fact that some ( ok, have it your way, most) of them were white which was the second symptom). Third sign being that aha, sweet back pain as I got up in the morning, which wasn’t so bad that I needed moov, but made me move with my hand on my back, reminding of, well someone in the category of Nirupa Rai moving around with a stick.

And then I turned blind, I could not read. I had to move the newspaper as far back as as the selfie stick and still I the letters were blurred. The ophthalmologist was very gentle with me, said, don’t worry, it happens to the middle aged. And I was adorned with thicker owlish glasses which goes with my intellectual personality, or at least that is what I like to think. The only issue with this accessary is that not only do I look blind, I also act like one since my reading ability has vanished.

My memory was the next to go. I would look at a guy and try hard to remember his name, which would like fail me forever, till he said goodbye, and then it would come to me in a flash, yeah, his name was Gordon. So we would have had a half hour conversation where I asked innocent questions like, how is family? (Not remembering if he was married, or whether he had kids, this was the cleverest question, could imply his parents as well). I wanted to do an entire blog on my forgetfulness, but then I forgot what I wanted to write.

And the perspective change of course, where Aashiqui one was an all time favourite and Aashiqui two was a disaster, can’t stand these cliched goddamn self destructive drunken martyrs any more. And my son remarked, mom, you don’t like this. you are old! No my dear, at my age, we call it experience.

I am not going to talk about waist size at all, it should suffice to say that, my husband’s clothes are a good fit on my permanent four month paunch, rather than my own wardrobe, which suddenly developed a strange habit of bursting at the seams. Do clothes really shrink that much? Three square meals a day, makes me a खाते पीते घर की।

What to do? I had to do something to reach the fountain of youth. Since allopathy has not invented anything to reverse the process, I had to find other means. Visit to the homeopath. Can you stop my falling hair? Can u remove the wrinkles below my eyes? He sighed and said, madam, I am no anti Newton, hair will fall. Skin with wrinkle, madam, इस age में ऐसा होता है।. And I walked out defiantly. A friend tipped me that wearing a Ray Ban is a great idea to hide the telltale under eye wrinkles and I looked around and could suddenly see people of all frames and sizes wearing black glares. Oh yeah, so that is the reason. ( Other reason being it is easier to stare, Indian favourite pastime after cricket, but that is not under discussion for now).

I started discovering all age reversing, anti ageing and wrinkle removing creams in the shops. Somehow only those would catch my eye. After trying a handful of such creams and asking dear husband, कुछ फ़र्क़ पड़ा ? Actually that is a pretty wrong question to ask. He can’t say no, he dare not lie, poor guy. So faced with too many diplomatic responses, इतनी जल्दी पता नही लगता है। तुम cream के  instructions follow कर रही हो ना ? and so on, I came to the forgone conclusion that nothing was going to change. Creams are creams and don’t perform miracles, despite what is written on the leaflet.

With all international brands available at अपनी दुकान and brick and mortar stores, shopping has never been as easy. Except that everything is supposed to be for teenagers and forever 21 kind. And trust me, even when you try them on, you still don’t look young unless you close your eyes and dream. I walked towards a row of interesting looking garments, but the assistant gently moved me away to show me plus sizes. I surreptitiously moved back and defied her by picking up a medium size shirt for trial. With my head held high I moved to the trial room and after a few minutes, come out, threw away the garment carelessly, I don’t like the fit, being my excuse. The assistant silently handed me over another one, try this mam. This time I don’t meet her eye, walked back head down, and finally smiled, this one fitted. As I moved over to the cash counter, she gave me a big I-told-you-so smile, standing right next to the plus size rack.

The biggest problem ever since I aged is ogling, this really tall hot guy that I eyed at the mall, clandestinely holding my tummy in, gave me a really flashy smile, that immediately melted me and I smiled back behind my glares. He moved towards me, oh God, this breathing in thing is tough, stood right next to me and asked, Auntie, would you mind moving a little to the other side, I am trying to look for my friends and you are in the way. Aargh… Yeah, he was probably my son’s age anyway. The only good thing is at least I can breathe now.

