Late one Sunday evening a couple of weeks back, Shaina – a close friend from college came to our house as she was in town from Bangalore on her way to Dubai on work. Nishan one of my husband’s friends happened to drop by, that evening and joined us for dinner. While the two men nursed their drinks, over old Hindi music playing out of the laptop in the study, Shaina joined me in the kitchen while I fried “pakoras” to go with the drinks and finished preparing dinner.
In the kitchen we caught up on each other’s lives and had a heart to heart on our lives as women – Wife, Mother(she has a five year old son), Career woman, Daughter and Daughter-in-law. Both of us conceded that life was indeed very difficult and there really was no choice that we had in the matter. Balancing everything, left us with little time for our-selves but compromising on any of the responsibilities would not fulfill us either .
As we sat down to dinner, Shaina concluded the long conversation that we had been having with “ I am a superwoman !!!.” Nishan who is a divorcee for over a year now after a eight year marriage promptly commented “ That’s your choice”.
Shaina decided that she would rather not discuss the matter further and so fell silent, but I jumped to her rescue with - “ As if we women have a choice”. Now I am very touchy over this subject as I feel I am a “ Super, Super-woman”.
Shaina remained very calm and wore the expression of nonchalance but I set upon this passionate debate on “Choices " and so said “what choice does she have but to play all of her roles as a women to perfection. We work as many hours, if not more than our husbands but is it not our responsibility to ensure that we also have a well wheeled and running house-hold, a well stocked kitchen and refrigerator, regular change of all bed and bath linen, timely food on the table and the responsibility to look after the well being of the family.”
Nishan’s reply to that was “it’s your choice to get married, to stay married, and do the things you do - you make the choice between staying on or leaving”. I was infuriated and thought, now here was a guy who was not only a chauvinist but an impractical, arrogant one at that. What he was truly implying was that all women should either sing songs to their happily married lives or pack their bags and leave. I could not help wondering how one could work out a marriage with those views and though I did not intent to, I landed up saying – ‘‘I don’t really blame your wife for leaving”. Later on the drive to the airport on her way to
After this incident the word “Choice” stayed on in my mind and again and again, I found my-self thinking of all the choices women make. Added to my pre-occupation with the word was also my having watched the movie “Laaga Chunri mei Daag” – literally translated means “Stains on my Scarf(Dupatta)” in which Rani Mukherjee plays the role of a small town girl who goes to Mumbai in the hope of finding work to get her family out of financial crisis.
She looks high and low for work but does not find anything as she has no academic qualifications and has only passed class ten. Finally she gets to reach the interview stage where she is told that the only way she could qualify for the job was if she spent the night with her interviewer. She walks out in a shocked state and calls her mother who was actually counting pennies out of a container, to get together money to pay for her fathers hospital bills, after a heart attack. In the state of mind that Jaya Bhaduri, Rani’s mother is, she tells her daughter to do what she feels is right on being told that she has to sleep with a guy to get the job. Which mother if she had a choice would give such advice to her daughter even at the spur of the moment and how difficult giving such advice is for her as she has to carry the guilt of it for ever.
Rani goes ahead and does just that, but just after she has slept with him she is told that she still does not qualify for the job but is given ten thousand rupees. She leaves the money and walks out of the hotel room and finds her-self being counseled by a worldly wise woman who tells her that instead of being used by men, she should go out and use them in return and be a high class, expensive call-girl. She takes the advice and becomes one.
Here is a woman, who actually had no choice, but a guy like Nishan and most guys I know will say that she did. They would easily say that she had the choice of going back home and starving, being on the roads, having her younger sister stop her studies and in all probability together light their father’s pyre out of not being able to pay for his medical bills. There are so many women in the world who do what they do as they do not have a “real choice”. Like one would say, between the devil and the deep sea which would a woman chose.
Another story which I found very captivating was the story “Eleven Minutes” by Paulo Coelho where he so sensitively describes the life of a Call Girl who becomes one, by no choice of hers as she is picked up from her home town as a child and sold to a brothel far away and always nurtures the dream of someday giving it all up and returning home but gradually with time she actually enjoys what she does and remains to be one as that’s the only life she has known. Can she be condemned for trying to be happy, the only way she knows how to.
How I wish that people like Nishan would realize that often in life a woman makes a choice be it to become a call girl or stay on in unhappy marriages, either because they love their husbands, want the security of a home and family to make the lives of their children secure or simply because they love giving and in return the least they want is understanding and appreciation from the people they do it for like in the case of Rani’s supportive family who acknowledge that she did everything she did for them.
I also hope that there would be more men in real life like Abhishek Bacchan in the movie who marry women like Rani because they see a woman for what she stands for and appreciates the causes, for the choices she makes. Women often take on as much, or more than their strong shoulders can carry and all they want is acknowledgement, appreciation and a hand to hold on to along the way so being Super-Woman is worth the while.
