Recently, I read a wonderful article about how Indian women aren’t taught how to be alone, and why that’s a problem. It was a good read, and worth a share, for sure, but to be honest, I didn’t relate to it one bit — and I wonder if that’s that a problem, too.
In a fairly typical Indian family, I grew up differently. While most children have prayers shoved down their throats, I had my eyes opened to the infinite wonders of science. As most parents beam while their 3-year-old successfully repeats “ombhurbhuvasvahatatsaviturvarenyam” in one breath when called for a demo in front of relatives, I was quietly being taught more about world leaders, and the types of doctors, and how to spell big words by breaking them into syllables.
Who’s the president of France? “Jacques Chirac.”
What doctor do I go to if my tummy hurts? “Gas-tro-an-tro-lo-gist,” I’d precociously say.
I grew up endlessly curious, slightly precocious, with a mind tuned invariably to the voice of reason, and heaps of courage — and not much has changed.
While most adult egos thrive on a sense of control and authority, my bring-upper was far too secure to need those cheap thrills. I grew up argumentative. I debated fearlessly. I reasoned. Most importantly, I learned that I not only have the freedom, but also the responsibility to question things before I formed any opinion or belief. I grew up with a very strong, but also an extremely personal sense of right and wrong.
Of course, I was still taught all the shlokas as well and recited the Hanuman Chalisa with my mother every morning. But what matters is this: I grew up endlessly curious, slightly precocious, with a mind tuned invariably to the voice of reason, and heaps of courage — and not much has changed.
When I was 18, I decided that what I really wanted was to move out of my city and study mass media. Literally nobody welcomed such a decision, but fueled by curiosity, precocity, reason and courage, one can go a long way. I came a long, long way from Kolkata to Mumbai five-and-a-half years ago, and I’ve lived here happily ever since.
Somewhere amidst discovering a new city, treating myself to solo lunches and dinners, making new friends and building a fulfilling everyday life for myself, this place, even without my family, became home. From the challenges of living alone for the first time, to putting heart, mind and soul into making a docu-film on crimes against women in Delhi-NCR, to landing a job that could put all the gypsies and nomads of the world to shame for how much I’ve traveled on work, I functioned as an individual alone person with a great set of friends and colleagues ― and absolutely loved every bit of it. I learned how to entertain myself, and how to not constantly need validation from an external source.
The seeds for my sense of independence were planted in me when I was a little girl, and surely enough, they’ve bloomed with time. I’m really, honestly fulfilled, and complete, and happy, and capable of handling and enjoying my life all by myself.
I’m not a loner, though. I love having friends and family around me. There’s even a boy I like and will happily marry — who’d have thunk?! These people mean everything to me, and I’d hate to be alone and I absolutely need them in my life. But here’s the thing: I don’t love people because I need them. I need them because I love them. For anyone who’s not insecure and their most favorite thing in the whole world isn’t a sense of control over another individual (like my bring-upper, father or aforementioned boy for instance), that’s a good thing.
I don’t love people because I need them. I need them because I love them.
Of course, most Indian grownups and men hate a woman like me. It’s actually fear disguised as hatred, but shh, lest their sense of self-importance be hurt. They’re mighty afraid of a woman who’s perfectly okay all by herself — as they should be. Nothing threatens a mass hollow authority like an individual with substance who doesn’t rely on it.
But here’s what I wish they could understand : I, being an independent woman, can love and care for you without needing you (and want-based love is definitely truer than need-based love). I, as a woman with a mind of her own, can respect you even if I disagree with you. I, being a person who’s essentially strong and happy even by herself, will bring strength and happiness along wherever I may go — with you, or alone.
In India, we can appreciate and idolize women of strength at a distance, but those around us better be docile and obedient. We don’t know how to applaud a woman with a successful career without tch-tch-ing a bit about how she’s not married yet. We may educate our girls and “allow” them to work, but at the end of the day, if she’s not a good chef and a maid, she’s not the girl we want.
Patriarchy really sucks, right?
Anyway, like I mentioned before, I recited prayers as a kid, and still do sometimes — even though I don’t quite believe in them. Why, you may ask, despite all my courage do I still meekly give in to the expectation that I should worship idols? It’s a fair mix between the fact that it’s not too inconvenient to fold my hands and say a few lines once in a while, and that little act making my family feel satisfied and adequately respected, and praying basically being the path of least resistance.
Just like this, there are a hundred little expectations I’m guilty of just giving in to, and even as a wannabe role model for the modern Indian woman, I can hardly promise that there won’t be hundreds more. To be honest, I do feel a little sorry about that.
What I do promise, though, is to be utterly unashamed about the person I am, beyond ridiculous gender-based expectations. I promise to proudly preserve my inherent sense of independence. And it’s far in the future, but I hope I have a daughter or little girls that I can mentor into becoming self-sufficient, strong and, most importantly, unabashedly themselves.