Just Another Day Of Her Life

Jyotsna woke up, determined to go back to sleep. It must be 6 am, she thought. She looked at her watch. It was 8! She jumped out of bed. Why didn’t her alarm ring? Was it the am / pm mess again? Never mind! Who has the time to figure out now!

She layered a generous amount of toothpaste on her toothbrush, and stuffed it into her mouth as she entered the kitchen. Tea on one burner, bread on the other. Another burner was turned on, as she took out the dough from the refrigerator.

The door-bell rang. Rupa, her house-maid entered. Jyotsna did not have the energy to argue with her for coming late. She was just grateful that she came.

“There is some bhindi in the fridge. Can you please pack it in Bhaiya’s

tiffin.” Jyotsna said.

“Didi, there is not enough bhindi for two people. What will you carry today?”

“It’s okay. Just make sure you pack for him. I will eat something at work.”

By the time Jyotsna got dressed, Anand was back from yoga. She grabbed a slice of bread, and rushed to catch her office cab.

Jyotsna sat next to her friend, Nidhi in the cab who was her only solace in the one-and-a-half-hour commute. But today, Nidhi did not remove her head-phones, and ignored Jyotsna. She pestered her to talk. Nidhi burst into tears.

“Kunal dumped me!”

“Oh I am so sorry dear! What happened?”

“He said he got engaged to a girl, his mother found for him. When I accused him, he said he cannot possibly marry a woman who is on Tinder!”

“That’s ridiculous! He himself is on Tinder!”

“I know right!! Bloody hypocrite! He said we could continue seeing each other. But I told him to get lost. So, I dumped him, technically, right?”

“Oh yes of course! Good for you! We deserve better! I mean you deserve better!”

Just before lunch break, Jyotsna received a call from her mother-in-law. She was getting late, but she knew this was a call she had to pick. She still remembers the ruckus from the last time she had missed her call.

“Namastey Mummy!” she tried to sound cheerful. There was silence.

“Hello?”

“Jyotsna! I can’t believe you gave yesterday’s bhindi to my son for lunch! And bread for breakfast!! Why are you so lazy?”

“Mummy, I had got up late today. And Rupa was also late. He had really liked the bhindi last night. There was little left so just for today, I gave him that. And he loves bread! Especially when I put cheese spread on it!

“What option does he have, poor boy! Keep neglecting your husband! I never say anything. I am such a kind, understanding woman. You are lucky to have me as a mother-in-law. And a husband like Anand. When I got married, I used to get up at 5 and make sure…..”

Jyotsna was tempted to disconnect the phone. Her mother-in-law went on for half an hour. By the time she reached the cafeteria, it was fully crowded. She looked at the queue. Then at her watch. She had a call in 10 minutes. She had no option but to skip lunch.

Jyotsna and her boss dialed in for the call. They waited patiently for five minutes. After 10 minutes, somebody joined.

“Hi. This is Rahul from Leela’s team. Leela would not be able to take the call today. Her baby is sick so had to rush home. But I have prepared the report, and if we turn to page 10…”

“You see this!” Jyotsna’s boss muted the call, visibly infuriated.

“I hired Leela last year! She never bothered to tell me she was expecting at the time of interview! Enjoyed her paid maternity leave, and now she will come to work as and when she feels like! Lucky women!!”

“Her child is sick! I am sure she will log in from home in some time…”

“Just a minute, my wife is calling.”

Jyotsna was interrupted as the boss stepped out. But she could still hear him.

No I obviously cannot buy a present for a five-year-old kid on my way back! Just let him attend the birthday party without a gift! Big deal! He can gift later. Don’t disturb me at work for this non-sense! I have better things to do!”

He came back to the room, intuitive that Jyotsna had heard him.

“Sorry. My wife was insisting I buy a gift for a birthday party my son got invited to last minute. She is saying she cannot step out because she is busy! I was like busy with what? You are just a housewife! Anyway, let’s get back to the call…”

After a long day, Jyotsna reached home. Hungry, tired and irritated. As she went to cook dinner, she received a call from Rupa.

“Didi, I can’t come tomorrow!”

“What!! Why? This is your second holiday this week!”

“Sorry Didi. My husband and I had a huge fight. The Didi from 103 had given me her old jeans and kurti. When he saw me in jeans, he got mad and slapped me! He said no need to go to work and seduce men!

“So what! Now you will never work? He doesn’t earn anything anyway!”

“No no Didi. Tomorrow is end of month. He will ask money for alcohol. That time, I will say, I have no money left. His drama will not last. I am not educated like you na Didi, what to do?”

Jyotsna wanted to scream, but refrained. Could the day get any worse?

Jyotsna began having dinner after serving Anand.

