Updated: May 5, 2020
Its 7 pm, Pratima’s 8 hours long shift is over now; time for her to go home.
Have a cup of coffee with me before you leave, her employer and my sister offered. Pratima's answer was unconventional, unexpected and extremely liberating, "Na my husband must be waiting for me to join him for dinner". Pratima politely refused. Her innocent answer got me thinking and I wanted to pry further despite of sensing that she was in hurry and wanted to leave. As if on a virtual cue, my sister continued her probing ignoring Pratima’s restlessness, “So you would go home and prepare dinner after the long the day here"? To my surprise, her question made Pratima smile and I think, I noticed a dash of pride in those tired eyes, meanwhile whipping a quick Cuppa coffee for us siblings and answering my sister at the same time with equal dexterity. She again baffled my stereotypical belief with her sorted reply, "My husband can cook didi, and he prepares dinner every day, his shifts ends earlier than mine.” My sister was not ready to let go of her series of questions so I butt in asking her to lay dinner. She finally gave in and Pratima took leave and left for her home. Like a lightening it hit me how strongly prejudiced we as a society are, quick to jump to conclusions based on whatever little we know or observe about a strata in any given culture. Based on what I witnessed transpiring between my sister and her help, I happily concluded that Pratima’s household is not dominated by the clichéd gender roles and it helped me gain perspective on many things later.
Pratima work’s for my sister as a helper, care-giver to kids and cook. Her husband works as a plumber with a local company in Kuwait. Both are supporting their family back home. Fending for livelihood and filling in for each other seamlessly. An effective deemed unit for sure. What a strong pillar of support they both are to each other!
How incredibly supportive the husband is, he “lets” her work and also cooks for her, I quipped after Pratima left. How empowering! My sister corrected me without losing a nanosecond, “Bro, it’s not empowering when one 'lets' a women work. If a woman needs a man’s permission or approval for something which is her rightful choice, should we call it empowering?"
This evening lead to an enriching exchange between me and my sister. We shared our views on gender equality and women empowerment and how it has changed or taken shape over the years….past and current times. Interestingly, my sister filled me with one of her precious conversations with our dad and what she filled me up with left me truly enlightened.
On one of her visits to our house post her marriage she had asked Baba if terms like women empowerment or gender equality existed in his times? She quoted baba verbatim or so she claimed (you know sisters) ... Baba said, "We, the men or women of our times were not acquainted with the terms ‘empowerment’ or ‘gender-equality’, ‘gender-biases’ etc. but yes supportive men always existed. We supported in a different way which may not seem like a big deal in current times. However, during those days, it was seen no less than a revolt, if a man chose to support his wife in any way. Taking one's wife along and setting up a nuclear household away from hometown and not leaving her behind with the joint family back home, getting her modern equipment for kitchen and home, cooking and setting up dinner table with her, eating meals together…these are a norm now. This is not how things were meant to be in our times. These changes were envisaged as going against the tide, the tide of values that dictated the society back then. I was advised against buying western outfits for your mom, buying camera for her, taking your mom and ladies of the family to theaters and movies. Well, no I didn’t do these things for the sake of empowerment or equality. I did it as it was the right thing to include all members of the family. Your aunt was the first lady in our house to pursue a career of her own. I won’t claim to have done anything mention worthy that fits the bill of ‘empowering women’; over the years I have tried to be a supportive husband and a father. Yes, my job-profile made it difficult for my wife to pursue a career of her own, she have full access to the income and assets. She chose to travel with me and raise the family together. We supported each other. Our household ran predominately on typical gender-roles, man earning & wife stay at home mother, but it was and is in no way suppressing or regressive towards the two ladies in the house. My wife and ladies in my life empowered me by enabling me to pursue my career glitch free."
After listening to my sister, I suddenly felt a surge of pride and new found respect for my father. How brutally honest and how ahead of times in his thought process. This evening tea reassured my perspective on women empowerment and liberation gets a shot in the arm. Women don’t need men to empower them. They are the strongest breed. They give life and nurture it too, how much more strength, responsibility and dedication, they can showcase.
I was waddling in my own stream of thoughts when my nephew switched on the TV. A famous national award winning actress was mouthing what was going on in my head. She quoted “Who are these sections of people trying to empower Women?” and now I cannot agree more…."women don’t need these people to empower them, just don’t test them. They are doing great for themselves.
Exactly, why do we men take it upon ourselves to be their knight in shining armors even when they need no knight....?
It’s very arrogant and ignorant of us to believe that we can empower women. Women are capable of taking care of themselves as well as the others. We wouldn’t need anything like “empowering movements” if we do not come in their way of life and progress and just let the women be.
A Cuppa coffee changed my perspective forever and for greater good.