“You know how sometimes you tell yourself that you have a choice, but really you don’t have a choice? Just because there are alternatives doesn’t mean they apply to you.”
― Rick Yancey, The 5th
I titled this ‘Choices’ for the lack of any other title. These are just reflections of the last seven plus years that I spent rediscovering myself. This is purely subjective piece of writing. A large percentage of women, even in India, may take completely different steps and bring a change in their sordid lives irrespective of age but some of us are unable to. Mostly because of our own inner fears. Most of the times these fears are based on aspects outside our control and sometimes they are just baseless but still take a grip on our psyche.
I have always been a drifter and always been ridiculed for it. Sometimes it hurt me deeply and at other times I didn’t care. As a young girl I would often dream of travelling to all the places I saw in National Geographic Magazine and the other books I read. I would dream up places too. Beyond stars and galaxies, beyond the known and unknown. The consistent aspect of each dream was a house. A small yet comfortable house which I would turn into a home. A home where I wanted to be in but never was in reality. I would include a husband/partner/lover as the other resident and yes, there were children too. It all depended on how lonesome or solitary I felt. There would always be a nice kitchen soaked in the warmth of winter sunlight but coolly shaded in summers. There would always be a small garden attached to it. There would be books, music, food, laughter and most importantly love. Other things changed time to time. At that time I never thought of living alone. I was too lonely already to long for more seclusion. Later of course things changed.
At that time not many people asked me what I would want to become when I grow up and I felt grateful for that but when someone did I said, “I want to become a nun or I want to become a trapeze artist.” Fascinated as I was by the world of circus artists. It was a fantasy I wanted to escape into. Of course all that changed once sense prevailed but the drifting continued and all I needed to do in the future was find a haven away from the chaos.
During the middle school years every time when I returned to an empty house, with the house key dangling around my neck in a black thread, return to cold meals and silence, I would cringe and envy the kids who had someone waiting for them at home, mostly their mothers. Of course, we were raised differently and there were no gender assigned roles in our house but I was young and grappling with many issues. I think I even cringed at being alone with my dad for various reasons. It was at this time the feeling of living alone began to grow. The dreams remained the same but there were no companions, no family. Perhaps a few friends who would visit but not cling. I was increasingly becoming weary of people around me. It was a complex situation where I wanted the company and yet needed my quiet space. We didn’t go out for movies or attended family weddings/functions. Hardly anyone visited our house but we did sometimes go to my maternal grandmother’s house in Pune. Another place that I was very fond of for many reasons and yet carried a lingering fear in my heart about it. Someday I will write openly about it.
There were times I enjoyed the peace and solitude of being alone at home. It was a good change from the tensed, argumentative, stifled time when others were around. In some part of my heart I reminded myself again and again that I did not have a ‘normal’ home environment and vowed to give that to myself and family when I grew up. It did not happen that’s another story though I did leave my job before I got married in hope to make my marital home the haven I had always dreamed of. The lingering thought of having a working mother and my constant loneliness as a young girl made me believe that only stay at home moms could provide the secure and loving home a child needed.
In my circumstances it wasn’t a good choice to be a dependent. Financial independence could have saved me a lot of hurt and humiliation. It could have changed the course of my life but then there are a lot of other factors that contribute to the kind of turns life takes. One can go on about the ‘Ifs’ and ‘buts’ and ‘would be’.
When I look back I see my life divided into slots of about twenty years each. I am in the third phase now. Two major life changing decisions came at the age of 24 and 44 I got married at 24 and left my marital home at 44. The reason behind both was similar and yet different in some ways. I have written about both in other posts.
Seven years on from the second decision I find myself at the threshold again. Still not able to find a closure. Sometimes I feel I am a rider inside the motordrome or a silodrome with no safety harnesses. I guess the universe took my fascination of circus acts a bit too seriously and put me on this eternal side-show in his carnival called Life.
It is very easy to judge people for the choices they make. I think the only person who can judge is the choice maker. Only he/she can weigh the pros and cons of the action taken. Most of the time the decisions seem correct at the time they are taken and it is only later when we look back we see the hollowness of the choices made. Sometimes we can start afresh and at other times we can’t, no matter how much we wish.
The last seven years revealed some very poignant things.