“Mummy called me today.” Jyotsna decided to play with fire. “Apparently, you discussed the menu with her, which upset her!”

“Don’t be so over sensitive. She casually asked what I was eating, so I mentioned. Anyway, check this out. She sent me pictures of Rhea on WhatsApp. Just look at her!”

Rhea was Anand’s cousin’s wife. She had delivered a baby boy eight months back.

“Look how slim she is looking! She did aerobics and gym. Lost all that weight so soon!”

Jyotsna knew where the conversation was going.

“I mean just look at her! So pretty and slim! Who would guess she is 35! Some girls take such good care of themselves. They look so young and beautiful. You know Mummy was saying that maybe you should try to reduce too. I mean you are only 29. We don’t even have a child yet. You will only put on more from here on!”

“Excuse me!!”

“I knew you would get offended. It is so difficult to talk to you! What did I say wrong? You know men like their wives to be attractive.”

Jyotsna threw the bowl in her hand. Anand ducked, almost in reflex. He then realized it was just a fragile, steel bowl incapable of causing any damage. Embarrassed, he yelled.

“What the hell?”

Jyotsna stood up. Her big, kohled eyes were red, matching with her the red bindi. She looked very intimidating.

“Shut up!! Just shut up! What the hell, you want to know? Yes, I know I am fat. I would have loved to work out. But I don’t. I prepare your break-fast, tea, lunch and supervise the maid while you go for your yoga. In the evening, again I can’t go to gym because I have to cook dinner for you. I have not even had my lunch today. Did you even bother to check if I did?

You are a 33-year-old man-child who cannot even manage to take care of himself and complains to his mother about what he is being fed!
You know why Rhea is so pretty, because happy girls looks prettier. And you know why she is happy? Her husband is not a jerk like you! She has got a full-time baby sitter, and a cook. So, she can afford to spend time on herself. I can’t!

Not being smart, sexy, modern, is a problem. But we should not be too much of it either! We should be the right amount! Right enough to satisfy your ego, but careful enough not to hurt it!

You can be on Tinder! But we can’t! Wearing jeans is a problem! Leaving office early to tend to a sick child is a problem! Not embarrassing your child for attending a birthday party without a gift is a problem! You know who is the problem! You!!! Live a damn day in my life! Do the chores that I do. Manage house work with office! Listen to the taunts of an interfering and controlling mother-in-law! Come home to an unattractive husband! Yes, the feeling is mutual! If you get judged the way we do, you would not be able to survive!”

Jyotsna stormed out of the room. Anand had never seen her so angry. What is wrong with women? He thought. How did she find out he was on Tinder? When has he forbidden her to wear jeans? And what was that whole thing about presents, and sick children? They did not have any! It is probably that time of the month for her when she gets all crazy.

He would surely call Mummy tomorrow and ask her to counsel Jyotsna on PMS.

Note:

This story was written for an online contest where the cue was from the movie ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’. I am aware that not all men are the way described in this story. This story has been written with the cue in mind, as a tribute to those who have made some of the Indian goddesses very angry.

Bindi or Blazer: Look Beyond The Stereotypes

“You must wear western formals on your first day,” said the HR executive while handing me the appointment letter.

“Can I wear Indian formals? It is part of the dress code as per company policy.”

“You can, but not on the first day. We want a proper, formal look for the first day.”

Read the full article on Sheroes.

13 Reasons Why – Suicide Prevention or Suicide Manual?

The latest show that is creating a lot of controversy internationally is Netflix’s original series – “13 Reasons Why”. It is about a high school girl who commits suicide, and leaves 13 audio tapes about the reasons why she did it. (No there is spoiler yet. This happens in the first episode).

The tapes are sent to the people who in some way or another have contributed to her suicide. There are serious issues shown in the show such as bullying, rape, cyber bullying, and of course suicide. The show is based on a book. The intent of the show was to create more awareness about suicide and the importance of being kind and sensitive to others. It sounds like a great idea. But I did not feel that the show manages to achieve this. I felt it glorifies, rationalizes, and justifies suicide.

1. First of all, nobody can call out from the grave. In the show, Hannah Baker reaches out to people after her death through the tapes. The very premise is unrealistic. The show supports the thought that once she commits suicide, people would sympathize with her and finally accept that they did her wrong. It is like a revenge strategy. The people who did her wrong in this case were her classmates. Why does the show make us believe that people will care about us after we are dead? Even if they do, does it really matter once we are gone? The only people who will suffer endlessly are parents, siblings, immediate family members, who do not deserve to suffer. The rest of the world (including classmates) may care for some time. Then they will forget and move on.

