The family of two would soon be turning into 3. Jasmine and Robyn Banerjee were a young couple who had gotten married only a few short month back and were now eagerly waiting for the arrival of the baby. Jasmine, did not care if was a boy or girl. She and her husband agreed that as long as the baby was healthy had her mom eyes and dads smile everything was perfect.
Her in-laws had other ideas. They looked after her and was very understanding about her plight. The morning sickness, violent mood swings, acne, aches and pains. They advised her on what they thought was right but every few days or so her mother in law had something new to say. “ Don’t eat too much of something or the baby will have birthmark just like it somewhere on the body” or eat fish so that the “baby will be smart” or something more annoying like “ do not bathe, the baby might be born early” The mother to-be smiled politely or rolled her eyes as far back as possible while silently wishing someone would take her a way from these kooky people.
Jasmine, was a school teacher by profession and her husband Robyn ran a very successful travel agency. She had been told that it would be best if she resigned from work, at the very beginning of her pregnancy. Robyn provided for both and why did a woman need to work after a child is born?
Baby Dia was born on a Friday at 8pm in a clinic after a long and tiring labour. Both the doctor and nurse were smiling when they handed the pink bundle of cries to Jasmine. She did not even have 10 minutes alone with the baby before the door burst open with an eager set of grandparents and a father who looked, troubled.
What is it? Cried one of the grandmothers
“A girl” said Jasmine smiling
“a boy would have been better”
“ I Know she would bring bad luck to the family”
Not something to tell a new mom but everyone was suddenly looking each other instead of her. No one went to congratulate the mom or take a second look at the baby. Jasmine’s mother in law looked upset. Her mom just patted her hand, hurriedly mumbled something, and left the room with her father in tow. Jasmine felt bad upon hearing everything and wondered what kind of people she had been living with till now. Her husband was quiet the whole time.
Baby Dia grew up to be a happy smiling baby who made little to no fuss, slept through the night and always seemed excited about expanding her palate. She did not see much of her father or grandfather. They never showed much interest in her. They never warmed up to her. Robyn smiled, picked her up or played with his daughter every once in a while, but for the most part he worked long nights, on the weekend and went on week long trips when he needed to.
Robyn was working late again for the third time this week. He had hoped for a boy for so long but ended up with a daughter. She was precious to look at but women are complicated, expensive and overly emotional.
One afternoon, 4 year old Dia was playing outside with a few of the neighbourhood children. She had great fun but came home looking a little more then just *****. Her pink frock had holes in it, her wavy hair came undone and she was holding only one shoe in her hands. Her mother was no where to be seen but her grandmother hollered at the girl.
“Look at you, dirt all over the place,” why cant you just play inside with your dolls or toys only boys get this ***** and stay out so late” Dia paid no attention to these words and went to her grandmother for a hug. The old woman shooed the little girl away and locked her in the bathroom. “Don’t come out till your squeaky clean” her grandmother warned. What was the big deal about getting ***** Dia wondered?
When she had turned 7, Dia started attending events and invites with her parents. They were all invited to a wedding on a Saturday night. She no longer had to wear scratchy frocks anymore. Her mother had bought her something better. A pant suit with a pink scarf. Dia loved it and dressed up by herself with no help. The dress was great, but the scarf was a nuisance. It was long and she felt suffocated. What was there to hide? Her mom draped in a pink saree, frowned when she came out wearing no scarf.
“Put on your scarf it comes with the dress”
“I don’t want to its ugly and I wont able to play with this on”
The normally calm woman, suddenly felt annoyed.
“Look, I have a shawl and your grandmother is wearing one too” that’s just how women dress, and that includes little girls.”
Her grandmother sitting in the back of the car murmured something about teaching her manners and modesty. Dia didn’t flinch
“ I have manners and my legs are not showing” Modesty in the “Banarjee” household meant that woman were not to expose their legs or back or any other parts of the body except for the hands and feet” Such rules did not apply to the men.
The next morning Jasmine spoke to Dia about the incident.
“I wanted you to wear the scarf last night because its how girls dress. You are a girl and you have to cover yourself to avoid trouble. Good girls always cover themselves and listen to their parents.”
