Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the assistant culture editor of India Currents, she is the editor-in-chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.
As a lifelong bookworm who turns to the written word for knowledge and guidance, I had picked up “What to expect when you’re expecting,” during my pregnancy. Considerate colleagues gave me the sequel, “What to expect the first year,” at my baby shower. I referred to the book constantly. Like a child reading a mystery novel, I occasionally jumped ahead to read up on the next developmental milestone.
At my daughter’s first birthday celebration in India, seeing the book in my purse, a good friend joked – “You NRI’s bring up children by reading books.”
I found her comment condescending but she had made an astute observation. Being far from home and lacking guidance from parents, I felt bereft. She, on the other hand, was raising her children in India in close proximity to her extended family.
To me, books had come to my aid when humans had failed.
More than two decades after that conversation, I look fondly at my two daughters. In a few months, the older one will leave home in pursuit of higher education and the younger one will hurtle towards the end of her teens.
Motherhood has been the most transformative experience of my life and the opportunity to raise two daughters has been a gift and a privilege.
Adichie’s book is a long, thoughtful response response to a friend’s question about how to raise her newborn daughter feminist. I wondered if I had raised my daughters to be feminists? Would I find myself too outdated to understand this manifesto? I desperately hoped it wasn’t too late to make amends.
“The solid unbending belief that you start off with. What is your premise? Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not “if only.” Not “as long as.” I matter equally. Full stop.”
Adichie’s first feminist tool seemed familiar. Not vaguely, but intimately.
By this measure, I have always been a feminist. Perhaps I was born feminist. Although the word ‘feminist’ came into my vocabulary only after spoken and written language became my primary mode of communication, the inner knowing that “I matter’ must have been poured into my veins and set into my bones at the time of my creation.
Born between two boys, I was the only girl child, brought up with great affection by egalitarian parents. Despite having a level playing field within the home, I was not immune to the rampant sexism that existed outside. I retaliated by waving the flag of gender equality, fighting for fairness, and arguing for justice at every opportunity.
During the school years, my brothers and I were expected to wash our respective uniforms, polish our shoes, and keep our designated cupboards clean. But everytime my mother asked me for help around the house, I would protest.
“You are asking me to do this because I am a girl,” I would pout.
“I am asking you because you are better at it,” she would patiently reply.
“In life, you will find that the person who does a better job will be assigned more work, even in an office.”
A part of me agreed with her. But I would have none of her rational explanations. Despite her college education, my mother was a housewife by choice. What did she know about work and career?
I was academically oriented, bold, and outspoken. Unlike my mother who was content to stay home, I planned to study, get a job, and make my own money. I did not consider my mother a feminist, because feminism to me meant independence, financial security and power. Little did I know then that the seeds to my conviction about equality of the sexes were actually planted and nurtured by my mother’s parenting style.
So much about the world has changed since my childhood. With women becoming astronauts and scientists, doctors and bus drivers, I wondered if Adichie’s suggestions were even necessary. But reading this simply-written, heartfelt manifesto brought forth many self-limiting biases and belief-systems that are coded into our DNA through social conditioning and serve as barriers to women’s’ achievements even to this day.
In time for International Women’s Day, I thought of using Adichie’s list as an appraisal tool to evaluate myself. I was undoubtedly a feminist, but had I done enough to raise my girls to be feminists?
Of the fifteen suggestions, I scored well in 9. I am particularly proud of encouraging my girls to read. Regarding marriage – they know that marriage may be a part of their life but it is not to be counted as their greatest achievement. Through my own career choices, independence, and pursuit of interests outside prescribed gender roles, they have seen a working model of some of Adichie’s suggestions.
But I have to admit that I have failed in a few areas. Even though we talk about boys and romance, open conversations about sex have been difficult; attributed more to my own cultural conditioning than to the oft-repeated excuse that such information is easily available these days.
And there are suggestions about appearance, identity, likeability – important points that I am unable to assess at this point. Much of how my daughters find their way through the maze of conflicting messages and peer pressure depends on their ability to think for themselves, something only time will tell.
