Whatever a woman wants to do with her life, shouldn’t it be the woman’s choice, as long as she is happy and content in doing it well?
The other day, I was browsing through the children book section in Crosswords, Hyderabad when I heard someone call out my name. It was a familiar voice but I had not heard it in more than a decade and a half.
I raised my head to see a graceful woman in a pastel green phulkari-work sari. I couldn’t quite associate what I saw with what I had in mind. However, she kept walking towards me with definite steps. When it turned out to be Ankita – an old college friend who I had fully lost touch with, my happiness knew no bounds. We hugged excitedly and a river of warmth surrounded us in those few moments. True! Old friends can lift your spirits by their presence alone.
Ankita was with her family at the bookstore. She quickly introduced me to her twins; two lovely nine-year old girls and her husband. Ankita, it turned out, was based in Hyderabad. Knowing I was to fly back to Delhi the following day, she told me in no uncertain terms that I was staying at her house that night. My first reaction was to politely decline her offer but then she was insistent, and somewhere I was eager to spend more time with her too.
Come evening and I was at her house, ringing the doorbell. She answered it and we were like schoolgirls once again. Excited, giggly, nostalgic! Ankita had a charming home wherein each piece of furniture, each artefact, every bit of furnishing spoke of how lovingly they had all been put together. The calm in her house came from a consistent inflow of good, peaceful energy.
She had prepared a lavish dinner in anticipation. I couldn’t believe that our college tomboy not only knew cooking but knew it the ‘gourmet’ way. Her wonderfully mannered kids and her very-much-in-love, understanding husband decided to give us old friends time for ourselves while they called it a night.
We talked of all things old and new, of how our lives had changed, of how we ourselves had changed with the years. “Day to day all looks the same, but come next season or year and you realise so much has changed,” I remarked and she teased me on my philosophical ageing.
Old friends, especially women need nothing but a hearty conversation when they meet up. The comfort of not being judged since you have seen each other in your barest elements is liberating. I had a lot to say and she had a lot to hear. Then she had a lot to say and I had a lot to hear. Back in those days, I had never envisioned Ankita like this.
Ankita, the way I knew her years back was a different person altogether. I had never seen her wear a salwar kameez or a sari or anything remotely Indian. She had prided herself in being a tomboy. She had participated in biker rallies and not as a pillion rider. Sometimes she would dish out freakish biking stunts purely for the purpose of audience entertainment.
And here she was, playing the perfect wife and a perfect mother. I teased her on the diametrical change in her life. All she said was, “I am so happy in my life. Touchwood!”
It was such a simple sentence. But it is so seldom heard in today’s discontented world and it was spoken with such unabashed honesty, that I had a ball of tears forming in my eyes.
“You’re still the same old ‘emotional lassie’ as you were in college,” Ankita said.
“I am the same but you have changed completely.”
“No, I have not.”
“Oh but you have, and I am happy for you.”
“Look my dear! The way I see it, I am still the same. While in college, my tomboy personality was my distinguishing attribute and I nearly perfected it. At academics, I was the topper of our times. I was the first person to get a campus placement. At work, I was the best and headhunters chased me relentlessly,” Ankita spoke.
“Then what happened? Why did you give up and settle for being a homemaker?”
“Nothing happened. I wanted to get married, have children and stay at home. What is wrong with that?”
‘What was wrong with it?’ I didn’t quite know myself so it followed that I didn’t know how to answer her either.
“But you were such an ambitious girl! What happened to that girl?” I said with hesitation.
“My pursuits may have changed but I am still ambitious. I like being a great wife, a great mom, a fantastic homemaker, a charming hostess.”
My puzzled look explained to her what was going through my mind.
“First thing first. My earnings are intangible for they mostly comprise emotions, moments, memories that I might have had to compromise with if I was not home.”
While I tried to assimilate that, she continued after a brief pause.
“Second and more importantly I must add, my drive comes from doing whatever I do in the best possible way I can. I left corporate space and am savouring every bit of my homebody role. Tomorrow who knows I may choose to work from office again. These are matters of personal choice and life situations – they may change. One thing that will stay constant is that I’ll try to be the best at whatever I do.”
True, she hadn’t changed. She was still as objective, as clear and as self-assured. She was still as work and excellence oriented as she had always been. But weighing her in the measuring glass of material success, I couldn’t see it till now. Delivered in the simplest possible way, this talk with Ankita reinforced in me the life lesson of performing one’s karma to the best of one’s ability.
And the emotional lassie that I am, tears swelled again. Fighting to not let them fall, I rattled off this Hindi movie dialogue in a mock male-preachy voice, “Tum jo bhi karo achha karo. Agar ghaas kaatne wale bano, toh achha ghaas kaatne wale bano. Warna kya faayda?” (Whatever you do, do it well. Become a grass-cutter if you will, but be a good one. Else, what’s the point)?
We both laughed heartily at my poor imitation. Next day, I left Hyderabad richer than I had walked into it.
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