(Excerpted from Awaken the Durga Within: From Glum to Glam, Caged to Carefree by Usha Narayanan and published with the permission of Rupa Publications. Bringing in the lesser-known and exciting stories about goddesses from the Hindu mythology, Awaken the Durga Within puts forward practical solutions that can be implemented immediately, without compromising on values and principles.)
Like most women, you too probably hold back from doing something or asking for something because you feel diffident. You may wish to do something as simple as cutting your hair or trying out a new look. You may want to look for a job or join a course. If you are a working woman, perhaps you aspire for the senior post that is falling vacant soon. But you say nothing and do nothing to make this happen because you are afraid of what your mother, husband, boss or even your children will say. They will probably say that you are too old or young, or not good enough to do what you want. They may snuff out your dream
in a moment, saying that your relatives or neighbours will disapprove—or worse still, they will laugh at you.
Your wish may be simply to have some fun—for example, you want to go on a trip to Dubai or Dehradun, but no one in your family wants to go with you. They have their own choices, ideas and friends. You may suggest that you could go with friends or with a women’s group, but they do not want to let you do this either. They may believe that it is your job to cater to their needs and be available to cook, clean and keep the home running smoothly. If you go away for even a weekend, who will make their favourite pulao or pasta the way they like?
Perhaps you are a youngster, who’s just about to begin college, and want your own vehicle—maybe one of those zippy scooters. It will make your life so much easier. You need not suffer creeps on the bus, who paw you or brush against you. You can attend as many maths classes as required to improve your scores. Maybe you can hang out occasionally at that new mall with your friends. You promise your parents that you will follow the road rules and wear a helmet. But they will not hear of it, giving a host of reasons to turn down your request. They say that it is too dangerous or that it will make it difficult to monitor your activities. Or they’ll say that you will get a tan and then no one will marry you. Perhaps they go to the extent of saying, ‘You already have a dusky complexion and all the fairness creams we got you are not helping.’ You want to ask why it is okay for your brother to ride a bike even though he has fallen down a couple of times already. But what is the use? They will insist that a girl needs to be protected by her parents until they hand over that ‘responsibility’ to her husband.
Do any of these scenarios seem familiar? You can probably give me many such instances when you were denied a reasonable request, mainly because of your gender. Women all over the world—especially in India, where patriarchal traditions prevail—are often disregarded and their rightful needs ignored. The ideal girl, you are told, is one who obeys her parents during childhood, her husband during adulthood and her children when she is old. Perhaps you thought that being educated or even being employed would change your status. Sorry, that’s not the deal! A well-brought-up girl is expected to sublimate her own desires for the sake of her family. Eat last, sleep last and sacrifice your desires in order to ensure the comfort of others. Emulate goddesses like Sita, who walked through fire, or Savitri, who followed her husband to Yamaloka.
Does this sound far-fetched? Not really. Just look at the news stories every day. You hear of honour killings, where a girl is punished for choosing a groom unacceptable to her parents or community, and of suicides committed by educated, well-employed women who face abuse at home. Occasionally, a woman complains of sexual harassment at work and then more skeletons tumble out, with others whispering about the abuse they faced and were too scared to come out with.
Ultimately, you find that, as a woman, you are forced to confront several issues that overwhelm you and prevent you from achieving your due. Whether you are a teenager, college-goer, working woman or stay-at-home mom, this book is for you. You will find within these pages, several pointers to help you balance your life and make it more meaningful and enjoyable. Discover what is preventing you from claiming your space. Find out how to change your behaviour so that you gain respect at home and success at work. Make choices that are right for you, not ones that others force on you. Choose to be yourself first, before being a mother, wife, employee, or whatever role you find yourself playing.
This is the true spirit of feminism, when women are given the same rights, power and opportunities as men and are treated in the same way as them. However, this does not mean that you should behave in a reckless, irresponsible manner (like some men do). Instead, choose freedom couched in responsibility, and liberation blended with wisdom.