Not born yet. The two sisters at home about 5 and 2 years old, were waiting for a brother. They were finding themselves strangely isolated on raksha-bandhan because they were told that they don’t have a brother. They used to tie rakhi on a fist-sized black smooth stone. My joint family had a preference for a male child. Having faced several situations of being physically underpowered, my family believed that another male would add to the family’s strength and prosperity by being able to stand with another lathi in the situation of a clash. It was eventually a brother, a grandson that was born. I was followed by another sister, Nicky, 2 years after me.
My elder sisters were ahead of me in what they sought. When I was indulging in the wonders of eating, they were worrying about ‘good-places’; when I started worrying about ‘good-places’, they were into ‘good-dresses’ and so on. But, Nicky, my little sister was behind me. Her concerns were more about me, “Why is his bowl of milk bigger than mine” , “Why is he wearing this, but I am wearing that”, “why should his hair be shorter than mine”. The only thing on which all 4 siblings would fight was, ‘winning’ a game if we were to play together. There also, winning was important to Nicky only if I won and she didn’t.
Being from the lower middle class family, resources were indeed limited. But if there was an extra biscuit, I would be called away(due to male child preference at the joint-family home) and secretly given the extra biscuit. Nicky, noticing the absence of her competitor would come looking, only to find me with the extra biscuit. Seeing an extra biscuit in my hand she used to weep and cry out of the roof “…bhaiya has more…” , which led to my extra biscuit being taken away too. This happened enough number of times that I learned to say secretly “you take half of this extra, or else neither of us will get it anyways”. That’s it ! whenever I got something extra, she would walk up to me, showing her lone biscuit and pointing to me having two, innocently looking at me (knowing that on making noise both will lose). She has large eyes and was also chunky in childhood. Now when I recall the little girl walking up to me, the only word that comes to my mind is ‘pure-innocence’. Her having one biscuit against two of mine didn’t look wrong. Like her body being bigger than mine didn’t seem unjust; the number of biscuits also appeared to be just how it was.
Not knowing what was ‘right’, just repeatedly seeing one biscuit in her hands while two in mine, with her wide eyes looking expectantly at me; like a child learns his first language, I empirically learned that ‘this was wrong’. Slowly over time, on receiving an extra biscuit, I would hide from others and take it to Nicky pretending that I ate it all by myself.
Since the birth of each daughter, my father was asked to save Rs 50 from his monthly salary of ~ Rs 500 (vague recollection of elaborations from my father) so that he eventually has enough saving for the dowry for daughter’s marriage. Some even suggested “what is the point in sending them(the girls) to school”. My father wanted to be progressive and despite some criticism had put the two elder daughters in government school. Some advisers opined that “educating them would be useful eventually in getting a better match in their marriage”. All Government run schools in my city used to be Hindi-medium and inefficient at that time. When it was my turn to go to school, since no amount was being saved per month for me, they gathered the courage to put me in a English school. I was probably one of the very few from my native-village who was going to see an English medium school from inside (though living in Bokaro Steel City, the people known via the connections of the native-village were those who were helping my family through the ups and downs of living as a nuclear family in this city, hence their advice had to be taken seriously). When it was the turn of Nicky to be put in school, the family again had no option but to put her in the (free) government school, unless they decided to take me out of my school and put her in.
We had already moved to Sector 6 in Bokaro and I was in Chinmaya Vidyalaya now. Since the government school was not good, my eldest sister was sent to a coaching. I remember that she used to have trouble with her English lessons. She used to secretly get help from me to solve English translations, narration etc. The helplessness and submissiveness in which I found her while doing her English home-works used to make me feel bad. I felt that if the same amount of resources were spent on her as was done on me by sending to that English medium school, the situation would be different. (This sounds stronger than how I felt then, but I don’t know how to express it in the language of the grown-ups). I had the feeling that I am using up even that part of the resources that belonged to my sisters. Though I did not know what was right or just, but still, like a child learns his first language, I empirically learned that ‘this was wrong’.
When we were grown up ‘enough’, we siblings sometimes used to go for a walk, holding each others hands, with the eldest sister in charge. Quite often, somewhere, someone would whistle, someone calls out, someone talking out aloud some “provocative” things amongst their friends loud enough for us to hear, quiet enough that other fellow walkers farther away won’t hear. I was probably 11-12 years old, still my sisters were considered safe if I was with them on the walk. Sometimes, I used to dis-engage my fingers from my sisters’ hand to run over to the person “passing the comment”, thinking that the person wants to tell us something that we couldn’t understand. My eldest sister helplessly saying “hold on, stay back”. On reaching the men and asking what they wanted to say, I recall being told by the men “go and tell your sister … “. I wasn’t understanding any of this. But sometimes, I did notice my sister’s face change colors rapidly. The emotions of humiliation and embarrassment wasn’t wordified yet, but still, like a child learns his first language, I empirically learned that ‘this was wrong’.
