We all have some life-altering experiences. Ones that teach us how to live life on our own terms. I was the usual girl-next-door before my father’s sudden demise. But the day all ceremonies paying last respect to him were over, life set numerous challenges. My uncle, as he was leaving for his home, advised that from now on I had to act like the son of the family. I quietly listened to him, not really understanding what he meant. Either way, I realised I had to be strong and prepare for a life without my father.
After completing my masters, I took up a government job. Friends and colleagues suggested that I do not leave my 9-to-5 job as my family could hope to benefit greatly from it. My mother wanted to get me married and so she started looking for a suitable match for me. Each person we met had his own reasons for getting married to me. One of them suggested that he wanted to get married to a girl who can look after his ageing parents, while another wanted a homemaker so that he could get home-cooked food and turn his house into a ‘home’. Interestingly, all of them had one thing in common: they wanted to get married to me because I had a secure job and could hence manage home brilliantly along with contributing to the family income regularly. So they unanimously advised me not to leave my job until retirement. No one was really bothered about the kind of person I was, what qualities I did or did not possess or what my expectations from a prospective life partner were. There were radical declarations from families such as “We don’t want dowry”. However, detailed conversations with them indicated otherwise. My friends found the whole exercise quite funny, but it was an eyeopener. So far, being a woman was never a limitation for me. However, now my accomplishments were useful because of the long-term benefits they ensured! On the other hand, when I shouldered domestic responsibilities such as house construction, electric repairs, whitewash and other labour work, the service providers would often not take my advice seriously and say, “Yeh aap ko samajh nahin aayega, yeh aadmiyon ka kaam hai!” (You won’t understand, this is man’s job).
After working for nearly five years, I quit my government job to join a development sector organisation. It opened a whole new chapter in my life as I met some versatile people. Having interacted with them closely, I realised that women were strong, very strong, but their relationships, though empowering at times, could also be quite restrictive. I had colleagues who were leading the usual happily married life or happy single life and there were others who were fighting a personal battle against cultural stereotypes. There were rules for sexual harassment, gender sensitivity, women’s leadership at workplaces, but back at home, many of us would face the same discrimination that we were asked to fight at work. I realised that if a woman had to be courageous, she had to take responsibility for it herself. Nobody else could be expected to fight our battles. Our individuality was a result of our own choices and struggles.
Twelve years later, my near and dear ones feel that I have lived up to their expectations and become the so-called son of the family. However, I prefer to challenge their point of view in deed, not merely in words. I aspire to be significant in adding value to the lives of my family, community and the society as a whole, as a daughter and an individual rather than being the ‘son-like’ daughter of the society. I believe that we all can be strong or weak, responsible or irresponsible, we need not be a man or a woman for that; we only need to be fearless.