with light of its own
On the darkest night
when nothing was in sight
Alone it twinkled
till its radiance illuminated
the expanse of the infinite sky
It shimmered to give light to the other
sprinkling stardust all over
But to few came the revelation
That the star was, in fact, a constellation…
When we come across a successful girl, we applaud her family for being supportive of her. We appreciate that they have encouraged her to make independent career choices. They do not distinguish between sons and daughters and have provided her the required cultural capital to reach where she is today. But in an intrinsically patriarchal upper caste middle class Hindu family, how ‘free’ are her choices?
On one hand, she battles the society; its prejudices, misogyny, glass ceilings and conservatism. But on the other hand, behind closed doors goes on another strife that nobody knows about. It is the constant struggle between her and the patriarch- her father in most cases. The independent girl on the verge of womanhood is enthusiastic, passionate and wants to explore infinite opportunities. She is unafraid of making unconventional career choices. Marriage is her least priority. Yes, she is growing older, but she wants to devote adequate time to attaining her education and securing employment. Hence, for her, settling down does not imply getting married and giving birth to a child but establishing a career and achieving economic independence.
However, the fault lines begin to surface within the family. As the daughter grows up, the father begins to behave more like a patriarch. In this capacity, he has made many personal sacrifices for the family. He expects the same in return from the ‘ideal’ daughter. If he does not have an elder son, he begins to search for a successor and inheritor in her. He is in his fifties or sixties and wants her to shoulder the responsibility of the family soon. Her individual aspirations are thus often not palatable to him. He wants her to establish her career quickly so that he can marry her off soon. He is not against her ambitions but wants her to align them to the needs of the family, just as he did.
The patriarch encourages but restricts; supports but controls. He sets free but the strings are tied firmly to his fingers. The entire notion of a girl’s independence thus seems illusory. Her choices are seldom free. Time and again, she is reminded of her obligations towards her family. She does not have the freedom to decide her own life partner because the honour of the family is at stake and the norms of caste endogamy are to be taken care of. She must not delay her marriage too much or the best ones (read the richest) might be gone. Her Ph. D. or job can obviously continue after marriage also, at least for the sake of persuasion.
The patriarch, now tired of running the family since decades, longs to retire from his responsibilities at the earliest. The biggest liability to be done away with is naturally an unmarried daughter. He wants her to finish her studies early so that she can start contributing towards the family income. In the process, she can also pool some money for her own marriage and the education of her younger siblings.
The role of the mother is now reduced to that of a mediator. She has no say in any decisions in the family. She is stationed between the patriarch and his daughter who are both adamant. She is the one who negotiates, but her role ends at that. The father, now assuming the role of the patriarch is now distanced from his daughter. They no longer share the loving relationship they did when she was younger. The onus is upon the mother to convey his diktats to her daughter and convince her to acquiesce. She is often placed in an awkward situation when she has to inform the patriarch of their daughter’s resolve to stay firm on her decisions. She is the worst affected in the tussle. She can neither side with one nor abandon the other. She must remain loyal to her husband because he feeds her. On the other hand, she does not want her daughter to lead a captivated life as she did.
As the daughter overcomes one hurdle after the other, she feels victorious to have challenged the stereotypes of the society. She considers herself to be a rebel and wants to set an example for other girls to emulate. But the fact remains that she is able to wage a war against the society but not against her own family. She is confined by the family values she herself clung to since childhood. She is torn between her dreams and the expectations of her family which are actually those of the patriarch.
The victims of patriarchy are never women alone. The mother is helpless and cannot let her daughter lead the life of her dreams no matter how much she wishes. The daughter obviously is subjected to restrictions and control since forever, none being slackened even after she grows old enough to decide for herself. Amidst this, the patriarch also suffers as he constantly swings to and fro from this role to that of the father. Even if he wants his daughter to be happy, he is also tied to his authoritarian position. He cannot grant her any more agency over her own life than to live it as per his rules; rather those set by the society. He must reinforce his supremacy by regularly exerting power and control, even if it implies throttling the dreams and aspirations of his daughter.
Patriarchy finds its way from religion to society and finally to the family. It has ruined more careers than poor results or other unforeseen circumstances have. When we dismiss allegations of gender discrimination by casual remarks like “Things have changed now, we have daughters and we have given them freedom to study and choose their career.” the sexism is quite apparent. Why does freedom need to be ‘given’ to daughters when sons enjoy it as a birth right? Can their choices be free if they are always forced to put their family before themselves? Patriarchy fails to answer these questions. Empowerment is possible only when women acquire complete agency over their lives. Gender equality must be fostered in the family before it can become the norm of the society; it has to begin from the home. Nevertheless, the minds of men ought to be decolonized from the tyrannical regime of patriarchy for gender equality to become a reality.
This poem is dedicated to all of us- victims of a suffocating educational system with burdensome evaluation patterns. It is a matter of shame for any educational institution when the institutional torture it inflicts upon students is so severe that even the most hardworking and sincere ones cannot perform their level best.
