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Some were worried what would happen on my first night? Some wanted to know what my mother ate when she carried me. Some even wanted to know how much she split open while giving birth?
…Let’s hear it from the lady herself. Please welcome Ms. Anjali Bansal.
The sudden mention of my name woke me up from my stupor. I gathered myself quickly with a grin, and slowly walked across the illuminated stage. In those few seconds of walk from one corner of the stage to the podium at the other end, I visited the past in a flash.
With no notes or paper in hand, I just wished to speak impromptu. It was kind of an emotional catharsis, a moment that I never thought would ever visit my very ordinary but arduous life. But there I was, all set to deliver speech on ‘My Life’. Standing at the podium, I cleared my throat gently, clamped my fingers, rested my elbow on the dais and finally spoke about my journey that started 40 years back…
I was 5, playing with my cousins in the field. I tried my level best get into the team, which they formed to play. But they pushed me aside. “Just stand and watch. You are good for that, not to run around and play”, came in chorus.
I was 10, I never got selected for the dance in the school. The costumes will not be available in my size, someone said. Someone giggled at the back, “the stage will break if she dances”.
1 was 14, my father looked at me distastefully. Murmuring beneath his breath, he said things I seldom understood. But, his revulsion would often break me into pieces.
I was 21, a whole office lobby burst into laughter when I went for my first job interview. My interviewer said, “No we can’t hire you”. Because apparently I didn’t fit in.
I was 25, the bank manager refused me a loan. He felt I was incapable.
I was 30, the airport staff scanned me up… down… up… down, and then ended up in a mocking giggle with some deplorable comments.
I was 35, the restaurant waiter looked worried when I pulled the chair to sit. What if it breaks?
I am 40 now, 95 kgs, standing in front of you all. Director of an NGO, author of two books and today recipient of this prestigious award. Strange, Right? How is that possible !
I can stand here for hours and speak about countless such examples where I endured the most deplorable and despicable situations in my life. No, I was never raped or molested. I was not lynched in public. I was not harassed for dowry or harassed for being a woman. But yes, I was body shamed from the time I remember myself.
Body Shaming… hope you understand what it means. Because honestly most living around us don’t, especially men. It is never counted as an offense. But it is, and perhaps a grave one which most of us don’t realise. May I ask you something before proceeding further. How many of you let out a moan when I walked to the stage today? Come on, let’s be honest. You did, may be all of you did. Collectively! I know.
Ladies and Gentlemen, when I was 15, one night at the dinner table my father flung the extra chapati I asked for in the air and roughed up my mom. “How much you want to feed this demon… No man will marry her. No man will ever look at her, forget about touching,” he screamed with unmistakable rage. Those words still bleed within me.
Well, in next thirty minutes me and my mom were out of the house. We left, and spent the next three days sitting on the railway station. It was the most difficult three days of our life. But we fought, fought relentlessly over the years to earn a life of respect and dignity. But strangely, what was my fault, is the question I kept brooding over, again and again? Just that, for the society we lived in, my skin colour was more important than the colours I infused in the beautiful paintings I made? Or that my body weight was more important than the trophies I won in the school in academics? Or that my face was more important than the words that came out of my mouth?
Honestly, it took several moons for me to understand– what was my fault? I was penalised, and crucified several times, in various different ways… but why… what for ?
I would take this opportunity to point one thing out today. Body shaming starts from within the confines of the home itself. Mother, father, brother, sister, uncles, aunties, everyone is guilty in some way or the other. The outsiders come much later in the picture. Everyone loves a perfectly sculpted girl. Anything which is a sore to your eyes is unacceptable. And, this indifference from the family breeds out, and then the whole world is literally after you.
When I would walk on the streets, boys and men of all age, 10 to 100 may be, catcalled. Some wanted to know the size of my butt and some size of my bra. Some were worried what would happen on my first night? Some wanted to know what my mother ate when she carried me. Some even wanted to know how much she split open while giving birth? I cried nights after nights clueless how to deal with this. But, finally I did something that changed the course of my life.
Friends, I just accepted the way I am and started loving myself more than anyone else. I started laughing at my own self, at my own imperfections. And trust me, when I did that, the world stopped laughing at me, at least not on my face. They were embarrassed to comment because before they did, I would smirk and laugh it off. I yelled loud and clear… “My body is my prerogative, it’s my property. It is none of your business.” Period.
The magic lies in self acceptance and belief you see, and that has made me like steel today. And whatever I could achieve in life despite all odds, it is because of the love affair that I have with myself. When you do this, there is automatically a shield that protects you from the filth of the society. But then, with apologies beforehand, I would pull out men here. They have a huge role to play in body shaming.
To all you dear men listening to me, stop looking at women as objects. They are not. Just stop it. Stop calling your wives aunties when they are pregnant or after that. Stop catcalling women who are oversized. Stop judging women by the Asian Paint’s colour card. It is not done. Sadly, your parents did, their parents did too. But now it’s high time you change it. The woman in your life is not a prize, gift or a trophy to flaunt. She is just like you, a creation of God in flesh and blood with unimaginable sensitivity and feelings. Tap that. Look and understand her heart, not the body. And for women hearing me, just stand by the cause and your clan. She is after all one among you. Together this would weave wonders. It will be a beautiful world for all of us.
When I started my NGO ‘Sampurna’ with nothing much in hand, I had just one thought in mind. I wanted to empower each woman who felt incomplete. I wanted to stuff them with the confidence to look beyond the imperfections of their body and carve a place with their work. And I did. Loved and nurtured thousands like me and others. Stood by them like a rock, just like my mother did to me on that fateful night. That reminds me; sitting on the dead cold bench of the railway station, I wrote a short poem, that night. Let me share it with you all and end this talk…
I am fat, but I am not bad,
My skin is dark, but not my heart
You may not like to touch my body,
But I can touch your soul
For I am also a mortal being of the universe…
shining out from the womb of coal…!!
Thank you ladies and gentlemen, let this be a new beginning for me and many others around me. May we all see a beautiful tomorrow.
Thundering applause followed. Tomorrow is a new day with new challenges, I told myself. Bring it on…my heart yelled as I walked down the stage holding my head high.
Header image is a still from the movie Dum Laga Ke Haisha
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