I call myself a feminist? You know why? It’s simple: ‘feminist’ is a sweet-sounding word. And I love it. It doesn’t bother me if the word makes many angry in my society where people put strange appendages to this beautiful word. Like militant, radical, phony, pseudo, blah, blah. To hell with adjectives! And don’t tell me ‘feminist’ is an adjective. Feminist is a person, a human being, a noun.
My story doesn’t begin like ‘…one day I woke up and discovered I was a feminist’. My story is ordinary. I was an ordinary baby-girl whose mother thought she was cute enough to be wrapped up in frilly frocks and pink ribbons. So she grew up to be a little girl who liked to be adorned with nice clothes and jewelry—on occasion, of course! And it was one particular piece of jewelry which she loved the most.
It was a tiny gold ‘teeka’ with pearls and rubies her mother had bought specially for her.
When I was in college, in my teens, those photographs of a little girls with a ‘teeka’ sticking on her forehead, made me embarrassed. And I used to flip over the album hurriedly, muttering all the while, ‘Oh, you stupid girl! Why that stupid ‘teeka’ – of all things!’
Then for many years I kept the album out of my sight. Now if by chance any member of the family becomes nostalgic and takes out the album and I am nearby, I stare at the ‘teeka’ strewn child face with a calm and bemused look.
You have come a long way, baby!
Oh, hell! Why did I have to spew out this ‘teeka’ trash to spoil my diary? Because I am stupid. I tell you I am stupid.
Take, for instance, my encounter with the Report of the Working Group on Women’s Development Programme for the Sixth Five-Year Plan.
I had borrowed the Report from K. And I read it. In one sitting. I found it as strong and vivid as Moravia’s and as bewitching as Bashevis Singer’s short stories. So I devoured it. And it made me starry-eyed. A rhapsody of strange visions overwhelmed me. I saw thousands of little girls emerging from their mud houses and flocking to schools which had sprung up all over the country. And the mobile teams of dedicated women teachers, medicos, social workers going from door to door convincing mothers to send their daughters to school, to plan their families, to come to the adult literacy centres and income generating cooperatives. I envisioned the women of 1989 – strong, invincible, aware of her rights, proud of herself – no more exploited and repressed but standing on an equal footing.
The document intoxicated me so much that I didn’t mind at all when I had to turn it upside down from page 41 to 48. They had stapled eight pages the wrong way!
The next day I brushed across K in the corridor. The Report had gone to my head. I felt I could have a round of waltz with each of the 28 members who had prepared the document! But I could only say to K, “It’s fantastic. It’s revolutionary! (You see, I am an introvert – shy andrestrained). “What?” K looked at me. “The Report, of course!” I was over joyed. “Oh, the Report. Oh, ya!” K’s coldness made me feel like a fool. “They have cut the budget by half.”
I remembered. The Government had cut down the allocation to women’s development programmes by half. I did read the news some time ago. A tiny news item. At the bottom of an inside page. Like an inconsequential event posted as a filler.
But still, I thought, if half of the programmes were implemented it would mean half of my dreams would certainly come true. But dreams are not like steaks that you may cut in to two equal halves and still savour the taste.
“The Report,” K dismissed the whole thing with a gesture like she was shooing a fly, “It doesn’t mean they’ll do what they have been proposed to do.”
So, you see. I am stupid. I am an idealist. K is wise. K is a realist.
“I am an idealist?” This realization stuns me. I thought I was through with dreams, done with ideas. But it isn’t so. Oh God, these dreams of mine. I hate them. I love them. They make me crazy.