 

Equally Unsafe

One of the best things about the family I was born in, was that there was no gender discrimination of any sort. In fact, I only realised after studying class 8 Anatomy that boys and girls are supposed to be different. Call me dumb, but that is the way it was. But soon after that, in the next two years or so, I suddenly grew up. In fact I was forced to grow up and realise the world is not as beautiful as it looked before the apple. There were many people around who looked at this young bubbly chirpy tomboy girl as an object of desire and pawing and who just left a feeling of loathing in my mind.

When you are 13-14, with all the hormonal changes in the body,  girls are already struggling. Dealing with studies, teenage issues, boys, parents and lechs. I was travelling in a train, sleeper class with Maa. It was an overnight journey and we both had lower berths. Maa fell asleep on one and so did I. I was 13 years old, wearing a frock, covered with a thin sheet.

In the middle of the night, I woke up feeling spiders crawling over my legs. I grew wide awake and saw a guy sitting near my feet and his hands moving over my legs. Though nobody had really told me about good touch and bad touch, instinctively, I knew this was not right. I sat up suddenly and moved to the other end of the berth. The guy reassured me, don’t worry, all is well, lie down and go back to sleep. But I could not. I was wide awake, trembling and sitting with my arms wrapped around myself curled up near the window. I thought of waking up Maa but my mind told me not to, no, don’t wake her up, she may think it is your fault. (She wasn’t like that, but the mind of a 13 year old can play tricks, maybe it was the 70’s Bollywood effect, who knows). So I sat through the night, wide awake, at the corner of the berth, sometimes falling asleep, but waking myself up the next instant. The guy became tired after waiting for a while, and finally left. But I could not sleep again. Since then I have ensured I always book the upper berth and cover myself head to toe with a sheet, safely tucked under me from all sides, or not travel by train at all.

In the same year, there was another incident as I was staying with my extended family. One would assume that a young girl would be very safe with family, brothers, cousins and uncles. But in the repressed Indian households, that is seldom the case. Summer holidays, too many people in the house, you did not get individual rooms to sleep, all growing up “kids” slept in a giant drawing room, brothers and sisters and young unmarried uncles one after the other. I have come to the conclusion that night’s wake up the animal in boys who are not yet mature enough to be called men. And I woke up again with hands pawing me. Talk about being despo. 20 people sleeping one after the other and this guy is pawing his cousin sister who has just entered puberty. Woke up, removed the hands once, tried to go off to sleep again, hoping he would get the hint, but it insisted on coming back again and again. At that age, girls don’t like creating a scene, they don’t want all eyes on them and looking at them as if they have done something wrong by growing up. I warded off the hands a number of times, but they always returned back so finally I woke up another cousin and told him what was happening. And then the fellow got beaten up surreptitiously but squarely, without the rest of the family being aware of the fact. And the guy had the audacity to claim because my knees touched his once in an overfilled car on a bumpy road, he assumed I was leading him on.

Those two years were the most troublesome for me as a lot of people around thought I was too young to resist, an easy prey. I feel so sad for the girls who have succumbed to the carnal desires of the men with no sense of right and wrong. This guy had come to Jodhpur to “see” a girl, for marriage prospects, a standard Indian practise along with his foreign returned brother. Being a distant relative, they stayed at our home. This was a school day but for some reason, I had not gone to school, maybe I was sick or something. Maa had gone to her school and Dad had gone out to the market for something. Hence, it so happened that for about an hour I was alone at home with the foreign (returned) brother who believed Indian girls were as easy. I was reading a book sitting on the sofa and this guy came and sat next to me suddenly and started talking. I hardly remember what he said, but I remember every detail of what he tried to do, how he tried to touch me, how I tried to move away, how he came closer and closer and tried to manoeuvre himself in a way that he could touch me anywhere and everywhere. I was sick, I was stuck, I was alone at home. I told him I will shout, he said, there is nobody here. I was in real trouble.