2. Hannah tries to get help from the school counselor who is not of much help. Why could she not reach out to her parents? Her parents are loving and do care for her. What kind of example is this setting? That there is no help whatsoever and suicide is the only logical option? I know that this does happen.People do not believe or support the rape / assault survivor or undermine the feelings of somebody who sounds depressed. But they could have shown her atleast put in some more effort to fix things for herself. That would have set a better example. How would assault / rape survivors / bullied teens feel after watching this show? That killing themselves is natural? Something that is expected of them?

3. Throughout the show, there are a bunch of high school kids keeping secrets in an attempt to “honour” their friendship. I found this very annoying. Some of them have supportive and approachable parents who keep asking them what is wrong. Still, none of them reach out to any responsible adults. It would have been more balanced if at least some character had sense of right and wrong.

4. I don’t even want to get into the graphic suicide scene.

5. The show puts the responsibility of Hannah’s suicide on so many of her classmates (not just the rapist) who received the tapes. “We all killed Hannah!” Does she ever mention her suicidal thoughts to anybody? Is she suffering from a mental illness? Sure, they could have behaved better with her. But were all they supposed to just know, and help her?

6. People who have appreciated the show have said that it will help start conversations on suicide, being such a tabooed topic. No, I don’t think we are still at that point in time where we should applaud each other just for initiating conversations. We should not have such low standards. We should work towards finding solutions, helpline options, feasible support groups.

Teen suicide is a very pertinent issues in the US. In India, so many students commit suicide because of academic pressure. Female celebrities have committed suicide after a break-up. Suicide is horrific and the biggest pain for the surviving family members. Recent live streaming of the video of a young man jumping to his death on a social networking site death was extremely disturbing. It was a call for help. But no help can be delivered after death.

Some people may be suffering from serious mental illnesses and their actions may not even be in their control. They need professional help.

The last thing people should be made to believe is that if they kill themselves, finally people who ignored and hurt them will realise they were in pain all along. And this would be their justice.

Arranged! Before society deem us apart…

Sometime in 2002-2003

I was in junior high school in the United States. The English literature class was going on. I do not remember the exact context, but the teacher was asking for the “Reasons why people get married.”

The creative class was coming up with all kinds of reasons – procreation, money, security, pregnancy among others. One guy said “for love” which was followed by a mocking “Aww!” in chorus. One girl said, “Pressure.”
The teacher’s eyes brightened, as this seemed the most interesting and novel reason so far.

That’s right.” She said. “In medieval times, some people were forced to get married.. Sadly, it is still happening in some parts of the world. It is called arranged marriages.”

I was completely offended. I wanted to raise my hand and correct her. No. Arranged marriages are not forced…. My parents, uncle, aunts, cousins are happily married. All arranged.

But I did not have the courage to speak up. I was afraid everybody would make fun of my accent, or even worse, my thoughts.

After the class ended, I brought up the topic with one of my classmates who was of Indian origin. She was the closest to a “friend” to me. She ensured to tell everybody that she was born and brought up there and was “one of them”. Although, her looks gave away her roots. She never seemed too pleased when I tried to associate herself with India. This time was no exception.

“Arranged marriages are ******. How can you marry a stranger?”

I tried to explain to her that all my relatives had arranged marriages. They are happy. Ultimately, marriage is about committing to each other and making it work. Every marriage is a risk no matter how long you have known each other. I also brought up the low divorce rate in India as a testimony to our wonderful marriages.

“Well, you don’t even belong to our generation.
” She snapped.

In my defense, I was only thirteen.

Cut to 2015.

I am now a writer. I am having a discussion with one of my closest friends (also a writer) on how arranged marriages have ruined our society. Our personal experiences, and that of many close to us have completely transformed our fundamentals. We are together working on an article titled, “Why arranged marriages should be banned in India?”

We ask some men who are in their late 30s, early 40s. They got married early in life, when their personalities had not even evolved fully (in their own words). Their wives are of their parents’ choice, who take care of the family well. But, they badly regret their decision. They were too young to know what they wanted then. Over the years, they have realized that they don’t have much intellectual compatibility with their spouse. (They don’t mind discussing other compatibilities / lack of it but we restrict the conversation. This is from the men’s point of view, I am sure their wives would have their side of the story. Or maybe they are too busy taking care of their kids and in-laws to give their views on marriage to random women…).

Some excerpts from the draft of our article:

1. Arranged marriages promote the archaic caste system. One of the main reasons parents want to arrange their children’s match is to ensure that they marry someone from a similar culture background – caste, community, language.

2. Arranged marriages do not leave any time for people to date and get to know each other. Some arranged marriages may work. But is that logic enough to do something as illogical as marrying somebody you barely know?