It is very important to be financially independent from an early stage in your life. It helps build confidence and gives you power to control your life to a large extent. You may question my statement and tell me stories of happy stay at home wives and I do agree that if your partner/husband is caring and respects your decision to follow your dreams even if it is to keep home then it is worth every bit but that is not always the case. I saw the dream shatter and the lack of financial support left me nowhere. As the years passed I found it extremely difficult to acquire the job that would suit my ‘outdated’ academic or professional qualifications.
Also that ‘academic intelligence’ or even life skills sometimes do not guarantee real world success or employment especially if you over 45+ woman and looking for a career. It is a personal experience about which I will sometime write in detail.
The second phase of my life was a struggle to cope with a non supportive/cooperative marital family, raising children and trying very hard, against all odds, to make that house a home. It did not work. So, I put aside the idea of living my dreams and put all my strength to see that my boys get what I did not. It was a choice I made. I was weak, emotionally and mentally. The strength to rebel came very late and with tremendous consequences.
The idea of love is very rosy but be very assertive about your self-respect and dignity. Do not ever allow the other person to take hold on you in any way just because you are in love. If there is no mutual affection and respect in a relationship then it would never thrive. Everything else fades away with time. Adjusting, compromising with yourself on various grounds in hope of a blissful haven is foolish. Unconditional love is a silly thought. There is no such thing. Every act of love seeks something in return and if one doesn’t love oneself one can’t expect love from others. Again, something I knew but never practiced. What you give to others is never enough and is often thrown back at you as an object that supposedly smothered them. Never give away all of yourself to anyone. Never.
I also feel that heartbreak is often good for you because you know exactly what you do not wish in your life. Mistakes / failures are always very good teachers. Each failure, each rejection is a stepping stone to something positive so instead of crying over them it is always better to move forward and be grateful for the things that broke you so that you could collect yourself and walk much stronger and experienced. They teach you lessons that you need to learn, strengthening and resurrecting you in the process. It makes you reach inside and know yourself better.
No school or college can teach you what life does. Be attentive to it. The beauty of the human life lies in its fragility so don’t give it up or give it away. It is the real strength and power of being human to accept your brokenness, to put it all back together. To fill the cracks with gold of love and move on. Cracks are the wounds indicating you have suffered and have overcome that suffering. Something like Kintsugi .
I spent years carrying the hurt in my heart and then one day I just let it go. It made all the difference within though the daily struggle to assert myself and live continues. Insecurity and discontent robs you of your peace and your health.There is nothing like travelling light and finding joy in small things rather than moaning over the past and the negative. Unfortunately financial instability or lack of money and a basic comfortable life in a space of your own can pull you back in that muck time after time. The reason I suffer even now, even after knowing all this. It’s tiresome being a fighter all life long.
I’m essentially a very trusting person but the events of last few years have made me tougher. I am not cynical but careful than before. People who claimed to be well wishers back stabbed in such a way that I began to question the very essence of any relationship. It broke me but then I emerged wiser. Now there are a selective few I trust and the others need to prove their worth.
Each person and the environment in which he/she lives is different but one thing that runs through every situation is unless the men in your life (father/brother/husband/partner/lover/ son..) are enlightened enough to see you as a human being with a mind of her own who has goals and desires you will always be subjugated and remain unhappy and dissatisfied with yourself and others. To stop that you need to be strong and vocal about what you want from life and take full responsibility for your actions. I realized this very late in life. Many things were out of my control and irreversible by then. Never make this mistake of handing the pen in someone else’s hand. Write your own story.
I told someone to stay single and pursue the goals she had set for herself unless the partner is supportive of her blossoming. Not many agreed but darlings this is the only way to happiness. I support people who not to have children and also who decide to have them/adopt them or just sponsor a child. It is a choice they make. Why should one judge? We are very judgmental lot especially when it comes to the choices women make.
Patriarchy sees red when women make choices and that is one of the reasons why many of us have stilled voices. Also, our society is obsessed with marriage. It is time to look beyond pushing kids to settle down and have babies.
Women are “natural givers”, this is a concept taught by the patriarchal society. A woman has to think of others before she thinks about herself. ( If at all she dares to think.) We are made to believe that our very existence is for others. A girl is conditioned to this thought since childhood and the society frowns if she resists making her feel guilty and most of the give up her dreams. In each role she plays her glory is in sacrifice.