Finally I had a brainwave. I got up and walked out to our roof and went and sat at the parapet edge, which was visible from the street and the shops. The guy followed me and started insisting I come inside. I refused and said, if you try anything I will jump. By that time the people from the street had started looking up. They could see a young girl sitting on the edge and a man standing behind. Now this guy could really not do much, so after some futile attempts at persuasion, he went back inside and I stayed there, on the edge, in the harsh sun, till Baba came back home. I told Maa this story later, once the guy had gone back and though she was very upset, at the end she did nothing, nobody told the guy what he did was wrong, nobody slapped him or kicked him. I continued with my life and he with his.

It is not that my life has been shattered because of these incidents, or I sit every day and curse these people. No, we move on. But the mind of a young teenage girl, changes. She grows up, her childhood is suddenly over. And what if more had happened? What if I had been raped, scarred for life? I was “lucky” enough not to be. It is really ironical that I consider myself lucky because though I was pawed, molested, but I was not raped. But, if there is me, there are thousands who are not so “lucky”. This blog is for all those girls, telling them to be careful, don’t trust people blindly, you have the freedom to decide who is allowed to touch you, keep your presence of mind, find your way out of tricky situations, raise hell if you have to. On this independence day, I wish the world to be free from perverts and dirty minds, I wish for a hassle free life for women, I wish for us to be equally safe.

Food Food

My relationship with food started when I was very young. Even as a kid, I loved the warmth of the place, the aromas and the dishes my parents cooked up. I vaguely remember sitting on the kitchen floor (our kitchen was huge, you could put a double bed and sleep), my mom making hot chapatis and my bro and I would hog like anything on simple  रोटी and भिंडी की सब्ज़ी. My dad also loved to cook, so when it was a question of specialty dishes, he would shoo mom out of the kitchen, turn his lungi into lambda/2, curse everyone around, and get going. Every couple of weeks, we would have family friends over, my parents would spend the day cooking and those coming would also bring some variety, and we would have a feast. I never knew how eating all that food never fattened me up (in contrast to even water being fattening these days).

So, was it surprising that I wanted to cook too? And my mom would not let me. See, in very early days, we had a kerosene stove, and she was not comfortable with me going close to it. When I was in about class VII, we got our first gas stove and suddenly I had access.. Still she would not let me. “You worry about your studies, you have your whole life ahead, ज़िन्दगी भर खाना तो बनाना ही है”. So what would a persistent brat like me do? I would wait for her to leave home and then I would do whatever the hell I wanted. The first vegetable I ever made was आलू की सब्ज़ी, when my parents were not at home. And it turned out to be somewhat edible, my parents ate it, with complaints, but finished it. And then there was no more stopping me.

Unlike a lot of educated girls in my generation, I knew the basic art and science of Indian cooking, all my spices and oils and what goes with what, several years before marriage. Yet, when I got married, my first kitchen experience with traditional “पापड़ सेकना आता है?”, was as tough as it goes. I passed, but barely. See, the papad turned out, not 100% flat, a little too much burnt in a few places, some pieces chipped off as I used a चिमटा and held it too tight. (I still do that, I can’t hold a papad with my bare fingers near the flames). Even after 20 odd years, I have only marginally improved. My bong food experience of yesteryear’s did not teach me “how to  सेकोfy a papad perfectly and impress your mil”.

Cooking after a full work day was not something to look forward to, but early days, I had the enthusiasm. And with practice, the daily bread churned out in one hr flat, with one curry, daal, rice and chapatis, thanks to the great invention called the pressure cooker and its separators. And once in awhile, we had friends over and I figured out quite a few things to cook, that wasn’t time consuming and went well with folks, including reusing leftovers.