3. Do arranged marriages actually work or people stay in them because they are stuck and have nowhere to go to? The reasons these marriages work may be the same for which they happened in the first place – social / family pressure.

We even thought that just like dowry, there should be stringent laws that punish people who arrange marriages.

At this point we realized maybe we should not publish this article…

Present day

Dating is on rise in India like never before. In my previous office, I hardly knew anybody who had an arranged marriage. On the other hand, there are others who want a love marriage, but cannot find anybody. Or their relationships don’t work out and they get tired of trying.

Relationships not working out or not finding anybody is nothing shameful. Rather, something natural and universal. I remember the episode from Friends, where Rachael turns 30. She is already depressed because she is getting old and still single. To add to it, Chandler gives her a card calling her grandma. She then decides that all she needs is a plan, and comes up with a reverse calculation:

“I should have the first one (kid) by the time I’m 35.
Which gives me five years.
If I want a kid when I’m 35, I don’t have to get pregnant until I’m 34.
Which gives Prada four years to start making maternity clothes.
But I want to be married for a year before I get pregnant.
I don’t have to get married until I’m 33.
That’s three whole years.
Wait a minute, though.
I’ll need a year and a half to plan the wedding.
And I’d like to know the guy for a year, year and a half before we get engaged.
Which means I need to meet the guy by the time I’m 30.”

We Indians take this calculation pretty seriously. While Rachael had calculated the age where she wants her first child to be 35, we probably take it at 25. And the countdown begins…

The other view – in support of arranged marriages

Why wait for something that may or may not happen when we can arrange our destiny? What if it gets “too late”? Too late meaning inability to have kids. What if there would be a dearth of single people in the opposite gender as we age – so we may lose out on that precious chance of finding any companion. Plus, who will remain single in India after a certain age? Only people with previous marriages?

So, in order to prevent such a “disaster” in the lives of their loved ones, well-wishers arrange their matches. Compatibility, attraction (What’s that got to do with marriage?) are theoretical concepts that anyway fade with time. It is all about compromise, right?

(PS: I do not support this view)!

Dating and arranged marriages

Modern India seems to be enjoying both sides. People are dating. If it doesn’t work out, there is always have a “back-up” option.

Dating is complicated to begin with. We don’t know where it is going. But in India, to add to the uncertainty of the relationship working out is the possibility of the boyfriend / girlfriend conveniently getting into an arranged marriage the moment clashes / boredom creeps in.

A man may allegedly dump his girlfriend to marry someone who is a more appropriate “caregiver” fit to his family, caste and language compatible. A woman may find an arranged match who may be better suited to make her more secure financially. These are ofcourse stereotypes. Sometimes, people just don’t have the heart to go through the pain of another break-up so they just give up on the thought of “looking out” completely. They want to make sure this time around marriage happens. Either way, modern day arranged marriages do involve some amount of dating, and getting to know the person. A lot of them are facilitated through matrimonial websites.

Can I really judge them, in the age of dating apps?

How do people in other parts of the world survive without well-meaning family members, distant relatives and neighbors finding them a match?

If as a culture we were into dating (and not arranged marriages), wouldn’t we end up finding someone or another? Or atleast continue to look? If only there was no make-believe time bomb ticking away…

I don’t really have a conclusion to this post. I did not publish my original article “Why should arranged marriages be banned in India”, as I felt it was too prejudiced, and offensive to most people I know. Plus, if something is working for someone, do I have a right to judge?

I just wonder sometimes, how our society would be without it..

Where we are not told that we will end up alone and miserable, if we don’t marry ASAP..

Where we could date, with no age barriers and judgment…

Where companionship is not about producing healthy children together…

Where we are given time to really figure out what we want from our lives…

But What About Men? Not All Men!!

Every time I write an article, I receive some personal messages and comments from men:

But what about the men?

Your articles are biased…Not all men are like that.

One guy I know even went to the extent of saying that he feels “discouraged” to be good to the women around him – dropping girls home after a party, not passing lewd remarks on scantily dressed girls in a pub, because he felt that men no longer get any “recognition” for being good in India, thanks to the “feminist wave”.

When women send me their stories and experiences, they are very elaborate and specific. They tell me EXACTLY what it is that is bothering them – whether it is pressure of getting married, struggle to manage home and work along with expectations of in-laws, lack of support from husbands etc. When men send me messages, they are usually just one liners – What about men? Not all men!!

I really cannot write a full article based on that! I write about women’s problems based not only on my own personal experiences, but also experiences shared by women, both known to me in personal life, and unknown to me, who have connected with me in the blogosphere. If a man would actually send me a personal story, about the injustice that he is facing because of society, I will care to write about it (believe me). I am also very much interested in knowing what are the issues faced by men.