“Selfish” became my middle name the moment I decided to break those barriers. People often say women don’t want to break out of patriarchal mindset as they love to play victims or as an excuse for their life state or unwillingness to be decisive and take the hard path. Though I do agree that many of the women do that but it’s also true in many cases the lack of support system and financial instability can also hinder their movement towards a path they want to walk on. The hard path is harder than you think. At different social levels the choices differ and so does the ability to break free. Especially in the case of middle class, which has also now got segmented, women find it much difficult to step out. It’s easier said than done.
I think it is very essential to know and realize your worth not just as a woman but as a human being. As an individual.
Another thing that life revealed in last few years is, if you are in an abusive or an unsatisfactory marriage then take a stand as early as possible. If you delay then it would be very difficult at later stages. Not all natal homes are supportive and not every woman will find a steady income to support herself or children ( if there are any). Early decision also gives you enough time to make a fresh start if you need to look for a job to support yourself. I spent twenty plus years in hope that things will improve but they did not. Don’t believe in the misconception that once you have children things will change for good or improve. No, they don’t and then children suffer too.
People often ask me, ‘ why did you take it for so long?” They say among themselves,”How could an educated woman with liberal thinking do this to herself?”
In our country unless you have a back up or a support system worked out it is lethal to step out and fight for your rights. If you think your natal home is where you’ll find solace, think again. It is very frustrating for many. I know because I am living it.
I had spent two major phases of my life struggling with myself trying to find who I am and where I am headed. Oscillating between what I was and what I had become.
In solitary hours I would stare at the walls on the house of bricks that held me captive because I let it. Slowly I felt my energy depleting at all levels. Though I kept myself involved with children and work at home there was something that was so unfulfilling that it began to gnaw at me. I did things to distract myself from the mess I was in and found ways to keep myself and boys as much out of it as possible especially in the first half of the marriage. My natal family knew of all that was happening but as they say, if you do not help yourself no one else does. No support came from there to give me courage to break the destructive cycle. I talked, wrote long letters ( boys think that may have been a stepping stone to my blogging at later stage) but never found a solution or a helping hand.
I also believed that time will heal things and a change will happen. Time doesn’t heal. Don’t believe it all you have been told. Time simply crushes you, chains you, makes you its slave and whiplash you to obey its commands. The answers, the healing comes from either within or from elsewhere. Time just watches the drama and laughs at our misery . Time is the devil to whom we have sold our souls. It is the master, we mere slaves. Only an inner uprising can bring the change. Only that can create true love, true courage, true self.
Abuse ( mental/emotional/physical), is difficult to explain. Many women find is hard to break the cycle of pain and either reach out for help pr move out. They resign to their fates, a guilt, a painful silence that penetrates their bones and makes its home there. The fear, the insecurity, the distrust cripples them. It is very disturbing and depressing. In my case it showed very clearly in physical symptoms. I became a hypochondriac to a very large extent.
Friends were helpless too even if they understood the situation. Suddenly I realized I was alone in this battle. There are many well-meaning people who understand your struggle and encourage you to ” stay brave” but the intention of wishing well does not help. Action does. Not many stand up for you and actually help. The boys were growing up fast and the clock ticking. I had to take a step or fall forever in the quicksand that was sucking me in.
I realized that the only person you can change is yourself. People do what they want to do despite you telling them otherwise. I used to get affected by the undesired outcome, still do at times, but ultimately I found that getting affected by the result harms me more than anyone else involved and that made the difference. It is better to let go and leave people to their views and doings rather than fret about something not in your control. (Still learning)
Someone I admire told me about the universal law of attraction and the role of destiny. I do believe in universal energies but unless one resolves things within the universe does not help. Unless you try to do something to bring the change in your life no one else will do it for you. People can be very comforting and good listeners but no one likes all day whining especially when that is all you do.
I turned 50 last October. Completing 3/4 of the expected average human lifespan and I am worried. Worried about future. It terrifies me to see that I have neither the security nor the funds for my old age. So, what did I do all these years, let’s say from age 21 to 49 (the working years)? Nothing for myself except a three four years of work from home job given to me by a “friend” as a “do a good deed” pack. I earned some money and experience no doubt but I lost a lot on personal front and then the job itself. As the person said himself,” No good deed goes unpunished”. Not his quote but Oscar Wilde’s. My punishment was to be thrown out of work when I needed it most. It was a crucial time for me and a few more years would have seen me through a lot of troubles. This is when I realized that once you taste freedom life is never the same again. Also, that without enough money for everyday sustenance every notion of freedom and living a life one dreams of falls flat on the face. When someone knows that you are looking for safe refuge more than anything else and at any cost they get you to do stuff they want. I will tell you this very important story one day soon.
