Let’s raise a toast to Indian women; One time, not too many! | columns | Hindustan Times
Today in New Delhi, India
Aug 21, 2018-Tuesday
-°C
New Delhi
  • Humidity
    -
  • Wind
    -

Let’s raise a toast to Indian women; One time, not too many!

In Punjab where I grew up as the daughter of a bureaucrat, women had a hard time when it came to drawing pleasure or drowning their sorrows in alcohol.

columns Updated: Jul 15, 2018 13:53 IST
Indian Women,Women in India,Drinking
At parties, drinking by women was always done on the sly and was strictly off the books; vodkas were mixed with coke and juice and whiskey was off limits for women, since it could not be mixed, and hence disguised, in a mixer.(Representative Image)

It was not easy to be a part of the transition generation: the confused, gawky teenagers who were part of the generation born in the 1970s and 80s and who witnessed a cataclysmic change in the societal values around them. The conflicting values that our generation struggled with put a question mark on every recreational activity we indulged in.

What else would you expect from a generation that quietly sat with their parents and watched the epitome of tragic womanhood, the ethereal Meena Kumari, guzzling the whisky quarters that her platonic friend Guru Dutt smuggled for her so that she could please her callous husband who was given to the discreet pleasures of life. How would the same generation react to the present bearers of modern feminism in Indian cinema who portray heroines guzzling alcohol as if it is the only drink next to water?

In Punjab where I grew up as the daughter of a bureaucrat with strangely progressive views for the times he was born in, women had a hard time when it came to drawing pleasure or drowning their sorrows in alcohol. At all times, in happiness or in sorrow, it had to be done discreetly.

At parties, drinking by women was always done on the sly and was strictly off the books; vodkas were mixed with coke and juice and whiskey was off limits for women, since it could not be mixed, and hence disguised, in a mixer. And no man worth his salt would want people to know that he had a wife who was in love with ‘Bacchus’. And, my views, having grown up in such hypocritical but enlightening times are aroused with the way Indian cinema has dealt with the issue of women’s relationship with alcohol.

It is true that the Indian audience has become more accustomed to seeing our heroines cavort drunkenly in almost every Friday release. But has there truly been a seismic shift in the way we view women who drink? I strongly disagree with the claim that there has been a change, even though a few movies have dealt with it more progressively than the rest… one of the few exceptions to the rule is Shoojit Sircar’s Vicky Donor where Dolly Ahluwalia and Kamlesh Gill, women from a typical middle-class household, enjoy a few pegs of whisky every evening in order to cope with their lives and in particular with loneliness.

Through the ’70s and ‘80s we could only see Helen and Bindu, the quintessential vamps, drinking alcohol as they performed their cabaret dances or tried to seduce the heroes. These were women of dubious character, and alcoholism was definitely an addition to the list of flaws. Sometimes, our all-perfect heroines indulged in the forbidden pleasures too, but the heroes rescued them from the sinful life. Saira Bano in Purab Aur Paschim is a good example of that. Strangely, even after a few decades, a woman taking to alcohol is still seen as a way of dealing with her failed personal life. A self-proclaimed feminist like Kangana Ranaut takes to alcohol in films like Gangster, Simran or in Tanu Weds Manu only to deal with her failing personal life and Deepika Padukone portrays a modern woman in cocktail who loses her love to the ‘sanskari’ Indian girl because she herself indulges in alcohol, a bit too frequently.

At the end of the day, alcoholism is not a virtue, neither in men nor in women. Any form of rebellion is constructive, even when we are breaking the norms. Let’s not use alcohol as a way of portraying liberation for women. Alcohol doesn’t liberate; control over what we want to do liberates us. But it is also time for our society to bid goodbye to the image of the perfect, infallible Indian woman who has to meet the impossible standards of propriety. Let them raise their glasses once in a while; they deserve to escape their realities as much as their male counterparts do.

Let’s not place a drink in the hands of our pretty heroines as a symbol of rebellion or liberation. Let it be a natural indulgence, and a controlled one, both for men as well as for women. And let’s raise a toast to that.

(The writer teaches English at DAV College, Chandigarh)

First Published: Jul 15, 2018 13:53 IST