Journomuse aka Deepthy Menon is my young blogger friend who blogs at Word Sketches. I had become a follower and friend when I got hooked to her lovely photo essays on the English countryside. She blogs about a host of other things too, the latest one on Mumbai being one of my favourites. Her unique point of view, which is neither radical nor conservative is a delight to read. A typical Gen Y woman, she is smart, intelligent and knows her mind. So when I wanted a guest post from her, I had her job cut out – a reaction piece to the recent Feminism series – as a representative of Gen Y. Incidentally, she calls herself the third Brat!
In this guest post Deepthy uses the analogy of shoes to illustrate the life and times of two generations of women – her mother’s and hers. Read on….
As I write this, there is a viral message doing the rounds on Facebook that says ‘Gone are the days when girls cooked like their Mothers; today they drink like their Fathers’…A witty and tongue-in-cheek e-poster that has garnered about 40 Likes on my friend’s profile page and about 47 witty comments, within a few hours of posting. Most of them veer from LoLs to ROFLMAOs ( If you don’t know what the terms mean, perhaps you are not of my generation or the ones after mine). But a few others were comments like ‘Yeah, it is high time!’ and ‘Well, why stop at drinking, our fathers had a lot more fun than that, let’s do all that and more’.
A decade ago, these comments would have been considered outrageous. In fact, even now many limit such comments to the rather empowering medium of online communication, where a stand taken does not have to necessarily be backed by physical endorsement. Such comments often set me thinking about how we circumscribe our own lives and define our roles – the different hats we juggle expertly as women. As an expression, donning different hats is a great one, but when I think about roles we take up in life, I feel ‘wearing different shoes’ is actually a better analogy.
Let me tell you why because the rest of this piece might reflect on the shoes in my wardrobe and those in my mother’s, then and now.
Before I proceed further, I want to share this poem, which I read in my III or IV standard, that went something like this:
New Shoes, new shoes,
Red and Pink and Blue Shoes,
Tell me what would you choose,
If they’d let us buy.
Buckle shoes, bow shoes,
Pretty pointy toe shoes,
Strappy, _____ low shoes,
Let’s have some to try.
I have forgotten the word before low shoes and I know there were a couple more stanzas, but these two stanzas have stuck in my head all these years. This poem is as dear as my ever-growing collection of shoes. I often chuckle when I catch myself humming it as check out rows upon rows of shoes in various shoe-shops across the world. Each pair that I own is worn after careful thought, not merely to keep me feet from getting muddy, but because it is an extension of my personality, a reflection of my mood, an assertion of my quirkiness and by virtue — my individuality.
By contrast, my mother was a Bata woman. Her footwear was sensible, lasted a long time and the single pair in black that she owned ensured it matched with most of her sarees. I don’t remember her owning more than one pair till very late in her life. And that too, I guess, because both her daughters are shoe-maniacs — we collect shoes the way people would pick up flyers or free brochures at an exhibition.
So it is thanks to us that the young woman in her got a new lease of shoe-life and now she has four pairs. The style is about the same but she does experiment with the straps. The colours are her usual black, a pretty silver, a daring purple and a rebellious red. She always wore sarees – practical, easy to wash synthetic ones for work and starched, lovingly cared for cottons for days off work. She carried the same handbag to work till its strap broke and a couple of times I have espied a strategic safety pin hiding a tear. Today she has more bags than she has ever owned in all the two decades and more that she worked. This is also thanks to us, her girls as we shower her with more things than she can use. She protests, but I know she loves them — these were the luxuries she never had while she was young.
Amma began working when she was barely twenty two. Like a responsible daughter, she stepped into her father’s job when he was close to retirement. She always knew she had responsibilities, it was a joint family and the income was important. For her, the job was her willingness to contribute. Education till graduation was never a struggle for women in Kerala, especially among the working classes. Most women completed their pre-degree and then moved on to do their degrees as a matter of course. Post graduation and higher studies thereafter were not the rule but the exceptions. Those who went on to do them were either those that had skewed horoscopes which were difficult to match with eligible boys in the family’s reckoning or were so clever that they had received scholarships to study further.
Amma and I are poles apart, not just in footwear and handbags but also in the way we have conducted our lives. For the life of me, I cannot imagine marrying a man I have hardly spoken to or with whom I didn’t feel a strong connect. The life of her generation is pretty known to me as I used to coax her to tell me about her growing years. Initially she had little to say, but then soon I didn’t have to ask her…colourful stories, gossip and tales of those days flowed and the stories never bored me.
I have often asked her, ‘How were you ready to take such a risk with Dad? I mean how did you know he was not a city-slick, slimy man who just took a fancy to the quiet one he met? How did you find the confidence to agree to marry him?’
Amma always laughed and put me off with ‘I was lucky,’ but one rare day she said. ‘It wasn’t as if I had much of a choice.’
Dad, a distant cousin on her grandmother’s side — had come to renew relations with his dad’s extended family after his death. She loves to recount how she had barely talked to him, there were just three occasions when he even saw her. Her cousin, the loquacious one – considered more intelligent and smarter than her — had been the one who had monopolized the conversations with dad even on those occasions. So when the dashing young man wrote a long letter to my grandfather asking for my mom’s hand, it was not only seen as being forward, but a major shock because she was the one who had caught his eye and not her extrovert cousin.
Amma was told to consider herself lucky that he had noticed her and asked for her hand . There was not much gold that her father had to give all of his four daughters. His salary as an officer at a local bank stretched only enough to give them all an education. Amma used to say that the lack of money kept her large family united and there was little to bicker over and even the little was stretched to make it enough. As a result, few of the girls in her family had the liberty to say no. More importantly, they never knew they could say no. It was believed that the family knew what was best for them.
‘It wasn’t like we grew up with major expectations nor did we think that things in films happened in real life,’ she says. The story of their marriage still makes me go Awwww…. In retrospect, I think dad’s proposal was dashing; she never sought romance but she got it, in heaps. My parents have been together for over thirty-four years now.
My sister and I on the contrary, are as particular about our men as we are about the shoes we like. The spouse section in our applications are still blank. She is 28 and I am 33. By my sister’s age, Amma had not only had me, I was three years old! By my age, her younger one was starting kindergarten.
Priorities have changed, parental pressure seems bearable to having to settle for an incompatible marriage and NO is a big word in our lexicon. Our notions of feminism are more individualistic. Our visions of the future do encompass men and children but not at the cost of sacrificing our individual dreams and goals. Careers are equally, if not more important. The search for an ‘understanding partner’ (read pre-adjusted) is on.
No one has the patience to use ‘pillow talk’ — supposedly the most effective tool the wife had over the mother-in-law — to mould our husbands’ opinions on the direction our lives must take. We meet them eye-to-eye since deferring to them as Amma’s generation had done, at least in public, feels like an outdated notion. Presenting a united front as parents before the kids is a desirable one, but wanting the kids to know that their mother has a personality and opinions of her own, is equally mandatory.
Perhaps, my generation has become too individualistic and consequently, we feel the need to fight every inch to have things our way. We choose our shoes – the styles and the colours. Nothing staid, nothing risqué. Perhaps I overgeneralise!
PS: For now, I must say, I’m no cook like my mother and I enjoy a drink or two occasionally like my father. But I’m not metamorphosing into a man like dad.
Image courtesy: indyeahforever.wordpress.com