Dependence is imprisonment and even though I know it I have very few choices. The ‘hard path’ that people tell me to take is all fine and dandy but my inner fears and physical, emotional health doesn’t allow me to cross the line once more at this stage of life. Now, in this third and perhaps the last phase of my life, I am again at crossroads. The choices are clear and very few unless a miracle happens. I do believe in them by the way. 🙂 You tend to believe in everything when all else fails.
A few of those choices will mean giving up on all that I worked on in last few years. Giving up on my ideals, my beliefs and to start afresh is scaring the wits out of me. I have to make a choice soon even if it means a complete turn around or shedding my skin once again to begin from the first step however hard and painful it may be.
Someone asked me why I decided to play the role of a homemaker when I was ‘educated’ and ‘talented’? Why didn’t I take up a profession, become a ‘working woman‘?
The answer is, every woman is a working woman. As for professional life or being a career woman, It was a choice I made and thought it to be correct at that time. I never imagined things would turn out the way they did. I never imagined that the ‘home’ that I always dreamed about can only become a reality only IF I earn.
Sadly, everything hinges on money. I have seen even the supposedly closest people turn away the moment they realize you have nothing much to give in terms of money.
This post is just a rambling to help me and maybe others to decide what course to take to make life worthy. I am seeking answers everyday as I battle with my fears. Will the patriarchy win? Will I eventually find my space? Will I find the closure? I tell myself I have been there before. Fought the war, for myself. Won it too. I keep the faith in the choice I have made now. Though I know the stanch feminists will disagree with it but then again I know what’s best for me in this difficult time. I have to correct certain things. I have to make peace with myself. I have to resurrect a bond I cherish. I have to end the search for a home for good. I have to find that space where I can make the choices without a finger pressing my jugular.
My heart is full but my mind tells me not to give up after coming so far. I have battled fears, depression, physical health issues, heartbreak, regressive mindsets, constant bullying, physical abuse and more at other levels. Still battling many of these. Being home bound for years has made turned me into a nervous, jittery person. I feel scared to take on the world as I did so naturally earlier. It has made me shrink into a non believer in myself. Crowded places make me uneasy, going in empty elevators, public transport scares me. I am not the person who didn’t give a hoot to troubles. BUT, I’m slowly changing that. It is a painful task but I am ready to bring myself back into the game. I have constantly repaired myself and moved on with courage. I have a feeling now is the time to take that final call. Changing old patterns takes an effort and that effort needs immense strength to carry forward but I am not a quitter. I may give in many times but I won’t give up.
“Don’t ever think of me as “easy” “provocative” . I may speak my mind openly and seem to you like a “non typical Indian woman” but then you don’t know Indian women. It is time you changed your perception. I have scars from touching certain people in my life .. and
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” Khalil Gibran
On Woman’s Day I attended an event organised by Breakthrough a global human right organisation and IndiBlogger, the largest community of Indian bloggers. Breakthrough launched the #RingTheBell (Bell bajao) campaign in 2008 .
The event for this year which was formally launched at British Council urges men to intervene and take a pledge to end violence against women with their Global campaign of ‘One Million Men and One Million promises to end all forms of violence against women’.
Artists, NGOs, bloggers, entrepreneurs and people from all walks of life gathered to end #VAW in whatever possible. Around 150 indibloggers participated as part of #indichange and renewed their pledge. I always thought we should have a “Bloggers writing for change” group and this initiative gives us a platform to join our voices against any kind of violence against women and children.
I asked someone ” Were the men ever “gentle” ?” I have a problem with this poster. I think men are more sensitive to women’s issues now than ever before and yes, exceptions are always there and have been in the past too. The lady told me it is about extending hands towards men who have that “gentle” side but just need a little nudge. Sonali rightly said that we should teach the girls not to laugh at the boys who cry. It is just about being sensitive to each other as humans beyond gender or anything else.
“We need to tell our boys that they CAN cry.”
That brings me to other controversial statement. “Hang the rapists.” I am against capital punishment but do believe in strict law enforcement, sensitization, severe punishments even reforming the accused serving the sentences but taking a life whatever the case is something i do not agree with.The system need overhauling including the prisons. It is easier said than done but in any case my vote will always be against capital punishment. Sometime you need to forgive to stop the cycle. This is the sign of a civilized society. Why do we lose that humane touch and not give a chance to those perpetrators serving the sentences in jails of redeeming and actually doing something good with the rest of their lives if they have deep remorse and bring the change within. Is it not we want? A change from within in every man and woman in our society? Many won’t agree and have counter points so we can discuss it later.
