Saturday, March 8, 2014

Everyday is your day

Among the many stories my grandmother told me, the one narrative that keeps coming back is the story of Savitri and Satyavan. Yama, the God of Death in Hindu Mythology decided that Satyavan’s time was up, and showed up to claim him. Little did he know what he was up against. Savitri’s undying love for Satyavan was the fuel for her courageous pursuit of Yama until the end of the world. It was baffling for Yama, of course, that a mortal had the gumption to chase him, and even so much as think of reclaiming what he saw as rightfully his. Her courage moved the God of Death, and he returned the love of her life back to her.
This story has been recurrent in my conversations with my grandmother for many reasons – once about undying love, once about unconditional love, once about letting go, and the one conversation that’s coming back strongly today (Women’s Day and all that) is about the real meaning of feminism.

One little caveat before I proceed. Call it what you might: it is fashionable to call something by name, add an –ism to it to theoretise it, and add an –ist to it to create an identity out of it. And even if you don’t need these tags for yourself, people ascribe it to you. By that, I’ve been called a feminist a lot of times. It’s not a bad thing at all, but if you want to call me that, I’d rather that you see it for the right meaning, and me as a proponent for what it truly stands, than for a warped perspective that could be misconstrued incomprehensibly. If you must give me a name and say I’m a feminist, I want you to know that I am a feminist because I am a proponent of equality.

I was a bigger bit of a nutjob back when I was in my mid-teens when the concept of feminism was introduced to me (nutjob-ism continues, lessened degree in relative comparison only), and was fiercely antagonistic to anything that tended towards the “anti-woman”. I suppose I did have a proclivity towards turning into the proverbial “man-hater” – for precisely three days and ten hours, until my lovely grandmother told me the same story, once more.

It was March 8, 2007. International Women’s Day, and it had coincided with a festival specific to my community where women follow a small ritual praying for the longevity of the men in their lives. I asked her where this occasion had its origins, and the story was told to me, once more.

I was enraged.

I mean, did this woman not have self-respect? Why run after a man’s life after that? Would he love her as much, would he do this much for her?

My grandmother smiled when I asked her this, my angry face must have amused her abundantly. What she told me has pretty much shaped the way I think today. Savitri did what she wanted, and because she was so sure of what she wanted and acted on it in free will, she was empowered like no one else. She had the capacity to love, and so unconditionally at that, that even Death was shamed into returning what he had sought to steal. Love like Savitri’s did not discriminate, it did not think about parochial considerations such as gender or identity, it did not think about anything that could contain or pigeon-hole it. Instead, it acted, it proved to be the fulcrum for something so poignant, so sincere, so pure that precious little could take away from it.

That day, my grandmother redefined my myopic feminism: It is just a promoter of equality.  Not absolute equality or the warped notion that a man = woman = man = woman. But rather, equality warts and all. Equality among equals, equality of respect and value, and equality of worth. It isn’t about denouncing a man because he is a man, or upholding a woman because she is a woman. It is, rather, about being considerate to the human being – no matter what attributes maybe involved.

And this is one of the reasons why I'm not much of a fan of designating a Women's Day and a Men's Day. We're human, all of us. So why not celebrate that every day?