These days, the biggest bottleneck with cooking is, the fellow who eats it. He will not have anything to do with pastas, but he loves Pizza; any kind of noodles is completely no, no. So most non-indian cuisines are ruled out. And he has a hate hate relationship with the most coveted spices like cloves and cinnamon. Any whiff of that and.. You end up hearing remarks like “ दाल में आज कुछ problem है” ,“सब्ज़ी hostel वाली लग रही है”, “इसमें गरम मसाला डाला है”. Talk of paranoia. The spice is not there in the house, and he can smell it. So, working with such restrictions, it is best to let the maid handle it and pass on the comments to her. In my home, you eat what the maid cooks up, or starve. Maybe he will be happy the day he can download food.

The interesting fact about cooking, my cooking, is that when I put a lot of effort into this art, the dish is typically a flop and I have had the pleasure to throw away stone cakes (cakes as hard as the adjective) which even insects refused to touch, creating food that people could barely eat and I had to finish it across three days.

The day I know my maid is going to be missing in action for the next seven (unbelievable) days, my temper starts soaring higher at the thought of being made to cook by maid. It doesn’t matter that I love cooking and it hardly takes me an hour to cook up an interesting meal from scratch (or a story like this one). My husband is content with खिचड़ी also, but when I decide to get worked up, I really work at it.

So day 1 is really, oh well, just दाल चावल. Excuse me, it does qualify as meal. And I have excuses, several of them eg, coming home tired after a hard day’s work (can you hear the dripping पसीना), followed by multiple calls and a long 3 ½ km brisk walk. Day 2 is more normal (the undying guilt of feeding दाल चावल to hubby) with रोटी and my special culinary delight called पत्तागोभी मटर (ugh, even I could barely ingest it).

Third day I decide to go experimental with अचारी दही वाली भिण्डी and when I hopefully look at my dear husband for an encouraging feedback, all I get was “ये कड़वी क्यों है?” How do I know, ask Sanjeev Kapoor. Embittered but emboldened, relentless search on the internet for the next designer dish from my exclusive boutique results in पनीर पुदीने काली मिर्च the next day (except that I forget the kalimirch part of it), but it is still a hit. Again my hopeful look (why don’t husbands get it, you are supposed to say it is awesome, to get something edible next day), and this time I got “अच्छी है”. Mere 2 words for an hours work! Wonder what I’ll try the next day? With all the encouragement I get, I would probably stick to safe खिचडी.

 

Extracts from my mom’s diary

On this Mother’s Day, sharing extracts from my mom’s diary. Her journey through cancer and how the mind won over disease. This is as is taken, no word changed, and most of it is in Hindi. I can’t describe the emotions that I went through while copying this. It is a story of hope that overcomes depression. I love you Mom.

25 May, 2008, Noida

कठिन रोग-ग्रस्त अवसादमय मन लेकर जब मैं हताशा के समुद्र में डूबती उबर रही थी, झिलमिल ने मेरे हाथो में कागज क़लम थमा दिया – “माँ, जो तुम्हारे मन में भाव आए, उसे कागज में उँडेल दो, भाषा की चिन्ता मत करो। मन की भावनाओं को दबा कर मत रखो ।

डायरी लिखने की आदत मेरी पहले भी थी। लेकिन पता नहीं क्यों मुझे लिखने की इच्छा ही नहीं हो रही थी।

समय जैसे ठहर सा गया था। समय एक सूनी सड़क की तरह मेरे सामने फैला हुआ था।आगे बढ़ने का मेरे पास कोई रास्ता नही था। रात, आधी रात, भोर, सुबह, फिर दोपहर, लम्बी शाम काटे नही कटते।

बीच बीच में उठकर बैठना, फिर लेट जाना यही क्या मेरी नियति थी? Condemned cell में जीवन यापन करने वाले कैदी की जिंदगी? निर्वासित यक्ष जो हमेशा अल्का पुरी की याद में डूबा रहता था, की तरह, मैं केवल पुराने दिनों को याद करती रहती थी। पुराने मतलब, बहुत पुराने, बचपन की यादें, जवानी की भूलें, पुराने गानों के बोल, पुरानी फिल्में याद आते रहते।