Violence is not just physical, the other kinds – emotional and mental is more deep-rooted and seldom talked about for the lack of “evidence”. I have been there and know how difficult it is to take that one step in direction of finding yourself and reclaiming your dignity by stepping out of relationship or a situation. The price sometimes is extremely high. Most of the time for many women it is not even possible. A deeper dialogue and engaging men to find new solutions and making them take the ownership of doing their bit to act against any kind of #VAW is a step I appreciate. I hope the campaign does not stay to the cities and reaches our villages and small towns too.
It was a thought-provoking evening with panel discussions based on two themes
1 Forms of responses & encouragement – social , legal and leadership taken by women
2 Portrayal of women in films, TV and advertising
It was an enthralling experience to listen to listen to some of the women I admire Indira Jaisingh, Advaita Kala, Sonali Khan, , Priya Paul. Some of the other women panelists came from rural areas where they are doing groundbreaking work. They included Rahima Khatun and Pushpa Balmiki.
The men included Ryan Mendonca, Rajan Anandan who promised to who promises to invest in startups led by women, Rahul Bose and our very own Anoop Johnson from indiBlogger.
Topics like Objectification. Commodification. Hypersexuality, redefining ‘macho”, stereotyping in media, harassment of women on internet and many other important issues were discussed.
Some quotes from the speakers:
“People always say, we bring up our daughters like our sons.’ Why not bring up your sons like your daughters?” Advaita Kala
“There can be no gender justice without the involvement of men,” he said. “The challenge is, how do we get men to stop seeing this as a ‘women’s issue’? We’ve completely ignored a ready constituency of men – every victim of rape, molestation and abuse has an angry father, a confused husband, a shamed brother. We can reach out to these men, counsel them, and turn them into the greatest gender warriors in this battle.” Rahul Bose
“Boys don’t need to play with guns, there’s no need for guns in our lives. Patriarchy in staunchly patriarchal cultures reflects in the push for capital punishment, in an eye for an eye. Cultures that have moved past patriarchy have given up capital punishment, like some of the Scandinavian countries. So we must teach our men to give power, secede power, not assume it. Boys should be accustomed to telling their sisters, you stay out till 2am, I’ll come home at 1. This will form the basis of a unconditional change that can make the world a safer place for everybody.” Rahul Bose
“Women are not getting 33%reservation in parliament because there they will not be able to put us down.” Rahima
We had some brilliant video streaming of people working hard to bring the change at grassroot levels. I loved this quote from a woman activist.
Manzilen unko milti hain
jinke sapno main jaan hoti hai
Sirf pankh hone se kuch nahin hota
hoslon se udaan hoti hai
Performances by Swarathma , a folk- rock band from Bangalore. Sensitivity about the burning issues of our time and the power of good music can go a long way in touching human psyche. Do we hear the sounds of change? I wish I had recorded some part of the electrifying performance. Do listen to their music on You Tube. Their song on child sexual abuse ‘Ghum’ was heart wrenching.
Listening to Mahabanoo-Modi-Kotwal was something very close to heart and as a writer, as a woman it touched some deep chord inside. It was really a privilege. I would love to connect with her sometime. I loved the poem by Eve Ensler that she read out. Her readings from Vagina Monologue was thought provoking.
“Main Aazad hun. Aazad hun aur behad sexy . Koi problem hai ?”
Thank you for letting me use this brilliant Photograph IHM . Do visit her awesome blog.
As more and more people pledged their support by ringing the bell the time came for the special guest to bewitch the gathering with her music. Watching Anoushka Shankar live on stage brought back fond memories of listening to her father. She has the same heartwarming smile and way of communicating with her team of musicians , same brilliance as she magically moves her fingers to produce the finest of Indian classical music. The raagas she chose to play were excellent. The evening air was filled with the gorgeous music and her presence. It was simply breathtaking. She too extended her support to the cause. Some people question the role of celebrities at such events but here was a woman who has been there done that just like me, you and many of us trying t make a difference and it takes courage to speak.. immense courage.
