No Woman, No Cry.

A few years back, on women’s day, we boarded a plane to the Northeast of India. Deep down, I was happy, to escape the fuss that comes with the day. I’m not always good with keeping my thoughts in check and days like these are like old wounds. Midair, 30,000 ft above what was happening below; I could get away from it all. During our flight, our pilot broke his silence with announcements and a message wishing all the women aboard — happy women’s day. Never can truly run away, can you?

I heard a faint chuckle in the row ahead.

A male passenger asked his neighbour, “When do we get to celebrate such a day?”

His co-passenger promptly replied, “I think 364 days of the year.”

Today isn’t Women’s Day. And probably, that’s why, I don’t feel the pressure to make a point. I’m writing on a whim. It’s not about travel. I’d understand if you wouldn’t want to read any further. I’ll try not to make this a rant, either. There’s way too much happening in the world.

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Growing up, I didn’t feel any different from my brother. My parents treated my big brother (8 years older), my elder sister (a difference of 3 years) and I equally. We all had to share household chores, get good grades, and be responsible for our actions. Independence was instilled at an early age. My mother realised, early on, I wasn’t like the other girls or for that matter, like my sister. I didn’t take much interest in knitting or needlework or in the kitchen. I didn’t entirely escape from it; but didn’t put my heart in it. And from where I come (I might be treading dangerously on a stereotype); that’s a big deal. Most of my friends, in my all girls’ Catholic school, took an avid interest in such things. I, on the other hand, found an idol in my older brother. I rode imaginary horses, dreamed of stars in faraway galaxies, played with Lego blocks, built doll houses from old cardboard boxes, and fought sword fights with rolled placement mats and cushions as shields. I don’t think I ever looked like a tomboy or acted like one. Primarily, because, I never felt there was a difference between a boy and a girl. If you had a dream; it doesn’t really matter who your were born as.

As you become more successful, the gender barrier disappears. The credibility challenges you have during your growing up years starts disappearing when you start demonstrating success.

 Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

 Years later, like my brother and sister, I opted for science in junior college (pre-university). I knew, that I wanted to eventually pursue a career in basic sciences. Unfortunately, I wasn’t faring very well, and I was barely making my grades. I was particularly weak in Physics. Some of my mum’s friends asked my mum to make me reconsider my decision. Opt for humanities, instead. That’s what most girls opted for. I’m not sure why subject A would be easier than subject B. if you don’t like something, you’d be equally bad at either one. Probably, that’s what made me want me to try harder. And I realised, there’s no substitute for hard work. Soon enough, you will appreciate and enjoy what you’re working towards.

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Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination when awake?

  Leonardo da Vinci

By the time I was 17, I slowly began to realise, we’re not all the same. Some bubbles take longer to burst. And when they do, it’s not easy coping with the ‘real’ world. I enrolled in college with Physics, Maths, and Chemistry as my core subjects. In addition, I enrolled in the Honour’s Programme (an extra credit system). I was promptly dissuaded by many. Physics wasn’t meant for girls. Period. At an impressionable age of 17, I don’t think that’s the advice I should have been getting. Some, simply believed I was forced into it, by my father who is a physicist. I won’t say it’s easy, but I knew I wanted to carry on. With each passing year, girls (and boys) gradually dropped out. By final year, we were 6 girls in a class of 38 boys. Academically, I was doing excellent. But, in terms of peers, it was a constant battle to prove I could ‘think’; not like a girl, but like a boy. And sadly, some of the brightest brains were inherently sexist. Sweeping comments that all women are dumb (or irrational) were thrown in the air without a second thought. Did it get to me? I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. But, I knew I had a dream. So, I pursued, and eventually, went on to continue a masters programme with a specialization in Astrophysics.

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Things didn’t work post that. My mum’s health, post a surgery, deteriorated making me reconsider what mattered in my life. Or maybe, at 23, I didn’t believe in fighting convention anymore. I quit Physics. On Basil’s suggestion, I opted for the next thing that I was passionate (thought I was reasonably good at) about – writing. After almost doing rocket science, I flipped to the other end of the spectrum, and enrolled in an short term advertising course. Geek to wacky doesn’t come easy. But, I couldn’t turn back. Ironically, I never really worked in mainstream advertising; dabbling in web, print media, and events. And as I made my way to the top, women eventually dropped out. This time, I tried to be stronger and stuck on; until I felt disillusioned with the my job.