You sound allergic to the word choice. I realize that you view Nishan’s thoughts as chauvinistic and impractical, but is it fair to say that your thoughts are better because they originated in your mind? Perhaps Nishan has a point here. Your reaction in the face of Shaina’s silence could just be an unconscious defense move to safe guard your stance for after reading your piece, Shaina does not come across as someone who was as passionate as you are on the topic of Superwoman. Maybe Shaina was forced to agree with you in the kitchen while you were making ‘Pakoras’ and this prompted you to speak up while the topic of Superwoman came out at the dinner table. Maybe Nishan touched a raw nerve on some hasty decision you made and you wanted to feel absolved by feeling that you really did not have a choice.
Now that we got that out of the way lets turn to procedures of conduct from the days of the cold war knowing fully well that both sides have ample nuclear arsenal to turn the situation into something ugly. Let us reserve mudslinging and hitting below the belt for losers, so no more, “I don’t really blame your wife for leaving”. The appropriate way is to have a good debate. I would like to argue in favor of Nishan.
Let us assume that Shaina really is on your side and now let us define what we are arguing about. It is apparent to me that the issue in disagreement here is that ‘all decisions taken are made out of choices presented to us’. Nishan said that the stance of Superwoman is out of a choice that the woman makes and you say otherwise, which in effect means that it is thrust upon them – unfortunately your piece does not say that. There are only two ways that a person can end up in a situation. Either they are forced into it, like in the case of rape or they do so, out of their own free will. When a person makes a decision out of free will, he or she will have a set of choices. The final choice that he or she makes will be a result of which option they see as being the best in the set. Let’s take your own examples to clarify this better.
Example one: Rani Mukherjee in “Laaga Chunri mei Daag” – for the purpose of clarification I will suggest one option out of the choice list that she would have had at each juncture.
- She makes the choice of going to Mumbai for work as opposed to say going to
- She then makes the choice of attending the interview instead of say going to a construction site to scout work as a labourer.
- When she is offered the indecent proposal, she makes the choice of telling her mother about this instead of say asking the interviewer to go offer the proposal to his sister.
- Rani Mukherjee’s mother in turn makes the choice of advising her daughter (Rani Mukherjee) to do what she (Rani Mukherjee) thinks is right as opposed to say, telling her that her (Rani Mukherjee’s) chastity is far more precious than the old man’s life. (I haven’t seen the movie but your description of it sounds like this is the worst screenplay ever.)
- Rani Mukherjee then makes the choice of sleeping with the interviewer as opposed to say let her old man die.
What this means is that she did have a choice at each point but she used her intelligence to choose what she thought was the best option at that given point in time; probably out of compulsion but then she did have a choice. In your own words, Rani Mukherjee chose the devil (or is it the deep sea?)..
Example two: The girl in Paulo Coelho’s, “Eleven Minutes”. Wrong example as she was forced into it. She had no choice here. The choice she made came later when she decided to enjoy what she was doing instead of say becoming a nun.
You go on to say, “How I wish that people like Nishan would realize that often in life a woman makes a choice (*) be it to become a call girl or stay on in unhappy marriages, either because they love their husbands, want the security of a home and family to make the lives of their children secure or simply because they love giving and in return the least they want is understanding and appreciation from the people they do it for like in the case of Rani’s supportive family who acknowledge that she did everything she did for them.”
(*) Makes a choice?
See you tremendously contradict your stand on ‘choice’ in that passage. A woman makes the ‘choice’ (to become a call girl or stay on in unhappy marriages – or a marriage) because they love their husbands, want the security of a home and family to make the lives of their children secure or simply because they love giving. So it’s evident that she has desires in life, like ‘loving the husband’, ‘getting the security of home and family’, etc. It’s a situation she wants and hence she makes the above choice over staying single. Her expectation (..and in return the least they want is understanding and appreciation from the people they do it for..) is where it all goes wrong. You should do things because you like doing them.
Often women feel they are Superwomen because they feel they are juggling many issues at once, but stop and think for a moment. What are the activities that take your time and make you feel you are doing a lot? Humans love to control their immediate environment especially their homes and their immediately family especially their spouses or live-in partners. This is the place you come back to everyday and these are the people you sleep with everyday. People have a perception, a paradigm of how these factors should exist in their life; it is called ones ‘comfort zone’. A person who lives alone has no problem; he/she is the only one influencing and experiencing the environment and another individual’s thoughts do not have to be accommodated. When two or more people come under one roof, there will be expectations that are not fulfilled by the person(s) living with you but you still wish to maintain the decorum of your comfort zone and this drives you to do it all by yourself and in the bargain blame the other person(s) for not living up to your expectations. I would term this phenomenon as ‘Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’ (OCD), it’s a psychological problem.
‘Do onto others as you would have them do onto you’, I have another one, ‘If you don’t like it, don’t do for others what they don’t reciprocate’. The problem here is you. You do things out of your own OCD and then you cry foul. Stop being a martyr. You don’t have to be the aggressor but stop playing the victim. My advice to the ‘superwoman’: take off your red cape and red panties over those blue leotards – choose options that you like doing.
(My reference to ‘you’ in the last two paragraphs is generic and not aimed at Shuvashree)