I’d had an intuition that I would be coming back here before my hiatus ends on 6th April. And right now, I’m too much in a hurry to say something important to explain why.
Today during dinner my cousin discussed the different streams she was considering to take up after completing her Class X next year. Here in India, once you give your Class X Board Exams, you choose one of the seven streams for the next two years of school – PCM, PCB, PCMB, Commerce with Maths, Commerce without Maths, Humanities with Maths, Humanities without Maths, depending on the options available at your school.
My cousin had grown up with dreams of becoming a model and then venturing into acting, and since Manushi Chhillar, a medical student, brought back the Miss World Crown to India after seventeen years, she has been considering studying medicine too.
Everyone present echoed only one thing: it’s her choice to become what she wants to; there are no restrictions on our end.
Dinner was over but our discussion and suggestions of different fields in medicine and biology – everything from psychiatry to botany – continued. I told her she had until her half yearly exams in Class XI to decide. You can’t change your stream after that.
“Whatever,” my mother said as she took the dishes to the sink, “you’ll end up cooking afterwards.”
Her statement wasn’t directed toward my cousin but was a general declaration, a common thinking pattern – no matter how much you study, you’re going to end up rolling chapattis for your husband.
I quipped back, “Times are changing. Aai”
My cousin’s brother, sitting right next to me, agreed. “Yes, they are. I know of a couple – had a love marriage – where the wife does not know how to cook and the husband not only works but also does the cooking.” He laughed as he finished.
I said, “Well that’s what working women do – they work as well as do the house chores. What’s so funny about that?”
What followed was my family’s usual reaction to my taking a stand on issues such as these – that I take things too seriously.
“Feminist,” my brother said to my face.
“What’s wrong with that? It is how things are.”
“It feels different.”
I started responding but before I could finish my imperfectly articulated sentence, my mother interrupted. I don’t remember what she said, because I have a very poor memory, but it was somewhere along the lines of, “You have a very bad habit of taking everything seriously. Stop being so annoying,” in a tone that was not rude but venomous, the kind that hurts, even if the person had not intended it.
I almost lost it and said what I always do, “I’m not going to say anything now.” I dropped the rest of the dishes in the sink, and instead of helping with doing the rest of the cleaning, I headed to my computer. I knew it was the best way to avoid the conversation, because if I’d heard anything more, I would’ve been tempted to retort. I was already on the verge of crying, so if I’d said anything in that tone, everyone would laugh. I know because this has happened in the past.
I swallowed my tears and started reading articles instead, trying to ignore the pain in my cheeks – the extreme kind when you are trying not to cry even when you want to.
I spent an hour reading articles, half of the time completely focused on the words and half of the times recalling the heated debates my future self has with sexists and the kind of person I imagine myself to be, who is completely different from the person I am now.
Most of these “fantasies” include telling people that my parents did not spend so much on my education so that I would end up rolling chapattis for my husband.
I imagine others referring to my stone-faced, formally-dressed independent self as a no-nonsense person who does not tolerate any kind of discrimination and sexist bullshit, though in reality, I’m nothing like this person. I want to be someone who stands up for herself and others, but I also want people to take me in, to consider me a friend, to be as loved and welcomed everywhere as my mother.
I imagine a marriage where my other half will share house chores with me, not because he is a feminist or because I’m a wife who controls her husband but because his mother taught him that house chores are the responsibility of everyone living in the house, and not just the woman. I imagine a marriage where we are both equal because we are man or woman second and humans first.
I am feminist. I believe that man or woman, you should know how to cook, do the laundry, look after the kids, because no one but you will be there for yourself to steer things ahead if you’re a single parent, live alone, or with someone who does not know how to do these things, or in any other situation where you can only depend on yourself. These things are not a woman’s job; they’re things everyone should know how to do.
I was crying because I wanted to let everyone know that we’re not born to just cook for others. Don’t get me wrong. I want to learn how to cook because I want to be complimented for my tasty recipes just like my mother. I want to learn to cook to have the freedom to eat what I want to. (I hate the idea of doing the laundry, but that’s a different story).
I was crying because somehow I expected my family to understand the issue the way I do and to believe in things I do – that there’s nothing wrong if women work and men look after the house, that if women can have a job and look after the kids at the same time, then men can too.
The point is, I’d forgotten something I’d decided to do some while ago – to not argue with others.
Hear me out – I’m always open to a healthy discussion and debate as long as the other party understands that we both ought to respect each other’s opinions and that there are better ways of disagreeing than being offended and making you feel guilty about having started the conversation in the first place, sometimes even making you think you’re wrong because the other person’s overbearing personality almost makes them look like they’re right, even if that might not be the truth.
It’s in confrontations like these that I’m at my weakest. A few words into it and I’m already on the verge of losing my voice. I have the words to put my point forward, but not the strength to do that. And that makes the situation worse.
As I sat reading articles on da Vinci and slow thought and swearing in post-War Britain, I resumed those fantasies of having debates in my head and a lesson I’ve learned several times before but fail to remind myself of when the need arises resurfaced– that I cannot change people. One thought led to another until I had to get up and scribble a note to myself in my pocket notebook:
esp. when it
And then I rushed here to write this post because I couldn’t figure it out better than putting it into words.
After more than fifteen hundred words, this is what I have ended up with:
- Don’t argue with people whenever such issues come up – not everyone is so accepting and open-minded; you’re going to end up crying.
- Stop speaking. Start doing. You might think not speaking up would be the wrong way to proceed, but it’s useless when no one’s listening. A better way is to practice what you preach.
- Think of the ordinary yet extraordinary, stereotype-bashing women you read about in the newspaper today. They did not argue with others about what they deserved; they went ahead and led the lives they wanted to.
The next time any such situation arises, I’m not going to speak, I’m going to act. I don’t know if it would really make much of a difference and change people’s perceptions. All I know is that at least one more woman will be living with the respect she deserves.
And in such a huge movement as this one, every person counts.