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Equal Heights

Posted: July 24, 2020

‘They all have their own wings. The nature provides equal care to all and they all fly to equal heights’

‘Come on! It is very strong. It can live up to five hundred years.’ she said.

I followed her, a bit nervous, cautiously taking one step at a time. First time, I was crossing a bridge, entirely made up of live tree roots, a wonderful creation in the forests of Meghalaya. At the other end I was exhilarated and so was Indari, as she paid the next instalment of her fee.

I met Indari when my husband was posted in Meghalaya, a few years back. She was the youngest member of a Khasi family that lived a short walk away from our accommodation. Aged fifteen, her beautiful round face, shining monolid eyes and sleek straight hair made her look like a Japanese doll. She sensed my love for nature and my perfect Hindi accent in the first meet and the deal sealed. Hindi classes and then nature walk.

I enjoyed trips with her to lush green coniferous forests, from lime stone caves to rippling waterfalls and soon, we were forging a bond that further led me to the wonderful, unique world of Khasi people, where I could see the living examples of women swapping roles with men. The Khasi tribe in Meghalaya is one of the few matrilineal groups in the world who follow a form of family life in which line of descent is through mother’s lineage and inheritance of ancestral property is via the youngest daughter.

Daughter also acts as priestess of family in performing rituals pertaining to family and it is her duty to see the death rites of her family members. The house of youngest daughter is regarded as a refuge to all her family members including her elder unmarried or widowed brother and sister.

A Community That Lives Through Its Women

In other parts of India where women generally do not get most of these rights or freedoms, a peep into the Khasi world was quite fascinating for me. I don’t know, It was a sense of being paramount authority in family instilled in Indari or God gifted wisdom, she acted more mature than her age. Sometimes I felt like she is an old soul in a young body. She had her self- discovered solution for every problem and a well analysed plan for every goal. She innocently, sincerely believed that she can heal any pain. She was not completely wrong.

During my stay there I met other Khasi ladies also, some of them were highly educated and working as headmistresses, college professors or in different state organisations. Whatever they were, there was one thing common in all of them, their impeccable, confident, Colgate smile, which is unforgettable.

Before we shifted from there, my last trip with Indari was a bird watching tour. After a short trek we were at a point where we could see a wide variety of birds.

‘Look! She is so small and delicate.’, I exclaimed, looking through my binocular, pointing a colourful bird in the flock which looked more like a female bird.

‘Oh yes! But you know what? They all have their own wings. The nature provides equal care to all and they all fly to equal heights’, she said thoughtfully and started playing with the trekking pole.
I stood there transfixed. Totally absorbed in the deep meaning of her words.
The picture of that beautiful, colourful bird still decorates the wall of my living room as her words decorate my imagination.

A Revolution of Social Systems Necessary

Rights of women and equal opportunities to girls is a much discussed and debated issue. Despite time to time changes in social structure, girls in many parts of our country have still to compete a lot in terms of their male counterparts and this, to a large extent, requires change in the archaic mindset of patriarchal society which views girls as a liability.

On getting enough love, support and encouragement from their family, girls can win against all odds and become the best version of themselves. A radical change should start from family itself, because the real change comes, not by rules and laws but with the change of mindsets. Girls in many parts of our country including a small, innocent girl somewhere in me, heartily wish to see that change.

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