I know why the caged bird sings. She sings because she is trying to get a part of herself outside the cage. Her voice is the only part of it that can go out at this moment. She is served with all the food and water that she needs. But she is still hungry. She craves for freedom.
That’s exactly how I feel at times. When you are a woman, our society enforces so many contradictions and greys on your way, on a daily basis. Things can get really confusing. Here are some of my daily confusions:
1. The 10 PM Deadline: Like clothes come with a price tag, girls come with a time tag. Some have the “7PM” deadline, some come with 8PM. The second best thing that you do, to be safe is to come home on time. Also, girls ‘shouldn’t be out for very long’. The best thing of course is to stay at home.
I am the 10PM Cinderella. I have practically not seen the end to any event or a get-together or a meeting that is scheduled in the evening. I generally get alarmed by the site of 9:30 and everyone starts reminding me of the ‘Cinderella’ time.
But still, there are times when I reach home at 11. It gets difficult for Papa. He is not the shouting/scolding kind of father. He has never hit me. But as a Dad, there are times when he has to act tough, to make sure I don’t forget ‘my limits’. I can see how much it pains him. I try and go home early for at least 2-3 days after such an episode.
2. What to wear, what not to wear: Starting from our parents to our professors to our ministers, everyone has a theory on what to wear so as to avoid problems (molestation, rape, assault). Your body is such a sacred thing for everyone out there, that wearing shorter clothes looks like inviting rape, being very friendly is like seducing for sex and having a boy-friend, amounts to losing virginity.
My mom doesn’t see the need for me to wear shorts. “Zaroorat kya hai?” she asks. “Well, it feels comfortable, to start with.” I tell her. She comments something about my generation and I still wear what I want. I am lucky.
3. Have specific goals if you don’t want to get married: I am lucky to be a part of community where most girls don’t have to fret until their graduation. But just when you are about to finish your graduation, you need to have a concrete plan. You can either do a post-graduation which will definitely delay your marriage for 2 years or you could take up a job and slowly slide towards the marriageable age. Experimenting is not a feasible option. You basically have 3 years, 4 if you’re lucky; to do all the experiment that you want.
Mom still doesn’t understand my work. It would have been easier for her if I was a banker and earned 30K a month while slowly moving towards an arranged marriage with a Mallu guy who’d be gracious enough to let me work. Everything sounds good, apart from the fact that I was never interested in banking or being a banker! To top it all, I am 23 and I still haven’t begun with my post-graduation.
This reminds me of something that I wrote recently:
Lying peacefully in her dad’s arms, she suddenly exclaimed, “Dad, you don’t need to find me a Prince Charming.”
The puzzled father asked, “Why so?”
She looked into his eyes and said, “Because I am not the princess that needs to be saved. I am the hero of this story.
Dad smiled and that since night he slept peacefully. His daughter had grown up.
4. Having too many guy friends: We don’t need to elaborate upon what all it can indicate but having one or more guy friends definitely puts a ‘grey’ on a girl’s character.
I have always had more guy-friends. It initially began as my curious attempts to understand guys better. I made a lot of guy friends during high-school, something that was unusual for most girls around.
In May of 2012 (this was after my graduation) I met with an accident. I bruised half of my face, almost broke my leg and was given 2 months of bed rest. I remember that funny scene in the hospital where all my close friends had come. 10 guys, 2 girls. Mom was surprised. For the next 2 months, everyday there’d be so many friends visiting home.
One day casually, she brought this up. “I’ve seen so many of your friends in the past one month. 5 of them also visit regularly and take great care of you. They’re simply amazing. But how come all of them are just guys? ” It was a sudden realisation moment for me too. “Really? Never noticed.” I smiled and patiently answered. I really have never noticed.
Even today, the 4-5 closest friends to me are guys. It doesn’t mean I am involved with them beyond friendship. Every time there’s a movie, mom makes a puppy face and asks, “Is there a girl coming?” I understand how that makes a difference for her.
