“Mom!” Trisha was screaming her lungs out from the bedroom in panic.
I dashed into the room finding her all riled up. “What´s the matter, Trisha?” , I asked anxiously.
“This?´, Trisha fumed pointing towards her Rapunzel princess nightgown. “I don´t want any princesses lurking around in my closet ever. I am too old for these silly fairy tale princesses.” , she said before flinging the dress as far as she could hurl it like it was a contagious infection.
I gaped in horror and amusement at my 7 year old. Trisha´s aversion to princesses is not alien to me. Like this one instance when I dropped her at school early and we waited outside, watching the school kids passing by –
“Mom! Do all the kids have to dress in princess frocks with a wand and wings for accessories on their birthdays? Do they even like being in them or is it their parent´s idea to send them to school hideously dressed like that?”
Trisha is tad too individualistic for her age. She has pretty strong opinions, likes, dislikes and she makes no bones about expressing them to people who are very close to her. Like me for instance!
After discarding all princess nightgowns from her closet, she came into my arms for solace.
“Mom! Can you believe what happened in school today? Gita wore a one-sleeved top to school as she had to hand over the bouquet to the chief guest. She looked stylish and stunning. But, the teachers disapproved her outfit and immediately covered her with a shawl before sending her onto the stage. How could they do that? It´s so unfair on Gita!”
I was heartened to see Trisha empathising with her friend and question the authority of the school to infringe on personal freedom. However, I had to also make it clear that it was a formal institution.
“Well! Those are the rules of the school which everyone needs to abide by.”
“But what´s wrong with her dress? They are just being too bossy and they have no fashion sense. Will I get covered up when I wear trendy clothes like that outside too by other people?”
I smiled recollecting Trisha´s toddler years when she would pull down her trousers, immediately demanding for her shorts and skirts. She always preferred short clothes which allowed her skin (and her) to breathe free. While the mother in me was concerned about insect bites, toddler accident injuries and the cold weather back then, I stand at crossroads today understanding fully well the subtle implications of her free will.
“How do I make Trisha understand that the society that we live in misunderstand and misjudge women who wear short clothes as being loose and promiscuous?”
“How do I make the society understand that Trisha is a girl who always had a strong penchant for freedom of choice, be it in her outfit or life decisions, right from her innocent childhood years?”
But again, I wanted Trisha to never ever change for anybody. I wanted to not just protect her from some of the unfair norms laid down by society but also have her break some of the rules in its big book of heavily skewed gender rules. Leaders are rule-breakers and Trisha is born to lead.
Trisha comes first in her class like it´s child play for her. She has an inquisitive mind and gets absorbed in those ´Tell me why´ series of science books. She has a fertile imagination as I can tell from her doodles. Some days, she wants to be a gardner when she grows up. And on others days, she wants to be scientist and inventor. Then again, she wants to be an artist, singer, dancer and model as well. I really don´t care at this point what she wants to become. I am simply happy that she is exploring her strengths, talents and doing what she loves. I hope she never stops exploring and evolving. At 7 years, Trisha is spirited, kind, affectionate, opinionated and assertive. I want her to be brimming with opinions, questions, ideas and standing up for her ideals and beliefs always.
Sometimes I wonder why it took me decades to question the norms of the society around me unlike my perceptive child!
It was all coming back to me! All the scattered million jumbled up pieces of my past were locking-in and completing the puzzle before my eyes.
“The handsome prince kissed Cinderella and they lived happily ever after.”
I watched in transfixion as Amma ended a highly dramatised narration of the classic fairy tale. I was probably 3 or 4 years then, I don´t exactly remember! The story of Cinderella left a deep impression on me. Since then, I waited in ardent hope for a handsome Prince Charming to waltz into my adult life and live happily ever after!
I remember the first time I fell in love and kissed Prince Charming at 19. While I was dreaming of a happily ever after ending, he whisked right into the bosom and arms of another woman. I felt the ground below crack and wallow me up. I wanted to remain submerged there never to come up and face the ugly realty of life again.
My first love was no Prince Charming but a lying philanderer. I realised the hard way how Cinderella was a big fat lie. The whole make-believe world of an evil stepmother, stepsisters, enchanted elves, magical mice, fairy godmothers with genie wands, pumpkin carriages, Cinderella and most importantly, Prince Charming does not exist.
