The State of Freedom

A few weekends back, in one of those ‘girls night out’s, we ended up coming back to my place and talking our way till daylight and early bird calls made us give up. Which can only mean that a lot of the serious insights and confessions that we shared with each other in our half-drunken half-dazed state of mind centered mostly around the best shoe sales in the city, worst dates we had in the past years, the creepiest guy in office (who had coincidentally hit on each of us with the same one-liners…not knowing we might have the opportunity to autopsy each of them at 3am on a Friday night), broken relationships (ours’ and others), weird eccentric bosses (ours’ and others), spouses (ours and others)….and shoe sales again …you get the picture.

But somewhere between a really great online snitch and the best pay master in consultancy (which also provides free diet coke vends and chocolate doughnuts near each bay!!) we discussed something that sets the tone for this note today. As 20-something girls in a society that has created for the past many many years….model definitions of how cultured, well groomed, perfectly brought-up women should behave and what should ideally be their priorities in each stage of life, we knew exactly what and how we were expected to contribute to it….now don’t judge this as a regressive, cynical, drunken, sleep deprived thought at 4am on a Saturday morning….but let me tell you what each of us felt we wanted to achieve, what each of us had dreamt of as our most beautiful gifts to the parents (and the support system closest to us) who have reared their daughters with great love and pride. To create amazing homes and a beautiful environment for the smart kids that we will bear and nourish with our really handsome husbands who will take care of our each whim and idiosyncrasy. We really want to love and be loved, and in the process make a home that we can call our own. That’s it. That was our dream.

Something hit me. In this day and age, we only associate these kinds of thoughts with a certain class of society that has not yet opened their eyes to the fact that the success or failure of a woman’s life does not depend on her marital status or her ‘child bearing qualities’ any more. I mean, by any chance if one of my nosy relatives took it upon her societal responsibilities to give me a sermon on how getting married to a presentable, comparatively successful banker was the best thing that I could have done for myself and that now, I need to ‘procreate’ to seal the deal, I would have laughed hard! And not just I, my family and friends too would have joined me in the fun! But that night, I learnt a secret. I wanted it for myself, the whole she-bang. I wanted the grand duo – marriage and kids – more than I wanted the best paying job with a doughnut perk! And not just me….all my girlfriends, who earn figures that can take care of their eccentric sale binges, home loans, wedding funds for themselves and their kid bothers and sisters, vacations and night-outs forever and ever….not once requiring to depend on a strong male figure in their lives to take care of the basic and not-so-basic stuff. But we wanted it like never before. We wanted it nonetheless….

This brings me onto how today, when I decided to write down how I felt about my country’s independence, I had this strange urge to draw the fine line that differentiated the state of being independent and the state of being free. Silly when I think how an utterly random girly conversation could spur on this thought. But yes, one thing you do need to agree on is that I, being born a woman, in that particular state of India that people still think is a part of a neighborhood nation, at a time when women engineers consisted of just 1/7th of the college population, have made that remarkable journey from being educated to be a successful partner to my very capable significant male half to being a completely independent entity who can support a family on her own if she wanted to or if ever needed emerged. And hence I, have a unique right (and of course that very unique perspective) to reflect on freedom.

It’s been 63 years of our country being independent. And it’s been a mixed bag of goodies. We were so royally exploited for so long that we forgot for some time how to make it on our own….but we got English, our biggest export! We went through the worst partition ever, but we learnt how to cultivate the best quality tea (and yes, we still impersonate our dear fathers by drinking it with a lot of milk and sugar just like they did in front of us for 200 years). Our palaces were looted and many centuries of architecture destroyed whimsically, but they did give us a common rule for the first time in the history of our nation. We actually became a single entity….a united country. We might have been majorly hit and might have lost some very solid years of the great Indian cultural and intellectual evolution, but then we found IT and I guess it makes up for a lot of lost ground! And let me repeat it…63 years…of us being independent. So here’s where I feel cheated…that despite being a sovereign, autonomous, self-dependent country for so long….it still feels as if we are fighting something. It is as if we have not yet attained those levels of freedom in thought and in deed, that would make us the most intelligent, successful and prosperous race in the world. Sad thing is – we all know we have it in us, and we have also kind of succumbed to the fact that we might end up never reaching those heights. Scary, isn’t it?

For all the freedom of speech and thought that we brag about, we are still the most conservative bunch of humans in terms of our societal norms. We crack jokes that could be very funny over a glass of vodka but very racial otherwise. We immediately jump to pre-conceived notions the moment a person identifies himself or herself from a particular part of the country. We expect to get our daughters married off to some nice family with a nice ‘surname’ within the same caste and language. And yes, it better be within the ‘expiry date’ or else the dowry calculations change remarkably. And no matter how educated or how successful, we still need to prove that our daughters are indeed ‘beautiful, fair complexioned, from good family, and has cooking and knitting skills’. And last but not the least, we are the only country that boasts of the ‘honest bribe’. The battles that we fight each day are very unique to us and no godfather can lead us to light this time around.

Coming back to my girls’ night out, this is what struck me. That despite having proven my self worth to myself time and again, my mental make-up still needs a different definition of success. I am taken back to my wedding day, when I was ‘given away’ from my father to my husband, who swore in front of the holy fire to protect me in future just as my father had done in the past. I keep thinking of my best friend, who is a charming, intelligent and highly independent and successful woman in her own right, but is plagued constantly by the thought that her parents are not getting a suitable groom for her that fits the bill on caste, language and business class…and it’s getting late!

So let me ask this question again. We are independent, and we have been since the British left us. But are we really free?

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2 Comments

2 Comments
  1. Anna

    I do agree that the feeling of fitting the cultural and after an independent existence as an individual is claustrophobic at the least and humiliating to a large extent. To have the freedom to choose one’s own life and live the way we wish to as humans and individuals all women are entitled to. But does it merit to “look down upon” who want relationships and have a partner, share relationships – if not understand the possibility of being equal. Our country is extraordinarily biased and violative towards the identities of gender, religious, cultural and caste minorities. But again biases cannot be identified in black and white, and all are carriers of these biases, especially belonging to a certain class. By rejecting a self that has been socialized in a marriage institution or that of the others, the gaps are widened. The alternatives need to be worked at – it is a political effort and goes along with acting, deep analysis and not just lip service on the gender issues – it is good to assert own sexuality with the shoes, dresses or no dresses, kind of relationships but it is also an effort to raise questions at a political level. And women are not just sexual objects – shoes and clothes are interesting but also bore us immensely ( I know a lot of women from different backgrounds who would agree with me) – it is a trial sometimes – to toe lines with the beauty myths.
    The road to change lie in the actions and reflections of “aware” and “empowered” women need to take. The dis-empowering aspects of like your friends therefore need to be dealt with – not with resignation but action. It is not a easy road ahead. It is not about having fun and then returning to the safe confines of compromises as the journey for demanding change is uncharted.
    Cheated is a huge word – it destroys people – it can be classified as violence – and if that so then we need to reflect on – where all we are cheated/violated or where we violate or cheated on the other – how our actions humiliate the other. None of us is a standard – we can only live and constantly refine our beliefs. feeling cheated and continuing to be so is a resignation – sounds like one. State of a freedom though not all some of it is in our hand – not only of our own selves but that of the others. In the end – still -you write well

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