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Girls interrupted

There is a gender divide of sorts in the Naidu household. While the boys get away with murder, the girls walk a tightrope, writes Kumkum Chadha.

india Updated: Oct 20, 2006 02:02 IST

There is a gender divide of sorts in the Naidu household. While the boys get away with murder, the girls walk a tightrope. The elder women pray and the younger ones are sent to college. But for higher education, it is only the men who go abroad. For girls, India is the destination. Even on timings, there are different sets of rules: boys can have late nights but girls must be indoors after sunset. And if any of them venture out without leaving contact numbers, then God help them, because TDP’s Kinjarapu Yerrannaidu will not.

Ask his daughter, Bhavani, and she will tell you how, when she went for an unplanned lunch with her friends, hell broke loose. Yerrannaidu gave her a dressing down for venturing out on her own. “I gobbled up my lunch, left my friends and ran,” she says. She willingly shares the list of things she has missed out on because she is a girl: “Western clothes, Western dance, driving, late-night movies and, of course, studying abroad. My brother was sent abroad right after school but when I said I wanted to go, I was told that India is the place to be,” Bhavani says. She has pinned her hopes on her mother to swing it for her. As for driving, it is fear that prevents Yerrannaidu from letting her drive. “I am scared, but he is paranoid,” says Bhavani. Describing Yerrannaidu as a “strict father”, Bhavani stopped learning dance after a few classes. “My father was very unhappy so I gave it up.”

‘All Indian, everything Indian’ seems to be Yerrannaidu’s diktat to Bhavani. Even on clothes, his vote is for saris. “Girls,” Yerrannaidu says, “look nice in saris.” Salwar kameez is okay once in a while, but trousers are an “absolutely no-no.” So whenever Bhavani is spotted in jeans, conclude that Yerrannaidu is out of town.

In his own way, though, he is an indulgent father. Given that he is “widely travelled in 12 countries”, Bhavani is the “lucky one”. Surprisingly, he bought her garish pink lipsticks and orange nail-varnish. Though they were “impossible to use”, Bhavani tucked them away in her cupboard for sentimental reasons, including the few odd-shaped watches he bought her. He says that he is a man of simple tastes, “not very fond of show-off”. The only sign of opulence: a diamond ring on his middle finger, given to him by Sri Sathya Sai Baba. “He waved his hands in the air and the next moment, there was a ring on his palm. A miracle and a blessing from Baba,” says Yerrannaidu. Unlike his wife, Kinjarapu Vijaya Kumari, who visits temples regularly, Yerrannaidu “prays in the heart”.

Apart from reading “books and newspapers”, in that order, Yerrannaidu’s hobbies are to “plough land” and carry lunch for farm workers when he visits his home district. Till 1969, he even carted a head load of grass for the cattle. His interest in cinema is something like capital punishment. “In the rarest of rare cases,” he says. “Family talking days,” Yerrannaidu says, “are only holidays” when he is home and has a “few minutes”. Otherwise, life is “people, people and only people…”

kumkum@hindustantimes.com