Happiness found me when I stopped seeking a fairy godmother and Prince Charming to save me. Happiness found me when I refused to be a poor representation of this ideal fantasy woman called Cinderella. Don’t get me wrong! It was not that Cinderella was a bad role model. She was a loving, benevolent and poor soul. The stark truth is that I was never Cinderella in the first place at all. I just didn’t fit into her virginal glass slippers and I certainly didn’t need any Prince Charming to save me from my ugly, wretched existence and life. I am much more than Cinderella will ever be. Happiness found me when I learnt to be my own hero and write my own tale.
I did fall in love again. Akhil was no Prince Charming. He was not tall, dark or handsome. Handsome is what handsome thinks and does. And so, he was whole in my eyes. After the birth of our daughter Trisha, I quite my IT corporate job to work from home. A choice that raised many eyebrows. But, I am finally doing what I have always been passionate about – baking. I am a home entrepreneur currently and I dream of owning many fine artisan bakeries & confectionaries someday. The sky is the limit!
“Hello! Is it Samyukta Reddy?”
“We are sorry to inform you that your mother passed away in the early hours of the morning.”
A major part of me died that day along with Amma. It was over! I would never be able to call and listen to her voice and feel at home again. I would never be able to go to my maiden home and see that beautiful face. I will never able to taste love the way she made it – pure, tender and warm. I would never be able to run to her for cover or advice. I would never be nagged with a ´I told you´ every time I didn’t listen to her and goofed up. I choked with grief, gratitude regret and guilt for all the lost opportunities and chances.
I was around 14 years when I heard Amma tell Naana –
“I wish Sammy gets a nice, smart and handsome doctor as her husband.”
I remember feeling disappointed in her dreams for me because she had higher ambitions for my brothers. Despite the frontier of being a liberated and empowered woman which she truly was, Amma still sadly saw all women as playing second fiddle to men.
Looking back now, Amma was far ahead of her times! Unlike the mothers of my friends, Amma held a highly responsible position of school principal. She was a workaholic managing the affairs of the home and school efficiently. I wondered how she managed raising six children while I found it overwhelming to raise just one.
Her advice still rings in my ears long after she´s gone. Especially in times when I want to cave in to the demanding work pressures and resign –
“Sammy, No matter how much your husband earns, you have to be financially independent. Always hold your own worth and respect!”
Amma never let me enter the kitchen and shielded me from home responsibilities for as long as she could. But, she knew that I would eventually have to shoulder the domestic responsibilities completely someday. I made it clear to Akhil before our marriage that our home is not only solely my responsibility and that we will be sharing our home and parental responsibilities together. He understands how important my passion and dreams are just as much as I understand his.
The puzzle was solved. The answer lied in how we, women were raised and conditioned from young. When I see how far women have progressed generations down the line, I see hope. I see light.
Amma was a step ahead of grandmother who lived in even darker ages of patriarchy. She made the switch to venture outdoors and be financially independent. And, I am steps ahead of Amma. I made the switch when I overcame the Cinderella Complex and Syndrome to be my own hero and find happiness from within. It makes me immensely proud to see Trisha miles ahead from where I stood at her age at 7.
Cinderella does not represent contemporary girls who are no ´damsels-in-distress ´. We figure and solve our own problems. We invent our new solutions. We are rebel girls with a cause today and poised to lead the world tomorrow.
That night, I read aloud about Ann Makosinski, a nineteen year old Canadian scientist and inventor from Trisha´s favourite book, ´Goodnight stories for rebel girls´ by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. Trisha listened in rapt attention, feeling an immense connect with all these fascinating women achievers who were rebel girls once upon a time just like her. I concluded the story with one of Makosinski´s quotes – “If you are alive, you produce light.”
As I tucked Trisha into bed, I looked deep into her big, brown eyes and kissed her goodnight before saying –
“Trisha, didn’t you ask me earlier if you would get covered up like your friend Gita too and feared having to live all your life in darkness? My dear, always remember that you can find your solutions even in the darkest places if you switch on the light. And, that light and power lies within you! Sweet Dreams, my lil rebel!”
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