Spring Fever.... catch it! I am so looking forward to interacting with my old friend Mahesh Bhatt! We go back a long way..... do any of you remember the path breaking TV serial, a daily soap titled 'Swabhimaan'? Guess what? I was the writer. And Mahesh, the director! Wonder why we never teamed up after that??
This was written for the Asian Age / Deccan Chronicle....
Does Sunila know it’s International Women’s Day….?
Year after tiresome year, women the world over believe the 8th of March is ‘their day’. That some sort of miracle will take place and hey presto! It will be a beautiful world for women. This past year has been particularly awful for us. From Malala in Pakistan, to Nirbhaya in India, defenceless, innocent women were used for target practice…. used, abused, raped, beaten and murdered in cold blood. And yet, isn’t it amazing that women can still find it within themselves to smile and carry on? Take our Sunila. She is twenty and pregnant. She may or may not be married. But she refers to someone as ‘mera pati’. She is part of the Bai Brigade of Mumbai. The hard working, incredibly resourceful women who toil in tony homes and go back to their men late in the evening, to continue toiling and slaving some more. Her mother works in the same complex and guess what ? She is also pregnant. The two women run into each other sometimes as they rush from apartment to apartment… and their faces instantly light up when that happens. I recently asked Sunila what she’s so happy about? I asked her mother the same question. They exchanged glances and patted their swollen bellies - “This!” they replied in unison. Both said they wished for girls! Now, that was a real eye opener! In a culture obsessed with producing a male child, here were two women actively wanting baby girls. Why? The mother Sarikatai pointed proudly to her daughter and said, “Just look at my girl! Good looking, hard working and SSC pass. She has never given me a day’s trouble. And look at my worthless son. SSC fail – not once, but three times.Does nothing. Like his father. Sleeps all day, eats and drinks away our earnings. But my Sunila! She’s a gem. Found her own man and married without a fuss. No dowry, nothing. Her man is a good chap. He works in a bank as a peon. And studies at night. Both want to learn how to use computers. I want my next one to be another Sunila.” Listening to her mother, Sunila brushed the praise aside. She had her own reasons for wanting a daughter. “ I will make her study hard… do well… become someone. A doctor or pilot. My husband wants her to become a scientist. I tell him, forget all this. What if she wants to become Miss India?” The women share a meager mid-day meal, frequently supplemented by leftovers given by their fancy ‘madams’. Both women have really seen it all in the homes they work in, and yet, are far from jealous or judgemental. The Madams and their Sirs, drink, gamble, wear sexy clothes and spend vast amounts of money. The women smile indulgently at the disparity and excess. “ It is God’s grace. These are aamir people. They must have done something good in their previous life, for God to have given them so much in this one. Some of them are kind and generous. They give us old clothes – not torn and tattered ones either, but hardly used sarees and salwar kameezes. They trust us with expensive jewelry. They know we will never touch what is not ours. ”
So, I ask them , sounding a little foolish to my own ears, “What did you do for International Women’s Day ( they were aware of it) that you don’t do during the rest of the year?” Their answers delighted me! The mother beamed, “I made puran poli for the family…. especially for the men. After all, if they don’t feel involved in our celebration, how can we enjoy ourselves?” Her daughter added, “ And I wore a new sari. I had made my husband buy it for me. Pink! His favourite colour. And mine, as well. All my Madams paid me compliments. One Madam gave me five hundred rupees and told me to buy something. It was a great day in our locality.” That is just so fantastic! One can be cynical and say , “ Wow! So the hard sell and heavy duty marketing actually work!” Or one can look at it more positively. If the message of that day has made its way to these ladies, it is indeed time to rejoice. Feeling good about oneself as a woman, in as harsh a landscape as ours, is a major feat. And a big leap into a brighter future. For Sarika and Sunila and their unborn children, there is an unmistakable sense of optimism and hope. Are they merely deluding themselves? I think not! Both ladies operate their own bank accounts. They have started saving for their little ones. They didn’t wait for our FM to announce the launch of exclusive banks for women. They just went ahead and did what they had to. They are willing to take their chances and move ahead with their plans, despite the most daunting odds. No concessions. No alibis. They don’t judge one another or others. Not even their hoity toity memsaabs, who spent 8th March in an entirely different way ( you don’t really want to know!).
Years ago, I used to mock the tokenism of International Women’s day. It served no real purpose, I’d say, apart from pushing some tacky merchandise and enriching bar tenders pouring those extra potent shots down thirsty female throats in various bars worldwide. But that was then. Perhaps I am speaking too soon when I say, women have moved well past that tokenism today. Women Like Sarika and Sunila. They are the ones who will bring it on …these are the first real converts, as compared to earlier urban pretenders.And when their daughters arrive, that will be the time to look out for. Those who refuse to acknowledge the power of that moment, will be left open- mouthed wondering what exactly happened when no one was looking!