At The Hindu Lit for Life 2016, I attended a session wherein Barkha Dutt was interviewed by Anita Ratnam. When I was younger, I was a (huge) fan of Barkha Dutt. I wanted to be like her, talk like her, have my hair cut like her. At the session, she spoke on varied topics – her experiences in a war zone, the political climate in India, her life as a television journalist, and urban feminism. She said urban women do come from a position of privilege, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to fight for things. I felt a kinship with her in that moment. I wanted to tell her, yes yes YES. Sometimes, I cannot help thinking if I am wrong in complaining, when there’s so much in my life I should be thankful for. But then I tell myself I am an ordinary person, unhappy with what I have, always wanting that which is out of my reach. And maybe this is okay.
Sometime in the past month, during yet another argument turned shouting match at home; my parents invoked their deteriorating health, happiness, peace of mind, and my grandmother’s “I want to see my grand daughter married before I die” prayer. I told them I would like to be able to marry for myself, not for them. They called me selfish.
I think that qualifier hurt me much more than I let on.
I always thought I was one of the good kids. At least, I don’t do too many things I can’t tell my parents. I am usually considerate of their feelings, and I try not to let them down.
I grew up having my father tell me, “When you are old enough to make your own choices, we will trust your decisions.” I didn’t know this freedom was conditional – they hoped the choices I made would be the ones they wanted me to make, or even better, I would allow them to make those choices.
I used to think doing well in school, college, and striving to be independent, all of this meant something. It took me a long time to realize nobody around me attached enough significance to any of that. Not while I continue to remain unmarried.
All around me are young women being made to feel worthless.
Imagine a girl, one of those stellar students, the ones who have degrees with a pedigree, a job that sets her up for a successful career. Now imagine this girl being constantly told none of this is of any importance until she agrees to marry a boy her parents unearth.
Imagine another girl, exasperated with comments on her age and marital status, meeting men every month, hoping to zero in on someone just so she isn’t subjected to an inquisition every time she runs into a family member.
Imagine parents telling us we have become unfeeling and uncaring, we only think of ourselves, we have strange ideas about wanting to live alone and earn money they have no need for, that we disrespect tradition and we do not understand the meaning or value of family.
Imagine finding out after two decades that you can’t really do things that make you happy, even if your Voter ID declares you an adult. Imagine realizing that no one truly cares what you think, that if you don’t agree with the majority, you must be wrong.
This unceasing emotional manipulation can have one of several effects. Either you give in grudgingly, and you are relieved you will not be subjected to it again. Or you think something is the matter with you for thinking a particular way, especially if everyone around you is convinced.
Or maybe you turn numb, repulsed by the institution that fooled you all along into thinking you had choice, you exercised power. Maybe you become selfish. And maybe that’s okay too.