Sitting on the armchair, I was turning the prayer beads. Something I tend to do often, when I was brought out of my reverie by my daughter in law’s loud voice. I suppose it was my youngest granddaughter who was getting scolded once again. “If everyone else were to jump off the bridge, would you too?”. The same words that I’d heard so many times growing up. Those words pull me back, way back in time as I see my self standing in front of Amma. After all, this is what she had said when I asked her for permission to go to the Pathshala. This very week, my best friend Rimjhim and so many other girls from the neighborhood had started going to the Pathshala. She said that they were being taught alphabets and numbers just like my older brother. She said that soon she would even be able to read letters, imagine that, letters that only our old postman, baba, and other such wise people were able to read. The thought of being able to read letters and sign boards and whatnot without asking for help, and in turn being subjected to a volley of questions sounded so very exciting. It all seemed like such a wonderful adventure, an adventure which I definitely wanted to be a part of. In fact, I even told Amma that if I went to the Pathshala I could even go to office, just like Chachaji does. This was something that the very teacher had told them, Rimjhim had confided in me, delightfully.
After some pointed words discouraging me from comparing myself to girls from such poor backgrounds, my mother had asked me the very question that Sheela had asked my granddaughter today. I was told that the Pathshala was not a place meant for girls for families such as ours. After all, what would the society say? Despite crying and being upset for days on end, and even refusing to eat on occasion, my wish was not fulfilled. I was told to stop being stubborn because, that is something that good well-bred girls of our station just did not do.I finally accepted that there was no way I was ever going to the Pathshala.
Instead, I was placated with the promise of a new lehenga-choli with matching bangles. After being told again and again somewhere, even I started believing Amma. Believing that perhaps my role in life, much like my mother and others before her was just to stay at home and look after the children. At that time, I didn’t really realize the irony in this. The very mother who had scolded me for following the other girls to the Pathshala was perfectly fine with making me follow the path that women had been following since centuries. I didn’t realize I was simply being expected to jump off a different bridge, just one acceptable to my parents and of course, traditions.
However, I was just a 12-year old, one who had thought of school to be merely an adventure and subsequently, accepted a pair of clothes as quite an apt settlement. It was much later in life that I understood. This happened only after I had gone to live with my husband in the city. Often I cried as I felt inadequate, as I experienced my husband’s and many times even my children’s hesitancy in having me near the “polite company”. At that time, it was too late to change anything. Again, an irony as the education that I’d been denied because of the society was something that was considered an essential by this society.
Time and time again, I wish I’d cried more. Protested more. Perhaps, I would be somewhere else. I kept dreaming of what could have been. I imagine I’d have been a working woman like Rimjhim. A woman I could have been proud of. Someone other than just a weak, dependent, aging mother for whom no one has time. I would not have been seen as a burden to carry, one my children could not get rid of fast enough. These are some that continue haunting me as I keep turning the prayer beads, none of the turmoil visible on my face.
Perhaps, I’ll tell my granddaughter this. I’ll give her an answer to this question, at least. I’ll tell her the answer is, and has always been “Which?” .I’ll tell her that there are so many bridges to jump off and so many “everyone” jumping off them. I’ll tell her to listen to everyone but make her own decision.
She is going to have to jump off the bridge, anyway. So she might as well select “which” bridge she prefers and “who” the everyone is before jumping. Perhaps the, I shall be able to save her from the state I’m living in or at least regret . My dear Pari. I’ll tell her when she comes to play with me. Or perhaps, a “senile” , old woman such as me, should just stay shut? I sigh, and continue turning the prayer beads.