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The life of a woman is spent succumbing to stereotypes or battling them. Here is a riveting account of what conditioning, parenting, and attitudes do to a woman.
She was playing with her brother. He was a couple of years older than her. She playfully snatched a toy from him. He started crying. Their father, who was sitting next to them, said, rather harshly, “why are you crying like a girl?! Boys don’t cry! Wipe your face, now.”
She looked at her father with big innocent eyes, thinking, ‘Girls cry. Boys don’t cry.‘
They were in the park, playing together. They decided to have a race. She won and laughed heartily. His friends standing nearby started jeering, “You lost to your sister?! A girl beat you!” They taunted. Oblivious to their remarks, she walked up to her panting brother.
“Best out of three?” She said with a twinkle in her eyes. He looked at her, face contorted with anger, ears burning red. He pushed her, hard. She fell to the ground. She got up, dusted herself and punched him in the stomach. She walked off the ground without looking back, the laughter of boys ringing in her ears, wondering, ‘Defeating a boy is a bad thing?’ Upstairs, she stormed into her room and slammed the door.
A moment later, the door burst open and her grandmother entered, followed by her smiling brother. She pulled her off the bed and slapped her hard across the face, “You will not hit your brother!”
“But he hit me first…” she started to say.
“Girl’s don’t retaliate. Girls don’t hit. Apologize… now!”
With tears streaming down her face, she did as was told.
“Sorry,” she whispered meekly. Her brother, smug with satisfaction, left the room with their grandmother.
Stunned into silence and massaging her stinging cheek, she thought, ‘Girls never hit back.’
She was in the living room, trying to finish her homework. The bell rang. It was her father. Her grandmother, sitting on the sofa, counting off her prayer beads, yelled, “Meera, go get water for your father.”
“Grandma, please ask Aakash to get it, I am studying.”
“Now Aakash will do household chores? Go get water,” she replied sternly.
She got up and walked past her brother playing video games, thinking, ‘Boys are not supposed to help around the house, girls do.’
“Look what I have got for you guys!” shouted her father as he entered the house. Both the kids rushed to see their surprise presents.
“This is for Aakash, and this is for Meera,” he handed each his respective gift-wrapped boxes. Both of them tore open the wrapping, greedily.
“Wow! A new bat!”
She looked at her brother’s bat and then down at her kitchen set.
“You always get kitchen sets or a doll house for me. I want a bat too,” she said.
“Arre beta, girls play with this only. Bat and ball are for boys. C’mon, let’s make tea on your new stove,” her father replied.
She opened the packaging of her kitchen set, thinking, ‘Girls don’t play sports.’
“Mom, I am going out to play,” said her brother, tying his shoelaces.
“Okay, but come home soon. Mehta uncle and his family are coming for dinner,” her mother yelled from the kitchen.
She also got up to go out, when her mother held her arm.
“Where are you going? Come and help me in the kitchen, there is so much to do.”
“But, bhai also went. You didn’t stop him.”
“He won’t set the table or cut the salad. Let him play, he needs the exercise. You come inside. Today, I will teach you how to make a flower out of a tomato. It’ll help you in the future.”
She shut the door and followed her mom inside, thinking, ‘Girls don’t need to play; they need to learn cooking.’
“Mom, I am leaving,” she yelled as she wore her watch.
Her brother, who was sitting on the sofa watching television said, “What the hell are you wearing?”
“It’s a new skirt I bought. Nice, na?” she said, twirling around.
“You can’t go out wearing this.”
“Why not?! You wear your ganji and shorts all the time.”
“In the house!”
“Don’t lie; I have seen you wearing that on the corner-side tea-shop as well… where you sit with those loser friends of yours!”
“I am a boy. No one is going to stare at my legs!”
“Well, it’s boys like you who stare at women’s legs! So, you should tell them to stop.”
“Don’t argue with me,” he said getting up, “Dad, look at what Meera is wearing!”
Her father came outside from his room, “what is all this racket?! Why have you turned the house into a fishmark–” He saw her and stopped mid-sentence, “Meera, what are you wearing?”
