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We all know about Simran's Bauji and applaud him when he finally says "Ja Simran Ja". But what do we know about Simran's Beeji - her mother? Her life and choices, and what she wishes for?
Everybody praised Bauji when he said, “Ja Simran ja! Jee le apni zindagi!” What about Simran’s Beeji? No mention of her contribution anywhere in all the accolades for Bauji’s great evaluation of the situation, his change of heart, the acceptance of the changing times, and the consequent mores of the next generation.
Let’s come out of the Railway Station and walk into the life of a real-life Bauji, Beeji, and Simran leaving the filmy characters behind. There are lots of them! Let’s hear Beeji’s version – her silent monologue, her soliloquy – going on for decades.
“Dear Simran, I want to give you all those chances which I have been denied. I will try my best, my baby,” she has been muttering under her breath ever since Simran was born.
On hearing her MIL’s voice telling her sternly, “Stop Simran from wearing frocks. She is growing – make her wear a salwar!” Beeji had wanted to protest, “And take away the notion of childhood from my girl! She is just ten years old. No, not now, we can wait for some time more – let her enjoy being a butterfly before the ladki-hai-tu (gender notion) snatches her freedom.’ But obediently she stopped Simran from wearing frocks and silently repeated for days in front of her, “Simran, I am compelled to take away your innocent freedom but don’t do this when you are bringing up your daughter. Daadi will be gone. Times will change.”
Of course, she couldn’t be vocal – that had been engraved on her psyche by her mother, her mother’s mother, and so on.
Living in an urban scenario, Beeji had been allowed to go for B.A. because the ladkawalas by that time had started demanding a graduate girl. To meet the demands of the matrimonial market many girls like Beeji had crossed the threshold of higher education.
Unintentionally this step which was going to prod the process of ‘Woe to the vanquished’ had been cheerfully initiated by the gullible Indian patriarchy that is still confident of its controlling power, of its capacity to dominate. In the Seventies ‘wanted a graduate girl’ was a fashionable trend and a kind of insurance against the vague ‘if-something-goes-wrong-in-life’.
Patriarchy did not realize that they were taking the nascent step towards being vanquished. They did not dream of the distress it would bring to them. The image of a butterfly opening up its mouth to roar was not even a fantasy at that time.
Beeji was allowed to do a B.A. in Arts, (Pass course, of course) though she had a shining report card. Nobody in the family had any idea about the professional courses. She wanted to become a radio announcer; ‘Yuva Vani’ had given her a peep into this world. Whenever she was alone, she used to copy the styles of different announcers.
A big ‘No’ greeted her hesitant request. Project Get-her-Married was set in motion in a big way. She wanted to learn typing, and shorthand but she was not ‘permitted’ because she was never going to be ‘allowed’ to take a job or earn. Both the families were proud that they didn’t need their womenfolk to earn.
In reality, you see, the earning capacity might have given Beeji’s tongue an idea that instead of cooking food to appease her husband’s and his family’s palates, the tongue can be used to formulate words that expressed what she wanted to do with her life. But she was raised as a good girl who knew you have to go along to get along and had been repeatedly told that she had to ‘adjust’ in the marriage. That’s how she had fallen into the habit of carrying on an inner monologue, but the words often did not reach her lips. She had been raised to listen.
During summer vacations her MIL wanted Simran to embroider bed sheets, and pillow covers for her dowry and to learn to stitch. Beeji wanted Simran to enjoy reading comics. She would often mutter under her breath, ‘Jhaijee, there are tailors available nowadays. There are bed sheets available in the market. Let her enjoy her holidays.’
Her MIL often scolded Beeji for not teaching Simran to cook. She wanted Simran to start learning cooking. And Beeji often wanted to hide the pots and pans, magically make the kitchen disappear. She had made her peace with her gender-based cooking duties. It does not mean that she liked cooking on a 24/7/365 days basis. But she knew that these pots, pans, and stove are waiting to pounce on her Simran and swallow her. Beeji must have cooked thousands of tons of curry, and vegetables and made millions of chapatis. If you count hours, then an average Beeji spends nearly one-fourth of her life in the kitchen. She did not want her Simran to have this fate, but she knew it was waiting stealthily to snatch her.
Beeji had been scolded so many times by her MIL and her husband for being lenient with Simran.
“Why must Simran have so many dresses? And this expensive mobile too?”
“Jee, everyone nowadays has it. She shouldn’t feel the odd one out! It’s for her safety.”
“Her tuitions are too costly! Ladki jaat hai , kaun see naukri karni hai? We shouldn’t spend so much on her degree. Money will be needed for her marriage.”
“Jee, she is good at studies. She doesn’t go anywhere else except college! We don’t know what‘s in her fate,” pleaded Beeji.
