Over time I realised being demure and soft-spoken would not help. I started being assertive, I would fight back and refuse to take nonsense.
Tarana was in the final semester of her MBA. She had already secured a good job offer from a leading multinational FMCG brand. Being an ambitious girl who loved to take up new challenges, she was excited about the new phase of life waiting for her beyond college.
She was gearing up for the corporate life and the accompanying freedom in store for her. At the same time, she wanted to make the most of her last few days in college. She had found some really good friends in the two years in Business school.
They had beautiful memories of the time spent together. And like her, all of them wanted to enjoy the last few days of their college life to the fullest, before they parted ways. Tarana and most of her friends came from similar backgrounds, raised in urban homes and educated in convent schools and plush colleges of the city. They were not entitled brats, they had worked hard at each step and their accomplishments had all been on their merit.
But Rudraveer was an exception among them. He would never buy their theory of having reached where they were solely on the basis of their hard work.
He would say “You have worked hard but life has also been favourable for you. All of you had the right amount of support and opportunities. You could focus on working hard because there weren’t obstacles to dissuade you.”
Though his friends would be disheartened by his stance, they knew it was true. Their lives had indeed been a lot more comfortable than what Rudraveer had seen.
Rudraveer was different from his peers, the reason simply being his world had been poles apart from theirs. He belonged to a conservative household from a small village. Rudraveer knew what struggle meant as he had to fight to stand up for his beliefs and achieve his goals.
He came from an environment where gender parity was rampant and patriarchy celebrated. And this turned him into someone who was poles apart from the toxic men such environments create. In fact, he was a strong contender for equal gender rights and would be the first one to point out any mansplaining or discrimination.
Tarana found him a lot more-broad minded and receptive to changes than most of the city-bred and supposed liberal men she had seen all her life. Rudraveer proved he was indeed different when he turned down a lucrative job offer from Corporate House and decided to go ahead with his business venture. It was a venture that would generate employment opportunities for people from his village.
Tarana and the others were dumbstruck at his decision. All she could ask him was, “Where do you get your grit and strength from?” He replied with a smile, “How about a trip to my home town after the final exams. Maybe, you might find an answer to that question?”
The day after their last exam, Tarana and all her friends set off with Rudraveer to his village. It was a long and tedious train journey, followed by a two-hour-long bus ride. But all of them were excited. This would be their last trip together before they got busy with their lives and it was also the first time some of them would be seeing a village.
They had all pictured the place to be rustic with people who were conservative and led simple to orthodox lives. When they got down at the bus stop, they were in for a big surprise. The village was simple as they had expected, but it wasn’t rustic or oppressive.
In fact, they were surprised to see several women driving two-wheelers and some even manning the shops, which they passed by on the way. It had good roads, was clean. And the school they passed by on the way to Rudraveer’s house looked impressive, with a stately building and playground.
This was the exact opposite of a derelict and crumbled village school; they had always read about. All of Rudraveer’s friends were majorly impressed and in awe of his village.
Malati was waiting at the gate to welcome Rudraveer and his friends, she was accompanied by her daughter, Deepali. Both the women welcomed the group with a smile. Rudraveer got down to introducing his aunt and sister to everyone.
As the day went by Tarana and the others noticed, Malati commanded immense respect not only in the house but in the village at large. Tarana also noticed something there was a certain amount of fear for her among the people around her. But she had to admit that this lady definitely had an aura, which exuded confidence.
Over the period of her stay, she befriended Deepali. She found out that she had recently cleared her NET exams and was in the process of applying for teaching jobs and also planning on pursuing her Ph.D. But Deepali was a simple person despite all her accomplishments.
Once in the course of her conversation, Tarana mustered the courage to ask her, “Malati aunty has a command over the village. But why is there a fear towards her among the villagers?”
Deepali replied, “The village owes a lot to her. But she could not have managed all that she did without being domineering. The atmosphere around this place was radically different from what you see today. Being a nice person to people around you cannot get you your desired results always.”
Tarana was a little flummoxed with the reply but decided not to prod her further.
The night before Tarana was to return, she was standing on the balcony enjoying the cool night breeze when she heard a voice, “So enjoying the fresh air, you must be missing this in the city?”
She turned around to see Malati and responded to her with a smile, “Clean air and calmness is a luxury in the city.”