It is a feeling of pride to be associated with IndiBlogger‘s initiative #IndiChange and I thank each member of the IndiBlogger team for their unconditional support to me as woman, as a blogger. When you are rebelling against a system, defying age-old norms and breaking barriers every support counts. It made my struggle easier. I think we as invited bloggers did not get time to express our point of views which would have been excellent because we are the voice of the internet and every voice counts. The new initiative IndiChange is about “Harnessing the collective power of blogging to fight the evil.”
I hope more and more people Ring The Bell and there comes a time when we are able to completely wipe out VAW from the roots.
Let us aim to get 1 million men to pledge support through ‘Breakthough’ from 8th March 2013 to 8th March 2014. Spread the word and join the action.
Here are some photographs of the event.
You can read some of my other related posts HERE
Thank you for recognizing that
You are precious.
So am I
˙·٠•●♥♥Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ♥♥ Happy Woman’s Day ˙·٠•●♥♥Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ♥♥
Here is a song I love.
I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I’ll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
Don’t give up the fight. Life is Your Right
RECOGNIZE your inner strength, BELIEVE in yourself, Be Ready to SHED what is not YOU, if you feel you are being caged ESCAPE from the tiniest crack you find, FIGHT for your Dignity and Worth.
Be True to self, Be selfish Love Yourself First, Break Away, Cut the cord that strangles you. Bend the Rules.
Never let anyone write your story. Never hand over the pen to them.
Never feel guilty of doing what your heart feel right. Never complain. Never explain.
There are no excuses to let yourself be treated like shit.
Never compromise yourself .
Never be bullied into silence. Don’t be a victim.
Never lose your true self under the deluge of masks society offers you to wear.
Society has never been kind to women who stand up and speak their mind, make your choice. Be free or be damned.
Freedom to be oneself comes with a price , sometimes a huge one, Pay the Price or let others pay the price of trying to cage your spirit.
Nothing is more important than your dignity.
HAVE COURAGE to Chat Your Path. Never resign to your fate.
Stand alone, it better than being lost in a crowd.
Never submit to the will of others.
Walk out of relationships that smother You. Dare to break away. Be at loggerhead with the society. It is not a cakewalk but it is worth every moment. Subjugated life is devoid of any soul.
Have the moral courage to Defy what in Unjust. Don’t be a performer.
Never let your bodies to be outraged. Never let yourself become an object.
Draw a line and stop the “little adjustment” from becoming a big compromise. If it takes the monstrous shape it just engulfs before you know it.
Don’t wait for change to happen. Make your move. It is never too late.
Stop living in your fears.
Think for yourself, never go in with conformity and herd mentality.
Recognize Abuse , for it is often camouflaged as love, betterment, moral duty, guilt, emotional blackmail.
Speak up. Silence only helps it breed and dig its claws deeper into your being.
It is better to raise your voice against unjust than suffer and reinforce the fact that women can be used as old newspapers.
Be financially independent.
Be fearlessly yourself
Sometimes it takes more than just courage and will to do what is “right”. Look within and you will know your reason to do it.
Someone said to me , ” It is all there for you to get, the only thing is How badly you want it.” You can’t imagine how true it is. It gave direction to my life.
Courageous Risks are life giving – Take Risks
“My priorities are sorted out. I have moved on” , I said.
“Moved on ?” “True moving on is to bring the past to a closure. It is done and over “
“True that ” I said. “So be it.”
It was last year this date that I made the life changing decisions.
This year this day I am That I am and nothing else matters.
I am grateful to my friends, fellow bloggers, readers, and each person who believed in me and stood by me, some visible some invisible.
My boys are my strength and it fills me with tremendous pride and love for these young adults for understanding my decision despite of the physical distance it created. Thank you for being my children and for loving me for what I am.
My family who did not “wash their hands off me” like many parents who do the moment their daughter gets married. I am blessed to be part of you.
We all have a spark within but to turn it into a flame one needs a breath of life – ♥ ﾚo√乇
There is nothing more gratifying than being oneself.
She is fifteen years of age. A Muslim by birth and a “girl” by accident of birth. Youngest daughter among ten siblings , she had four younger brothers and three elder married sisters. One sister died when she fell from the terrace.
Nabila’s (name changed) story is not just hers but reflection of many who are caught between the life of their dreams and the bitter reality life has put them in. Forced to work as domestic help the girl never went to school. The harsh conditions and subjugation at home has made her bitter about her community, gender and society at large.
She does have a mind of her own but that is not enough for her to stand up against the discrimination inflicted against her.
