In introspection, Ruchira asks some hard questions, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.
I never blindly followed social norms and customs. Period. For this, I have to thank my parents. Though essentially middle class, yet they literally were avant-garde in their own quiet little ways.I was brought up as an individual, not a girl. For my tomboyish unruly ways, people nagged my parents no end. I studied in a ‘propah’ convent school (run by nuns), which were pretty expensive those days. Folks cribbed: why waste so much money on a girl’s education. My parents turned a deaf ear. The ravings and rantings continued throughout adolescence. Neighbours/family friends wanted me to learn needlecraft, embroidery, cooking et al. My family was with me when I opted for commercial art instead. After my college and university studies were over I had very brief teaching stints in a couple of residential schools. Still, later when I sought admission in universities abroad, people volunteered information on the hazards of sending an unmarried young girl to aphoren country. Fortunately for them, it did not materialise.
Daring to be Different
I am a 60’s child. Through the 80s & 90s most young women opted for academics (both school & university) if not medical or engineering. My choice of journalism/media again raised eyebrows. Turning to personal life, there was no segregation of sexes during my growing up years. My male friends and colleagues came home as per their free will. The doors were always open for them. During this phase, I also tried my hand at breaking social barriers –things that were taboo for women but ok for men. I smoked in office and in the company of friends in restaurants. Since then and till date I am into social drinking. But neither did I ever get sloshed nor created ugly unruly scenes. Lots of women drink ensconced within their homes. But they would rather die than mention it in public. Such hypocrites! As religious views, our household (unlike most Bengali ones) lacked a puja room with a throne for deities. There was no daily ritual puja per se. All we had were photographs of some deities, Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Maa Sharada, Sri Aurobindo, et al. Prayers were confined to bowing before them and lighting joss sticks. No wonder people felt we were nuts. Some branded us as nastiks (atheists). This mindset of ours may be ascribed to the fact that my dad had been a die-hard communist is his youth.
Views on Faith, Society, Relationships
In all of my fifty odd years, I have been fairly secular. Secular in the sense I often go to church – Mass or otherwise, prayed at Mazaars for the well-being of ailing friends or relatives, prayed at Gurudwaras and what have you. Religion invariably raises the issue of food. A die-hard non-vegetarian, I enjoy seafood, fish, poultry, mutton, pork and beef as well. I am tempted ridicule those individuals who club onion and garlic with “forbidden food.” Why in the name of heavens don’t they realise that both purely plant products (minus bloodshed and killing) packed with medicinal & nutritional values? Why discard them because of their natural odours? A million dollar question.
Looking back, when the question of matrimony cropped up my parents put up ads in dailies, with a rider: caste and religion no bar. Since my choice was the sole criterion for the final decision I went on blind dates met the candidates at previously arranged, venues. I did meet a few Muslim and Christian guys. That these alliances did not materialise is another story. Eventually, I got hitched, and that too in a dramatic manner. When my father met my husband-to-be, it turned out that he would settle for a simple “Registered Marriage.” Astonishingly that was what I always wanted. This coincidence brought us together and the deal was clinched. Relatives on both sides were peeved no end. Many smirked. “Such shaadis do not last,” they quipped. But we could not care less. Incidentally, I belong to a Brahmin (also a Vaishnava) family while my in-laws are Kayasthas. We jelled well from the outset, much to the chagrin of my mother-in-law, who kept lamenting how modern girls treated their husbands as friends rather than the centuries old “Pati Param Guru.” A couple of years down the line, when I experienced problems of conception my spouse mulled adoption. Thankfully, we later became parents of a bonny girl. Fresh trouble erupted and I was condemned for not bringing a male heir. This, when we live in the 20th 0r 21st century! Readers will be scandalised to learn that even my blessed father-in-law (may his soul R.I.P.) was a champion for the cause.
Equal, Cordial Partnership
Throughout this stormy phase, my husband stood beside me like a solid rock and the daughter is the apple of his eyes. I am thankful to him for this. My spouse is open to my association with men socially or professionally. Interestingly, he gets along very well with them. Such a blessing. In our private lives, we are more friends than a couple; believe it or not, hardly have any secrets from each other. He trusts me completely. Therefore, he had no qualms when I went off on a couple of overseas tours all by myself. Our mutual frankness and candid views have permeated into our offspring. When she was a child, we neither swapped TV channels nor leave the room while “adult” stuff was on the air. It was I who taught her about birds and bees. The three of us can freely discuss everything under the sun – well almost!
Eye on the Future
This liberal attitude has heightened after she joined the medical profession. We have assured her total freedom to live her own life on her own terms. I strongly feel her views on marriage and sexuality are none of our business. Prudes might be aghast to learn that I am even open to the idea of a live-in relationship, which is fast growing in our society. Since marriages are no longer sacrosanct and often bring in their trail immense sorrow and suffering for the multitude of bahus, I feel live-in may be a better option. As far as commitment goes, two individuals may stay committed in live-in if they so wish. There are examples galore to bolster this concept. Am I modern? I am not quite sure. If modernity involves wearing low waist jeans, slit skirts, translucent tops et al then I am not. Ditto for tinted hair, spikes, gels, etc. I don’t attend kitty parties/neighbourhood gossip circles frequent shopping sprees. I would rather read, listen to soulful music or travel. I do not hitchhike on principle, nor venture out well past midnight, just for the heck of it. I believe such actions are foolhardy rather than modernistic. Am I liberated? Well if it implies burning bras, urinating in public, expecting men to be babysitters, cooks, and housekeepers, and keeping them tied to apron strings, well, then I am not.
My idea of a feminist or a liberated woman envisages a life of dignity and self-respect access to quality education, choice of profession, freedom in the choice of a life partner, right to faith, and freedom of speech. One must be allowed to give vent to her whims and fancies, so long they are not illegal or detrimental to society. A woman‘s place is not at the feet of man but by his side. If otherwise, the society be damned!
©Ruchira Adhikari Ghosh
Photos from the Internet
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