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