We never discussed the road-comment amongst us, though once I recall being told just before entering the home “don’t tell about that to Ma-papa, or else we would not be allowed to go out again”. I nodded in agreement.
As I grew inch-by-inch, my perception and reaction was changing, particularly about girls. My definition of what was right and what was not, was all getting centred about how a girl would feel about it. Very slowly, very steadily I solidified the thought that anything that offends a girl is wrong… no matter what.
I recall Papa teaching me that respect for women is something that is found in only civilized people and societies. That the direction of the society very tacitly gets set by the orientation and direction of women. The feminine force in the society is like that part of the candle-flame which is closest to the wick, is the hottest but is still invisible. The feminine “makes most of the sacrifice in the making of a home” and is “superior”. At least that is what I heard.
Our place of worship had several deities, kept next to each other. I was confused about whom to pray first. When I light the sacred lamp, “in front of whom should I take it first? Other deities will feel bad” I thought. First, I decided to give them turns, but my sense of justice did not rest with that. I do remember seeking advice and the person laughed and said that it would not matter and I can face my lamp first to any of them. Grown-ups often don’t understand the intensity of curiosity or confusion with which a child questions. I did not get my answer.
Finally, it clicked … “the feminine is superior” and my confusion ended for good.
As I grew up further… when puberty touched me, I found in my own mind, thoughts that I would not accept as mine. Myself being the only boy at home was given the puja – room with a small bed to sleep, my 3 sisters slept in the room with a big guest bed. Several nights, I would wake up and start crying bitterly; because I found myself in a dream indulging in a thought that I felt would be considered offensive by the feminine. I would pray and plead to hanuman ji, but within a few days or week, I find myself at the same cross-roads… waking up and helplessly crying again. With whom could I share this? “Everybody looks normal, who is this that I have become, how can I be like this”. With Yoga, several years later, I started getting into terms with myself.
Watching movies on TV while growing up, I used to think, that when I grow up never again will a stifled cry of protection go unheard, never again will somebody due to physical power wield his ways on a woman. I have grown up as much as I could ever grow, but the world still is the same. It hurts deeply to acknowledge that. The realization of the reality purges my sense of self. Something roars out of me “I won’t let this happen anymore” as if I can solve everything like Narayan thyself. Something bitterly weeps out of me “how could this happen” as if I was the victim herself. It may not make sense to grown-ups, but it vaguely feels like I am both the victim who bears the pain and the Narayan who can fix it. Doing the daily trivia, I suddenly become aware of the ‘so much’ that ‘I have’ to do, about the ‘so much’ that ‘I have’ promised myself, a sudden sense of incompleteness takes over and my behavior turns “strangely silent”. A rolling laughter suddenly turning into a static face; a casual speech abruptly stopped; suddenly feeling out of place. I am never able to explain this surge of emotions to my friends who seek to understand “what went wrong”. A surge dictating that I stop everything else and do that which will make the world the way I wanted it to be. The capacity of an emotional surge is unsurpassed by our logical sense of ‘what should be’ … I continue to receive friendly complains about being ‘strange’, though I think I have improved on this.
Even though in passive actions, several times, I’ve been on the ‘wrong’ side of this road. As I gained clarity in my own thoughts, I gained confidence to apologize for instances when my eyes wandered to where it should not, instead of pretending otherwise. In my interaction with non-“conservative” females, this had been an issue as I noticed that my apology often finds ‘her’ embarrassed, which I didn’t understand. But I had friends who said “its okay”, “move on”, “don’t worry about it”.
As I understand more of this world, I understand that both the masculine and the feminine energies make up each individual. In the language of the ancients both the ‘Shiv’ and ‘Shakti’ are together present in each element; just that the male and female have respectively more of masculine and feminine energy manifested through them.
In my subconscious, the feminine still defines, what is right and what is not. To me still murder is smaller of a crime than other things committed against women. Indeed, I am biased, towards the feminine.
Nicky, now grown up, often says “I want to become like you” and I respond “you can’t … from where will you bring a sister like you”
- This article skips through so much of the ‘other side’, but in order to keep it open to readers of all age, I had to limit some elaboration
- Its easy to look back and judge people in hindsight. Please don’t judge anybody in this