Ananya switched on the TV and fell on the sofa in a heap. Her television opened with the sound of a woman crying. For a second Ananya became alert but when she realised that it was just one of the many women on TV who were tailor-made to propagate the idea that women were made of tears and sacrifices, she cursed loudly.
A girl doesn’t curse. These words her mother had said a long time ago, echoed in her ears again. She mimicked the expression on her mother’s face and changed the channel. Ananya had never been a huge fan of mother, a woman who had sacrificed her career to become a homemaker. Ananya believed that her mother was weak, a woman who was afraid to follow her passion, one of those women who chose the easy way out.Mom, you could have been a good lawyer but you threw it all away. It’s women like you who propagate the idea that a woman shouldn’t follow her dreams. She had once said, disgusted when her mother had asked her to slow down and take a break in life.
Her mother had been pained by her words, and Ananya loathed her for it. Always a sign of weakness, always ready to cry. Why was her mother a woman who was weak, who couldn’t hold herself together?
Ananya was an ambitious girl and had found the right role model in her aunt who had left her husband’s home because she didn’t want to compromise with her dreams. That’s what a real woman should be like. Uncompromising, strong, passionate, ambitious …, that’s what Ananya had thought.
Ananya had met her aunt only occasionally over the years but had heard a lot about her and wanted to become like her. Suddenly her phone rang. It was her mother.
Ananya! How are you beta(child)? Where were you, I called in the morning too but you didn’t pick the call. Are you okay?
Yes mom. I am fine. I was busy. You know, I WORK! Ananya said scathingly.
Her mother went silent for a minute then resumed herself. Things are good at work?
Mom, what do you want?” Ananya never had patience for her mother’s sentimentalism.
Ok. Nothing. Actually your Mansi Maasi* is coming to India next month. I thought you might want to come too. It will be fun. Everyone will be around. You will come na beta? Her mother said pleadingly.
Really? Of course Mom. It’s been so long since I met her. When is she coming? Ananya’s tone changed to that of a child who has been promised a trip to Disneyland.
2nd July. She will stay for a month, replied her mother, happy to finally hear that her daughter would be coming too.
Ok. Mom. I will be there by 5th. Mom what should I bring?
Oh sweety! I don’t want anything. You just come soon. Said her mother lovingly.
Not for you mom. For Maasi? Leave it. I will look for myself. With this she disconnected the call.
Finally she would meet her aunt after a long time. There were a few things she wished to ask, a few things she needed advise on and few things she just needed to confide to her. She never found her mother competent enough to tell her anything about her professional life. She could not understand why would her mother choose this life of passivity.
Her mother was from a well to do family, one of the few families were women had worked from an earlier generation. Ananya’s maternal grandmother was a college principal and a social worker. Ananya’s father had always been vocal about women’s rights and had left it to his wife’s discretion to pursue her career or not. Her mother chose not to. Ananya had heard that her mother used to work even after marriage but once she became a mother, she left everything behind and stayed at home. This irked Ananya even more, the knowledge that she was in some way responsible for this.
Ananya’s younger sister Sukanya never found a fault with their mother. Ananya felt that she too did not have the nerve to follow her dreams. Sukanya was an arts student, learning art history at Columbia University. She had excelled at studies and had been offered a seat at London School of Economics, but she dropped all this and stayed at home for more than a year. After this she applied to study Art History. Ananya had called her a loser. She had told her that like their mother she too was weak, she too was afraid to compete. This argument had happened two years ago and since then Ananya avoided going home. She stayed in Mumbai, excelling at her career, competing with men and women, showing them what a strong women looked like.
When she reached home she heard the familiar voice of her younger sister, booming through the open doors. She had always been like this, yelling and screaming, being the younger child that she was.
She did not need to ring the door bell as the doors were open to let the chilly Shimla wind enter the comfy sitting room.
Ananya! her mother exclaimed and ran to hug her. Ananya could not shrug her warm hug. It was one thing which always made her feel safe since childhood and even though she was now thirty she loved that feeling of security and predictability which her mother’s hug ensued. While her mother clasped Ananya in her arms, Ananya’s eyes fell on her maasi, who was smiling at the mother daughter duo. Ananya quickly detached herself from her mother and ran to her aunt.
Maasi (*aunt), finally! I was dying to meet you. You should come often. Atleast you can come to Mumbai.
