Happy Teacher’s Day to a Feminist Father

Happy Teacher’s Day to a Feminist Father

There have been many teachers who taught me the alphabet, numbers and the laws of Physics and Chemistry. I was never a good student, so I have no fond memories of teachers – I suspect most backbenchers don’t! But every teacher’s day I think of that one teacher who taught me to be ‘me.’

When I look back at my childhood I realize that this sense of uncompromising gender equality, which I have always taken for granted, is not an accidental trait but a carefully nurtured strength.

Out of many situations, which taught me to be ‘me’, three stand out for their simplicity and can be life lessons for all feminist fathers

1) I arrived home, pillion riding astride a Bullet with a friend’s elder brother. She lived in the city and her parents didn’t want me to return alone in the evening. Her brother, just a couple of years older to us, being a Sikh had a well grown beard and a very impressive paggad. Bikes were few in the Aligarh of those days so it was a moment of pride for me and I was happy to see a few neighboring Aunties hanging around outside their homes in our professor’s colony, to witness my arrival. That night at dinner, mother brought up the incident. She said the neighborhood aunties were asking, ‘who was Binnie (My pet name) riding with, where was she coming from so late in the evening?’ Mom was peeved with the aunties, she told them, ‘he’s her friend’s brother, he looks older but is in school himself, that Binnie had gone there to study.’ I felt a little bubble of defensiveness rising in me, and then I heard my father state in a voice that was not a decibel higher or lower than his normal tone, ‘Arre aap keh deti, Binnie ko jahan jaana hota hai jaati hai, jiske saath ghoomna hota hai ghoomti hai, usko humari taraf se azadi hai‘(Oh, you should have told them Binnie goes wherever she pleases with whoever she wants, she has the freedom to do so) and then as smoothly as he had entered the conversation, he moved on to a completely unrelated topic. We used to talk about politics, literature and stars at the dinner table – not people. He didn’t dwell on it, he didn’t pass a judgment on others, he didn’t mollycoddle me and reassure me as a victim. He just stated my right to BE without a fuss!

2) I was in college now and It was my cousin’s wedding. Everyone was dressing up – I was cajoled into wearing a red Gharara, inspired by this I borrowed lipsticks, kajal, earrings and everyone excitedly participated in my dolling up. ‘Dekho toh kaisi soorat nikal kar aayi hai, nazar na lag jaaye, kaisi pyaari lag rahi hai, aaj lagi ladki jaisi!‘ (Look at how lovely her face looks, she’s looking like a girl today!) Aunts, older cousins, random relatives – were all thrilled at this transformation – short hair and jeans according to some made me look like a boy (despite my sumptuous figure, it seems!) I looked in the mirror and I did look different, almost stunning. I walked daintily, self conscious and very aware of my prettiness, collecting complements left, right and center. As I walked past my father, he did not react. I walked, up and down, left and right – no reaction! FInally I stood in front of him and stamped my foot, “Daddy, sab tareef kar rahe hain, aapne kuch nahi kaha!” My father looked surprised, “arre ye tum ho, mujhe laga koyi bhi ho sakta hai, ye toh tumhari personality waali baat hi nahi hai!‘ (Oh it’s you, I didn’t realize. Could have been anybody, your personality doesn’t come through at all!). I was gutted! He took away all my newfound joy in my prettiness with that one statement! It took many years for me to realize how brave it was of him to be so cruel to me that day. Later through life, by the time I figured out I was good-looking, I had already abandoned ‘project prettiness’ and focused on kindness, personality and awareness.

3) When I started my life in Delhi as a student of Mass Communication – I had established myself as a ‘bad girl’ for most of my relatives and good-people. Judgments about my waywardness were passed around as ‘caring concerns’. Around this time I developed a health situation, doctor suspected hormonal imbalance and asked for some investigations. We were discussing what could have caused it, when my father casually asked me, ‘are you taking the pill?’ I couldn’t understand what he was asking. He clarified. I was embarrassed, I wasn’t anyway, but he moved on from the subject with zero advice or curiosity. My father would say in discussions, that ‘the sexuality of an adult woman is her business and no one else’s (not even her parents’). Many of us liberated parents believe that now, but he was a Dad in the nineties!

Being ‘me’ has mostly worked for me, but it has also come at the cost of some heartache. For my sister and me, feminism has never been a theory or an idea, it’s been a way of life. Despite the personal and sometimes professional price we have had to pay for it – there’s no other way of being for us. And I thank my father for that.

Happy Teachers Day, Dad!

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