Dia nodded but she didn’t understand anything. She was hungry and just wanted to eat.
When Dia was 11. One of her father’s colleagues came over. A kind man, his wife and annoying son. She liked them. They always brought over presents. She had gotten blue bangles last time. She saw them, from her window. She could not leave her room until her mother called for her. It was always to work in the kitchen, Serve the guests, tea and snacks, set the table and do the dishes while everyone talked in the living room or sat in the backyard. Everything had to be cleaned up and the tea had to be exactly right. Not too dark, or too sugary. Grandmother says that if a girl did not know how to make proper tea she would not get a good husband in the future. Dia smirked when she heard this, her husband can have milkshakes for all she cared. She hated tea. Drink too much of it and she would get darker. Drink to little of it and the headaches would start. Dia could only leave the room when they left. No one really stayed over except of her mother’s parents, cousins and the occasional 50 pounds overweight aunty who always had her face in the refrigerator and inquired about her grades and skin tone every single visit. Girls were expected to stay indoors as much as possible. Always hidden but from what Dia could not always understand.
A few days after Dia turned 12 she had gotten her period. She read all about it on the internet and the librarian at school had lent her some books while explaining everything to her. Such topics were never discussed at home. It was a horrible experience. The bleeding, cramping, headaches and bouts of anger. All this because she was girl, every month for a very long time. 50 years perhaps. Her mother and grandmother smiled, when she told them. They took her out for lunch and bought her new clothes. She could no longer wear shorts or sleeveless tops anymore, even in the privacy of her own room. A brassiere had to go with everything now and long scarves and vests were a must. Along with this Dia had to follow other rules. She could not wash her hair on the first day of her period, she could not bathe in hot water. She could not paint her nails, have anything sour (pickles, lemonade) or make food for anyone because everything will spoil. She could not enter a place of worship or cradle baby because he/she might get sick. Dia thought all this was pointless and when she inquired about it, she got a smack to the face for questioning ancient rules and rituals and was told that this was how it was for every woman before her in the family. She earned a second smack when she asked who made the rules. Probably a man.
On her 14th birthday. Dia had gotten into a fight with one of her best friends. It was over something trivial. What to wear for a school event? Dia had settled for a saree and her friend settled on a gown. Dia was not fair but a little dusky. Her friends skin tone was like milk. The girl took great pride in that. She went as far as saying that Dia’s grey saree made her look like a crow. Dia was too upset to say anything in return, so she quickly walked home. She walked to her room and did not come out till the next day. Jasmine had noticed her daughter’s sour behavior and snappy remarks, so she asked what was wrong. Dia tearfully told her the truth. Her mom laughed and said that good friend’s squabble over anything and forget it 2 days later. Gave her money for ice cream and a movie and left for work. Her grandmother while doing the dishes told her that it was normal for girls for fight because women are competitive, they always want the best for themselves and have no problem belittling someone else to get it. Dia asked why, she got the usual response. “that’s how girls are” Dia through her grandma was being extra negative that day.
When Dia turned 18, she met a young man through one of her classes. She was studying health sciences and aspired to be a dentist when she was much older. Teeth always fascinated her since she was young. Her friend was a taller a bit older (21) and studying to be an Emergency Medical Technician. Dia and this boy had been friends for awhile now. He came from a good family and had no siblings. But she always thought him to be a friend. They studied together, hung around and had fun. He on the other hand started asking too many questions and took up a lot of her time. He was nice, positive and always made her laugh, but she had to let him know how she felt about him. She thought of speaking to her mom about this. Her father had heard everything instead. He sat beside her, listened to everything, and told her to wait for the boy to come to her and then break him the news gently. There was no need to talk to him first and cause a scene at the college campus. This would affect her studies and make her look her bad. This upset Dia in a major way. A woman was able to have feelings, but she could not voice them out? She could not take the first step in a relationship? She mumbled her thanks and took a long shower that night, thinking everything over. The next day she approached her father again. He gave her a long look and said that if she broke things off with him first, he could go around spreading rumors or get her in trouble at school. No one likes a bold woman who always speaks her mind. She should just focus on her studies. Dia did not press him any further. She went on with her everyday life and lost him as a friend in a month’s time.
