On Women's Day this year, I want to talk to men. Our men. Our family, friends, colleagues and secret admirers. Our secret crushes too.
We were driving back from work together when Sharanya and I started talking about the city. Many years ago, Sharanya had been my student. We had met when I was teaching in her city and now we work together in my city.
“Do you feel afraid on the streets of Delhi?” I asked her.
“It is a strange thing,” she said. “I wasn’t afraid when I first came here as a young girl. I was alone, I lived in a hostel, I did part-time jobs...I just did what I had to do. I would finish editing jobs late at night and walk to the bus-stop or take an autorickshaw. I never felt afraid. But now I do.
“My husband says that I have forsaken all the qualities he had fallen in love with when he first knew me. I was bold and brave and self-sufficient when he was my boyfriend. Now I hardly go anywhere without him.”
Maybe because your child is still a toddler, I said to her. New mothers often feel quite vulnerable on their own.”
“You know, whenever I suggest anything at home, someone or the other in the joint family will ask me how I think I will manage. Are you sure, they will repeat. Another will suggest that I wait till he can help me. That shakes my confidence.”
“When they ask you if you will manage, does it sound like they are saying we don’t think you will manage? Do you feel like you have to agree with them,” I asked her.
Sharanya laughed. “You know how I am, Natashaji…” she said.
Indeed I know how she is. In Bhilai, Sharanya was always the first student to arrive for class every morning. She would park her bicycle and sit right in front of the teacher’s desk. She was learning to be a documentary film-maker. Soon she mastered the editing software way better than I knew it myself. She moved to Delhi and worked as a video editor till she got a job with a broadcaster. For a few months she stayed with us and joined an Englishspeaking course. She would borrow my husband’s bicycle and run errands for the house. She fell in love, got married, had a baby, took a break and is now back to a full time job.
“Listen to everyone and do your own thing, my mother used to advise my sisters and me,” Sharanya tells me. “I wish she had said, Don’t listen to anyone! The chorus of everyone else’s voices drowns out my own. I wouldn’t mind the things people say if I didn’t have to pretend to obey them.” She laughs as if she has revealed a secret inadvertently. Now that she has found words to say this to me, it won’t be long before she finds a way to speak to her husband too.
So here is an advance notice to the man who fell in love with Sharanya’s free spirit. Now that you have her next to you, don’t become afraid of the same traits that you admired from a distance. Fear isn’t a virtue you need to instil in her. Turn to the women in your own life and withdraw your passive disapproval. Let us trash the convenient lie that we restrict freedoms only for the sake of their safety. Living with clipped wings hurts every day. It diminishes us. We become unloving and unlovable. The best way to protect the person you love is by nurturing her strengths. Be the man she adored once and believe me, you will find the woman you fell in love with right next to you.
(Natasha Badhwar is a filmmaker, media trainer and mother of three.)