Haan, beta (Yes, child). Now I am here to stay. Ananya smiled.
Yes. I know. Mom told me.
They began chatting while Ananya’s mother busied herself to lay down the lunch for everyone.
Your dad will be here for dinner. Ananya’s mother said.
I know. He must be busy in work. Ananya addressed her aunt You would know maasi. Dad can’t spend a day without working. Even I can’t sit idle for an hour. I don’t know how women decide to stay at home and become homemakers. I can never do that. Not even at the cost of my life. She paused to take a bite of her biryani which her mother had prepared for lunch. I just don’t respect such women who have had opportunities but they just throw it away. Ananya kept on chattering not noticing that Mansi had barely eaten anything, and had stared at her sister’s face in disbelief.
For the next week, Mansi encouraged Ananya to speak more about what she thought of her mother. Ananya felt at ease with her aunt and thought that finally she had someone who was willing to listen to her.
Maasi, I can’t belive SHE is my mother. How can she throw away everything? I can’t respect her. I DON’T respect her. She is one of those women who always drag feminism backwards. Many women would have been happy to be in her place and would have made a career but there she goes and throws it all away for what? Everyone says she did it for me, for Sukanya. They can fool themselves but not me. She was afraid, she was weak. I know that.
Mansi listened to her silently and didn’t speak for a long time. Then she held Ananya’s hand and led her to her mother’s room. Ananya’s mother and Sukanya were in the room talking.
Either you tell them or I will do the honors. Mansi addressed her sister.
Ananya’s mother tried to quiet her but Mansi said, they need to know.
What? What do we need to know? Sukanya asked sitting up.
Our mother was a workaholic. She wanted to change the society. She would come back from the college in the evening and then go to some slum or to some poor family to help them out. She was never at home. I and your mother were left at our caretaker’s mercy. We didn’t complain much because we knew our mother loved us and that she was out making a difference. Once our uncle, a distant relative came to stay with us. Our mother promised that she would be back early. But she didn’t. We were young. I was on the verge of puberty. I began to menstruate. I didn’t know anything. I was scared. I thought that I had some disease. Dad wasn’t home either. I went to him, our uncle and asked him to take me to a doctor. That was my mistake. He said he would help me and took me to his room. He raped me that day. When Renuka came looking for me, he threatened us. We kept quiet, never told anyone anything. She went silent. Renuka, Ananya’s mother was weeping silently. Sukanya and Ananya were in shock.
Mansi continued, That day Renuka made a promise to me to never leave me alone, to always be by my side. And she fulfilled her promise. She protected me always. Your mother is not weak. That incident changed both of us. Your mother is a strong woman. Yes, she could have been a successful lawyer but she had the strength to leave it all so she could be with you two. She didn’t want you two to suffer in her absence. She didn’t want what happened to me, happen to you too. Ananya, I left my husband not because he was hampering me in following my dream. I left him because I couldn’t trust men again. I married under pressure, but could not keep the façade. Your mother is a strong woman because she could trust your father. She is strong because she was able to make a choice and stick by it even when she knew her own daughter abhors her for it.
Ananya, a woman is not weak if she wishes to stay at home and bring up her children. A woman is weak if she is not able to make her own choices, if she is not able to stand by her choices. Your mother earned a law degree and fought only one case in her life, against that man who had violated me. I was afraid even then, afraid about what people might say, what they might think. But your mother was not. She fought for justice and what was right. Becoming a lawyer was never her dream, she did it because she could not let that man go unpunished. You think I am strong, I am independent. I am not. I have run all my life. Running from making choices for myself. I have made the easiest choice in my life. What your mother did was a hard decision. You should respect her because your stubborn nature, your ambition, your passion, everything – you inherit from her. Feminism does not mean that a woman must work. It means that a woman has the choice to take decisions of her own life and be respected for it.
With this Mansi left the room. Ananya stood staring at the wall opposite her. She couldn’t believe what her aunt had just said and yet she knew that none of this could be wrong. She knew that her mother had fought only one case in her life. She stared at her mother, the fragile old woman who had borne the brunt of her ridicule all her life. Suddenly she felt ashamed of herself. She felt at her mother’s feet and began to weep.
Her mother stooped down and gathered both her daughters in a hug. Now Ananya knew why she felt secure in her mother’s arm.