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She can want things that she facilitates for her husband and children – someone to look after her, to care and love her for being just herself. Or are these just fanciful wishes? Recipe for a Perfect marriage explores these thoughts.
Recipe for a Perfect Marriage, edited by Sandhya Renukamba is an offering by Women’s Web. The ebook with a cover design by Anju Jayaram is a compilation of 25 stories that capture the essence of womanhood along with the relationships that define womanhood.
Part of an annual offering by Women’s Web, the ebook has some fantastic contributing authors, namely – Chandrika R Krishnan, Gitanjali Joshua, Ilham Modi Bharmal, Indu Balachandran, Janani Balaji (the youngest author at 16 years of age), Lalitha Ramanathan, Dr Mohini J Dave, Narayani Manapadam, Neha Singh, Prashanti Chunduri, Sarves, Sheerin Shahab, Smita Das Jain, Smriti Sinha, Sonia Dogra, Soumya Bharathi, Sreeparna Sen, Dr Supriya Bansal, Tanushree Ghosh, Tasneem Khan, Dr Ujwala Shenoy Karmarkar, Urmi Chakravorty.
The book showcases those women whom a patriarchal society would view as flawed.
Yes, you read that correctly, I did say flawed. Any women in the capacity of a daughter, a wife, a daughter-in-law or a mother and one who is independent, confident, selfish to her own needs or charts her own course, is considered flawed by our society – isn’t that so? Any woman who raises her justified voice in defiance of subjugation, gender discrimination or even her rights is considered as malodorous as the stench emanating from the foulest gutters in the old parts of sprawling cities. Women are supposed to follow men. Is that not what our society teaches us? Is that not what is conditioned into us from a young age?
But, a woman with a seemingly perfect family and a perfect life can desire more, can’t she? She can aspire for things that she knows can never be hers but should be rightfully hers. She can dream of a life where she is not relegated to the house and hearth. She can want things that she facilitates for her husband and children – someone to look after her, to care and love her for being just herself. Or are these just fanciful wishes?
And, that’s what is so fantastic about the stories in this book. This book showcases women for being ‘unapologetically themselves’. The book does not label women into roles, but instead the writers have created strong female characters that refuse to conform to labels.
Be it Ujwala’s emphasis on motherhood in her story wherein both Nirmala and her Amma adjust and adapt to each others’ needs, or, be it Sarves’s story (brilliantly written in second person POV) of two estranged sisters; the women in the stories shine centre stage. They are all far from perfect. And yet, even in their imperfections they embody a sensitive understanding of another’s feelings and emotions. They realize, even if a tad belatedly, that when it comes to their gender, it is often a woman who will sacrifice and ultimately understand them. True, isn’t it?
Smriti writes about Maya, a strong girl who refuses to bog down in the face of abject disapproval from people she hopes to call her new family. She chooses instead of walk away from a relationship (its riches and financial security) in which she does not get the respect she deserves. Why is respect so hard for women to earn? Why must we always pass though an ‘agni-pariksha’ (trial by fire) in order to gain respect? Why do society and more often other women deny us the respect that they expect from us? Urmi brings this very point into perspective in her story ‘Disha’. Sadly, the truth that she writes about – discrimination between siblings even if both are female – is a reality that many women grapple with in the ‘safe confines’ of their homes (yes, pun intended!).
Prashanti’s Adira is another strong character. Her handicap, her physical disability is nothing compared to how a man (her prospective father-in-law) tries to handicap her opinions, thinking and reasoning. Why can women not be opinionated? And, why is the free expression of their opinions such a societal faux to men? Adira proves that being opinionated should not be equated with being disrespectful. Thankfully, Indu’s Rita proves to be a match for any selfish man. She exhibits that when pushed beyond a limit, a woman is capable of sly and manipulative thinking to earn a well-deserved rest. There is only so much we can endure before we break, isn’t there? And, if push comes to shove, it is better to be selfish to our own needs than to be selfless to another’s.