30 May, 2008

कल मेरा जन्मदिन था। मेरा जन्मदिन हमेशा ही बेरंग, बिना उत्साह के, बिना किसी समारोह के आता है, और चुपचाप बिना आवाज़ किये चला जाता है। आखिर जन्मदिन का मतलब तो यही है कि मैं मृत्युदिन के थोड़े और करीब आ गयी हूँ। कुछ कोषाणु अपने ही शरीर में आतंकवादियों कि तरह आतताई बन जाते हैं और स्वयं उसी को नष्ट करने में लग जाते हैं। युद्ध! महायुद्ध! महारोग से युद्ध! रुग्न अंग काट के निकाल दो, जहर से शरीर को भर दो ताकि वह विषाक्त अणु नष्ट हो जाये, फिर भयंकर किरणों से उस भाग को दग्ध कर दो। कभी समझ में नहीं आया कि रोग अधिक दारुण हैं कि उसका उपचार।

15 June, 2008

पूरा सप्ताह प्रिंटआउट पढ़ने में लगाया। कैंसर के स्टेज, कैंसर रोगी के जीवन की अवधि, इसके कारण व उपचार। क्षतविक्षत अंग, केशहीन सिर, दुर्बल शक्तिहीन शरीर। यह जगत हैं स्वाभाविक स्वस्थ स्त्रियों का, पर हमारा संसार दूसरा हैं जहाँ हम अस्पतालों में हारे हुए जुआरी सा चेहरा लेकर डॉक्टर का इंतज़ार करते रहते हैं।

20 July 2008

इस विपदा में भगवान को याद करना, प्रार्थना करना, कुछ अवसरवादी सा नहीं लगेगा क्या? बाहरी मंदिर में कभी पूजा पाठ, जप-तप नहीं किया। पुकारे भी तो किसको पुकारे,  श्रीकृष्ण, संतोषी माँ, काली माता, या शिवजी ? क्या यह सचमुच कर्मफल हैं? क्या मैं आत्महत्या कर लू? किसी भी तरह, पानी में डूबकर, फांसी लगाकर? मगर फांसी लगाने लायक पटुता भी मुझमे नहीं हैं। भगवान् के सामने असंख्य आवेदनपत्र हैं, क्या मेरी वाली अस्पष्ट पुकार वैकुण्ठ या कैलाश तक पहुंच पायेगी?

30 July 2008

मेरी बीमारी ने मेरा सारा ध्यान ले लिया हैं। मुझे इसके आगे किसी की परवाह नहीं हैं, चाहे किसी राष्ट्र पर बम गिरे या आतंकवादी बम फेंके। बाढ़, तूफ़ान, भूकम्प, यह सब मेरे दुःख के आगे नगण्य हो गए हैं। मुझे हमेशा, हर क्षण अपने अलगाव, अपनी पृथकता का बोध होता हैं। मैं सबसे अलग हूँ।

4 August 2008

अब मैं नकारने की स्टेज से आगे आ गयी हूँ, स्वीकारने पर। जैसा भी रोग हैं, अब तो उससे जूझना ही पढ़ेगा। जोधपुर से रोज़ दोस्तों के फ़ोन आ रहे हैं। सब सचकित हैं. सशंकित हैं, दुखी हैं। “ना काहू से दोस्ती, ना काहू से बैर” सिद्धांत पर जीवन यापन करने वाली, स्वच्छ, राग द्वेष से परे, जीवन व्यतीत करने वाली मैं उनके शुभ कामनाओ  के भार से दबी जा रही हूँ। क्या सब लोग मुझे इतना चाहते हैं, यह तो मैं जानती भी नहीं थी।