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My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.

Winston Churchill

My uncle, once, advised me to quit studying further as there are not many men with a PhD degree. I laughed. I had met Basil in college and I wasn’t very worried. I wasn’t someone who wanted to get married. And yet, I did eventually. And just like that, I was once again thrown into a whirlpool of age-old tradition and stereotype. I had to take a back seat. I had to conform. Nobody cares much for maiden names and lost identities. Although, I’m fortunate, Basil, has always understood how complex I can be. It’s not easy. And I’m sure he has a tough job in his hands. He has good days. Some, not as much.

“A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”

Franz Kafka

I eventually, quit my job, thinking I could follow another dream. To write. It wasn’t easy facing one of my biggest fears. Writing isn’t easy. Anyone, who’s told you otherwise, is messing with you. You’d do better rethinking your decision. And when I quit, I thought I had become a struggling writer. I remembered all the candidates (struggling writers) I had interviewed, eventually getting back to the workforce. I was falling in love with idealism again. How foolish of me to fall into the trap of romanticism. Sadly, for everyone else, I had become a homemaker. I needed to be taken care of and provided for. Doing occasional freelance writing or writing a travel blog doesn’t count. Might I add, it is a difficult job to take care of others, while everyone else thinks you need to be taken care of. So, if I don’t get published, this will be my kryptonite.

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Why do I bring this up, now? Probably, after two months of living in Seoul, I find it hard to listen to advice of what I should be doing. I’m back to the beginning. I think we’re all different. And I think that works as a whole. I’ve met some wonderful women who aren’t at all like me. And I admire them. My mum is one of them. And, difficult as it has been, I’m glad she had and has believed in me. It takes strength to do anything in life. Or even, nothing of great consequence. We all have our own paths marked out. Not always, not necessarily, forged with the ones we love or live with. And, is it OK to do nothing? Maybe. I think. It is.

 

38 responses to “No Woman, No Cry.

  1. I think it’s hard to hear to people pecking away at our peace of mind with their expectations. It is a kind of vicarious fantasising and I don’t allow people to get away with that. I can relate to having unusual women in the family. I was raised in a traditional family values household and encouraged to do (whatever I wanted) – just the opposite. Also, it is important to be true to who we really are. At the same time we need to be conscientious towards the people we share our living spaces with. Balance is essential. xo

    • Couldn’t agree more! I’m trying to find that balance. It definitely is essential. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s heartening to know I’m not the only one. 🙂

  2. Strangely, you and I seem to be on similar paths. Whilst our backgrounds might be different we seem to have somehow found ourselves walking the same roads. In a way “back to the beginning” is not a bad place to be. It means we can hopefully reshape the future to how we want it to be. Thought provoking post.

    • I always look forward to your comment, Miriam. I realised a while back that we seem to be on similar paths. Naturally, I don’t find it easy to open up. Every time, I read your posts, I know there’s so much I can learn and hope for. Truly appreciate your comment and the positive vibe it has. Thank you! 🙂

  3. Most of us change careers through our lives. I’m on to my fourth! So there’s still lots of time ahead to chase your dreams.
    Love that reply by the way – about it being men’s day 364 days of the year!!!!!

