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It's difficult to find oneself when everyone has a different idea of what it is to be a woman. Sometimes, we just need to listen to ourselves.
It’s difficult to find oneself when everyone has a different idea of what it is to be a woman. Sometimes, we just need to listen to ourselves.
And she said, “Oh yes, I knew, I always know when he’s here, and what all you’re up to, but you must understand that you’re older now. Just like your childhood has ended, as has school and college, your childish friendship with that boy also has to come to an end.”
“You knew?”, Naina asked, shocked.
“I always know Naina.”
“Yes. And that is why your friendship has to come to an end.”
“You know all these years I believed, rather I made myself believe, that I could walk the road less traveled and stand out. I believed I could exist beyond stereotypes that chain mankind and women. All these years I trusted myself more than trusting what society had laid down for me. It’s my own secret shame that I caved in to the moment with such carnal disgrace. Yes, you are right, my friendship has to come to an end because he is not a friend anymore. But, tell me, can biology not be just what it is – biology?”, Naina finished with a sigh, exasperated.
What transpired a night before had left Naina distraught. Twenty years of friendship seemed to have evaporated in twenty minutes of hormonal foolhardiness. She walked into something believing she will be able to exit with ease. Bombarded by a wave of regret, she carried the night with her like a backpack, her heart feeling the weight of this misadventure.
“Hmm. You see Naina, go and trick the world, you cannot trick me. I won’t let you trick me.”
“You are so rude” Naina spat out.
“Call it being honest and if the truth hurts this bad, think about why? Because you choose to not see what you are stepping on. It’s grime, the type on the bathroom floor that refuses to go unless you spray acid on it.”
“I am free to make choices, am I not?”
“Aah! I saw that coming. Freedom. Freedom is best experienced with rules.”
“Huh? There is no freedom if there are no rules?” Naina said as she got up and started to pace around the room.
“Naina, we all seek absolute freedom, free from the boundaries of society. We desire to exist without rules. But freedom is essentially built on intelligent self-restraint and discipline. You can freely move on the road when you and others obey the traffic rules. Only then you can enjoy a long drive to Khandala. If this discipline is not followed, there will be no control over the movement of people and vehicles and this will lead to confusion and chaos. Freedom, thus, loses its meaning and degenerates in the absence of adequate regulations and directions. We need rules to guide our behaviour and not turn into impulsive pleasure-seeking maniacs working without control.”
“Oh come on, why would everyone become that careless?”
“You are on the brink of doing exactly this Naina. You met Nishabd when you were five, and you played tag and hopscotch together. Around the captivating miracles of the Great Lakes in Michigan, your family and his family struck a friendship which neither of you knew then how far it would carry on.
As luck would have it, both your families soon repatriated to India, to the same city. Soon you were discussing your first period and his first crush at school. Teenage years brought you and him together, entangled like vines into each other’s life, much to the discomfort of your parents, and it raised the eyebrows of many around. You let go of the admission at IIT just to go with him to St. Stephens to pursue god-knows-what. And then…”
“Okay I know the story, I don’t need to hear it from you again, do I? I have lived it. That is why he is my best friend or was…”
“Then Naina, why did you take that friendship to bed?”
“It’s just biology. Will you ever get it?”
“It’s a transgression. If everyone around played under the sheets with their friends, would it be moral?”
“Morality? It’s called making a C-H-O-I-C-E.”
“You cannot question the checks and balances of society and upend them in pursuit of ‘freedom’. We need order, we need restraint, we need discipline so that we learn to coexist without causing hurt or harm.”
“I did not. It was just a moment.”
“And it will come again. I am not against you and Nishabd’s consummating your relationship. What I am afraid of is the repercussions. It will leave its scars. You want to call it biology, I want you to accept the reality. We can’t hop beds to looks for the perfect fit. What Sharukh Khan preached in Dear Zindagi is inherently flawed. Chairs are bought, relationships are lived. You can’t be testing each relationship in search of finding the perfect fit where your butt, your heart and your mind can rest peacefully. This notion of perfection is flawed. You learn to accept and adjust and create something meaningful and beautiful out of the imperfect life that we all have. If Nishabd is the person, if you feel great with him, as I can see you always have, then commit to him. We don’t sleep with friends Naina. Relationships have names and assigned roles. Don’t conflate them. It will only bring more ambiguity and ambivalence in your life.”
“I will let him go. It’s messed up. Why do hormones have to behave weirdly? Why can’t a boy and a girl be just friends? Is there anything like ‘sleeping friends’? There should be.”
