I grew up in a modest Indian household consisting of four siblings, I being the only daughter. A typical story of any other woman in that time and age. My story is no different from theirs. I grew up going to government schools while my brothers went to the elite convents. I came home, helped my mother cook and clean while my brothers had the privilege of playing cricket, watching movies, lazying around all day long, doing nothing with similar non-productive peers, all united by the benefits that came from being born with a certain alternative chromosome.
“You are a girl, you should know household chores. You have to build a home and nurture it all your life.” Amma would always tell me.
“Your true happiness lies in finding a good husband. He will give you a good life.” Amma would say.
Fortunately, Amma was right about Anil. He was a good man. We had a blissful marriage. But part of my dreams, ambitions remained unfulfilled. So I decided my daughter will live my dreams and I will live them through her eyes. I was prepared. She would be equal to my son.
Jiya and Rehan attended the same school. Jiya was always smarter than Rehan. She was talented too. I let Jiya pursue her hobbies. She was a good student, a good swimmer, a good dancer. Unlike what my mother did to me, I never forced Jiya to work on her culinary skills. My Jiya grew up to be such a beauty! She was a straight A student in college! She wore the most fashionable outfits, attended all parties, she hung out with friends, she even had a few drinks sometimes or more and had a couple of serious relationships.
“Girls and boys are equal. You live your life on your terms with your choices. You are a strong, independent woman” I once told her. My perfect daughter whom I had vouched to gift a perfect life.
Today, Jiya is a qualified lawyer and she married her classmate Kunal. They both are a perfect couple with a son. Jiya never left her job, she shares home chores with Kunal. Rehan is also married to a lovely girl Mira, who he met at medical school.
How times have changed for the better! I wish Amma were alive to see how men and women are meant to support each other in an equal relationship. Or not. That day changed everything for me — I felt like a true hypocrite. May be I am, may be every Indian mother is.
I was shopping for my grandson that day when the phone rang — Jiya calling, “Ma” came her terrified voice even before I could say ‘Hello’. “Please come home immediately.”
“What happened Jiya”.
“Just come home soon Ma, I will tell you.” She was sobbing.
The three kilometre ride seemed like eternity then.
When I reached, I saw a police car standing outside my house and random neighbours stood outside whispering. A chill runs down my spine thinking about it. As I entered, Jiya came running to hug me “Ma, Rehan bhaiya has beaten up Bhabhi badly, she called the police. Police have arrested him…Papa has gone there with Gupta uncle…..”
The rest was a blur. What a big mistake! As if my Rehan would ever beat up a woman! He is my son belonging to a respectable, progressive, civilized family like ours! My perfect son. Why is Mira filing a false complaint against my poor baby…?
I reached the police station. I saw Mira – her eye was swollen and black. Her lips were bloody red, a visible cut. Her hand was resting on her stomach, an injury possibly from being “kicked” is what I heard.
Her staged bruises look so real, I thought! Where is Rehan. My poor boy is being framed. Have the police hit him the way they show in Bollywood movies? Oh God! I silently pray, wiping my tears,
“Amma, look what has happened, please protect my son. How our lives have been wrecked! I will get my son out of this mess…My baby..”
Rehan appeared with a constable holding him. Anil is there with Mr. Gupta, his lawyer friend, had managed to arrange for a bail. Rehan looked stressed, but thankfully he was not hurt. I hugged him. We came back home. Jiya and Kunal were also home.
I made him a good cup of tea, I wanted him to relax before I asked him any questions. He already looked so traumatized…that Mira…How could I be so wrong in judging that girl? No no.. She was always Rehan’s choice but still I had liked her, approved of her. But she would do this to us, that came across as a shock. What a lying, manipulative woman! What poor upbringing. Her mother should be blamed for raising such an irresponsible child.
I walked toward Rehan’s room to give him tea. The door was slightly open. I could hear his voice, I wish I hadn’t. He was talking on the phone, to a friend perhaps. Finally opening up to somebody, my poor distraught boy..
…..“She is just impossible…Doesn’t even give me dinner once I reach home…I have to do my laundry myself.. Tortures me with her feminist equality shit all the time…Doesn’t know how to cook. You should see her chapatis…Bloody arrogant idiot.. And just see the way she drinks at parties, the clothes that she wears, like a whore. That woman is completely out of line. I have slapped her so many times to control her but the bitch doesn’t understand she has to behave like a woman. Just because she earns a few bucks, she thinks she wears the pants in the relationship. I whacked the crap out of her this time. And look what the snooty slut did, straight to the police….”
I froze in that moment, struggling to hold the tray even. So I ran to my bedroom and shut it tight, hoping I could shut that moment forever.
I lay in shock in my bedroom amidst the precious moments of my life captured in numerous photo frames hanging on the wall. My whole life came flashing in my mind. I realised, I was so occupied in ensuring that I raised my daughter to be equal to a man, I forgot to raise my son to be human.
My Jiya was taught to study, to play, to not be in the kitchen – her role reversed. But Rehan was never taught to even fetch a glass of water himself. Yes, I thought I progressed as a mother by paving the way for my daughter, out of the kitchen to the study room. But when it came to raising a son, I was no different from Amma.
I remembered to instill a feminist streak in my daughter, but I forgot to delete the inherent chauvinistic mentality embedded in the psyche of my son, possibly the curse of being born as an Indian man. I endeavored to change the society, a better and a more balanced place, enriched by my self-sufficient daughter. But the imbalance that has been created is far more disastrous. I have inflicted another antiquated, chauvinistic, loser with a skewed sense of masculinity in the already wretched society in the form of my son.
Amma’s smile behind that frame garlanded with dry flowers seemed to be mocking me upon my achievement.