” I am beaten up for the slightest mistakes while my brothers get away with whatever they do. My married sisters are like furniture at home , they have legs but they can’t dare step out of the house on their own. Elder brother, eldest among the siblings, decided not to step away from the family after marriage and is frowned upon and called “joru ka gulam“. He hardly visits us. ” She was in a mood to rant and I probed her by some questions to hear her inner voice.
“Are you ill-treated because of your gender ?”
“Yes, My brothers get the best of food. I cook all meals and work in the house and in three houses here. I am beaten up if I protest. I am the last to eat. When I ask for some pieces of mutton etc. I am abused and told to eat whatever is given as boys need more nutrition and energy. Don’t I need it ?” She looked at me.
“Of course, you do and it is very wrong on their part to do this.”
” I am told not to dress up nicely, apply bindi or henna or any make up. The Hindu girls do it and no one stops them. How am I different?”
“You are not different it is just the attitude of your parents even Hindu girls are treated like you in many houses.It is because you are a girl that you go through this.” I had no other explanation coming to my mind at that moment.
‘” It is about religion too”, she insisted. I did not want to go there and put ideas in her head to voice at home and get beaten again. I had to tread softly.
“Have you ever asked your parents about it ” , I asked.
“Yes, they say I am a Muslim and I must follow rules. I don’t like being a Muslim. The Hindu girls are not treated so badly as us. In just one or two years I will get married and then all will end. ” Her face clouded with the very thought. All men are rascals. My father drinks and both parents hit me with whatever comes in their hands. ( I saw the wounds on her arms the day she was hit by brick by her mother. The reason – she forgot to put salt in vegetable because of her attention was diverted towards TV serial.) No one loves me. Parents love two of my sisters and the middle one is neglected too. She is beaten up by her in-laws and hardly comes here.”
“Why is that ? Your parents should intervene.” I asked.
“I don’t know. She is nice but has T.B.” she said matter-of- factly.
” I wanted to study in madarsa but wasn’t allowed. A tutor was assigned to teach me Urdu so I could read Quran. I won’t be able to get married if I can’t read Quran. He used to hit me a lot and told abba I was useless in learning and slow. I had just begun to understand but he was paid off and told not to come. In the village I am supposed to lie about my education and say that I study. I got fed up and told my jija ( Brother in law) the truth and was beaten up and kept hungry for two days by my parents.”
I made sure she colored the drawing books and wrote her name and numbers etc taught her to greet in English ( it was her ardent wish to learn the right phrases and how /when to use what ). I noticed that she used a lot of English words correctly even though the pronunciation may not be correct at times.
I also found she was having a lot of difficulty in learning as she was past the age for the basics and was too distracted.
Her dreamy eyes glued to TV she kept asking questions about the latest Bollywood gossip and what attracted her most were the advertising.
She was dissatisfied with the shape of her nose and knew it could be retouched by some procedure. I was aghast.
“Who told you that?”
” I heard somewhere. Priety Zinta got it done.”
“Arrrrrrg , I said ” do not get carried away by all this, it is just an eye wash I tried to explained. She was surprised but not convinced. Lured by the beauty products and the screen Gods and Goddesses she wanted to change everything about her from clothes, hair color and length to features. The only thing that made her glad was her fair skin. I made sure to educate her on how the advts. are air brushed and natural beauty is what matters , that too inner beauty. The talk was lost on her. With one sentence she silenced me.
” All that is alright but it is my outer beauty which will get me a loving husband and good home. My sisters are not that fortunate but they are good home makers. See how unhappy they are. ” Looks Matter”. That ended the matter. A devout follower of her screen idols she went back to her dream land.
I tried to persuade her to learn to write more but she didst want to do it at the cost of leaving a movie or a serial mid way. I told ma she could be a great film critic and columnist if she knew how to write.
With a sigh I went back to my work but she was wired and switched off the TV.
“We will do to the temple and do Puja one day.” She suddenly became animated and I realized what a brilliant smile she had. I smiled.
“Why would we do that? I don’t believe in God.” I wanted to get reaction from her.
” Why don’t you believe in God? Your Gods are so colorful and plenty. Choose any one you like. It is fun to visit temples. you get Prasad and the atmosphere is so lively and the pujas are so creative.” She went on with various descriptions and incidents while I searched for something to burst the bubble.
“Our Allah lives in a book. At least your Gods are real . You know how they look and there are female Gods too.” She stressed on this a lot.
