Sometime in late 1990s
I hold my tiny daughter in my arms as she gently strikes my face with her chubby fingers, enjoying as her aptly baby sized payal (anklet) rubs against my cheek. My daughter — Jiya, who came to my life 2 years after my son Rehan.
About 20 years ago
I grew up in a modest Indian household consisting of 4 siblings, I being the only daughter. A typical story of any other woman in that time and age. My story no different from theirs. I grew up going to a government school while my brothers went to the elite convents. I came home, helped my mother cook and clean while my brothers had the privilege of playing cricket, watching movies, lying around all day doing nothing with similar non-productive peers, all united by the benefits that came from being born with a certain alternative chromosome. “You are a girl, you should know household chores. You have to build a home and nurture it all your life.” Amma (mother) would say.
About 8 years ago
I managed to get into a college through scholarship. My brothers enjoyed their college life. They wore bell-bottoms inspired by Amitabh Bachchan. They drank. They smoked. They stayed up late at night, saw pubs, saw the city. I wore my modest salwar kameez, my dupatta pinned appropriately. I came home as soon as the classes got over. “Girls should not wear short skirts and hang out at night. If something happens you would regret all your life.” Amma would say.
Before I could write my third year exams, Baba (father) announced that I would be getting married. The boy’s name was Anil, a qualified paediatrician. But what about my degree? I wanted to study further and become a professor. “Your true happiness lies in finding a good husband. He will give you a good life.” Amma would say.
Fortunately, Amma was right about Anil. He was a good man. We had a blissful marriage. But part of my dreams, ambitions remained unfulfilled. I would live vicariously through my daughter. I would bring up my daughter the opposite of the way I was brought up. My daughter would be equal to my son.
5 years later
Jiya and Rehan attend the same school. Jiya has always been smarter than Rehan. She is talented too. I let Jiya pursue her hobbies. She is a good student, a good swimmer, a good dancer. Unlike my mother, I never force Jiya to develop her culinary or other domesticated skills. She spends her free time doing things she likes.
15 years later
My Jiya has grown up to be such a beauty! Oh what a life, my precious Jiya. She is a star. She is a straight A student in college! She wears the most fashionable outfits, attends all parties, she hangs out with friends, she even has a few drinks sometimes and has had a couple of serious boyfriends. There are no restrictions on my Jiya. “Girls and boys are equal. You live your life on your terms with your choices. You are a strong, independent woman”, I tell her. My perfect daughter whom I have vouched to give a perfect life.
24 years later
Jiya is a qualified lawyer. She has married a classmate of hers, Kunal. They both are a perfect couple with a son. Jiya never left her job. She has a maid at home who takes care of her son while she is at work. Jiya and her husband share the household responsibilities just like they share the finances. Kunal does the vacuum cleaning, cooks, helps clean the dishes and even takes turns to watch the baby while Jiya takes a break. How times have changed for better! I wish Amma were alive to see how men and women are meant to support each other in an equal relationship. Poor Amma with her limited, regressive thinking! Rehan is also married to lovely girl, Mira who he met at medical school.
Sometime in the present day
I am shopping for my grandson, how I love showering him with gifts! The phone rings -Jiya calling. “Ma” comes her terrified voice even before I could say hello. “Please come home immediately.”
“What happened Jiya”.
“Just come home soon Ma, I will tell you.” She is sobbing.
The three kilometre ride seems like eternity. What could have happened to my Jiya? Did she have a fight with Kunal…No. they are a mature couple. Maybe the baby is unwell.. Is Kunal alright..?
There is a police car outside my house and random neighbours stand outside whispering. A chill runs down my spine. As I enter, Jiya comes running to hug me “Ma, Rehan bhaiya (brother) has beaten up Bhabhi (sister-in law) badly, she called the police. Police has arrested him…Papa has gone there with Gupta uncle…..”
The rest was a blur. What a big mistake! As if my Rehan would ever beat up a woman! He is my son. A respectable, progressive, civilized family like ours! My perfect son. Why is Mira filing a false complaint against my poor baby…?
I reach the police station. I see Mira — her eye is swollen and black. Her lips are bloody red, a visible cut. Her hand is resting on her stomach, an injury possibly from being “kicked”, is what I hear.
