Next up in the monthly series of ‘That Indian Woman’, we will be discussing the journey of an Indian woman who had a simple dream.
Before telling her story, here is an introduction to this series.
This series will include experiences of women of Indian society, through various periods of their lives. Yes! A woman first, not a mother. Because not all women want to be a mother. Limiting a woman as a daughter, a wife, a sister, or a mother is not just limiting their existence to the role they play to the men in their lives. It is much more damaging.
Just as before our mother starts from a humble background in a remote village in India. At a young age, she dreamed to go to a job – not a fancy job with high professional education. Her dream was small, she wanted to get a job something along the lines of becoming a teacher. I did ask her if her aim changed over the years of schooling. She smiled and answered by saying that given her exposure, those simple jobs were the ones she kept dreaming of.
But those dreams didn’t become reality given her parents’ focus on her marriage. She was pretty sure that her dream of becoming a working woman was not going to happen. Her parents began talking about her marriage when she was in 12th grade.
The schools and teachers were no better at encouraging female students. She remembers her teachers did encourage their studies so they would be better mothers and teach their kids. The irony here is those teachers were working women themselves. This shows how deep-rooted patriarchy is in the minds of our people regardless of education status. They also suggested that their students should follow all the family rules and be good girl children.
These rules were that a girl child should do all the household chores. Having sisters, our mother clearly remembers how differently they were treated compared to her brothers.
Even with all the studies, they had to do all household chores from cooking to cleaning and serving food for all the family members. Recalling one particular memory, our mother says once her mother asked her to prepare food for her brother who had returned from the playground, even though she said she was studying. The focus and effort that was put into making a girl child a better wife and better daughter-in-law was never put into making her a well-educated and independent woman.
That’s not where the rules stopped. When her brother would enjoy his free time by playing around, our mother who longed for her freedom to play never got the chance.
Why? Because she was a girl. Playing on the ground or with boys is not for girls.
She says though she wasn’t a big fan of all this, she still understands that her parents were like that because of a lack of exposure and awareness. She tells if someone had told them better maybe she would have had the freedom to do simple things that were so easy for her brother.
“Though Bharathiyar – Tamil poet wrote about woman empowerment, nobody practiced in real life” she says.
As she finished her schooling, her parents got busy looking for a groom. She entered college but was married off around her second year of college. Though she did continue to go to college after marriage, owing to family circumstances, she couldn’t go on to finish her degree. She is still proud of having a chance to attend college which was a first in her family.
Did she get to live her dream of becoming a working woman?
Unfortunately living in a joint family, she had a role to fill in – as a daughter-in-law, a wife, and soon a mother. Though she was not happy with it, she complied with her situation happily deciding to do the best for her family.
Having married into a family of well-educated people starting from her father-in-law, she was not encouraged to explore a bold independent lifestyle. She recalls saying that her father-in-law, a father of three well-educated sons still resented having a girl child -to our mother’s confusion. And they all believed a woman to be a household person with no independent life. They were used to it for so long that it was hard for them to see otherwise.
Our mother was happy to have an understanding and encouraging husband who was not against girl children. Being a mother of three girl children today, she says it was hard in the past. Though she dreamed of bringing up her daughters as educated, independent, and working women, people were not all encouraging. Most people were on and on about how hard it would be to raise three girl children and pitied her.
But her husband trusted her to take care of all their children, especially their life decisions. Our mother as per aspiration brought up all her children with good education and is proud of them all for being independent and earning. She wanted to treat her children with everything they deserve regardless of gender. She wanted to break the cycle and she trusted her kids to explore their life. She recalls how worried her husband was when it was time to send away the kids for college life. But she was confident about it and she knew living in a different city will make them more mature and exposed.
Though taking care of three children can be hard she found time to explore something for herself. When I asked if she was satisfied with her lifestyle, she smiles before answering.
“Though I am not working like I wanted to, I am self-satisfied. It is still hard to see other working women who are independent and how they explore every day. Especially when most days I am stuck at home taking care of everything around me. I don’t even dress up unless it is an occasion. Dressing up every day must be nice” she says enviously.
“But I did tailoring for a while. I didn’t do it as a business, I just did it to explore something for myself. It was not something big. I just stitched for my children mostly.” she concludes.
Having been through all these years as a homemaker, she would have been happier if she had completed her education and got a job. But it doesn’t mean she is not satisfied. Seeing how the world has changed comparatively, she does wish that there was more freedom for girls in the past.
Nevertheless, she has made sure her children got the freedom that she never got. And that makes our mother smile happily.
To be honest I would be judgemental when parents live their dreams through their children. But dreams like this- to give more opportunity, more freedom, and more trust to their children when they received none are inspiring. To make their lives better and to make sure they didn’t encounter the negatives of the past.
This is honourable and noble pursuit. As mentioned in the last chapter, mothers fighting to give the chance to their daughters is what makes things better these days. You can be a mother. But if you are a mother who aspires to give her children the best of everything, then you are not just a mother. You are the change that our society deserves.
Though this mother might not have been through the worst that society had to offer, she did experience a fraction of it. Being a woman in Indian means you have to compromise forever. But she found a way for her children to get a better life.
Stay tuned to read more inspiring stories of Indian women.