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My mother's red bindi and wristwatch became my feminist symbols as she taught me to stand up to discrimination, be independent, and be kind.
Pocket and wristwatches have often been associated with a father’s legacy passed on to the heirs as a fond memory and as a token of transfer of power, skills, and assets.
But for me, it was my mother’s HMT wristwatch. As a young lecturer, when she joined the Department of Education at the University of Allahabad she had adorned herself with a red bindi, a perfectly pleated cotton saree, hair that was cut short (in the time when songs were sung only about the beauty of cascading hair) and an HMT wristwatch.
A few years later as a young bride at the age of 33, she didn’t deck her hands full with bangles but again with that HMT wristwatch, red bindi, and a silk saree (something I followed to continue the legacy when I got married).
A young bride way back in 1988 who refused to get married on dowry and waited for the man looking for an equal partnership in marriage; a man who doesn’t boast of being the bread earner of the house forcing his wife to the hearth but one who recognises her caliber and never tries to subdue her intellectual self for the judgment of his relatives and society.
It was the marriage where the bride didn’t veil her face ever because she was against the subjugation of her identity and her face.
Muffled voices judged her decision in her in-law’s house, comparing her way of taking the dupatta pleated close to her neck as the hangman’s noose as it didn’t serve the purpose of partially veiling her assets. Yet, no one could dare to force their opinion upon her because an educated woman is a force to reckon with.
Her face was her identity; she had defended her thesis in front of the research committee and the external examiners and faced the interview panel years before her marriage. Her face graced the author’s page of the three academic books she wrote.
She was amongst those who punched in her research data all by herself on the machines available then and created a socio-educational research scale. My young mind could always imagine the swift working of her hands wearing that HMT watch while she achieved those feats.
Years passed and this young bride became a mother. The effect she caused in the parent-teacher meeting of her children was an informed one with an aura of dominance.
The care she took in devoting time to her children’s education without for once resorting to any form of tuition spoke volumes about her expertise owing to the triple PG she had completed (all before her marriage). She never let her children fall short of any help.
The Associate Professor at the University was equally competent in making her young children form an informed opinion.
She isn’t domestically challenged as is often thought of about women who are bold enough to live life on their terms. I fondly recall one of the compliments given to her by my father when his mother was boasting about her cooking skills and was trying to shame my mother for that.
My father asserted among all the relatives present, “My wife cooks in a way that all the nutritional value of the food is preserved and not compromised to serve a tasty and healthy meal.” I wonder how many men can take such a stand even today.
She discharged her duty as the Head of the Department when everyone expected her to step down. She lost her husband during that tenure and continued to carry on with professional competency as she had her own young children looking up to her for inspiration and support.
Earlier in her life, she had suffered the loss of her two babies when they were six months. My sibling and I both were her rainbow babies and she devoted her life to provide us with utmost care.
As happens till today, our work environment does not give ladies the liberty to cope with any loss by challenging their abilities as working women and as liabilities to the institution.
But she braved all odds and remained a pillar of support to us as she had been to her parents and siblings guiding them on to their respective professional careers way back in the 1980s.
All through this ordeal, when all expected her to lose her iconic red bindi and replace it with a black one, she didn’t.
She believes in religion and God but not in their crippling superstitions of subordination.
She is the daughter who made her father wish for a daughter like her in his next life instead of sons. A daughter that made him say, “No one can ever repay the debt incurred from parents in their life for raising them, but you have done so much that I consider it paid!”
A daughter who was the closest confidante to her mother in financial matters but never usurped the share of her siblings; instead she gave up on her share as she was self-reliant from an early age.
And today after her retirement, all I can say is that she is the ideal I have always wanted to model myself after.
Even today when most women are first-time bread earners in their father’s family and many others who still seek marriage as settlement, I knew, right from my first day at school, that I’d be a working woman and a pragmatic feminist just like my mother. My mother, who didn’t fight for her rights but rather asserted them, who knew it was her liberty to claim or let go, who knew the power of her indomitable spirit!
Happy Birthday, Maa (Prof. Usha Mishra).
Image Credit: Sridevi from English Vinglish
I am an internationally published author of the book entitled "The Feminist Shaw" which has been published by Routledge, UK, and the USA.
I was born to Professor mother and Doctor father and am married read more...
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