There are girls too, that I am close to. Basically, I am not friends with someone, because they’re a guy or a girl. It can be ignored totally but I feel you should be able to see a person beyond their sex. I am just saying; me having more guy friends doesn’t tell you anything about me.
5. You can’t be indecisive or clumsy: We’ve never made most of our decisions. This is the most common paradox out there. It is this fear of making wrong decisions. If you’re a woman, you can’t make a wrong decision. “Look! How they take a turn? I am sure the person in the car is a woman.” They’d speed ahead to see if it’s a woman. If it’s a woman they’ll say, “Ah, see! I told you it would be a woman.” They’d laugh and giggle and go home and forward those under-cooked forwards about women. If there wasn’t a woman, well the topic can be changed as well.
I was never too confident about myself. Most of us aren’t. I did not enjoy dressing up or wearing make-up or any activity that was about enhancing your looks. In my little brain, I thought it was enough to be smart. Most people wouldn’t agree.
On the top of that, I was a very clumsy child. I would keep banging, falling and hurting myself here and there. All the important and brittle things, especially glass, would fall from my hands. I was the official “Miss. Butter Fingers.” Grace is the most lady-like attribute to have. I didn’t seem to have much.
While my friends started some serious cooking in 10th standard; I still struggled with cutting my favourite fruit (water-melon) with the knife in my left hand. I am still clumsy, especially when I am being inspected. I get nervous, my hands get jittery and things fumble. I can now cook a thing or two though; a few clumsy friends like me, have been very supportive. I surprise mom at times with good food (and a messy kitchen).
“What will you do when you go to the sasural?!!
“I don’t know. We’ll see.”
6. The Work and Home Balancing: I face this dilemma of balancing work and home, once in a while. There are times when I just can’t be available for my family because I am at work. It gives me a strong sense of guilt. It makes me feel that I’m proving THEM right. They, who say that women can’t manage work and home together.
With time, I have made myself to understand that I can’t be good at everything and keep everyone happy all the time. It’s not about women, no one can. So the days when I leave early for office, I try to wrap up sooner in the evening; to compensate and spend some time with the family and if on certain days, I just have to be there at a family thing, I make sure I cover up for the time at work. I don’t try too hard though. That will be unfair.
7. Being a Feminist: I think I’ll have to first to credit my family for this. Papa, to start with. He has never made me feel like I was his girl child. Since early days, he used to give me small things to do and when someone would ask, “Why are you teaching her things like fill air in her cycle tyre and repairing a puncture? She’s a girl!” He’d answer back saying, “If she’s going to deal with it, why shouldn’t she learn?” His point was valid. He’d make me run with him, 16 rounds of the local gymkhana, until I am dead tired. He never let me run lesser because I was a girl. He had gotten me crazy about Tae-kwondo Karate in school. It was his idea of making me strong. He always wanted me to be a boxer or a weight-lifting champ but when he saw I had no interest, he didn’t force me either. (Looking back, I regret a bit. I should have tried at least. Boxing and feminism seem to fall in line. Just kidding.)
Mom always wanted me to be physically stronger, largely because I was a girl. She was one of those moms who would not pamper you during your menstruals. But her best quality was that she practiced what she preached. I always saw her working, following her regular routine during her own menstrual or worse times. I was inspired by that. Kids learn more from what you do than from what you say.
I’ve always been nurtured like a child and not as a girl child. And yet there would be incidents where I had to be reminded that I was a girl. I would get confused. I don’t know if my parents are to blame there. I would get more confused when people outside would remind me specifically that I was a girl and I needed to behave like one. Some of those confusions still exist but I don’t budge. The idea is to support women rights but by being more human than a woman. I think that’s where I draw a line.
(This article was first published in a beautiful gujarati magazine called Sarthak Jalso. If you want to read this in Gujarati, you can visit to http://saarthakprakashan.com.)