“We have a male God that too formless.” She very strongly showed the disapproval.
I laughed and told her all these Gods were creations of our imagination and none is real.
She refused to believe. “You can not imagine and create, there has to be someone , some model, you see”, she explained.
“I don’t get jobs because of my religion. My sister had to change her name to Hindu one to work in the houses as domestic help. People think we are trouble makers. Very few treat us nicely.”
I saw her point. I had a domestic help who called herself Seema. Her real name was Najma. She faced the same problem. People are prejudiced against Muslims. A sorry state of affairs but it is true in many fields. I knew a couple who refused a PG accommodation to a Muslim student just because of her religion. People do not rent out places to Muslim tenants at many places.
I told her my reason for being non religious. Told her about the ugliness of ritualistic religion and how God has just become a mode to spread hatred and how religion has become a puppet in the hands of few.
She nodded her head in agreement and quoted something she had heard on TV about Hindu Muslim clashes and about terrorist attacks.
“All Muslims are not terrorists” she said looking straight into my eyes.
“Agree with you completely” , I replied. “Terrorists ,fanatics can be in any religion even Hindus are utter fanatics.”
Confused about t he identity of “her” non visible God and “our” unreal Gods she concluded that a God who creates disparity, division, discrimination and much more. I explained that some self-centered men with an agenda of their own use religion as a tool to do all that she is talking about and people blindly follow because of fear and ignorance. The problem is bigger than what she is facing and seeing around her.
To Nabila all that mattered was the unjust behavior of her parents and the close-knit community she was part of. I watched the girl fidget with her duppatta with down cast eyes full of sorrow, pain and deprivation.
“You get such nice clothes to wear and the bangles, ear-rings etc. ” “Your father does stitch nice fashionable stuff for you. ” I wanted to get away from the topic of religion.
“I pay for my clothes. It all comes from my salary. Only during festivals or marriages etc. my father spends. I give all my earnings to mother but now I have learned to keep some for myself and buy things I like. She beats me at times but abba says it is her money at least she is not asking us for it. Mother is the root of all evil”, she said with anger in her voice.
Who told them to have ten children? Their first-born was a boy then could have stopped after next child who was a girl. Why brings so many mouths to feed? She is fat and useless. Only sells roasted corns and hits me. Always irritated about something or other. She is greedy too. ”
I agreed as I had once spoken to the mother at length and knew exactly what Nabila was referring too.
It was a difficult life she was living. Precariously suspended between her girlhood dreams and reality. Dreams which will make her a misfit in her community due to many reasons including the socio-economic ones.
Exposure to electronic and print media ( she is supposed to look up the newspapers( Hindi and English ) everyday even if she can not read) is making her aware , discussions with people like me make her think again about what has been instilled into her. I wonder if her dreams will prove to be nightmares for her as she grows up. I have watched her trying to copy the hair style or pull her dress off shoulder when no one is looking . Many times she has asked me questions about various cosmetics, clothes. Questions about the page 3 pictures in newspaper, smoking ,drinking by women and sometimes about the various places around the world whose names she has gathered from somewhere or the other. It is beyond her imagination to measure distances between places. To her the world consists of her village and a few more places in and around that and distance is what lies between the village and Delhi which is her home now.
Working at different places has opened some windows of her mind and it scares me to think what may be the result of it. I already see a rebel in her. A spark which may either make or break her. Naive and happy-go-lucky girl of fifteen she is maturing quickly for her age ( physically and emotionally). She is aware of her fair skin and good looks, aware of her body and the exposure to TV is doing no good to her. She is exploring life outside of her cramped living. Her aspirations to be like her favorite heroines or the girls whom she sees in advt. is taking a grip on her psyche and do her more harm than good. I feel for her and try to educate her as much as I can so that she doesn’t get waylaid.
A fear always looms large in my mind. What will be her fate eventually? Will she keep turning under layers and layers of social norms, customs, rituals, duties, obligations, adjustments ? Will she find strength to at least break some of this chains and make a place for herself? What is the future of this girl who has dared to dream?
It was time for her to go home.
I watched her as she brushed her hair, washed her face and gathered her things.
” Do you sometimes feel it would have been better if you were a boy?” I asked
She looked at her shimmering bangles, her new salwar kammez and henna on her hands. Caressing her freshly brushed hair she said ,” I don’t think so. I love to dress up.Though by birth and by religion I am cursed. ”
The lift doors opened and she was gone before I could say anything.