The afore-mentioned is a harsh reality that Gitanjali’s Priya comes to realize after she charts her own solo course. Her journey acquaints her with herself, a person whom she had forgotten about whilst caring for other dominating characters in her life. In finding herself, she finds the truest meaning of what it means ‘to be home’ just as Sreeparna’s Mitali finds what it means to “say goodbye to what was once her home” because – the past and the present never blend in with each other seamlessly. Mitali builds a new home and future, a future that the past cannot deride or belittle. She rises to the call of her soul, but how many women are able to do it? I wonder…
Neha writes – “One part of growing old is having to let go.” The words ring true for not just the old woman who is the protagonist of her story but also us. Neha’s story is a reflective piece that forces us to rethink the concept of ‘home’. For a woman, what is her true home? As a daughter/sister she lives in her parental home. As a daughter-in-law/wife, she enters someone else’s house. She has a role to play there until death. She tries to make it her home. But, can walls that are made of brick and mortar ever be home? Isn’t a woman’s true home just the body that she inhabits for that’s the one place where she is not labelled and can be – herself!
Perhaps, the one place where in their lifetime some women find a modicum of familiarity and peace is their parental home. Perhaps, that is why Lalitha’s Vaibhavi yearns to spend more time with her parents whilst on vacation in India. Lalitha’s story brings into perspective an archaic norm that women post marriages are bonded to their new families and that for their parents they were just ‘paraya-dhan’ (alien riches to be handed over to the rightful owner at their marriage). Heart-breaking, isn’t it?
But, there are some women who challenge patriarchal rules like Tasneem’s Meenakshi. Such women refuse to buckle down to the societal pressures of marriage, home and a family. Instead, they challenge their relationships, their life and spouses and rebel to find and latch onto their own concept of happiness. Is that so wrong? Perhaps, in the eyes of society it is. But, shouldn’t a marriage be a 50-50 arrangement? I agree there are times when the dynamic of this percentage can shift. It can be 40-60% in favour of the man or in favour of the woman. But, the noteworthy point is that in a 100% marriage, even if the scales go up or down, a balance needs to be maintained. Isn’t that what marriage is all about – balance and stability?
In our society women are conditioned to accept fault. It’s always the woman who has to sacrifice’ – this is drummed into the fabric of our persona (sadly by other women – our mothers, older sisters and mothers-in-law) and by default we learn never to complain. But, what if a woman is at the receiving end of abuse? Should she keep quiet because she never learned to voice her displeasure? Or, should she find her voice? Smita explores this concept via her aptly titled story – ‘It’s NOT your fault!’ How I wish there were more women out there who embraced this mantra. Perhaps then we could collectively discard notions that are preconditioned into our head since childhood. Yes, being abused (physically or verbally) is NOT our fault. Thank you, Smita for driving this point home.
Maybe, just maybe if there were more girls like Gitanjali’s Kamala to ask – “why do all grown-ups get married” – there could be more women questioning the notion of marriage for the sake of security. And, for those trapped in a loveless marriage, maybe the idea of divorce would not be so taboo. It would be decidedly better than being trapped in an expensive kitchen “where dreams go to die,” as Sonia opines. It’s sad that when a woman starts to question her role in the kitchen, when she feels trapped; it is more often than not another woman who derides her and says – “Come on! Get over the habit of finding a problem where none exists.” Sad, but true nonetheless!!
This feeling of being trapped in a kitchen is as true as the harassment that some women face when they step out of their kitchens to embrace corporate responsibilities. Why can they not be respected for their work ethic? Must they be treated as sex objects by lecherous bosses? Why is the weight of the talent that they bring to the plate, always outweighed by the proportions of their anatomy? You cannot help but feel for Sheerin’s Koel as he finds her voice being tamped down. But, the sad part is that we women are taught not to share our feelings and emotions even with other women. That’s why we suffer so much in silence. “Don’t wash your dirty linen in public,” isn’t that what we are taught? If only more women communicated with each other, we could collectively raise our voices to correct so many societal wrongs. If only more Koels sang, we could teach the world and men to sing in a different tune.