She looked at him, confused. She didn’t know what to say. Her mother came out from the kitchen. Her father gave her mother a look. Without saying anything, her mother ushered her inside her room.
“Change right now. Girls should dress appropriately. The outside world is very bad,” her mother said, making her take off the skirt.
She changed into a pair of jeans with kurti, ‘Girls should cover up and dress down because the world is bad.’
“Mom, I am going for Rajesh’s birthday party. I will get late. Don’t wait up,” His brother said as he left the house at 9pm.
She went and sat by her father, and cleared her throat.
Her father smiled, “what do you want?”
“Uhm… My friend Ragini is having this sleepover at her house. She has invited me too. All my friends are going. So, I was wondering, if I could go—“
“No,” her father said, shaking his head.
“But why, dad?! You let bhai go everywhere.”
“He is a man; he can take care of himself. No night-outs for you.”
She looked at her with tears in her eyes, “But, it’s at her house. It’s only one night.”
“I am saying this because I care for you. You will thank me one day.”
He left her sitting on the couch all by herself, thinking, ‘Girls shouldn’t party. They shouldn’t stay out late. It is all for their own good.’
She came home, visibly shaken.
“What happened?” her mother asked, concerned.
“Those guys I told you about? They stopped me again today. One of them even tried to touch me…” she broke off and hid her face in her mother’s lap.
Her mother ran her fingers through her hair, patting her back softly, “That’s how the world is my child, and you just have to accept it. Just avoid them. Don’t go to college for a couple of days. Change your timing or find an alternative route. Walk in a group, don’t walk alone. And stop wearing all this kajal and lipstick. Just walk with your head down and no one will say anything. Mingle in the crowd, don’t stand out, okay?”
She nodded wiping her tears, thinking, ‘World is like this only. Girls should not draw attention to themselves. They should walk with their head bowed.’
“Dad, I need 1000 rupees. I want to apply for post-graduate—“
“Enough with the studies. Now stay at home and help your mom,” her father replied without even looking at her.
“But I want to study more.”
“I don’t have the money.”
“Aakash performed so badly in his engineering college but still you paid for his management seat. You haven’t saved any money for me?” she asked stubbornly.
“Of course I have. I have a marriage fund for you. What will you do with so many degrees? after all, you have to handle the house only na? Now get me a cup of tea please.”
She went into the kitchen, thinking, ‘Boys need education fund, girls need marriage fund.’
She sat on the bed, bedecked and jeweled, waiting for her new husband.
He stumbled in, a little drunk.
He came towards the bed and started taking off his clothes.
“I was wondering if we get to know each other a little better before we…” she whispered slowly.
“We have all our lives to talk, today is our wedding night,” he said moving towards her. He took the pallu of her saree and yanked it from her shoulder. She held on to her saree tightly.
“I am not comfortable right now. Can we please wait for a couple of months at least?”
“Months! Don’t do all this drama with me. I am your husband. I have complete right on your body. Stop all this natak and take off your clothes.”
Afterwards, she lay down next to her snoring husband, thinking, ‘Married woman don’t have any right on their bodies. They should do as their husbands tell them too.’
“Mom, I can’t take it anymore. He hits me if I refuse. It hurts a lot. He humiliates me every chance he gets. I don’t know what to do,” she sobbed on her mother’s shoulders.
Her mother stroked her hair lovingly and said, “It’s only been a year. You will slowly understand him. Try to adjust and compromise. It will get better.”
“Can’t I stay here with you guys? I don’t want to go back.”
Her mother sighed deeply.
“A husband’s house is a woman’s home. You can’t come back. What will the people say? Your father will die of humiliation! Who will give us their daughter if our daughter is sitting at home after marriage? You should think for all of us.”
She looked at her mother with tears pooling in her eyes.
“I can’t handle his abuse, his temper. I am scared all the time.”
“You are his wife. Try and mould him the way you want. Slowly, you will be able to gauge what makes him angry and once you stop doing those things that anger him, life will be fine,” then as an after-thought, she added, “Why don’t you think of having a child? A baby always calms a father.”
She hugged her mother, thinking, ‘A woman needs to adjust and compromise for her family… for a happy married life.’