Malati smiled at her and both of them stood there for some time soaking in the calmness and breeze.
“So, I come across as quite a domineering, rather intimidating person?” Malati questioned breaking the silence.
“Not really aunty,” Tarana responded almost immediately.
“I am all for constructive criticism, don’t worry,” Malati said with a smile. Looking at the uncomfortable expression on Tarana’s face she continued, “You know, this place was the exact opposite of what you see today when I married and came here close to three decades ago. I was the younger daughter-in-law of the house and with time formed quite a strong bond with my Jethani.
“This village was an extremely conservative place, that was not shocking for me, having been raised in a similar atmosphere. But I didn’t really accept it happily. You can imagine, in a place where development was already lacking, what position would women have been accorded. But they bore the mistreatment with silence, as they had been accustomed to it and if not for that one incident, maybe I would have also continued to live with it,” she told Tarana.
“Which incident, aunty?” Tarana was piqued by curiosity.
“Has Raghuveer ever told you, how he lost his mother?” Malati asked Tarana.
Seeing her shake her head in refusal, Malati answered sadly, “Childbirth. And you know the saddest part, it could have been easily avoided? She was such a pure soul, she deserved to live and definitely deserved a better life.”
Tarana could see her eyes well up, but she immediately composed herself and continued, “From the beginning of the pregnancy she had health issues. And we managed to sneak out by ourselves and consult a doctor, who advised her against going ahead with the pregnancy as it could prove fatal for her. She came back and spoke to her husband about it. He was livid that she had decided to venture out on her own and made such a big decision by herself. So she was confined to the house and nobody was willing to hear the doctor’s advice, leave alone following it.
“She was in immense pain, but the men in the house wielded the power and a woman’s health was the least of their concerns, they only viewed the female gender as people to serve them and produce heirs for them. Here they had a bigger agenda to prove, this woman had defied their dictate, so they used all their might to keep her in place, specifically her husband. Power and the desperation to hold on to it makes people inhuman,” she continued sadly.
“Thanks to the power and control, we lost Rudraveer’s mother a few months later, neither did the baby survive. But the worst was yet to come. Nobody felt a shred of remorse or regretted their mistake. Barely a month after her death, her husband’s second marriage plans were being made. This wasn’t the first incident of a woman being sacrificed in the name of control and to satisfy egos, but she was the closest person I had seen meet this fate. Now I refused to stay silent. I decided to fight back,” Malati paused.
“Aunty, it must have been very difficult for you? Tarana asked, deeply saddened by what she heard.
“Yes, it definitely was. But it was the difficulty, which made me all the more determined. The men in the house decided to boycott me, with the intention of breaking me down and making me drop my plans. Even my husband was not ready to support me. I decided to create awareness among women first. So, I got health officials and medical students to set up camps and create awareness of women’s health issues,” Malati told her.
“Over time I realised being a demure and soft-spoken person would not help. I started being assertive, I would fight back and refuse to take nonsense. Soon, I realised change has to start at my house. I started taking charge of my home and not just the kitchen. Raising the children to run the house and the family business, I decided to participate actively in everything. I was not given a warm welcome, I was chided and chastised for trying to invade on areas which the men felt were rightfully theirs. But I knew it was time to turn a deaf ear to the societal dictates and brickbats and proceed ahead with a focus on my goals,” She continued.
“The boys and girls of the house have been raised with equal opportunities and responsibilities. I made sure Rudraveer and his brothers did not grow up entitled just because of their gender. At the same time, I ensured the girls had an equal opportunity at education.
“The school in this village is a co-educational one, setting that up in this village was not easy. But neither was making the women believe that their daughters deserved as many opportunities as their sons. The best way I saw of making them realise this was through providing them financial independence through vocational courses and self-help business ventures.
“Soon, they realised, with better opportunities their daughters would flourish. But today when I see the next generation, I am happy, things are going the right way. You must be wondering all these days, why this woman is feared here, now you must have got your answer. Now you understand, just why my head is not bowed.” Malati said with a wide smile. Tarana kept looking at her in awe, a woman of courage is what Malati was.
The next day morning as she was leaving, she told Rudraveer “I got the answer to my question. Now I will ensure to use the opportunities which life presents me towards the benefit of those who have not been blessed with the same. I shall work at being the change I wish to see.”
Picture credits: Still from Milo’s ad on YouTube
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