I think back to my mother’s unerring sense of fairness and transparent style of parenting. Unaware that the dictionary defines ‘feminist’ as a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes, she had instilled in me the core belief that my life is valuable and my choices are valid, even if they veered away from socially accepted constructs.
Parenting is a uniquely personal journey. We undertake it with optimism and a combination of tools – some that we come equipped with, some we borrow from our own parents, and others we learn – from books, from society, from our own experiences.
The thing that makes this journey incredibly interesting, if not always rewarding, is what Adichie says in the initial pages of her book, “You might do all the things I suggest, and she will still turn out to be different from what you hoped, because sometimes life just does its thing. What matters is that you try. And always trust your instincts above all else, because you will be guided by your love for your child.”
The best we can do is try. I know my mother did. So do I. My hope is that my daughters do the same when they have children. It doesn’t matter if they are raising girls or boys, I know without doubt that their journey will be interesting, and they will be richer for the experience.
Ranjani Rao, a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, and former resident of USA, now lives in Singapore with her family. She is co-founder of Story Artisan Press and her books are available on Amazon. She is presently working on a memoir. Connect with her on Medium | Twitter| Facebook | Blog
In a world full of women leaders, celebrities and entrepreneurs, there are many women to look upto. But sometimes inspiration lies hidden not in the far fetched and larger that life lives of celebrities but in places we have never looked. The lives of ordinary women around us, in the midst of banality of everyday life provide surprising rays of insights and lessons.
My great aunt Sheila was married to my great uncle Nanik, who is my grandmother’s brother. If you know of a person who genuinely loves and cares for every person in his family that would be uncle Nanik. He is the one who remembers birthdays of everyone in the extended family through all the generations. In all my very intimate contact with my uncle, even in honest disagreements I have been left with a tender warmth, cradled in the safe arms of a no better well wisher in the world.
Last month, Sheila Aunty passed away in her sleep at age eighty four in Bombay. Having thought a lot of the impending possibility of losing my uncle one day and how that would affect the continuity of the binding thread that he provides to the family, I must admit I never thought of aunty’s going away. She had been such a constant in uncle’s life and thus in our lives that her death was a shock. Being here in America, I could not say goodbye in person, I could not give her a last kiss, nor attend any funeral rights. All I can do is think of her with utmost fondness, lay flowers at my altar and peel at the layers of her impact on my own life.
When I think of her the one word that comes to mind is dutiful. If there were another word that would be cheerful. And mind you, those two words are not mutually exclusive. At any given moment that I saw her, she was cheerfully dutiful, as a wife, a mother, friend, relative and grandmother.
She was a young and beautiful air hostess when she met her future husband who was a pilot for Indian Airlines in the 1950s. She gave up her career to be a wife and a mother. She did not do that because it was the order of the day but because she saw it as a sense of duty. She raised three children, helped take care of her father- in- law until his death and maintained social relations as a wife of an esteemed Captain for 63 years of her marriage.
What I saw most closely was her role as a wife. For decades uncle Nanik’s favorite thing has been to host dinner and cocktail parties for family and friends. My close observation of her was during these times. She was always part of these get-togethers, day after day. I wondered as a child about the times when she was just not in the mood. Like all of us, I was sure she was not immune to that. But with complete equipoise, she was always present. Over the last many years her health was not great, she appeared more detached but still a servile hostess. She did not have to participate, just her presence was soothing and inspiring. Even during their bickerings like any older couple, they were a whole together, a team. It was his constant reliance on her that ran the show and her choice to support that sustained their life together.
Thinking of her today, I realize how the modern world associates values like independence, courage, feminism to women. We believe these are traits of progress but we have completely lost the world duty from our lexicon. We now think if a woman does not fight for her rights, she is weak. We think of giving in is a negative and tolerance as mediocre. But will the women of today be remembered in this light? Have we also forgotten the intricate complexities of life as a woman? To love, to be faithful, to fulfill one’s duties even when one does not feel like them, to put family before one’s self, to be kind through that very selflessness, to take life’s inevitable challenges in one’s stride and come out a winner. These are virtues of a woman far superior than any revolution. This is an inner revolution to transform our spirits to recognize what is worth fighting for and what in the long run will create character by wisely looking at the larger good outside of ourselves.