Feminists are not men-hating, bra burning, home-wrecking women, provided we care to understand what the whole movement is about. I am in no way saying all men are bad, and all women are good. But I want to tell the men the following:

I have been groped in a crowded public place..

I know a girl who was abused by her relative as a child.

I know of an educated woman who was made to abort a girl child.

I know a former colleage who suffered sexual harassment at work..

I know quite a few women whose husbands have hit them.

I know of women who have been raped by their husbands.

I know of women who could not do MBA because they were told if they don’t marry soon, they would end up alone..

I know of women who spent most of their late teenage years and early adult life studying hard, but gave up their careers for children (They may still have a job, but not a career).

Many married women I know, are expected to take care of household chores, and cook / clean before and after working hours.

Most of the weddings I have attended, are funded by the bride’s side of the family. There may additionally be a car or cash gifted out of “love” as well.

Please ask the women you are close to, if any of the above has happened to them. Maybe every woman you know, will say yes to atleast one of the above.

So, next time I write an article from a woman’s point of view, please do not undermine it by saying “What about men?” Don’t make everything about men…

I get it. Gender stereotypes damage everybody. It is not benefiting anybody. Men who want to leave their jobs to study or work on a start-up or stay-at home dads feel the pressure of society to “provide”. Men get abused too but cannot tell anybody for fear of being ridiculed..I know that some women are filing false dowry cases, and bringing about shame to the ones who actually need the laws (more on that in a separate article)…

Please share such stories with me, if it has happened to you or somebody you know. I will be happy to publish it. But please don’t just say “Not all men!” Not all men are bad. We never said that!! But yes, all women are suffering, in some way or another, just because we are women. Instead of getting defensive, acknowledge the problem, and work towards making things better.

1. Next time your friend says that she is afraid to take a cab late at night, don’t tell her that the city is safe and she is unnecessarily panicking. It is not. Understand that she lives in fear..

2. Stop forwarding those sexist jokes on WhatsApp! They are not harmless and certainly not funny. Especially the married men jokes that I hate. These jokes only support that idea that women are objects to laugh at. A male friend of mine sent me the following joke:

Jet airways launched a scheme where a husband can take his wife free on their business trip.
After big Success of the scheme.
Jet Airways sent letters to all wives asking about their experience?
99% wives replied
What scheme??
Which trip??
and When was it??

Do married men really have women throwing themselves at them? That women will jump at the first opportunity to travel with men who are not their husbands? Is cheating a joke? What if I edited this joke:

Jet airways launched a scheme where a wife can take her husband free on their business trip.
After big Success of the scheme.
Jet Airways sent letters to all husbands asking about their experience?
99% husbands replied
What scheme??
Which trip??
and When was it??

Is it funny anymore? Do we circulate jokes like this? I guess because women don’t get to go on business trips (sarcasm!)? Or maybe society does not consider it acceptable that wives could cheat on their husbands, and then laugh about it too!

3. Don’t just support women empowerment on social media, or in discussions where women are present. Apply it in your daily life. If your friend is maligning a woman’ s character, ask him to shut up. Even if there are no women around to applaud you.

4. Don’t be proud of yourself because you “allow” your wife to work, or visit her parents or go out with her friends. You don’t have any authority to allow her to do anything. You don’t own her.

5. If you genuinely care about women, and treat the women in your life well, they will respect you and appreciate you. Don’t get offended by every “feminist” article. They are very much needed, and are here to stay.

You continue to be the good person you are..

The legend of the frustrated, old, spinster / divorcee

This is going to be a confused post.

Even before you start reading, I would like to apologize that I have started writing, but I do not have my thoughts organized under one subject. Basically, this post is about women’s views on other women, their choices and lifestyles.

1. Widows are humans and have needs

I stumbled upon an article recently. A widow with a grown up son writes about how she has “needs”. She says that she may choose not to remarry for various reasons but does that necessarily mean that she does not have any desires also?

I absolutely loved her brave and honest article. At first, I thought that it would be some anonymous post, by an author who is hiding her identity and yet talking about empowerment. But no, it was from a real person – a courageous woman who said what so many would not have guts to say. If we have more people like her, maybe our society will change.

Another woman’s views on widows having needs

I also started reading the comments on the article. One lady commented the following:

“Yes its ok to have physical intimacy but With a willing partner for a widow taking due care it doesn’t destroy any home if the wife comes to know of that. I have a widow doctor friend who had same needs but she has broken three homes of her male colleagues by having extra marital affairs……

I have strong views on infidelity. It is completely unacceptable. I would never get into an “affair” with a married man. Nevertheless, I would like to say this to the lady who has commented:

The widowed woman did not break the homes of her three male colleagues. She was not having an extra marital affair. She was single. (No I do not support what she did). But the point is, it is the MAN who was married, who made the choice to cheat on his wife and sabotage his relationship. So, stop blaming the other woman!

