Last year I went to Kolkata and stayed at a friend’s place. Her maid came in the morning. A lovely beautiful woman in her early 30s. My friend had already told her that I was coming to stay so she knew everything about me! The first thing she said “I have heard so much about you that I was dying to meet you”. I replied “I have heard a lot about you too! She said that you are a great cook!”.. I couldn’t control myself so after a brief pause I said “I have heard that your husband has left you and your two kids. He now lives with another woman. Why don’t you divorce him and start a new life?”
She laughed and said “divorce? Our marriage is not on paper that I would ever get any kind of legal separation. This is how it is in our village.” I asked “don’t you feel you need a better life and be with someone better than your husband, for your kids if not for yourself?” ..
She said “define better for me? A better man who would not beat me! A better family who would treat me well. At the end of the day I have to do the same things. Cook, clean and look after my children and my husband. Better than this for me would mean that I don’t get beaten up by my husband – that’s all. Rest everything stays the same. But here I have my family. My society. My people. So I prefer staying here. I don’t want to leave this place.”
By a better life, I continued, “I mean live for yourself. Do things that you want to do. Read, learn, there are so many things out there that you could do!”
She stopped me and said, “you say all this because you have been brought up like that. When I was growing up my parents used to say, one day you’ll get married, you’ll have children and you have to look after your husband’s household. So that’s what I am doing. It’s a shame that I got a bad husband who doesn’t treat me well but then I have my family around. So I am okay.”
My conversations with her still flash in my mind. I couldn’t explain what it’s meant by a better life to her! What do women in general do? Yes they cook, Yes they give birth, raise their children, take care of their families, Yes they take care of their husband but besides all that they have an identity too! But how many women do I know who have an identity besides being a wife and a mother and a daughter and a daughter in law? And is this craze for an identity so undernourished in general that girls grow up not knowing what it is to be an individual first before all the other identities that they go along adopting one after the other in life?
I don’t know.