Many, many years ago, as a ten year old, I read a column in a children's magazine. It was titled kaash main (I wish I was), the magazine had invited entries from its young readers and had published some of those in one of its issues. While reading, I noticed that while all the boys had wished for things like toys, train rides, sports goods, books, girls--quite a few of them--had wished they could be turned into a boy. I did not get it. Why would someone want to be a boy? The question plagued my mind for a few years. As I grew up, I saw their viewpoint. I saw little girls being discriminated against, I saw women being humiliated, I saw girls being confined to homes while their counterparts, often brothers, enjoyed uninhibited freedom--of word and of action.
To me, however, being a girl was--and has never been--a cause of concern. I have never seen it as a deciding factor for anything in my life. The women and girls of our family were loved and respected as much as the men and the boys were, sometimes even more, but never less. The women I grew up with--my grandmothers, mother, and aunts--were all educated, independent, self-respecting, self-sufficient women. At a time, when women hardly left their houses, my dadi travelled alone around the country. She was strong, resilient, and powerful; she ensured those around her were the same, not meek or weak. Although not many of them went out to work, but work, according to me, is never the determining factor of a woman's standing in her family and in the society. If it were, our housemaids would probably be the most empowered among all the women.
When I went to work, I met an absolutely different set of women: ambitious, career oriented, independent, empowered and often single. They earned their money and spent it too, they lived in their own houses and drove their own cars, paid their bills, travelled alone, spent money on themselves. These were women who lived their lives on their terms, the kind everyone aspires to be. A tribe I was proud to be a part of.
With time, however, I realised that although diverse, the two sets of women had a lot in common--they were responsible, smart, intelligent, loving, honest, ambitious, headstrong, sensitive, independent, powerful, and guilty.
Those who chose to work were guilty of not spending enough time at home, those who chose to marry and stay at home were guilty of not contributing to the household income, those who had children were guilty of having them too soon or too many, those who did not or chose not to, were guilty of not having any. Each one of them had something to feel guilty about.
As a woman, I often find myself struggling with the same feeling. For not paying enough attention to family when I have had to spend long hours at work, for being incapable of carrying my first baby through the term, for not spending enough time with the two I eventually had, for not being the best at work anymore, for quitting and living off my husband--the list goes on.
Meanwhile, at the Indira Gandhi memorial, where I happened to be a few weeks ago, I found, among other things, a few pages from her personal diary, One of which aptly displays the angst of a young mother, a daughter and a wife: "I went to live with my father, at the Teen Murti House, The Prime Minister's residence... My father asked me to come over and set up the house for him.... I used to stay for sometime and go, it became more and more difficult to leave. My husband was then working in Lucknow, he did not appreciate my going away.... I was living for about half a month in Lucknow and half in Delhi."
Even the Prime Minister of the largest democracy in the world, a woman known to be fiercely ambitious and courageous, a ruthless politician and a strong leader, went through her share of guilt. She was, after all, a woman.