Thursday, March 10, 2011

The bane and boon of being a woman

I hate being a woman. You got that right. I. HATE. BEING. A. WOMAN
There are certain times that I hate being a woman more than others. During that time of the month, when I have to contend with all the leaking, bleeding and cramps is one of them. What especially brings my blood to boil during those times is when my husband in a mock condescending tone says, “It’s OK Darling. I understand what you are going through.” I wish I could wipe that sardonic look off his face with a smack of my hand and shout from the roof tops, “No. You don’t understand what I am going through because you don’t have to go through it, month after month, for the rest of your life.”
But then, there are some times that even women don’t understand what being a woman feels like. One time when my mother was deep into her “Miracle of Motherhood routine” I actually told her, “Please ask a pregnant woman in her 9th month if bloated feet, a tummy so overgrown that she can’t see her own feet, the need to rush to the bathroom every few minutes, the never ending hunger and the equally horrifying heartburn feel miraculous in any way. Not knowing if her baby will be born normal, if she will ever fit back into her pre-pregnancy jeans, if her life will ever be truly her’s again definitely does not feel like a miracle to any woman in her right mind”. Needless to say, she stopped speaking to me for a month after that outburst.
But if there is one thing I hate more than being a woman, it is being a woman in India. In any other country, being a woman would just be an act of nature that comes with its own pre-labelled set of disadvantages. But in India, being a woman is a saga of never ending self-sacrifice and subservience. Truly the biggest tragedy of being a woman in India,  is that the women make a demi-god out the men in their life and condemn themselves and their female progeny to a life time of paradoxes.  God, I do truly hate being a woman.
But, this week, I got a call from an old acquaintance of mine who said she had decided to wish all the strong women in her life a Happy Women’s Day. Before I could snap back at her, she said something interesting. She said, “I shudder to think what kind of a place the world might be without us women.” That got my mind racing. Just what kind of place would this world be without women? I closed my eyes and tried to imagine a world full of men who along with being the supposed bread earners of the family had to now have babies, cook, clean and also play the role of nurturer for their families. This is what I saw in my mind’s eye about the life of a middle class, middle aged Indian male in the absence of women in his life.
“Mihir woke up with a start, groping around the bed for his spectacles and putting them on to see that he had overslept and was horribly late. He had tossed and turned most of the night, with his mind flitting from the big presentation he had today, to the doctor’s check-up he had to take Papa to, to the dish he needed to make for the Poker game with the boys tomorrow night. He wished he had never told them he was a good cook. They all now wanted to taste something home cooked instead of ordering out for Pizza like they always did. When he was able to pull his mind away from that, he found himself mentally running through the contents of the refrigerator and figuring out the menu for the following day. He felt dizzy having to think about so many things at one go. He had never been good at multi-tasking and with his trusted man servant of many years going on leave last week, he felt as if he was falling headlong into a bottomless tunnel of housework and office work. He finally took a sleeping pill and fell asleep in the wee hours of the morning.
He jumped out of the bed and rushed to get dressed. As he was hurriedly preparing breakfast in the kitchen, he heard his son Ishan screaming at the top of his voice. When he ran to Ishan’s room, he saw Papa struggling to get Ishan into his uniform. But Ishan was not making it easy for him, squirming and slipping away leaving Papa huffing, red faced and breathing heavily. In trying to force him to get the uniform on, Papa had accidentally rubbed against the bruise on Ishan’s arm which has made the 7 year old terror scream in agony. Ishan had been coming home sporting a different kind of bruise every day. Mihir thought, “Boys will be boys” and ascribed the bruises to sports injuries. But Ishan had been playing truant every morning, putting up a huge struggle to go to school which was leaving Papa tired and irritated. Mihir looked at Ishan who stared back defiantly and said, “I won’t go to school. You can’t make me.”
Mihir took in a deep calming breath and said in his sternest and strictest voice, “Ishan, Get ready this minute or else…..”. Ishan dithered and Mihir knew he had the advantage and shouted this time, “ISHAN”. He braced himself for a flood of tears he was expecting from his stubborn son as he saw his warm chocolate eyes brimming, but something shifted in Ishan’s expression. He looked as if he wanted to say something but then his shoulders drooped and he went to get dressed grumbling under his breath. “They don’t understand. They never listen. If only….” . Mihir stared thoughtfully at his son and felt helpless. He felt helpless a lot these days.
Mihir packed Ishan off to school and finished getting dressed. As he left the house, he turned around to see the mess he had left behind. The house looked bleak, empty, dull and colourless. The grey walls were unadorned and all the furniture was essentially functional, with clean lines and na uncluttered setting. The hall was coated with a layer of dust. The kitchen seemed as if a tornado had hit it and smelt of stale bread and rotten eggs. Mihir just shook his head and took off to office. He was late and Ninad, his Boss had started the client presentation without him. He gave Mihir a sharp, exasperated look as he rushed into the presentation room and Mihir knew that the look would be followed by a stern and may be even abusive lecture later in his cabin. He slinked into his seat and looked at the faces of all his colleagues around. All of them looked stressed and tired but he knew no one would admit it. Men in this office, like many other places in the world loved to keep up the charade of being ‘Supermen’ who could handle anything that life throws at them and Mihir was one of them. They were all in such a hurry to get the next big promotion and race to the corner office that no one ever cared about how their teams were coping, if they were satisfied with their job, if they were happy. The office and indeed the world seemed to be missing something but Mihir could not put his finger on what that was.
It had been a long day in the office with Ninad being in an exceptionally bad mood and all Mihir wanted to do was get a drink and go to sleep. But tonight was ‘Poker’ night and he had promised his buddies he would cook for them. He shopped for groceries on the way home and dragged himself to the kitchen to cook a simple meal of ‘Biryani’ and Raita. He was bone tired by the time he was done but the bell rang and the boys had arrived. There was an India Australia cricket match on and they had brought beer along. For the first time in the day Mihir perked up a little as they started playing the game. But, somehow he could not concentrate. He turned around and asked Alex, his childhood buddy, “Don’t you think something is missing”. 
“I know. We should have got some Chips to go with the beer.”
Mihir sat back ruefully and looked around the table at his closest friends. They had all known each other for at least 10 years, played Poker every Friday, were in and out of each other’s houses on a daily basis but somehow he never really knew what any of them were thinking. If they felt as alone as he did. If they felt helpless at times and wished they had someone to talk to, to share their lives with. At times, he felt so powerless with Ishan, not knowing what was the right thing to say, not knowing whether he should hug him because as Papa had drilled in to him for ever since he could remember, “Men don’t cry and they sure don’t hug”. He sighed and wished that God had made men a little differently or if HE had made a different kind of human being too then the world would be a more human and liveable place. But then, Sachin hit a 6 and everything else was forgotten.
I shook myself out be reverie, amused by my own overactive imagination and thought well if it was a bane for women to be women; it was a boon to men that there were women in the world. I am not a diehard feminist and I firmly believe that men and women are as different as chalk and cheese and they should never try to think they are equals in everything. Each one of them brings their own set of strengths and weaknesses to this world. But if there were no women in this world, men would sure miss the warmth, colour, humanity, clutter, paradoxes and empathy that we bring to their lives.
 It slowly dawned on me that while I may hate being a woman, I am also extremely proud that I am one. Without me, this world would be as dull and lifeless as Mihir’s grey home. While I am still not sure if I want to be a woman in my next life, I am grateful for the experience of being a woman in this life, with all its aches, pains, cramps and of course I must admit - a little magic. So I decided to fall in with my acquaintance and wish all the strong women in my life a Happy Women’s day. Be proud to be who you are and if you are not, well then there is always the next life.