Bauji mimicked her, “…. anywhere except college, what nonsense! She can study at home also. God knows what kind of friends she is making there. You are spoiling her. Don’t come wailing to me jab woh hamari naak katwayagi.” (When she does something that she shouldn’t). He was convinced that Simran would let them down. Why? She had no idea. Perhaps he had been fed “Control your womenfolk. Or otherwise…”
It was sad that the basis of his and Simran’s relationship was mistrust and not love. Perhaps he had forgotten the love he had felt when Simran was a baby, a toddler! Now he did not trust her, and she too had instinctively gauged it at a young age. His confirmation bias propelled his dealings with his daughter – every gesture, answer, and action of Simran, he interpreted as a confirmation of his existing belief that she cannot be trusted; that she needed to be controlled. Otherwise, bigad jayegi! Beeji often thought that even in his own mind he had no clear notion of the concept of ‘bigadana’. She longed to ask him to define it.
Beeji could not forget the class lecture in which Dara ma’am had half-jokingly said, ‘In all primitive races, the woman was the first domestic animal of man because the man had quickly realized that this animal is of great use.’ It had left a deep impression on her.
Beeji’s foray into college had also put some Mills and Boon in her hands – the kind where the first kiss occurred on page ninety-three if the book was of hundred and three pages. She had learned to appreciate the fragrance of the rose of romance. The idea had lingered in her mind. She wanted to give Simran a chance to fall in love, to decide on her life partner, and not be treated summarily the way she herself had been by her family.
How it can be made into a gradual process, she had dreamed of it often. It can be done only if Simran is allowed to interact with different men and then left free to consider, contemplate, deliberate, dream and decide.
She imagined Simran interacting with many young men and considering, ‘This one? Is this one the real-life thing?’ And the next moment, shaking her head and exclaiming, ‘Oh! No! He is so superficial!’ And then interact with the next in the queue, “This one?” Then reaching the decision, ‘Nah – he is so uncouth! So loud!” till she reaches the conclusion, “I must develop depth and couth to pull a couth person into my orbit.” She would refine herself till finally, the Prince Charming dawned on her horizon. Beeji’s thinking was vague no doubt. Her strict upbringing and restricted social life could have born no other fruit.
Beeji wanted Simran to dream of roses, diamond rings, and fairy tales; not be lost in them but to consider them, to go through that phase of walking on clouds because hard reality is always there to catch a person – a big thud ultimately awaits. That dreamy height difference! The broad shoulders! The feeling that she will be cherished and is not being taken to be a cook, maid, child rearing entity in this holy (?) alliance.
Beeji knew well marriage is a social contract with all kinds of responsibilities and commitments attached. Love is not only a romantic notion involving pitter-patter of heart and sweaty palms and sexual attraction but love also meant a commitment of care, a partnership that builds a family, and a society, making both the partners better. The inequality and imbalance of power in her own marriage had disenchanted her. She knew she had no voice; no influence and insecurity had been her lifelong friend.
She wanted Simran to earn, pick up a job, or start a small-scale business. Beeji’s canvas was small, but she wanted Simran to earn. She had no idea of what goes on in posh offices, but the image of Simran smartly carrying a briefcase had a magnetic effect on her. She was unaware of the dichotomy between the kind of mother she was being and what she wanted for her daughter.
Like her own mother had done, so many times Beeji had scolded Simran, “Ankhey neechi! Awaaz kum.” Many times, she had coached her, “Don’t stare back; the anger in your eyes too shouldn’t be visible. You don’t have to answer back in a loud voice or screech.” She should be patient. This training would be useful to Simran. Beeji justified and consoled herself, “I can’t let her be a square peg. The hole waiting for her is round. Square holes need square pegs and round holes need round pegs. She can’t be a square peg in a round hole.”
Every time Simran was denied something, wasn’t allowed to pursue what she wanted…Simran wilted infinitesimally and the wilting of her daughter before her eyes made breathing difficult for Beeji. She realized Simran’s spontaneity, her will was being curbed. This tensed her; the tension often gave her a headache. Had she kept a ten rupee note aside every time she had this headache her saving account would have been loaded.
She wanted to tell Simran, “As a mother, I say so many things because I have to say them as a mother. My duty is to turn you into a suitable wife. But don’t listen to me. I am worried that you will end up living an unhappy life like me though being praised for being an ideal woman, devoted daughter, wife, and mother who abided by conventions. Our society believes that innocence can only be nurtured in traditions. And that traditions can turn you into a hypocrite is never considered!
Over the years I have pondered a lot. What is innocence in an arranged marriage setup – allowing others to exploit you? Is that innocence or dumbness, stupidity, and simple-mindedness?
Please don’t listen to me. Listen to what I am silently screaming. Do what you want. Live a happy life. Defy me, defy him. Don’t be a live corpse like me – essentially dead inside. Reach for your inner resources. Go for what makes you happy, what makes you whole. You are an intelligent girl.”
And the prize goes to Bauji for, ‘Ja simaran jaa’ while Beeji stands in the wings silently wiping tears – of happiness perhaps.
Beeji being Beeji knows that there is no “they lived happily ever after.” She is geared to support her daughter as and when she would require. Living is a tough business!
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