Her second comment was as follows:

“……If sex was destined to be there in the life of this writer, God will send her a partner who will marry her, else there r so many risks involved in having that With multiple partners or unknown men.”

Her views reminded me of an episode of the TV series, Balika Vadhu. Sugna (one of the characters in the serial) had become a widow at a young age. Her Dadisaa (grandmother) was forcing cruel and inhuman rituals on her. When Sugna’s parents pleaded her to have mercy on the poor girl, the grandmother said that this was her fate…If God wanted her to be happy, he would not have taken away her husband. God destined to make her a widow, it is not like she (Dadisaa) was making this happen.

Sadly, a lot of regressive, controlling people feel that they have a right on somebody’s life as if they are carrying out God’s plan. No, God did not want her to be unhappy. People did!! Ordinary mortals who like to control other people’s lives!

2. The frustrated old spinster / divorcee

The other day, my friend was telling me that I must get married. She said that women who remain unmarried / divorced / grow into “frustrated, old, spinsters”. She gave me an example of her neighbor, a 55-year-old female professor who is always angry.

This is not the first time that I have heard stories about the “frustrated, single, old woman.” These legends are passed down by other woman. Personally, I see a lot of married women, and women with toddlers who seem very irritable all the time. I see them tired, exhausted, and perpetually yelling. Nobody says things like “Married women are so frustrated. Women with little children are always yelling.”

We accept that as normal human beings, they have a right to be angry sometimes. They have justified, valid reasons for their emotions. But single women? Their very existence probably makes them angry!!

3. I don’t want to be unmarried by the time I am your age

Last week, in office a young girl (21-22) year old joined our table (group of women in late 20s). I don’t remember how the conversation started about age, but she randomly mentioned how none of us are married despite being much older than her. One of my colleagues laughed and said thanks for reminding us. The young girl went on to say that she would get married in the next couple of years because she does not want to be “like us” – old and married.

I asked her why does she feel so. Is marriage an achievement? She said yes. My other colleagues then told her that I am a writer and that she would probably get featured in my next article!! This made her guarded and she quickly changed her statement. But the damage was done…

FYI this young woman has no professional qualification, nor does she intend to opt for further studies. Yet, she felt that it is okay to insult women who are much more well educated, and successful than her because they are still unmarried!

I ended the conversation saying that I don’t know what is the future of the country, if this is how young girls think.

Moral of the story

I really wish that the society would stop being so unkind to women who are widowed, unmarried, divorced – single for whatever reason. For some, it is their choice. For others, it may be circumstances. Either way, it is nobody’s business to judge her. Yes, she may be angry sometimes. Because she is human. Not because she does not have a permanent man in her life. Please don’t judge her lifestyle – whether it is her drinking, smoking or “affairs”. Yes, judge her smoking out of concern for her health, not as a benchmark of her morals and character. The alleged, immoral “affair” also takes two people. Don’t just blame her.

And lastly, life changes constantly. I want to ask the women who are so judgmental of these single women, what if they (God forbid) are ever on this side? Can they imagine their life in such a situation?

Please stop spreading the legend of the angry, frustrated, single, old woman. It is as stale, absurd and regressive as the witch tales!

Mrs. Walia

It was sometime in 1998. I was in the fifth grade. I was a good student, but not as good as my elder sister who was in the same school. Now for those of you have elder siblings, that too perfect kinds, you know what it is like. Didi (sister) was academically brilliant and extremely talented. She was a dancer, painter and good at sports too. I was intelligent but naughty and lazy and didn’t study to the best of my potential. (Didi is 7 years olders than me, so by the time I got to her age I did become serious about studies).

There was a Hindi debate competition coming up for which students were auditioning. There would be an inter-school competition followed by statewide finals. It was a very prestigious event. Nobody had ever won the finals from our school but this time the principal was determined to produce a winner. Didi had been selected to represent from our school. Eloquent as she was, she had won many story – telling and extempore competitions and was the obvious choice. She was the first person to get nominated. She suggested that I participate as well, as I was 10 and it was high time, I improve in extracurriculars.

The topic for the debate was “Saaksharta hi swatantrata ki Janani hai” meaning “Literacy is the road towards freedom”. I felt smart as I raised my hand and explained the meaning of this, as half of the class did not know. But writing on it was a different game. Didi suggested that I prepare against the motion as it was the lesser conventional choice. There was so much of emphasis on education that it was difficult to imagine that anybody would refute the argument, which would make my piece more interesting. Didi wrote my speech (I am a writer now, that time I was just a 10-year-old kid) and I memorized it.

