Tuesday, March 28, 2006

On Being a Woman

I have been reading the scattered snippets of writing that were part of the Blank Noise Project...smart pieces which capture the experience of Indian womanhood, pieces which scream out what it means to be single, educated and hence available in India. These are experiences most women can relate to and vilify as they are/were perpetrated by that stereotype lout/creep/Road side Romeo. But what about those people who knowingly/unknowingly let you know you are a woman, that you are somehow different (and by different they mean inferior)? What about them? What about them who do not grope, poke or wink but leave you feeling angry anyway? Like…

The Folks Who Wanted A Boy Really Bad: Back home during our growing years my parents moved from one company allotted quarter to a bigger, better one frequently. With each move came a change of neighbors and friends. But wherever we went we would always have at least one neighbor with a large family of eight. Of the six children the first five would usually be girls followed by the lone, precious and often sickly boy child. Sometimes it would also be six daughters and the lone son, or four daughters, a son and another three daughters (“they got greedy” explained a helpful Aunty). If you are confused, the children are listed in decreasing order of age above.

The Girls Who Grew Up: Then around sixth grade, most of the girls in our play group vanished. We were told they had “grown up” and were not allowed to run wild with the boys anymore, unlike us. Yes, immoral little fiends like us who had the misfortune of being born to educated parents with fancy notions of rearing girls like they were boys!!!

An Aunt Here: After getting really good marks in the board examinations a distant Aunt nullified my achievements by proclaiming to all and sundry that it was much easier to raise daughters as they are genetically disposed to being obedient etc. etc and hence by the law of induction do well at school too!!

And A Teacher There: The friendly instructor for engineering entrance examinations who would let the class know (once in a while) that though girls might get through Board examinations by mugging up the syllabus, they could not get through engineering entrance examinations that way. So they had better take cooking lessons instead of wasting their Dad’s money.

The Old Woman: In the ICU waiting area in Tata Main Hospital she asked me if I was married and on being told that I wasn’t, responded “Isi liye to Papa ki tabeeyat kharab hai*”. Incidentally I was waiting for news of my Dad who had suffered a heart attack the night before and filling in for my Mom who was visiting her sister who had just lost her husband. At seven in the morning after a sleepless night she just left me dumbfounded…I nodded and moved on.

Or The Countless Well Meaning Folks: who always ask about the number of siblings one has as a conveninet starting point for conversation. And on being told about the younger sister always reply with a well practiced, subtle disbelief "No brothers?” Are we not complete without one? Once again I nod my head.

And The Techincians At Work: who insist on helping out the "young lady" who does not desire it.

* That's why your Dad is ill. I don't think I need to explain the social connotations for this one.


Kumari said...

They always linger, don't they, such wolves in sheep clothing? In bright living rooms, sharing coffee, laughing out loud but all the while making sure a girl's place is in the kitchen and if she didn't stay there not much good came to the family?

Sharp write up.

And Congratulations Missus :D Looks like my previous comment vanished into thin air :( You look wicked pretty in all those prettier sarees. I guess when one finds an image to replace that of a senior in PJ's and chappals, it is sweet :)

Amlan said...

Poignant and telling.

Buchu said...

when i was born someone told my baba: apni dukhkho korben na. aajkal meyerao jibone kharap kore na.

my father once also fired a (female) ayah whom he found telling me, when i was a 3 month old baby and crying my lungs out: ei meyeder erokom kaandte nei. meyeder mukh bondho kore thakte hoye. ekhon thekei eto gola kisher jonne?

and yes, having just one daughter (my sister is really my mashi's daughter that my mother brought up) is unbelievable for most ppl. the whole: tomar kono bhai bon nei? question takes on a wholly different dimension. when i say i have a sister, it would then be: duto meye shudhu? orre baba.

the sad bit: most of the above comments where made my women- by a female nurse, by female relatives and so on.

on the other hand, there's you, there's me, and there's an entire generation of us out there. here's hoping, on a more positive note, for a better world!

Anyesha said...

kumari: Its strange but the same image...that of people settled nicely in the cosiest sofa in the living room, drinking coffee and casually making offensive remarks, was the one which I had in mind when I started writing this piece.
Thanks for the wishes.

Amlan: If you say so.

Antara: I am sure each of us has as many stories. Infact your stories reminded me of our confused neighbour who asked my Dad if he really had a daughter three times over...when he was offered sweets. Said neighbour could not understand why someone would distribute sweets on the birth of a daughter...that too the second time around. My Dad though tells the story with great relish till this day!!

Nautilus said...

Hi Anyesha, great post! Touched a raw spot, I must say!!

When my sister and I started working, my Mesho told my mom "Meyeder khatiye khabi?" My mom was too mortified to react!!

My father-in-law used to proudly tell a story...he promised my mom-in-law 30 sarees if she gave birth to a boy (they had two girls) and how she exacted those 30 sarees from him after my husband was born! I used to found it so revolting! Then one day, after hearing the same story for the n'th time, I actually mustered up enough courage and told him, that everytime he repeats the tale in front of people, he's just flaunting his ignorance and insulting his own daughters! My mom-in-law jumped to his defence and said " If we hadn't tried for a son who would you be married to?" That left me speechless!

I like your style and will be back for more :-)

Aditi Das Patnaik said...


i am fine, and for most part one can't be too careful with these things. A hired cab on a trip on the road is well as mundane. Felt like posting on your tirade here which i quite related to so you may want to abuse me on that one too.