What we forget is that there is much thought and inner work involved in the lives of such women. Life of a woman is not black and white, her embrace of the grey is what defines her. What might appear a passive supportive role is actually a conscious effort at all times involving intelligent thinking.
They don’t make them like her today. She has left no eye dry with her death, because she is fondly remembered like a flower by everything she ever touched. Whether it was her commitment to her faith every day in the form of morning meditation or the goodwill of everyone or just the reaping of her kindness, she was thus blessed with the most peaceful death one can imagine. I cry for my uncle’s loss, his shattered heart, another colossal pain to crush him in the length of a long life but I also rejoice that he had her. For she surely was the spark behind the man he was, is and always will be; deeply loved.
Late into a Delhi evening, a car rushes to a hospital. Inside are three young men, one of whom is bleeding profusely from a nasty cut above one eye. Across town the easygoing lives of three young women, who share an apartment in an upwardly mobile enclave, takes an unexpected and ugly detour. The three women appear to have been involved in the incident that resulted in the young man’s eye injury. What exactly happened? Why the blood? Why the secrecy? Why the fear? And all of this happens in just the first ten minutes.
From this unsettling, uneven high stakes opening we are on to something remarkable. The three men claim to have been attacked by the women after agreeing to meet them after a rock concert. Of the three men, Rajveer (Bedi) belongs to a powerful and well-connected family while the women—Minal (Pannu), Falak (Kulhari) and Andrea (Tariang) are working girls from modest backgrounds. The men begin to harass the women. Minal gets nearly run over by a car and is then attacked and Falak loses her job. The police, not countering any of the womens’ claims, instead jail Minal on attempted murder charges.
Slow but astute in his step, Deepak Sehgal (Bachchan) is an ageing retired attorney caring for his ill wife. Sehgal is the neighbor to the three women and guesses what might have happened and, ever so reluctantly, steps in to help the women in court. What follows is an excellent court drama that lays bare the hypocrisy of social norms that allow men to be independent and decry women for choosing to do the same thing—especially when it comes to living arrangements.
As the tense splendid court drama unfolds, with the women represented by Sehgal and the men represented by a bald-headed lawyer (Mishra), crowded court room adult confrontations that speak boldly on what makes up sexual consent and sexual morality in a changing society take center stage. This is indeed uncharted territory for a mainstream Indian film. Should the accused individual’s ethnicity, bank balance, dating history or age at first sexual experience matter? What does it mean when a woman, anyone really, says “no” to a come on?
Like highly refined court procedurals, Pink also tenses up quickly. Credibility is questioned. Memories are recalled. Versions are re-told. Alibis are offered. Alibis are denied. Witnesses are cross examined. Closed circuit video is played, and replayed. With what actually happened shown almost as an afterthought as the camera is pulling away, the urgency is all about the here and now. What the men are saying against what the women are saying. His word against hers.
Bachchan’s Sehgal wears a mask during his carefully routed daily walks through a neighborhood park. Outwardly to ward off Delhi’s polluted air, the mask brilliantly foreshadows fear—the fear of strangers. Anyone in the presence of the mask, especially in dimming light, is gripped by a stay-or-run existential jolt. This pretty much sums up the daily fears of urbanites, including Minal, Falak and Andrea after they are harassed. That the mask serves a perfunctory use is of little consequence. The fear it represents must be overcome.
Bachchan’s cranky-goat Sehgal is an old school legal eagle that wants to, and even needs to help, in part to compensate for his helplessness in not being able to help his ailing wife but also to help overcome official indifference he sees the women having to suffer. Pannu and Kulhari decently put up brave fronts and unite when their characters have to, while Bedi, as Rajveer, is a scion of privilege unprepared for court. Shantanu Moitra’s musical score is ear worthy with repeated listening.
The result is a modest budget movie that raked in huge box office returns— Bachchan’s biggest in recent years. For an original script that taps into collective fears about the perils of urban living, Pink has few parallels. For opening social conversation, however, add Pink to the short list of notable Hindi movies that feature strong female characters having to clear their name in court following a sexual assault (Damini, Insaf Ka Tarazu, No One Killed Jessica).
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.