Even though I was not a writer, I was still a drama queen. So, I could emote well and my diction was good. I got selected from my class. However, the final selection from the school was at the discretion of Mrs. Walia, a senior Hindi teacher.

Everybody knew Mrs. Walia, even people from other schools. She was a legend! Her Hindi was impeccable. She was the kind whose colloquial conversation also sounded like reading a novel of Premchand. She was strict with students, and groomed them much beyond their Hindi skills. She had an opinion on their uniform, their hair, hygiene and personality and would never hesitate to communicate it, that too with brutal honesty. I had heard horror stories about her from Didi and her friends who had her as a class-teacher.

Few years back, I had received a call on our home land line number for Didi.

Kya main Saumya se baat kar sakti hoon (“Can I speak to Saumya?)”, said a female voice.

Haan hain (Yeah, she is)” “Aap kaun (Who is this)”, I had asked.

Jee hain (Yes she is)”, she corrected my language and refused to identify herself.

Embarrassed at the correction, I had run to call out to my sister. It was Mrs. Walia.

I had decided then that if Mrs. Walia would ever become my class-teacher, I would change my school. Who corrects random strangers on the phone, that too when you are the caller? When I discovered that Mrs. Walia was taking the final auditions, I got terrified.

I started out my speech a little nervous but then continued well. There were several other contestants. Mrs. Walia did not comment on how I had fared. I thought I had done well. Didi who was also watching said I was pretty good.

By evening I was told that one other girl and I were shortlisted and we must speak once again in front of Mrs. Walia, who would then decide which one of us would go ahead.

This time it was just me and her in the empty classroom. A room with just one person is supposed to be less scary than a room full of people where I had already given my speech. But somehow this was more frightening. Her face was so serious with no hint of smile. Her big red bindi, the square glasses, and her starched cotton saris, was a sight I would never forget.

I went in the center of the room and stood with my arms on the sides in attention position. I had clenched a handkerchief in one of my fists.

That is a sign of nervousness,” she said sternly.

Sorry?” I mumbled.

Remove the handkerchief. And stand straight. Your posture is not proper.”

I complied. She already hates me, and I have not even opened my mouth yet, I thought. I asked permission to drink water and dropped some on my shirt. She shook her head disapprovingly. I was avoiding eye contact with her. I initially spoke while staring at one spot in the distance during the entire speech. But Didi had taught me how to look at a make-believe audience because staring at one place was apparently not okay for a speech, and staring at real people might distract me. Towards the last paragraph I blanked out for a moment, and stared at the ceiling but then I recovered within a few seconds and completed. I stood there like a deer caught in headlights.

Mrs. Walia did not say a word of praise or criticism. She just said that I have been selected but I need a lot of grooming.

Later Mrs. Walia would tell Didi that the girl she selected was very good. Didi added that the girl is very hard-working and had practiced a lot at home. Mrs. Walia did not know that we were sisters. When Didi made the revelation, she said how it would be the first time that two sisters would be representing the school in the junior and senior category. She was probably the second most excited person after my parents.

The next few days getting trained by Mrs. Walia were excruciating for me, with after school practice sessions.

While it came naturally to Didi, I had to learn to build my craft. Mrs. Walia was a perfectionist and she guided me on pronunciation, emphasis on syllables I did not know existed, voice modulations, hand movements, and facial expressions. She would also ask me if I had any clue what I was talking about, because there was no point if I did not believe in it. It was different experience; and the first time I had put in so much effort on anything.

I performed very well in the inter school completion in our city and won the contest. Didi also won. There were teachers and parents present at the event and all came to congratulate me. People were especially impressed with me because at that age I had spoken with much conviction and poise. My parents were proud and beaming and gave the credit to Mrs. Walia.

Mrs. Walia was also happy and proud but she was not the kind who would express affection.

I want to see you win the State level.” She had said. “Nobody from our school has ever won that.”

That would be such a big one! I was quite content with my city level award and didn’t think I could win anything further. But Mrs. Walia never gave up one me. She ensured that I practise every day. She never complimented me but other teachers had been telling me that she was very impressed with my improvement and dedication. Being liked by Mrs. Walia was a bigger achievement than winning the award, and I would blush every time I heard that I had become her favourite.

Two days before the contest, I was having cold feet. This competition was so huge that it was happening at a place which was as big as a cinema hall.I was scared. I went to Mrs. Walia. I told her I wanted to quit. I was afraid I forget the speech and put her and the entire school down. I would not be able to speak in front of so many people. I had shared the same thought with Didi and my parents who had told me that I should just remain confident and that I was good and an opportunity of this sort should not be missed.