सोचती हूँ मैं अकेली ही दुखियारी नहीं हूँ। मुझसे भी बदतर लोग हैं। यदि मुझमे यह बीमारी सहन करने की शक्ति नहीं होती तो भगवान् मुझे यह रोग नहीं देता। यह मेरी परीक्षा का समय हैं। मुझे इसमें उत्तीर्ण होना ही होगा। यदि दो चार वर्ष और जीवन ही हैं तो उसे हंस हंसकर ही व्यतीत करुँगी। लोगो की करूणा या दयापूर्ण दृष्टि मुझे सहन नहीं होगी। मैं फिर सीधी खडी होकर माथा ऊँचा करके चलूँगी। किसी अज्ञात कवि की इस कविता ने मुझे सहारा दिया


I asked the Lord for a bunch of fresh flowers but instead he gave me ugly cactus with many thorns

I asked the Lord for some beautiful butterflies but instead he gave me many ugly and dreadful worms

I was threatened, I was disappointed, I mourned.

But after many days suddenly I saw the cactus bloom with many beautiful flowers flying in the spring wind.

God’s way is the best way.

थी कभी चाँद तक अपनी उड़ान
अब ये धूल ये सड़क अपना जहान

 

maa

The empowered martyr

When watching the character portrayed by Priyanka Chopra in दिल धड़कने दो, I felt a sense of familiarity. I have met this personality before. She is smart but confused. She is too sensitive, is hurt by the insensitive remarks made by the feudal males around. Forever overshadowed by a dominating father and later a passive aggressive husband, a mother who does not think much beyond her social circle and a mother-in law who has I-have-this-ailment-dialogues for every occasion, where can she express herself, where can she let her hair down? Her only outlet is her brother who understands without the need for words. She has everything, a husband who can provide for her, a job, she goes out of way to be supportive to all, but she is still the “daughter” and the wife who has to bow to everyone’s wishes.

No, this is not a film review. This is about this character, this person who a lot of us can relate to and maybe find within us and around us. And whether she is really empowered. The famous dialogue “I allow her to work so she is empowered” is so clichéd yet a fact we encounter daily. I kept on thinking about it long after I came back home. We made fun of it. “I allow you to make tea”. But the reality remains that you and I have heard this before. The world is changing. But the old world, with its own charm, had its own nasty viewpoints some of which still linger. I have heard my MIL remark “हम नहीं allow करते तो तुम कुछ नहीं कर सकती थी”, many years back. No, I actually respect her a lot, she comes from a generation where she was a pioneer in many respects having worked most of her life while most of her peers just cooked, slaved around at home and expected the same from all  बहू’s  around. I get the feeling that she says it more to herself, convincing herself that is the case and therefore holding her head high in front of the-esteemed-mom-in law-circle.

One of my friends from school days, I still remember, stayed right next door, when I would go to her home in the evening, she would be making chapatis for the family. – we were maybe in class VI at that time. Her mom would sit around not doing a thing. This girl, barely in her teens, had to make 40-50 chapatis before she was allowed to play with me. And if she resisted, her mom would give her a tight slap in front of everyone with dialogues like “चूल्हे में झोक दूंगी”. I have no idea where she is now and did she carry the same baggage in her next phase of life or she has changed. Would she be able to say No to her husband or she would remember that slap and comply.

My dad was a dominating husband, at times he would treat my mother pretty shabbily. She was a working woman, but had no say in any kind of decision-making in the family. She hardly ever had money to call her own and at times had to hide money from her husband in order to meet her social responsibilities. There were times when she would devalue herself so much, and declare she was dumb that is why her husband would treat her so. She could not even buy a saree without seeking permission. A generation earlier but I can see the similarities between her and this character portrayed by Priyanka. She would do great in her job, everyone would admire her, except her own family, who would treat her like dirt.

