The first feminist

My mother was one of the first feminists I met. She grew up in an unconventional family. She lost her mother at the age of 6 and at that age was the second eldest among seven siblings.

My grandfather believed that boys should be educated but girls need education even more. He would often say that a boy can get by doing even menial jobs, but for a girl, an education is her tool to survive hard times.

He also believed that a girl could do anything a boy could do and even better. That’s how my late aunt, my mother’s younger sister became a football player. She wore sarees, the attire of choice for Bengalis in those times and played with boys.

When my youngest aunt decided to get married while in school, a love marriage, grandpa was saddened that she didn’t want to complete school.

My mom went on to work as a court typist, a classical music teacher, a tuition teacher and even held classes to teach embroidery and knitting…all for some pocket money and independence.

She was perhaps not cut out for marriage and all the restrictions that it brought with it. So the happiest I have seen her as my mother were times when she did her own thing, whether it was studying French at a university in France, travelling by herself, going for Montessori classes in Mumbai, or stitching classes at our next door neighbour’s house.

There were shadows on her face the day dad went to her class and yelled at her in front of others. She had gotten late in coming home, I had to go to school and dad had to leave for work. Dad was not a bad guy, he was just a man whose work had greater priority over my mom’s. No one in that class protested or supported her, it was none of their business and something they faced themselves on a daily basis.

Mom always resented the injustices heaped on her as a woman. She hated the custom of dowry which demeans a girl and her family. She spoke up to almost anybody who would listen. She tried to convince a friend’s mother, who was marrying off her college-going daughter citing tradition, to not do so. It was easier to stay quiet but more important to speak up.

She would have been appalled by the incidents that pop up in our newspapers – the mass molestation of women in Bengaluru on New Year’s eve, the rape of an 80 year old in Haryana…

As I attended a session yesterday on feminism and surmounting abuse, I kept thinking of mom. Everyday that I go out and try to reclaim a bit of space for me, enter an uncharted territory where I am not welcome or speak up about women’s rights, I am following in her giant footsteps.


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