Her staged bruises look so real! Where is Rehan? My poor boy is being framed. Have the police hit him the way they show in Bollywood movies? Oh God! I silently pray, wiping my tears “Amma, look what has happened, please protect my son. How our lives have been wrecked! I will get my son out of this mess…My baby..”
Rehan appears with a constable holding him. Anil is there with Mr. Gupta, his lawyer friend, has managed to arrange for a bail it seems. Rehan looks stressed, but thankfully he is not hurt. I go and hug him. We come back home. Jiya and Kunal are also home. I’ll make him a good cup of tea. I want him to relax before I ask him how this happened. He already looks so traumatized…that Mira…How could I be so wrong in judging that girl? No no.. She was always Rehan’s choice but still I had liked her, approved of her. I never imagined she could go to the extent of harassing us like this. What a lying, manipulative woman! What a poor upbringing. Her mother should be blamed for raising such an irresponsible child.
I put some ginger in the tea as I carry the tray to Rehan’s room. The door is slightly open. I can hear his voice. He is talking on the phone, to a friend perhaps. Finally opening up to somebody, my poor distraught boy..
…..“She is just impossible…Doesn’t even give me dinner once I reach home…I have to do my laundry myself.. Tortures me with her feminist equality shit all the time…Doesn’t know how to cook. You should see her chapatis…Bloody arrogant idiot.. And just see the way she drinks at parties, the clothes that she wears. F***** whore. That woman is completely out of line. I have slapped her so many times to control her but the bitch doesn’t understand she has to behave like a woman. Just because she earns a few bucks, she thinks she wears the pants in the relationship. I whacked the crap out of her this time. And look what the snooty slut did, straight to the police….”
Present day…or centuries ago?
I freeze. Struggle to hold the tray with my trembling hands. I run to my bedroom and shut it tight. As if I could shut what I had heard.
I lay in shock in my bedroom amidst the precious moments of my life captured in numerous photo frames hanging on the wall. My whole life came flashing in my mind. Pictures of a 5 year old Jiya and a 7 year old Rehan holding trophies at a storytelling inter-school competition. Me standing with them, a beaming, proud mother… I was so engaged in ensuring that I raised my daughter to be equal to a man, I forgot to raise my son to be a human.
My Jiya was taught to study, to play, to not be in the kitchen — her role reversed. But Rehan was never taught to even fetch a glass of water himself. Yes, I thought I progressed as a mother by paving the way for my daughter, out of the kitchen to the study room. But when it came to raising the sons, I was no different from Amma. Amma’s sons had never seen the kitchen, never did the laundry. Neither had my son.
Amma’s daughter was never allowed to hang out with friends. My daughter went wherever she liked, chose her clothes, her hang out places, her drinks, and tried things that the youth at her age yearn to explore. But while my daughter was taught to respect and value her freedom, my son was never taught to respect women and their choices.
The anxious nights that I spent worrying about Jiya returning home safe from clubbing, Rehan hung out with friends leeching at womens’ legs and cleavage, judging them for their clothes and calling them “sluts”.
While I taught a 9-year-old Jiya to fight for her rights and to voice her opinion and speak up, I forgot to teach an 11-year-old Rehan that he should not scream at a woman, that she is another human, an equal with choices, and not his slave.
While I praised my son-in-law among relatives and friends as “ideal” for helping out my daughter in the kitchen, I failed to notice that my working daughter-in-law struggled to find support as she returned home every night, exhausted mentally and physically, only to hear Rehan scream at her for not heating his food and offering it to him on his couch.
I remembered to instil a feminist streak in my daughter, but I forgot to delete the inherent chauvinistic mentality embedded in the psyche of my son, possibly the curse of the Indian man. I endeavoured to change the society, a better and a more balanced place, enriched by my self-sufficient daughter. But the imbalance that has been created is far more disastrous. I have inflicted another antiquated, chauvinistic, loser with a skewed sense of masculinity in the already wretched society in the form of my son.
Amma’s smile behind that frame garlanded with dry flowers seems to be mocking me.
Also published on Women’sweb