I am the child carrying a bag bigger than herself
I am the student rushing from one tuition to the next
Or one who is just a month away from my degree
Bombarded with work he can’t finish in a century
I run, unaware of my destination
I collapse, gasping for breath
But I stand again to finish one more chapter
As my own will experiences a slow death
There are expectations from elders
Dreaded punishments from teachers
Ridicule from rivals
Contempt from competitors
I read but do not register a line
I write but the words don’t seem to be mine
I study but do not critically analyze
I think but produce no ideas
I now know what Marx meant by alienation
When nothing feels like your own
Neither your dreams, nor your goals
And work makes you feel overgrown
I don’t want to wake up to a new day
Because I will have to continue what I left before
At this young age, I want to disappear
Rather than read, interact and explore
My brain refuses to concentrate
As my heart isn’t into what I have to do
The bird wants to sleep undisturbed in its nest
So that tomorrow it can begin a journey anew
I don’t want to fulfil expectations anymore
I don’t want to match any standards
I want a free reign for my imagination
I want to explore different worlds
Frustration, depression, irritation
All gate-crash like uninvited guests in a party
The rebel within roars in indignation
To surpass every institutional limitation
Nothing can be learnt from too much work
It just becomes an imposed formality
Done in haste, whether good or waste
Life staggers between ‘dead’lines
I succumb to pressure
I lose my enthusiasm and motivation
“How much done?” displaces “How are you?”
My existence revolves around marks and submissions
Freedom and time are what I need
To think of new ideas, to try and try again
To learn from my mistakes
To knowledge and wisdom so gain
When I see little kids play
Naughty, innocent and carefree they chirp..
They look so cheerful and happy
I wish I never grew up
Once upon a time, there was a garden full of flowers. Everyone seemed to be fond of one particular flower which stood out from the rest. It had its family and a few friends staying around. But not all that is good is liked by all. Few others were envious and troubled it every now and then. It had its own way of dealing with everything.
Our dear flower was jolly and cheerful. It worked very hard and did not like to waste time. But it was also very kind and caring. It loved its near and dear ones with all its heart. It was also sensitive and considerate towards the problems of others. It was always willing to listen and help them in every way it could. It was not an ordinary flower; it was special in several ways. It was beautiful for what it was, with its own virtues and imperfections.
But it also too had its limitations. After working so hard for itself as well as others, it often felt exhausted. It was always enthusiastic to think and try something new. However, it is a well-known fact that it is never easy to ride on a less travelled path. While some took undue advantage of its goodness, others simply did everything they could to plant obstacles in its path and let it down. But our flower was as strong as a fort and always fought back valiantly.
Due to these troublemakers, it could hardly sleep well. There were days it looked woebegone and its sadness was contagious. As soon as it became gloomy, the entire garden would follow suit. Every flower would begin to look withered and the weather would immediately become dull. When the flower would not smile, those who loved it too couldn’t be happy. It would ask them not to worry but they could not see it sad.
One not so fine day, our flower was tired and upset about something. Everyone tried but nobody could make it happy again. At night, when it was struggling to sleep, a butterfly dropped a letter next to its spectacles. It woke up and read it first thing in the morning.
I have met millions of flowers but none like you. I lead a busy life, flying from flower to flower to nourish myself. But I keep returning to you because you fill not only my stomach but also my heart. I see all types of flowers with their vanities, silly thoughts and attitudes. Believe me, you are different from everybody else. You are magical.
There are some odd days when the only smile I get to see is yours. You help me feel better about myself. I am sure you do that to so many others around you. I want you to know that it is okay not to be okay at times. You have as much right as us to be sad, angry, upset, tired or frustrated. But remember that you are fortunate to have so many who love you and will stand by you. They will do anything to see you smile again. It is for them that you must not stay disturbed for long and return to your usual cheerful self soon.
Work, challenges, new tasks, and deadlines will always be there. But you already know you are strong enough to handle it all. You’ve got to do what needs to be done, so why not smile and set it right?
Just in case you have forgotten, you have a beautiful smile. Don’t forget to wear it all the time!
Your friend with wings.”
That day, our flower realized how its happiness mattered to others. It became a happy flower that smiled no matter what.
You must be one too.
हम तन्हा होकर भी तन्हा नहीं
जाने कैसी पहेली है
मीठी यादों की एक दर्दभरी दास्ताँ
अब यही हमारी सहेली है
There are times when you want to cry your heart out, scream as loud as you can and vent it all. But you can’t. Neither a tear drops nor a whisper comes out of your mouth. The volcano inside you refuses to erupt. The heart is unwilling to let go of the pain that makes it so heavy. You become more than the sum of all your parts. Your grief conquers you and you are subdued. You cannot fight anymore. You want to get rid of the pain but it clings on to you.
This time, the war ended but peace left.
It is never easy to accept that good times shall be over quickly. It is more painful when one realizes that there are fewer days left than one imagined.
I feel so bad for myself. It took me long to accept this place. By the time I began to love it, it is time to go back. The happy times, warm welcomes, greetings, smiles, games, jokes, laughter, excitement and many more emotions will now be memories. I shall probably never see some people I love so much ever again. The kids I play with daily will forget me when they grow up. It will soon be past, no matter how golden.
Yes, I will move on in life. I will embrace new beginnings. I will usher another phase of life, probably in a different country miles away from here or home. I will meet new people. But will I ever meet people as lovely as these? Nobody can love me as they do. The very thought that I have only 60 days left gives me goosebumps. The happiest times had only just begun. I had just started to live my life to the fullest. It now dawns on me that this is only a matter of few days. It will be over in a jiffy, once and for all.
Love is our biggest strength. It is tragic to part with our loved ones. I wish it was easier. There were times I wanted it to end too soon. Now, I would give anything I have in order to make it last longer. I don’t want it to get over. Time, please stop. Please. Let me live these moments before they become memories.
If only I got some more time.