Sunday, October 12, 2014

Because I am a girl?




“Don’t be a girl!” – I heard my 9 year old neighbor Prashant tell his friend. Both boys sniggered at this, exchanged hi-fives and continued with their game of football with the “gang”.

I was 12 years then and pretended to not hear them as I whizzed past them on my ladybird bicycle. I am not sure of the exact emotion that went through my mind at that precise moment. I think it was anger “how dare he say that!?” or maybe a hurt ego although it was not a comment directed at me. Or maybe it was the fact that they didn’t even notice me, a girl on the cycle. All I remember of that incident was that more than wanting to ignore them, I had wanted to get out from there as soon as possible and had sped away on my cycle. Was I ashamed or just angry? I had just heard a line, and a laugh, and knew nothing of the context of the statement, but I had just wanted to disappear. I was 12 and they were 9, but for some strange reason I felt like the smaller one that day because I was a girl…

I remember thinking about it as I pedaled through the dusty roads that hot summer day. What could Prashant have possibly tried to imply through that statement? He couldn’t have possibly meant that girls are weak, he had a grandmother who had lost her husband at an early age and raised 4 children single handedly.. that isn’t weak. He couldn’t have possibly meant that girls cry.. the principal of the school we both studied in was suffering from some incurable disease which everyone called cancer (I had thought it was just a sun-sign) and she had to sit every 5 minutes when she took a lecture.. my classmates told me her husband had left her, but no one had seen her shed as much as a drop of tear. Maybe that is why this disease was so deadly, it makes tear glands stop working!
Could he have meant that girls cheat in games, they were playing football afterall. No, that doesn’t sound practical, cheating is an attitude, a state of mind, what does being a boy or girl have to do with that. No maybe he meant that girls nag,yes that could be what he meant. But then, when his uncles go out at night and party and come home late and drunk, all of his aunts quietly remove thei shoes and put them to bed and they never spoke about it to them the morning after.. when I asked mom, she would just say ssshh! So no not nagging either.

I crossed a bend as I rode back home, it was getting dark, I had to get home early. Why? I thought to myself. “Its not safe for girls to be out in the night” I could hear my parents’ voice in my head. I found myself pedaling faster, once again I felt smaller because I was a girl…

“Oh well , she is that kind, you know the kind that always hangs out with boys!” I turned my head to see who they were talking about. Yes she did hang out with boys , but I had not thought it was a big deal. Maybe growing up with an elder brother and his gang of guys had made it easier for me to interact with boys although I spent 12 years in an all-girls convent school. If anything surprised me more than the comment itself, it was that it was made by a girl.  I smiled at the girl they had spoken about, she smiled back. I noticed she held her head high. She joined the girls for lunch at the college cafeteria, but she ate in silence, without making eye-contact .. even as they whispered to each other and sniggered from time to time. I noticed she was feeling smaller, because she was a girl.. and ironically the girls made her feel that

The CAT result was out and I had made it into the coveted IIM. The feeling was ethereal, it had not even begin to sink in. My phone buzzed with congratulatory messages and my dad and uncle were in an animated conversation about my future. As I sat in a dizzy slightly tipsy state (not drunk , just that floating feeling when you feel like you are in a dream), a man in his mid-thirties walked towards me. He shook my hands and congratulated me, and added that the IIMs are placing a great emphasis on gender diversity and increasing the ratio of girls:boys this year. He signed off saying obviously this meant I have a great future ahead of me. Even as I was trying to understand how this “gentleman” was related to me, I heard my uncle say  to my dad “ It is going to be difficult to find a groom for her, what with the post graduation that too from an IIM!” I am not sure of the exact moment when I stopped feeling elated and instead started feeling smaller again, because I was a girl…

I congratulated my colleague as he exclaimed “ I am going to be a father !” Someone asked him if he wanted a boy or a girl. “I would be fine with either, but I wish it is a girl “,he said. I tried to keep a calm and straight face, but my mind was racing. He wishes its a girl? Maybe I was wrong, maybe times have changed and being a girl is not something to feel small about any longer. He was talking and I forced my thoughts out so that I could listen to what he was saying. “Well, look at the cost of gadgets these days, my son is 5 and he is already asking for an i-phone. Girls are easy, they just need a Barbie”! Another one chimed in even as the others guffawed “And with all the funds coming in from various bodies supporting women, she will probably get scholarships and a free education”. I opened my mouth to speak, but felt little point in doing so. I turned around and silently walked back to my cabin. The feeling was familiar, I tried to not feel it, but I felt myself growing smaller..

The lady who swept the office floor stopped me in the hallway. She seemed to be roughly the same age as me. She offered me a chocolate and exclaimed with a feeling of pride “ My daughter took her first steps today madam!” I saw her eyes glistening with tears, and I found myself searching her eyes for answers to the questions that were pounding in my head. She continued “ My times were different madam, today there are so many opportunities, I will make her study and stand on her own feet. She can ride horses, become a police officer, or open her own business. It doesn’t matter, she took her first steps today and she can achieve many things in life with our support. She can do anything she wants madam, we women have that power within us, you tell me madam, what can these men folk do without us? I will teach my daughter to be brave and confident madam, and to be proud about being a girl. I will tell her that she can do anything and go anywhere and not hesitate because she is a girl, rather I will tell her that that is why she should do it. Because madam there is no such thing as “being just a girl, is there?“. I felt bigger than I had ever felt before.. I smiled at her, took her hand in mine and walked with her down the hallway. 

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