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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Mirage that is the Modern Indian Woman

Being a mother is possibly a wonderful experience. But why do so many educated women, in this day and age, make a career out of it, rather than put their education to better use? I have always wondered what would my grandmothers have done, had they been given an opportunity not to marry young but pursue an education and then a career of their choice? I don’t think it would have included having eight children each, at home, from the age of 14 onward. Would they have willingly looked after huge homes and in-laws and the unmarried siblings of their husbands as well as their own kids. Not to mention work on the family land.

Delving into their minds, which knew nothing better than what was ordained for them by their parents, is not easy. I know there must have been regrets and longing for some amount of freedom from the monotonous chores and the constant pregnancies. But did they both make their peace with their lot or did they do a wonderful job of hiding their discontentment? These questions will never be answered by them because after all this time, it wouldn’t matter at all. For better or worse – their life is over and lived the way it was set up for them.

Ironically, marriage and children are the very things that most modern 21st century women in India, are still going after. They do have careers but a lot of them throw that up to raise kids. This is what our grandmothers did because they had no other choice and they were hampered by lack of education. So, what have we educated women done that is so different from our semi-literate grandmothers?

Here is a list:
1. Had children later and fewer of them, yet we need more servants to run nuclear- family homes. We also have the aid of electronic appliances, which they didn’t have and yet we can’t seem to do as much work as they did.

2. Have more servants – sometimes one servant per family member – and still claim we can not have a career and kids at the same time and therefore, drop out of the job market entirely. I mean even women with MBAs don’t seem to find ideas to do something from home, apart from changing diapers and helping their children with their homework, when their slightly older.

3. Only some women have it all – career and marriage - and these women are really the exceptions and still not the norm. So, that’s how long the list is, of the difference that education has done to women’s lives. It has done wonders for women with drive, organizational skills, intelligence and some amount of ambition. For the rest, it’s really a case-study of how education was wasted on some women who wanted to do nothing more than what their grandmothers had done, for lack of a better choice.

The modern Indian woman, despite having a choice, some of them are content getting married in their early 20s and raising kids. True, family pressure begins to build up around the time that a woman graduates from college and everyone says that one should have children early and get that out of the way. But the fact is that, I’ve now seen enough women who’ve had their first child after 30. I also feel that by then they are emotionally and mentally mature and they have accomplished goals - apart from marriage and children – that they set out for themselves.

This is not to say that women in their 20s don’t have it all but most of them have willingly sacrificed their own aspirations because they chose to go with the flow. I do think this herd mentality does cause regrets later, in some of them. If there is some amount of envy at the freedom I enjoy and which so many of them have willingly given up for love, convenience or just sheer laziness, then it shows in the kind of advice I've got over the years. Some of these friends of mine told me 'why are you bothering to work, get married and let your husband look after you.' They are financially bound to their husbands and want the same thing for me. How wise is their attitude is doubtful.

Here is an anecdote - I once bought a diamond ring with my savings and flaunted it at an office Diwali party. A lot of my colleagues loved it and the next day, one of them had bought an almost identical pattern with bigger stones, at considerable expense...to her husband. She admitted this, so I'm not just assuming it. Besides, having known her for a while, I had seen how she never saved her money anyway and she actually told me that she earned to burn the money on herself. So, I’ve often wondered why they have opted for this botheration of kids and marriage early in life rather than later?

When marriage happens later, by then you’ve enjoyed a successful career and made money for the children you can still have. Why give into family pressure when you are supposed to know your mind and have the backbone to stand up for yourself? Isn’t that what education was supposed to have enabled? Thinking through the pros and cons of being married is still not something that 21st century women in India do a lot about. Honestly, they just find the right man and hitch on to him like a crutch. I know this sounds crazy but, I have seen enough women of my generation who have thrown their education away and they might as well have never bothered to get one.

After all, our grandmothers were denied an education because their fathers decided for them, that they were anyway going to be married off and, to make babies, cook, clean and pick up after their husbands, you didn’t need an education. They also wouldn’t be given control of any finances, even to run the household. But it’s not all that different for my generation either.

I know of many who have never worked for any decent length of time to have built up a bank balance. So, they don’t know anything much about investments or taxes either. Most of the time, they have not earned the money to buy any of the jewellery they wear at their own glitzy wedding receptions. It's all done for them by their parents. So, after an early marriage such educated women still run to their husbands for everything, as a result of not having some ‘mad money’ of their own. Hence, husbands oblige with the add-on credit card. Most husbands pay off car and home EMIs – not only because they earn more because their wives are not earning at all! So, how does being educated benefit, either the woman or the man, in such an antediluvian situation is a mystery.

The big difference now is that, fathers are paying for their daughters’ education and some of those daughters want their grandmothers’ job profile! What a waste – I know atleast one of my grandmothers who would have swapped places with these modern doormats in a jiffy. She would have taken that education bit between her teeth and galloped away with it, to pursue another life for herself. Marrying and having children wouldn't have been the sole purpose of her existence.

After all, education is like money - if it's not put to good use, then it's of no use.

Here are three women entrepreneurs - two of whom have also defied life's odds and done something with their lives, apart from marriage and motherhood.

1. Sarala Bastian - http://business.rediff.com/slide-show/2009/sep/30/slide-show-1-how-with-just-rs-15000-she-turned-an-entrepreneur.htm

2. Patricia Narayan - http://business.rediff.com/slide-show/2010/jun/08/slide-show-1-from-50-paise-to-rs-2-lakh-a-day-success-story.htm

3. Srividya Rabindranath - http://business.rediff.com/slide-show/2010/feb/11/slide-show-1-she-became-an-entrepreneur-by-accident.htm

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