This week was full of energy, packed with meetings and field activities. I don’t remember a single conversation when I wasn’t talking about gender, women’s rights and the campaign I am working on- be it within professional or personal circle. I have never been able to draw that line between my personal and professional since the time my education and career choices have been directed by my personal experiences, battles and that unknown longing to win. For me these two counterparts, personal and professional, have always worked out their ways and given me the simplest answer to my complicated life. These two parts are like little pieces of the puzzle; looks helpless when scattered, but when joined together it knows majesty.
I have always wondered, it is absolutely fine to talk about mobile phones, new technology, business models, tax saving strategies, insurance and policies, industries and share trading in the family for my engineer, doctors, and management employed family members. But it is absolutely not fine to talk about gender, its stereotypes, raise questions which are even remote threats to marriage or motherhood. It’s not fine to talk about violence on women, child, riot victims, caste based violence, violence inflicted on tribals when big corporations encroach their land. It used to leave me restless, resentful and agitated, as everyone else in the family can talk about their work and no one asks them to zip their mouth, control their emotions and behave like a normal person. But whenever I used to talk about my work, it used to worry them as if I am walking far away carrying my own ideal world in my head. I was asked to be softer, less volatile and less opinionated, “Can’t you keep your work outside this house and let there be a little peace?” But I was and have always been a rebellious child. I knew that the reason they are being uncomfortable is because I am questioning their beliefs, their privilege as an upper caste Hindu, as a male or as an elite female. I then started changing my way of communication, opening up spaces for them to narrate their own discrimination, helping them identify their oppression and then drawing parallel to other oppressions in the society. Gradually shifting the source of media information and visuals from jingoistic mainstream media to alternate media forums, less biased media channels and magazines.
One day my mother came back from work. This happened some 9 months back when I was on a professional break and figuring out the path to choose for myself. She was boiling out of rage, threw her bag on the couch and sat at one corner of it. I served her tea and she started narrating her experience back at work where a male peer passed her some comment. The comment was about her work and commitment and she could clearly sense the bias he carried while making a statement like that. He tried undermining her work in front of other male peers as she was the only woman in the department. I was equally fuming with anger while hearing this out, I asked her if she did something or gave it back to him? And what came out of her, was an unexpected surprise and a matter of pride for me. She apparently gave it back to him by stating all facts about other male peers, their inefficiency, hours they waste in male bonding and smoking and how few of them are poor in handling accounts too. At last she said, “These things I said can happen to men and women both, I pity you for not knowing about your own team and blaming one whole gender (women) for everything you have suffered in this world”.
She called me last week around 11.30 pm. She has changed her timing for the call with a hope that maybe at this time her daughter wouldn’t be working or sleeping. I had to wrap up things before I am off for a vacation, so I asked her to sleep after a 2 min conversation. Right before she hung the call, a calm and helpless voice said, “I wish your feminism could give me time as well. I miss that daughter of mine who used to be my strength few months back”. It was such a hard hitting moment for me. Life is so funny. First I struggled to create spaces for my profession within my personal life and now I struggle to create spaces for my personal within my professional life. Her words kept echoing 24*7 and I realized, probably I am just trying too hard to keep them separate. Probably for me they just feed into each other. All those moments of discussing feminism and sharing stories with my mother, all those times when I motivated her to stand for her rights at her workplace, times when my dad facing moral dilemma at work called me late at night and cried his heart out, when my sister-in-law took a stand to break the cycle of violence she was trapped in. I know the force behind all these times, I know it’s the power of the conversation we have had, and I know it’s the power of the trust and belief. So I decided, in this flow of my work, I am not leaving these conversations, these relationships and these powerful journeys behind. They are meant to travel with me and help me seek out for more of them.