This is not about being a woman, it is about treating human beings with respect, not changing the level of respect because the person is a female.  My maid in Delhi would come to work beaten black and blue by her drunk husband and I would be more upset than her. Tell her, Let us go to the police and she would refuse. She said she had nowhere to go. I told her I’ll give her shelter, she still refused. She would laugh with a black eye and a broken tooth but still go and give all her earnings to him. Many educated ladies I know are in the similar boat- don’t have anywhere to go. So they deal with the sufferings- not silently any more- nobody does a Nirupa Rai, they fight, they suffer and they comply. I feel so strongly that females must be financially independent as far as possible, so when you have a strong need, you can step up for yourself and call it quits and move on. Priyanka needed an anchor before she could take the step. But are we so weak? A person I am very close to, is unhappy in her marriage, but she has a sick child and is not qualified enough to earn. So she survives in a loveless relationship with a husband who only comes home to eat and sleep, 7 days a week and gives her money to run the house and feed the family. Yes, he does provide for her. Maybe she should be happy in her silent suffering.

In Maharashtra, a lot of women work. And support their husbands. My maids earn more than their husbands and sons but still undergo the torture of being beaten at times and when they fall ill, there is nobody to look after them. But the social stigma still remains, the सिन्दूर  has to be there, the husband must be fed, even if they go hungry. Remember the character played by Sridevi in English Vinglish. Wasn’t that a classic example of a similar case. Someone who is gently smothered, unintentionally, who wants to break free, but within her social bounds. You need a will of steel and a heart of gold to be that and do that.

The biggest problem with us women is that we do not give ourselves the respect we deserve, we do not speak up for ourselves. In our mind we are still the commoners or slaves and our husbands and sons’ the Kings and the Princes’. The day we realize we are all equal, the world will be different. By treating your male counterparts as superior beings, we are not doing a favour to them. We are sending them the wrong signals and just when they get used to it, we will blame them for not supporting us in household work or other needs. But then kings don’t do that. Is sacrifice the way of expressing our love or our gratitude in being provided for?

Recently a woman employee in my office resigned. In a strange manner. Her husband called up to say she is not coming to work any more. When she was called, her husband picked up. She would not even come to the phone. After a number of discussions, she just came and said I can’t work for personal reasons and refused to elaborate. I can’t even begin to imagine the circumstances that compelled her to take such a step.

And how we love to make sacrifices and tell it out loud. We will eat after feeding everyone else (I do that too). We will not say No even if we have a headache. we will leave our jobs to accommodate the family. Someone I know has been cribbing her ever since I know her- All my life I am sacrificing for my husband and my children and I have done nothing for myself. Why didn’t you? If you had the will power and strong desire to do something for yourself, nobody would have stopped you. Being a martyr and blaming others is the easy way. India is a free nation, we don’t need martyrs any more, voluntary or involuntary, even empowered ones.

A contrarian view on Gender Bias

A contrarian view on Gender Bias

Hot topic these days. People all around talk about gender bias at work, home, feticide and other unspeakable atrocities on women in India. With everyone giving their unsought opinions on issues faced by womankind, let me try to put across a different unsolicited perspective.

I was born in a middle class household in the 70’s. I had a brother and all of our family friends were similarly sized with a son and a daughter each. I did not know what gender meant, for a pretty long time, till I crammed my std VII Biology textbook. All of us played together, boys and girls and there were no taboos. Nobody ever told me not to play with boys or to learn sewing because I was a girl. I remember street-fighting with boys, sitting on them and pummeling them and my parents just indulged me – बड़ी होकर गुंडी बनेगी.

My first encounter with gender bias came, unexpectedly, from my dad, who believed and told me categorically- Girls are not good in Math. In his mind it was absolutely clear that he wanted his son to be an engineer and daughter to be a doctor, as traditionally planned during the 80’s. Me being a rebel and because I only wanted to do what my bro did, told him I want to be an engineer. He laughed at me. I was incensed to limit, so much so that I went to school and started sitting for the Math class, without letting him know. He came to know close to 2 years later when he had to sign my board examination form and declared- you are going to fail. Always up to the challenge, I took the exam and not just cleared but with pretty awesome grades. Since then, my dad has never dared utter a word about something girls cannot do.