A week shy of her 21st birthday, Dia received an acceptance letter from a prestigious university. She was ecstatic and did cartwheels after reading the letter. Her parents had no qualms about her studying at a university that was far away from home or living in a hostel. She had matured into a young woman who they could trust and she had not made a faulty decision till now. Dia was not interested in parties, drinking, or staying overnight with friends. She was a good girl. However, they only let her go after letting her know that they would start looking for a boy once she graduated from her program. Dia said yes without thinking to much about this. Graduation was still 4 years away.
Dia went to complete university in less then 4 years time. She did not waste any time after graduation and enrolled into dental school. She had flunked only 1-2 courses during one semester. Her grandmother had died during one of them and her grades fell just slightly. This brought upon change in the Banerjee family. Her father had changed after his mom’s death. He was no longer in a rush to get Dia married and stopped working. He picked up a hobby and worked on that. Her mother took a break from teaching and now worked as a guidance counsellor for teens at a reputable high school.
During this time Dia was going steady with another dentistry student, with her parent’s permission. He was alright in most ways but sometimes pressured her to take their relationship to the next level. She always resisted and asked him to wait till they get married. Woman had to remain pure till they got married. If one’s purity is gone or lost it would bring great shame to the family and the couple. He said he he understood until one day he did not anymore. In a fit of rage, he let her know she belonged to him and he could do what he liked. They would be getting married soon so why did it matter. She resisted the urge to strike him and let him know that she belonged to no one but herself. He called her names before calling it quits. It hurt, but Dia knew that she would meet the right man sooner or later. Her parents did not say anything to her regarding this.
When Dia was 25 she did meet someone, he was a doctor and she went to become a dentist. They did not a have a grand wedding but a small private ceremony. They had paid for everything and Dia sent her parents on a much-needed vacation. Her husband, he did not pressure her to do anything she did not like. He grew up abroad and helped her in all the things that men did not normally do back home like cooking, cleaning, shopping because this was considered to be “ Woman’s work” and was “normal” This surprised her at first but amazed her later on. One night after too much wine and fun her husband went to bed. Dia was still awake giddy from the wine and had other things on her mind. She gently woke her husband up. He was not pleased. “Let me sleep woman, its not the time to do anything and I have to get up early. He left it at that and was snoring in minutes.
She looked at him and frustration and wondered why it was normal and acceptable for men to satisfy their needs wherever and whenever possible, but a woman was always rebuked when she wanted something from her husband. She had certain needs and rights over him. She quickly undressed, slipped into a nighty, and went to sit in the balcony for a bit. The moon was out and the world was dead asleep.
Dia poured herself the last of the wine and thought about everything.
A woman always has two choices to fight or to follow the rules. Since birth woman are groomed into becoming a certain type of woman, once they get to that stage they are either married off or left to work and hop from one relationship to another. They were taught to be quiet, obedient, smart and always fully covered.
Why did a woman need to be covered at all times? Not just her body but her mind as well. She must keep mum about her wants, her needs, and desires. She always must think about the others and society before deciding on something. No one looks up to a woman who speaks her mind and focuses on herself. No one appreciates an independent woman. She must always be dependant on a male somebody (father, brother, husband, son). She must always do what she is told and taught because that is the way it is. That is how girls are.
This is all Dia grew up listening to. Who came up with the rules? Society. A society, where men dictated most things and told woman what they should and should not do. When a man will never understand what women go through or why they must handle and balance out so much. School, home, family, career. A woman always has to choose.
Everything comes down to a choice and she will forever have to sacrifice something or the other because it is the womanly thing to do. Men are never really questioned about their choices. They talk, they lead, and the women follow. That needs to change. People need to unlearn these age-old stereotypes. They hurt both the men and women. A man grows up but ends up lacking so much in terms of emotional intelligence and respect for the other gender. He grows without understanding what gender equality means and why it is needed. A woman grows up but not without sacrifice, selflessness, and crippling obedience. She is seen as inferior, weak, or untamable if she does not do what she is told, asks too many questions and wants to better herself in some way or form.
A woman’s identity should not be made from excuses and lies.