As the eldest of three sisters, I was constantly under pressure to behave in a certain way lest I lead my sisters astray by setting a bad example for them. This directive mostly came from my mother, who feared that any slight disobedience or misconduct would reflect on her upbringing of us.
Brought up as fairly independent women, each of us were nurtured to think freely, take responsibility for our actions, though with a bold underlined caution to “lead by good example”. Now, what would entail good example was left open to interpretation, as nobody told us what this really meant. We were forever guessing, wondering.
The idea of fairness, equitability and justice remained deeply engrained in my conscience and no matter where I went, what I did, “doing good and doing the right thing” remained at the core of my ideology. This was the sanskar (culture and traditions) I grew up with as we read and learnt about the ‘Ramayana’ and the idea of righteousness.
As my world vision expanded, as I travelled and met people from all over, I realised everyone had more in common than not. Each person fought their own demons prior to flying the flag of world peace and harmony.
As a woman, I felt that it is often women who come in the way of their peers in pursuing their dreams and passions. But equally, it is us who can be the strongest role model, friend and inspiration to our peers. Whether you are a senior colleague at work or a mother-in-law, whether you are a daughter or an intern, each one is capable of “doing right” and inspiring. Building a fraternity that enables others is empowering.
Jargons have often amused me. One such most commonly and loosely used term is: . Empowering the impoverished, uplifting and empowering the under-privileged, women’s empowerment etc etc. I often wondered by looking at passionate activists, grassroots workers and beneficiaries of the campaigns how empowerment worked for each of them; what did it exactly mean to them?
A couple of years back I came across a group of feisty young girls, daughters of sex workers in Mumbai who perform as a troupe to highlight the trauma, pain and struggles of being born and growing up in the red light areas on the city. Taking risks and pushing boundaries has become a way of life for them and they have travelled around the world, telling their stories of pain and transforming it into courage.
I related with them in more ways than one. The world since they were born has judged them for who they are, what their background is and shamed them for being who they are. But who they are was never going to be reliant on what the world made them feel at the time. It was a process of realisation, a journey that would show them who they really are, what they espouse and what their aspirations are. The ability to dream, was momentarily paralysed until Kranti, the NGO, came into their lives.
Speaking to one of the senior members of the troupe, all of 20 something in age, during their visit to London, I asked her what empowerment meant for them. Would they not like to at one point, let go of this baggage of the stigma they’ve carried and be known as the actors and artistes that they are? They clearly had plans to study ahead, pursue a career and to be entrepreneurs; each with varied dreams but this platform of raising their voice remained their home, their comfort zone as together, they as victims stood by each other.
I am 40 years old and a divorcee. Many acquaintances and friends often ask me to ‘move on’ and to settle down (read: find a man and settle down). It almost feels in that moment that no matter what I do, the parameter of happiness and completeness for me, as a woman will remain in “finding a man and making babies”.
Last year, a few months after my , I was visiting home and my father asked me: “So what is your plan? Do you intend to live alone like this forever?” Though shocked, I understood why my father may have been compelled to ask me this question – peer pressure and concern about his eldest daughter having to live “alone” without her own family. There is no answer to this question really as one doesn’t marry to divorce or give birth to lose their only child!
No I didn’t intend to live alone but solitude isn’t a vice. Companionship may appear in non-linear forms and each individual seeks it differently. It never is one size fits all.
The conversation with my father, made me think of several others – men and women like me, who are either divorced or widowed or simply never married and single. The constant pressure and judgement they undergo every moment from the world around them. Those married, with children have enough to be getting on with – work on their marriage, to keep it alive and relevant, to make sure that their children remain focussed on their careers, education, staying afloat on the expenses of maintaining a family and lifestyle. And, if there is any free time remaining, to worry about pleasing or manoeuvring the temperaments and expectations of in-laws and extended family.
To be constantly judged for how life’s circumstances unfold is not uncommon. If you are married and your husband cheats on you, you are accused of not keeping him happy or under check. If you are still single, you are questioned if you are unattached and lack the ability to love. If you have children, you are asked to think about yourself. If you choose not to have children, you are accused of being heartless. No matter what the circumstance, you will always be judged and it will never be a perfect scenario either.
Death is the most uncertain in all of our lives. But the most promising is life itself. Instead of each one focussing on how the others’ lives are imperfect, why not focus on the possibilities of what is within each of our lives and maximise it?
Empowerment comes from within as a silent confidence, trust in our dreams and belief that no matter how big or small these may seem, each dream, each aspiration is beyond valuable. Someone wishes to have a beautiful family, someone wishes to build a business empire and someone else simply wishes to travel, unattached. Oh and yes, don’t you remember that love happens in mysterious ways and finds you when you are least expecting it, instead of you seeking it constantly!
Focus on contentment, happiness and purpose and the rest will fall in place.
The new ‘Diversity’ 50 pence coin, unveiled by for circulation from today, is a good reminder that each one of us, with our varying backgrounds and circumstances, play a valuable role in nation-building. Why then take this diversity and pluralism away in being and in character too?
is the London-based UK Head & Representative at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and an active Indian diaspora campaigner. In this regular column for ‘iGlobal’, she will focus on issues that deserve spotlighting within the Global Indian community, referencing her personal experiences.