Societal pressure accounts for more marriages (more often loveless) than any other reason. In a society wherein exploring their sexuality is a taboo for women, it’s no surprise that homosexual or asexual women have a hard time coming out to their families. If as a woman, you are raised to be ashamed of saying the word ‘sex’, if you are raised to be embarrassed around any discussions on ‘sexual pleasure’; it’s only logical that you will suffocate your identity and deny it any expression should you have any homosexual or asexual leanings. Sreeparna explores the idea beautifully but leaves you with a sad, bitter after taste in your mouth.
Perhaps, that can be a wakeup call? Perhaps, if women were taught that topics such as genitals (feminine or masculine), sex, sexual pleasure, intercourse, etc were natural and common things to discuss; we would not feel so out of place in trying to assert our naturally dominant personality. We would not have to remain in the closet or as Janani writes, we would not have to lead ‘a secret second life’. We would have the courage to live one life but to the fullest and on our terms. But, unfortunately, such is our society that such topics are not just taboo but women on the whole are confined to gender specific roles. I agree that more women are breaking their shackles and challenging gender bias. But, what of those who do not even know that they have such a choice?
Lalitha questions this gender bias by giving her protagonist’s father a second chance to realize the narrow-mindedness of his ways and redeem his past actions. Her story proves that old conversations like old, time-tested relationships have one thing in common – sooner or later they bring things into perspective. Sometimes a fresh perspective, a fresh outlook is all that we need, no?
In fact, that’s all that Vishakha’s future aunt-in-law needed, in Supriya’s titular story, when cornered by Vishakha’s granny. Senior citizens surprise us at times with their maturity and ability to adapt and adopt, don’t they? How I wish that the middle-aged generation of mothers and mothers-in-law had the same capacity to adapt and adopt! Sometimes, a generational gap comes not from the difference in years but from difference in ideologies. If each generation progressed in a forward-thinking manner and embraced change as a constant and evolutionary process, more bridges could be built to reconcile views separated by generational gaps. This is the message that I took from Tanushree’s story that was also about sisterhood.
The message also holds true for Chandrika’s story in which Hema despite being a devoted wife, daughter-in-law and mother is questioned for wanting to follow her dreams. She is made to feel guilty for following her professional aspirations even though she is discharges familial responsibilities with ease.
That makes me wonder – How long will we have to answer for our choices? How long will we be made to feel guilty for putting ourselves first? Is it a crime to speak up for yourself? If not, then are we not in the same boat as Ilham’s Saavi, enduring sexual harassment at the hands of a stranger and still feeling guilty because it feels like it’s her fault? Is it not better to speak up and take action than to endure in silence and let our voice be lost forever? And, taking action on something as deplorable as “eve teasing” which has always been an euphemism for sexual harassment or sexual abuse, and need not only be the responsibility of the offended parties. I would go so far as to say that anyone witnessing such acts and remaining mum, is as much at fault as the perpetrator and should be held accountable.
I find Narayani echoing my sentiment via her sweet yet canny Ashalata Debi who takes matters into her own hands to save the innocence of children. Well done, is all that I can say. Well done, indeed. We need more women protectors like her, out there. Narayani’s Ashalata proves a point that Mohini raises in her story that older women are not to be equated with fragility or senility (god forbid!), for they have the will to embrace change and be an agent of change. Isn’t that a lesson that the younger generation must learn too?
I recommend this book to all women. I learned a lot from its heart-warming and eye-openings stories. This book leaves me with a feeling of satiation at being a woman. I love who I am. I make no excuses for my actions and I hope that other women too learn to assert themselves much the same as many characters in this book do. As Soumya says while exploring the beautiful friendship between Neeru and Meenu – “You don’t need a man to complete you. You are complete on your own.”
Isn’t this a wonderful lesson for all women?
Published here first.
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Image source: a still from the film The Great Indian Kitchen and book cover Amazon
Sonal is a multiple award winning blogger and writer and the founder of a women-centric manpower search firm - www.rianplacements.com.
Her first book, a volume of poetry - Islands in the stream - is slated read more...
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