Everyone celebrated the arrival of the new born… The son who will take forward her husband’s name, the son who will take care of them in their old age. Only she shed a silent tear for her daughter who was not even allowed to breathe… the unborn daughter who was killed in the womb.
She held her son, wondering, ‘Son’s a blessing, Daughter’s a curse?’
“What the hell is this?” he threw the plate on the floor.
“I am sorry but I was so tired today, Rajat hasn’t slept a wink and—“
“I don’t need excuses. A man comes home, tired after a 10 hour shift, and you can’t even put a decent meal on the table. What do you do all day? You just have a tiny baby to handle!”
“I told you na, Rajat didn’t sleep at all…” she said picking up the broken glass pieces from the floor. She was irritated because of lack of sleep and didn’t even realize when her husband crossed the length of the table and was standing next to her. He yanked her up and slapped her, tightly.
“Don’t you dare use that tone with me… understood?” he said angrily.
Their 2 year old son, who was playing on a mat nearby, started crying. He rushed to his son and picked him up, “Oh no no… Raju, don’t cry… nothing has happened. See, mumma is fine. Mumma papa playing,” he looked at his wife and gestured at her to come closer.
“you want to play too?” he asked the toddler who nodded his head.
He held her son’s chubby little hands and made him hit his mother on the face, “hupp mumma… Hupp mumma.”
“Stop crying and smile. Can’t you see the poor kid is scared?” He ordered.
As the intensity of her son’s slaps increased, she stood there smiling through the tears, thinking, ‘A mother, a wife; a woman’s worth is directly proportional to the taste of the food she cooks.’
She came into the living room and saw her son watching the match on the television. She sighed and switched it off.
“You have your exams. You need to study.”
“What the hell?!” her son got up and walked towards the television stand. She stood in front of the TV.
“Go to your room and study.”
He looked at her angrily, and pushed her aside with such force that she fell to the floor. He turned on the TV, and stood hovering above her, “Don’t interfere in matters that don’t concern you. I will study when I want to. You go in the kitchen and do what you know best.”
He rolled his eyes and sat in front of the idiot box.
She got up from the floor and stared at her teenage son. He had started looking like his father. She stumbled into her bedroom, thinking, ‘Where did I go wrong?’
Her husband dragged her into the room as usual. As he started to disrobe her, she pushed him off of her, “No. Not tonight.”
She walked out of the room with her husband following her.
He held her arm, “Have you gone mad? You will refuse me? I am your husband.”
She looked at her son who was sitting on the couch playing some video game. All the anger she had felt in the afternoon, over the ears, boiled to the surface. She took a deep breath and slapped her husband with everything she had. He let go of her hand.
Her son, who was used to the arguments and the hitting, glanced lazily towards them expecting the same scene – his angry father and his cowering mother. Instead, he saw his father clutching his reddening cheek and her mother looking at him angrily, as he had never seen her before.
“Switch off the television and go to your room,” she mumbled, “Now!”
Scared, he did as was told.
She looked at her husband, “No means no. Don’t you dare touch me without my permission again. I am your wife, not some whore you have bought. Understood?”
Confused and shocked, he simply nodded.
She went inside the bedroom and bolted the door, thinking, ‘Enough is enough.’
Pic credit: HowardIgnatius (Used under a CC license)
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I watched a Tamil movie Kadaisi Vivasayi (The Last Farmer), recommended by my dad, on SonlyLiv, and many times over again since my first watch. If not for him, I’d have had no idea what I would have missed. What a piece of relevant and much needed art this movie is!
It is about an old farmer in a village (the only indigenous farmer left), who walks the path of trouble, quite unexpectedly, and tries to come out of it. I have tried my best to refrain from leaving spoilers, for I want the readers to certainly catch up on this masterpiece of director Manikandan (of Kakka Muttai fame).
The movie revolves around the farmer who goes about doing his everyday chores, sweeping his mud-house first thing in the morning, grazing the cows, etc and living a simple but contented life. He is happy doing his thing, until he invites trouble for himself out of the blue, primarily because he is illiterate and ignorant.