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What It Is To Be A Woman In This Godforsaken Part Of The World

Posted: September 22, 2020

But then, if she had been a girl all the time, she would have never known the other side of life. How different it is, to be a man in our part of the world. 

The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.

Preethi Warrier is one of the winners of the September 2020 Muse of the Month.

I gazed at her from far, she looked elegant in her jeans and loose fitting kurti. Sans makeup or jewellery, with her hair cut really short, she beamed with confidence as she spoke on stage, before a hundred odd delegates from various countries. Her picture with her designation was being displayed on screen, a Doctorate in Female Psychology, Professor in one of the premier universities, a renowned Social worker, she sure had blossomed.

Huge applause rang across the auditorium, as she wrapped up her presentation on a relatively unknown tradition of her country, the life of a Bachaposh.

But her confession, that she too had been a Bachaposh in her childhood brought an abrupt silence across the hall and some hush-hush whispers amongst the audience.

“No wonder she looks so weird.” I overheard the lady sitting next to me scoff.

“Not her fault though, what parents would do this to their daughter.” Someone else muttered.

I somehow couldn’t take my eyes off her, a little tear pricked my eye. I marveled at the sight of her standing tall, prepared to face the volley of questions soon to come her way.

And the question answer session began.

“Maam, when exactly did you turn a Bachaposh? Wasn’t it horrible?”

“I guess since the time I remember, I’ve been one. I can’t recollect being a girl at all.” She smiled. “And I enjoyed every moment, I have absolutely no qualms. Between us four sisters, I guess I was blessed with the best childhood. I wore shirts and loose trousers, I didn’t cover myself from head to toe, nor did I ever sport a veil. I was allowed to go to school, I played football with boys, I rode cycles, in fact I could visit the market alone without being accompanied by a male relative. I had a free life, what could I complain about?”

I silently congratulated her. Well spoken, as ever.

“Maam, but didn’t they know who you really are? How could your disguise work for so long?”

She was prepared with her reply, “Oh they all knew, that’s how it works. It’s not a disguise, but an open secret. As I mentioned in my presentation, families with only daughters, basically those without sons, are permitted to turn one of their girls into a boy. I mean not completely, just dress them up like boys, till they hit puberty. Until then, the Bachaposh lives a son’s life and the rest of the world gladly accepts her that way. It’s like, let those unfortunate  mothers who couldn’t bear real sons, have fun for some time and when time comes, we’ll push them all back to harsh reality.”

There was mild laughter as she waited for further queries.

“So you too were persuaded to return to girlhood eventually?”

She answered without the slightest hesitation, “Of course. When I started menstruating and the physical changes began to show. The boys felt awkward playing with me, we couldn’t wrestle in the mud anymore. The vendors in the market and teachers in school would now refuse to look me in the eye, I was being clearly shown the door. It was indication enough that I had to go back to being a girl, cover my face, stop my education, stop playing sports,  stop moving in public, in short, I could just exist, but cease to live.”

She paused for a moment to let it sink in and calmly went on.

“Most of you wouldn’t know what it is, to be caged all your life. What it is, to be married off at twelve or thirteen, to a man three times your age. As his third or fourth wife. To be treated like a slave, all day, every day. Cook and clean from dawn to dusk, entertain the husband at night and bear his numerous children. Till he gets bored of you and dumps you for someone younger. I was a little lucky as far as marriage was concerned. For three long years I was trained to turn into a girl, but I failed miserably at the transition. I would refuse to wear the veil, I would chop down my tresses, ride bicycles, read books, stroll down the road, I would rebel at every little opportunity I got. Until of course the moral police would track me down and flog me. But I loved being a boy, happy and free, I was raised like that. How could they push me into the deep dark dungeon of hopelessness overnight? Thanks to all the ill reputation, nobody married me very soon. But then, a forty year old widower offered to take me away and my parents agreed, what better chance did I stand? But then, he hated me, that’s what he said after a few months. That I couldn’t cook, I wasn’t homely enough, and most importantly, I couldn’t satisfy him in bed. He claimed I looked like a boy, strong and sturdy. In order to bring out the woman in me, I was beaten, starved and raped many a times. And after all this, he abandoned me. In less than a year, I was back at my parents’, to a life of eternal misery.”

She stifled her tears but I let mine flow unabashed. There was total silence, even those gossip mongers were looking at her with respect, listening with rapt attention.

She wiped her face and spoke, “I had absolutely given up on life, I was slipping into depression, with nothing to hope for. But then, that one person who I thought was the biggest coward, stood up for me. My mother. She had turned me into a Bachaposh after all, I don’t know if it was out of her guilt. But it was unbelievable for me and my father, when she threw a huge tantrum and planned to relocate to the big city with whatever little savings we had. Once in the city, she got me enrolled in a girl’s school, she took up every menial job she could to help my father, but she did change me for the better. She sacrificed a lot, for my sake. And so, here I am.”

She received a standing ovation and suddenly, the floodlights pointed at me. I was momentarily blinded, but I could hear the ladies around me cheer.

“Go on to the stage Maam, you are being called there.” Someone escorted me to the dais.

I had never faced such a huge crowd ever in my life, but then it was an honour sharing the podium with her, my daughter, the Bachaposh.

As the crowd calmed down, a woman asked me something, in English. My daughter translated, “Do you regret meddling with your daughter’s gender in her childhood, making her a man in a woman’s body?”

I answered in my tongue, “I won’t say I’m particularly proud, I had turned her into a Bachaposh after all, I let her taste freedom and liberation, I had shown her the significance of education. So when she returned home shattered that day, I felt responsible, I decided to set her life straight. But then, if she had been a girl all the time, she would have never known the other side of life. How different it is, to be a man in our part of the world. And once she knew, she worked hard for her degree and a job. Moreover, how do you judge her gender with her clothes, or hairstyle ? My daughter is a Woman in a Woman’s body. Otherwise she wouldn’t take up women’s psychology and social work, she wouldn’t feel for all us women or strive so hard to take up the cause of those innocent victims of rape and abuse.”

I could hear them clap, but I turned to go, all this was giving me some serious stage fright.

But then someone called out again, “ Maam, one last question.”

My daughter translated again, “So you don’t think it was a mistake to push your daughter into being a Bachaposh?”

“There are no mistakes.” I replied. “It’s up to us to turn them into opportunities.”

I climbed down the stage with my daughter, amidst thunderous applause.

Author’s note: Bachaposh is a practice, in which some families without sons will pick a daughter to live and behave as a boy. This enables the child to behave more freely: attending school, escorting her sisters in public, and working. The purpose of the practice is not deception and many people, such as teachers or family friends, will be aware that the child is actually a girl. The girl’s status as a bachaposh usually ends when she enters puberty.

*

Editor’s note: Elizabeth Stamatina “Tina” Fey is an American actor, comedian, writer and producer, best known to her fans for Saturday Night Live as a comedian and later 30 Rock where she famously impersonated Sarah Palin while Amy Poehler impersonated Hillary Clinton during the 2008 US elections, and her autobiography Bossypants and the movie Mean Girls as a writer.

There were many other interesting things that she also did, both on and off screen. But all along, she has been this brilliant woman who is best perceived as a sort of ‘glamorous’ librarian, with legendary work ethic, deadpan humour, and a grounded personality, qualities that helped catapult her comedy projects to unprecedented levels of success. And of course, a feminist. I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone reads her book, Bossypants.

The cue is this quote by her: “There are no mistakes, only opportunities.”

Preethi Warrier wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations! 

Image source: Harris Ananiadis on unsplash

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