‘I’ is such a bad word is it? As a child weren’t we cautioned against over using the word? Aah, yes, an affinity to the pronoun is an indication of one’s high handedness, somewhat like being full of oneself. Interesting.
How about those who forget the ‘I’ in their selves? Those who forget that they exist? Those who live their live following the diktats of their family, society and the world? Those who forget to carve an identity? Those who mingle in the crowd? Those are easily forgotten? Those who are trampled upon? Those who are taken for granted? Those who are abused? Punished? Traumatised?
Haven’t they all lost the ‘I’ in them?
I am opinionated. I am talkative. I debate. I question. I argue. I reason. I refuse to go down without a fight. I refuse to conform to what you say I must bow down to. God made me like that. My parents brought me up that way. I live like that. And I am unapologetic about it.
Take the following scenes for instance:
*** As a four year old Maa tells me I would play on the streets. There was a house under construction in the neighbourhood and kids would each evening spend their time playing in the sand that was heaped in a mound. Throwing sand at each other, on the road and any passer by was all that we kids enjoyed. One day, she tells me the owner of the house came calling in the evening. Seeing him the older kids ran to save their skin, I however was left behind. Caught red-handed by the man who owned the sand, I was naive enough to stand up to him. “Yeh kya kar rahi hai?” He asked, “Baloo mat pheko!” Maa tells me I stood facing him. My hands on my hips. I looked up to him and asked, “”Tera baloo hai kya?”
*** I studied in an all-girls Convent till Class 10th. For the final two years in school we (read: my girlie gang in school) planned to cross the street to join the all boys school that opened its gate for girls in plus two. Well, everyone was going and I too had to. In those days, getting into Loyola was a matter of prestige. Since we were outsiders, we girls had to prove a point somewhere. Anyway it such happened that in our gang of girls four of us didn’t make it. I remember we had a night stay at one of my friends’ house to get over the grief. Those who made it, poor things, couldn’t even rejoice because of us. Anyway, I was too miffed with the results since we were made to undergo an entrance test and our pre-board exams were considered for the seat. A closer look at the result list brought out some glaring discrepancies. Daughters of businessman had their names on it. My friends, and classmates whose fathers were either shopkeepers or running small yet profitable businesses in town had clearly made it. I knew some of them were not really academically gifted. I must agree that then and to a certain extent until a few years back I judged my former classmates on their academic ability. Not that I was a super intelligent and a topper, but yes, I was a snob! Anyways, I knew some of them could not have bypassed me in the race for a seat. I took an appointment to meet the school’s Principal, a Jesuit priest. I asked him to show my entrance test results and match it to that of a specific student. He refused saying that it was beyond his powers to show me the results. But I could secure a seat if I was willing to make a small contribution towards the new junior block that the school was constructing. THERE. I refused and I said that I would rather fight for a seat that was due to me on merit than buy it. Two weeks later, the Principal’s office called me to say that they have a seat for me. Not just me, the other three in our gang of girls found seats suddenly being vacated for them!
*** In my final year in school two things happened. One was a Miss Jamshedpur Contest. Don’t go by my ‘waste-line’ now, I had somewhat a waist line then. Some of our teachers decided to send me for the contest to represent the school. And what the heck, I was interested too. A five-foot-nothing girl, average looking, I entered the contest just for fun, to see how far I dared to reach. On the other side was a junior from school. At five-seven Selina was a perfect beauty, long hair, svelte figure and just the girl who should enter a beauty contest. We were trained to walk, to model, to carry different outfits and considering we were all school students then it was great fun to walk tall like professional models. Maa would go with me every evening for the ramp practice and every evening we returned chatting like excited teenagers, planning about the contest, what to wear etc etc. But then somehow in the days closer to the contest she started to tell me, “I think your chances are slim. Selina will win this. Look at her height, her figure, her complexion…she is just like a perfect model. You are too short.” I heard it for three consecutive days and on the fourth I shouted back. “Watch and see Maa, I will win this. I will prove you wrong.” Two days later I was crowned Miss Jamshedpur. I still have the crown and the certificate, if you want to see it I can show it to you. 🙂
*** A few months later it was time for school to end. At the end of term our school gave away certificates to students in each section who topped each of the subjects taught. I was to get a certificate for English, Psychology and Commerce, however closer to the prize night I was told that I wasn’t getting one for English. “Why?”, I asked. “Because you already have two honour certificates. We are giving English to CS because he has only one and in Maths. Plus, a certificate in his name is ready.” I asked to see his certificate. I tore it up, “There, its gone. Now make a new one in my name.”
*** I doubt any girl in India has had a life without sexual abuse. My first was when I was too small to understand what has happened, and too scared to retaliate or defend myself. However as I was growing up I told myself that I would never take abuse lying low. All through college and my travels across Delhi in the infamous blueline buses I have used my heels, elbows and knee very well. I had however to change my tactic for a taxi driver once. It was five in the morning and a black and yellow taxi took me to the New Delhi Railway Station. I was to catch an early morning train. The taxi wallah had agreed to Rs 250 as fare but after reaching he insisted on Rs 350 as fare. Ten minutes of useless argument later I dropped Rs 250 on the seat. By then the coolie had picked up my luggage and I was ready to walk away when he shouted behind my back, “”Kahan jaa rahi hai? Kapde utaar ke khada kar doonga tab pata chalega!” I walked back, climbed the footpath against which he had parked his car, looked at him in the eye. He was a six footer, forty something old Jat driver, huge and muscular. I gathered all the strength that I had in me and slapped him hard. He was stunned. “Kabhi kisi ladki ko yeh galti se bhi nahi kehna!” I had seen a group of youngsters get off autos nearby and they were walking towards us. I knew I wasn’t alone and this man, even if he could, he would not dare to touch me.
This is a post written for the blogathon “I stood up” by Women’s Web. And thanks to the blogathon I got to ask myself about all those moments when I have stood up for myself and what I believe in. Really, I have quite a few! In more recent times I have stood up for myself when I decided to take a long maternity leave. Friends and a lot many people in the family advised me against it, but I wanted to do this for myself and my child. I refused to let my child be a roadblock in my life. I refused to be taken for granted and step down because I have a child at home. I refused to work when the dignity of motherhood was trampled upon and when I was demoted. I have refused to take recommendations thereafter. I have refused people’s help to find new work. I have refused to consider that my life and career are over. I am instead looking at being reborn. To fight again. To carve out a niche as a woman and mother. Today I am not afraid and I know I will stand up for myself forever…
At the beauty contest, way back when I was 17 I was asked (in the final round), “What would you like to be in your next life?” Cliched as it may sound, but I said, “I want to be born as a woman again.” I still believe it.