Being born into a traditional and conservative family had its own share of setbacks. Personally, for one, logic was always trampled upon. Logic was this little, timid guy who used to stand outside the door, who I always nursed a soft spot for . He always tried to come in, softly, politely, with a gentle smile on his face, but was always shooed away. There was another guy appointed for that. He was beefy, boisterous, annoying and was called ‘No! You cannot!’ And to defend himself in case anyone tried to attack him, which I did by the way, he had his own powerful shield called… wait for it… Values.
Even as a child, I never had it easy. I struggled with the whole world, struggled to find myself amidst the sea of society.
Because, here, I was always told by people what not to be and what not to do, than what to be and what to do. “Do not cut your nails, it’s a Tuesday”, “Do not sleep with your hair loose”, “Wait a minute, don’t go! You sneezed!”, “Do not touch me, you’re on your period”, was all I grew up with. I never understood why and I always used to ask. The lunatic with his shield used to butt in, and I had to give up.
Once, as my friend and I were walking home from college one evening, he caught up with one of his old friends, who happened to be one of our seniors from college. After a bout of hearty, conventional greetings, both the friends slipped into a lazy exchange about life and its many wonders, as I stood by awkwardly, gawking into space.
“Dude, 12 o’clock. Check her out”, his friend cried suddenly. As he whipped around to look at this woman, I rolled my eyes and shook my head, smiling to myself.
As they scrutinized her, he turned to my friend. “Is it okay to talk like this in front of her?” he whispered, nodding to me.
My friend looked around and then at me, surprised, and laughed. “Oh yes yes”, he said. “She looks like this, but she’s fine”, he added, mock punching my shoulder. And that left me wondering how a dot on my forehead and an extension to my shirt could talk so much about me.
The bindhi on my forehead meant I was orthodox and backward (apparently), and its absence meant that I had changed my religion and had no respect. A few inches off my blouse meant I was a hussy, and if I was comfortable around a guy, it meant that we were definitely together. These were all the ‘values’ I grew up with. Why couldn’t one choose to be different? Why did anyone’s outer mask define who they were? Why couldn’t they choose for themselves, what they wanted to be? Why does everyone have to think alike?
To come together despite all these differences in people. To accept each other despite those differences. Wasn’t this the essence of India anyway? The land of unity in diversity. Our hospitality, our booming warmth, our generosity, our lavish ceremonies, our elaborate rituals and our brazen, sumptuous celebration of life. Weren’t these the values that India passed down? Aren’t these the soul of India, that so clearly differentiate us from the rest of the world, than restricting people from being who they are?
Can we hold on to this? Can we be people with different ideologies, yet have the same destination?