“Go and ask any sleeping friend if this ambiguity makes life any easier for them.”
“You are too idealistic, look at that tone – so condescending.”
“Me? Condescending? Naina, I have lived through your big and small misdemeanors, I have burnt in the fire that you light yourself and I have suffered along with your all-consuming anxiety. I agree I may sound harsh.”
“Yeah but that’s to shut me down, to make me succumb to this gibberish and inanity the society throws. You saw what happened to Maa. A victim of everything that society held up for her. The salwar-kameez clad, stay at home, Karwachauth type? I don’t want to be that!”
“Victim? How do you know? And who are you to pass judgment on whether she was a victim or not?”
“I have seen, the world has changed since then. Hey, listen, you know Chloe Zhao? You know she became the second woman ever to win an Academy Award for best director. Isn’t that liberating to see some light from the dark dungeons of servility and unhappiness?”
“Maa was happy Naina.” The voice grumbled.
“You know Meghavani, my colleague. She got a Botox done in her forehead and crow’s feet. I want it too, you see the obvious fine lines on my forehead where makeup settles into. Maa would have never agreed. She never got a facial done in her life. Poor her, she lived haplessly, died haplessly. We are doing things differently now…we can sleep with someones and still not be stuck, so no big deal if Nishabd and I …”
Naina’s voice trailed off as she walked to the mantlepiece upon which rested innumerable memories in wooden frames and laminated pictures. She still found it difficult to swallow the obsequious manners of her mother, servile towards her husband- Naina’s father. He was like an autocrat who insisted on wearing a steam-pleated button-down shirt for evening walks. An impeccable English speaker, punctilious about the American accent, he would often make joke about his wife’s Bihari accent and Naina found him nauseatingly suffocating. She would feel enraged and wonder what made her mother dance to his tunes and laugh with him at her expense.
Later, the constant ‘check with Baba first’ planted enough thorns for her heart to continue to bleed for a lifetime. Caught in her own struggle, bereft of the freedom she craved for, Naina overlooked the love that held her parents together or the strength and solace her father found in his wife. Behind closed doors, the massage he gave her at night and the San Jiao acupuncture for her constipation showed a love best understood between them.
But as Nishabd became her soulmate, her freedom lay slaughtered,
To Naina, her mother and father provided the accoutrements for birth, the upbringing happened with Nishabd by her side, playing the part of a mother, a father, therapist, confidante, and a friend. He was the spine of her life, providing structure and support. With both her parents dead, being with Nishabd a week after her mother’s death felt sinful. Her shame pricked her like broken glass pieces on the floor.
“She was happy Naina, happier than you are right now. And the WE you are eulogizing about, the FEMINIST movement you are enthralled by, you all need to know that feminism is what feminism does. It differs for everyone: the one with Kawachauth and the one without, the one with Botox and without, the one with the white knight holding a sword and the one with the rolling pin, the one within the walls of the house and the one beyond, the ones with a million followers on social media and the one without. Freedom means having the freedom to choose, choose without the fear of judgment. It is not a license to manufacture clutter and turbulence in society just to prove a point. You are doing just that. I respect your thoughts. I am not blind to the discrimination and what happens behind the facade of the glorious dictums of society and patriarchy. I see it all. However, there is a difference between a crusader and a vigilante.”
“And how do I know that?”
“You will always know it Naina. I am your conscience. You can never stop me. If your actions bring peace, you know what you are fighting for is worth the cause, if not, you know you are betting on the wrong horse.”
The noise in her head grew louder like the whirlwind beats of a dhol. Naina stood in a stupor, her eyes transfixed on the Mangal sutra hanging from her mother’s slender neck. She stood coyly next to the man with whom she shared 38 years of life. Clad in a red banarasi sari, red vermillion along the part of her hair shining bright against her bronze skin, she looked most imperfect standing diminutively next to Naina’s father – fair skinned, tall with an Englishman’s look in a single-breasted plaid suit.
Her mother looked happy in the photograph. Was she not empowered? Was she not liberated? Did she waste her life over marriage, an institution designed to put a woman at a disadvantage? Was she a bad example of a strong woman? What defines freedom? What is feminism? The questions rattled in her head as Naina gulped a bottle of chilled beer and realised how acidic it tasted, how much she disliked the beverage yet it had found a place in her life because she wanted to be equal to men. Is feminism about becoming a man or being a woman?
Image Source- Canva
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