On this International Women's Day, no lofty speeches, no judgments, no philosophy — just some stories and my impressions of wonderful women from different walks of life.
This is a story from several years ago. As I was stepping out for an afternoon stroll after a string of work calls, I saw my neighbour’s daughter, having returned from school, knocking on her door. When I returned after 15 minutes and a few quick rounds, she was still there, waiting. She was a kid, all of 10 years, I guess, and I instinctively asked her to come in and take some rest. Apparently, her mother was running late and her grandmother wasn’t opening the door. As soon as I opened the door to my house to let her in, I called her mother and informed her that her daughter was in my house. To make sure the child was comfortable I also left the front door wide open. Having offered her some food and water, the sight of her resting after a gruelling school day made me happy.
The sound of a door opening made me think her grandmother might be around, and the two of us went out to check, only to have the old lady quickly usher the girl inside her house. An attempt at explaining the context to her just earned me an accusatory glare. Thankfully, a while later, her mother returned and thanked me for the help. Several years have passed, we are still well acquainted with the neighbours, we exchange pleasantries in lifts, the kid warmly greets me every time she sees me, but somehow that one unsettling glare from the granny is permanently etched in my memory. It still crosses my mind from time to time and saddens me, perhaps even more so because it isn’t unwarranted in today’s world.
On a more pleasant note, I recently met a wonderfully confident 22-year-old lady, just out of college, supremely articulate. Within a year, she has got bored of her tele-calling job and says she is desperate to work in a startup. Her reasoning — she wants to establish a company within two years because she enjoys power and being her own boss. On the downside, she knows nothing about business or any specific industry, but is just very sure that she wants to ‘start up’. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed after meeting her. Such a bundle of energy and confidence! I was so timid 15 years ago. About her clarity of thought (or lack of it) — well, with all my self-proclaimed wisdom, do I have commensurate clarity on my career and where it’s really headed? I am just happy for this lady’s enthusiasm and proud about my newfound ability to desist from making judgments about people.
Within corporate India, the roles played by Chanda Kochhar, Shikha Sharma, Naina Lal Kidwai, Arundhati Bhattacharya, and a few other women leaders have been nothing short of inspiring. We must take great pride that the reins of our banking system are, to a large extent, being held by phenomenally capable women leaders. This is one huge success story on diversity that needs to be celebrated and emulated.
But how do I explain all this to a friend and his family who live in a remote village in Haryana? I have known this family for more than 15 years now. They treat their women with respect, no domestic abuse or harassment, but then women there are hardwired to perform their societally assigned roles of cooking, childbirth, and household chores. I have seen my friend’s mother wedded to this, and his wife and now his three sisters getting inducted into this system. Imagine, these are women who do only these three things all their lives — this is their worldview and their raison d'être.
I have a cloudy vision of an ideal life, where one grows detached from worldly pleasures, where hatred gives way to universal love. That is when I think a person achieves true wisdom. I have observed my grandmother and have heard several times that she never studied beyond grade one, lived in a village before marriage, and after that, became part of a family where she was expected to do what I have already explained earlier. I have seen this illiterate, domesticated lady read and interpret the Bhagavad Gita and several other religious texts innumerable times, cover to cover. In her native language, her discourses on religion are worth listening to. She has been the benchmark of self-discipline and self-reliance and is one of the most loving and selfless women I have seen in my life. How an ordinary and illiterate woman grew to the stature of sainthood is something I still haven’t completely deciphered, but every time I see her, I feel blessed to have caught a glimpse of God.
Finally, a realisation (based on the stories narrated above) — we are all wired differently (physically, emotionally, intellectually, etc). We need to get increasingly more sensitive to this reality and try to shape our behaviours accordingly. The stories narrated here signify innumerable inspirations, several struggles, and mammoth constraints. A lot of work is being done to do better in these areas, but it all starts with the fundamental appreciation of this entire spectrum and how vastly diverse it is.
Happy International Women’s Day!