I did face gender bias in College since in my state, girl education was virtually free, and I did not have to pay any fee. I did not ask for that bias and my dad was amply able to provide for my education, but I am just thinking about the thousands of others who would have benefited by this. Subsidized education was a perk I enjoyed, being a girl child in Rajasthan.

Always used to travelling everywhere alone, my next encounter with gender bias was when my dear MIL insisted that somebody drop me and pick me up if I had to go someplace. Nooo! I can manage myself and I feel restricted if I have an escort. But for the initial couple of years post marriage, she did unto me as was done unto her. Once she realized that it is impossible to keep up with my frequent travels, it slowly ceased.

My MIL also believes in the fact that the woman of the house must cook and pamper and spoil her husband- the way she does. Her exact words were “रोटी तो औरत को ही बनानी पड़ती हैं चाहे कितनी बड़ी नौकरी कर लो”. And she is the live example. But she was also the one who suggested I hire a maid for cooking, looking at my work hours. Yeah, in Indian households, the husband expects the wife to cook and clean and serve while he enthusiastically watches the sports channel or comments on the how badly the government is functioning. But did that make me a lesser person? In fact, me and my husband have divided the chores- he manages investments and bank work and travels and credit card payments, insurance and all the related things my feminine mind cannot even begin to fathom. I so much prefer the cooking and cleaning and shopping and teaching- I can manage that quite well, not sure if I could digest my hubby’s culinary efforts. (BTW, if I ask my husband to even give me a glass of water- my MIL still complains  – मेरे बेटे को काम बोला!)

Another strong example of gender bias in my family is that I earn more than my husband and everyone is pretty cool with that. There has never been a question around the man-of-the-house syndrome and my husband still comes home and watches TV and hogs the remote while I prefer to read a book. (and I am the unpaid driver too)

Domestic violence! I freely use my hands and words to hit my husband dearest, whenever he threatens to go to “पत्नी-पीड़ित मोर्चा” and when I am in a good mood. Of course we fight, and I am an equal contributor and partner in crime so why should I complain? And when I am ill, I have never seen my husband leave me for a wink. For better or for worse..

When I used to drive my Scorpio out on the Noida streets, I have actually seen people fall off their 2 wheeler’s because they can’t imagine in their wildest dreams a woman driving a SUV. Gender bias?

Workplace discrimination! There was this guy who told me he cannot work with a woman boss. And I reminded him “The best man for the job is a Woman” He resigned soon after. But then that was his problem, not mine. I get paid – fair and square – and sometimes so much that an organization had to hand me the pink slip to reduce cost. That is what happens when you are too good for your own good. Some people prefer to face the bias- I had this young girl in my office come and complain- My manager asked me to stay late, but I am a female! Seriously. When you expect equal pay and equal opportunity, working equally hard is a responsibility that tags along.

Is it a man’s world? Sure enough. But in today’s urban Indian world, a lot of us are emancipated enough. As an author interestingly wrote (not verbatim) – If women could reproduce on their own, the need for men in the world would diminish and by the theory of evolution, they would get extinct.

On a more sober note, as anyone who has ever stayed in Delhi would know, there are morons on the road who paw you and pass lewd remarks and you are powerless to do anything about it. Nothing is worse than the violated and sick feeling you have, when a two-wheeler runs past you, an arm pops out, touches you and the guy disappears in the night.  When you are twenty and one, these things happen and they happened to me as well. What did I do? Nothing. You just move on, put it behind, and hope that someday they would be punished. But I am definitely not planning to ruin my life for those percentage of people who don’t deserve a major mention.

A lot of people, my close friends and family, my relatives and co-workers are people who have helped make this world a better place for me. Some of my best friends are men (not that I have a bias against women) This time, this century, urban India is a good place to be. Like Dickens put it “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief…” I am not shutting my eyes to Nirbhaya and other calamities that happen all around me, but for every such case that happens, remember that there are also 1000 others who have never faced a major bias. And hope and believe that tomorrow the ratio will just get better.