But Mrs. Walia said nothing like that. She said that if I want to quit I could but then I would never know what would happen. She said I have nothing to lose if I go for the competition, because even if I lose the contest, I would gain an experience. Whether I stumble or forget or mumble or blabber all that is an experience and experiences matter in life.

I don’t know if it was because I understood the depth of what she said at that age, or I thought that I had got the license to forget from Mrs. Walia. But whatever she said worked on me and I decided to go for the competition, well prepared.

The State level competition was very tough. There were very good speakers from different schools and cities. The
hall was huge and crowded. I was looking for Mrs. Walia but she was not there. It was very strange. Didi called on her home phone but nobody picked up. Other teachers also had no clue where she was. Was she staying at home to pray for me?

I spoke well and my parents said that they were hopeful although there was one tall guy who gave me tough competition. The senior category awards was announced first and Didi had not won. That was very unlike her, but then there were very good speakers and participation was important, said my parents. They finally reached the announcement of winners in my category. I thought of the pluses and minuses if they announced my name. Plus – I will win! Minus – I would have to walk all the way to the stage and what If I fall?

I won. There was a huge applause. The trophy was beautiful. Didi was happier than she would have been had she won. I again searched to find Mrs. Walia, maybe she had come late. But she was not there. I couldn’t wait to show her the trophy the next day. She would be so happy!!

The next day, I went to school like a celebrity. I was carrying chocolates to distribute among the class and sweets for Mrs Walia. My name was announced in the morning assembly and I flaunted my trophy as the entire school cheered for me. Now that my part was over, I started feeling restless and I wanted the assembly to get over soon. But it seemed there were some more important announcements.

I regret to inform you that yesterday morning, Mrs. Walia’s son (her only child) met with an accident and died on the spot. He was 28 years old and had just been blessed with a baby boy a month back. Mrs. Walia rushed for Bangalore along with her husband. We pray to the Almighty to grant peace to the departed soul and strength to the family.”

I never saw Mrs. Walia again. She had left the city and nobody heard from her ever again. For months to come, I would have dreams about her, in which I would say thank you.

Something I never got to tell her personally.

Why feminism is good for men

The other day my friends and I decided to move from one party venue to another, in a different part of the city. With one bike, no cars and a non-availability of the Olas and Ubers, we were struggling to plan the logistics to reach the new destination. One of the girls, Sia was already high and was not comfortable riding her bike. Rahul a friend of ours offered to ride her bike. Another guy rode pillion with him while Sia joined the rest of us in a cab.

“Why are two of them coming on a bike, one of them could have come with us in the cab.”
I asked.

Because Rahul (who is riding) does not know the way, and the other guy does not know how to ride.” Sia replied.

Oh God! They are both like girls – one can’t drive and one doesn’t know directions!” remarked Kunal with a hearty laugh.

Sia and I both pounced on him! “Hey! Women can drive and follow directions!”

Oh sorry to offend you feminists! You demean men when you like and use men when you like. Poor Rahul is riding your bike. Someone else will drop you home after the party. Convenient!

And he got me thinking…

Feminism is not about demeaning men. It is about gender equality. But if the idea of a woman being equal to a man is demeaning to a man, then that pretty much explains why feminism is needed in the first place.

Feminism actually benefits men. In this example, a gender stereotype towards women was used to insult a man. Who said women cannot drive or follow directions? Why should we believe that all men should be ace drivers with a perfect sense of direction? Who are these generalizations helping? Women? Men? Men cannot cry, calling men sissies are all extremely judgmental thoughts on conforming to gender stereotypes.

Women also end up using regressive terminology without realizing that they are degrading themselves. I have heard girls say this about their boyfriends in consensual relationships once it is over:

He used me!

I don’t think women should think of themselves as something “usable” ever. It is a self-depreciating term. Wouldn’t the same woman complain if somebody referred to her as “used”?

Many people ask me that women talk about equality and yet expect men to pay on the date, hold the door and offer to carry the heavy luggage. I think feminism and chivalry can mutually coexist, and personally I am a big fan of chivalry. To me chivalry is more than just the acts of paying a bill on a date but about the overall values which a man holds and the respect he shows towards women.

Does that make me a hypocrite?

I can’t help but share the thought of a dear friend of mine who is not a feminist for the above reason.

Men should not treat a woman equally. They should treat her better!” she says.

If chivalry is against feminism, then shouldn’t feminism be good for men? If a woman wants chivalry should she not talk about feminism? If a man does not believe in feminism should he atleast be chivalrous?

Would like to invite thoughts from readers and I hope men participate in this discussion too.