  4. I hear ya sister. It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted out of life (spent a lot of time working in various jobs/careers, getting fired, being depressed, alienated etc…), and then realized that life was just about choice and freedom. And that freedom was the most important thing to me. It meant I could CHOOSE to stop working, and that’s what I did. Clearly, we need a coffee chat about this….Friday? 🙂

    • Haha! Shelley, I was hoping you didn’t read this one! 🙂 There’s a strange kind of liberation when I write for people I never have met or might meet. I wanted to delete this post. But, I’m so glad you did! I realized, we never really did get to talk. We’re so similar. I’m in for Friday. Message me…

  5. ‘Back to the beginning’ what a feeling it is to clear the whiteboard and write with pretty markers your new dreams and potential paths! Do what you feel is right for YOU, and the rest will fall into place. Brave, amazing you. Believe in yourself and that it will happen and then hit ‘go!’ I know I am excited for you and can’t wait to hear what’s in store…

    • Thanks, Amanda! 🙂 What a wonderful way of summing it up! Although, it’s not been easy, I think I am looking forward to what the future holds. 🙂

  6. Hah, I’ve been debating with myself for the past few months too, on whether it is okay to do nothing. I’m in a similar position as you – having a degree but now living as a housewife. I’ve discussed with my husband a lot on this “nothingness” and I came to a conclusion that despite us thinking that we are doing nothing, we are actually carrying out our important role as a wife. Sure we don’t do what some fraction of society deems as significant (i.e. work for money), but we do what makes us and our husbands happy. It’s not nothing, it is definitely something, and it’s worth living for 🙂

    • I agree. No one tells us how difficult it is and meaningful it can be. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your story. Gives me perspective, in times, when I seem to be losing mine. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  7. I guess this post got all us women thinking about what went well when we fought for it and how other things we really wanted to do got side-tracked by expectations put onto us by others or circumstances we had no control over. Sometimes the things I didn’t set out to do ended up bringing more rewards than the original plan I had for my life. I feel I have been lucky in many situations, yet definitely imposed upon at other times. Many people still want women to feel guilty about choosing a different path.

    • Debbie, you say it so well! 🙂 There were times I regretted quitting or jumping too often. “Sometimes the things I didn’t set out to do ended up bringing more rewards than the original plan I had for my life.” It’s just how I feel now. I’m so glad to know, I’m not alone. 🙂 Thanks, Debbie!

  8. I am a dentist who slogged it out for 7 years & is now an artist/art teacher & baker!! Who knew? A delayed epiphany indeed but well worth it, atleast the husband & me think so…
    Lots & lots of strength to you Cheryl! P.S I love reading your articles and I think you’re changing so many lives, inspiring people to get up & think and that’s an amazing feat!!

    • Wow! Divya, you remind me of my sister. She quit dentistry, seven years back, and worked as a freelance editor. Recently, she started practicing after her extended break and kids. Coincidentally, she’s excellent in art and baking! 🙂 One of the reasons why I love your posts on food and art. A batch mate of mine shifted to baking/travel writing after his PhD in Physics.
      It’s good to find your calling whenever that maybe. I’m glad you found yours. Thanks for sharing your story! It wasn’t easy writing this post and I didn’t really think many would read it.Your support means a lot. Truly appreciate your comment. Have a good week! 🙂

  9. so you jumped from rocket science to writing? that’s fascinating and so brave, I just love that and find it truly inspirational that you’ve shared your story… I wish I could pursue my dreams like that 🙂

    • It’s never been an easy decision. I’d say, there were many nudges (unintentional) along the way. Do what you must, Alex. When you feel is the right time. 🙂

  10. I don’t know why people always put labels on everything. Right, wrong. Everything is all right to try unless it is obviously harmful. There are just a few ‘bad roads’ and countless ‘right roads’ to take in life. Trying different things we enrich our life. Way to go! 🙂

  11. You’re definitely not alone, and in good company! I think I have mentioned before that I’m considering to move into the travel industry? To do what exactly in travel – no idea really. I know I love to travel and to document my experiences in a website, dabble a bit in freelance travel writing (some paid, some not) but what, where, when, how am I going to give up a cushy job for something that I’m still trying to figure out? But one thing for sure, I cannot foresee myself in this cushy job for the next 10-15 years!

    • All the best, Kat! 🙂 I’m sure you’ve thought it out. Travel writing is pretty lucrative once you’ve figured how it works. There’s a growing market and there’s room for every kind of traveller. I’m sure you’d excel at it. It’s always good to have a back-up plan and a small pool of savings. Doing something you love comes at a steep price. There will be countless moments of uncertainty. Once, you cross those hurdles, you’d know it was worth it. 🙂

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