Loneliness Versus Conformation – A Snapshot From The Life Of An Indian Girl

Nancy B. Alston

It has always been expected that I CONFORM: Conform to the code of body language; dress code; mode of speech… to be precise, my entire bearing had to be fashioned into a mould, closely monitored by those around so that I become a perfect “Feminine Role Model” for the family. A girl is appreciated for being sincere in everything she does: her academic pursuit and her other accomplishments… but the moment she makes a clear expression of her independent mind, she becomes the centre of controversy! So it was natural that my independent quest for the truth and validity of the views expressed by the “authority” in the household, or the values imposed on me by the moral police around, always drew a flak!

A girl child is praised for her beauty, her comeliness, her impeccable manner and politeness in her demeanor in India but never ever for her individual expression which could be dangerously unique. An Indian girl from a conservative background like me is not expected to be “Unique!”

Those were the days when, in a family setup, mothers are fallible angels quite often but fathers are infallible… I could not hide the grimace on my face as I was often asked “Are you being given education to argue with your father?” or “How can you be so arrogant as to contradict his views?” Sometimes they would ask “Girl! Have you learnt no manners from your school?” Yet the situations that provoked such volley of questions could be extremely funny! I often chuckle at those memories of my salad days! Anything could be outrageous… it could be my skirt above the knee length, a loud guffaw or when caught off guard, exchanging sweet, inviting glances with my secret admirer. The poor chap happened to look towards our terrace wistfully, like a Bollywood hero, every evening from my next door terrace in the neighborhood… It all boiled down to the same old cliché: Oh! She will learn it in a hard way from her Shosurbari (in-law’s house). It was since my girlhood days the term ” Shoshurbari” cast a shadow of fear in my heart. This fear was mixed with feelings of hatred for those imaginary enemies that hung in my consciousness like a looming danger…

Well, one day, it was all about an issue over two talented singers. One of them happened to be my favorite and my teen-aged spirit rebelled at my father’s unkind words for her. I was stung by his unsavory comparison of her with the singer of his own time. What rubbed salt to my insult was my aunt’s secret pleasure at my discomfiture. A common issue of generation gap and perception it was, and yet, my impulsive teen-age blood raced through my veins to react. As my anger rose, I was consumed with the idea of proving his verdict to be wrongly judgmental. I secretly relished the way I made my point with passion in front of the stunned onlookers in my household. A father proved wrong and that also by his doting girl! My younger brother showed me a Thumbs Up secretly! Well! I never anticipated the much ado about nothing that was to follow…

I saw dark ominous clouds gathering on my father’s brow and a strange mixture of thrill and fear hovered in my mind at that moment… I dared to justify myself, blurting out a foolish statement with a pride in my voice, “I take part in debate in school to prove my point… I am justifying my view to you in a logical manner. What’s wrong in that?” “I just wanted to tell you how singing styles differ which make all the difference in rendition. If one cannot accept the new style, one has no right to despise it.” Time stood still for a few seconds. My aunt, who often visited my place from her village for financial assistance from my papa, raised her eyebrow, and quipped, “I often warned you brother never to let her go to any fancy Public School. You never cared to listen, do you see now?” Then turning to me sternly she said” “So you have been taking part in debate to contradict your Father? Even my Mom joined the fray issuing me a threat that she would talk to my class teacher regarding my degrading manners and indiscipline. She would! I frowned at the woman who never found any voice in the family no matter how voluble were her protests over issues at times. I pitied her at that moment. I left the dinner table in a huff and slammed the door of my bedroom with a loud bang.

My heart grew faint as their muffled voice of shock frayed my nerves. I knew there was no chance of escape as my class-teacher did not much appreciate my independent ways and tomorrow was the god dam Parent -Teacher’s meeting! During those days, a teacher enjoyed the status of a Mini Hitler in his/her domain. Today, however, these poor souls are left to the mercy of the band of mini mafias in the class-room who the parents send to the schools for a few hours of heavenly breather!

It was a sweltering summer day and my class-room was packed to the capacity. I joined my friends, answering to their queries in a disinterested voice. The class-teacher, Mrs. Roy, sat at her chair, poised and grave, as usual. I turned away my gaze from her as I hated that perpetual frown on her brow. Some of the parents had already trickled into the room and took their seat. I awaited my mother’s arrival in a somber mood, anticipating my painful humiliation in front of my class-mates whose moms already viewed me with suspicion for my high spirit and unfeminine ways, as they said. It was natural that they did not consider my example to be of any benefit to their growing daughters. I wiped off the droplets of moisture that was beginning to gather on my face and neck. Trying hard to pep up my spirit, I gazed outside the window of my class-room when suddenly the sight of a pair of pigeon making love on one of the window ledges of a building nearby fascinated me! I felt thrilled! The mango blossoms in the school garden smelled sweet…

Nevertheless, the dark hours of humiliation had been approaching remorselessly… so my bower of bliss was short-lived. I was suddenly aroused from my oblivion when the class-teacher called out my name in her intimidating voice: Mandira! I jolted into sense and caught the sight of my mother sitting at a corner chair with cold detachment. When did she slip into the room quietly? I asked myself. I felt some curious eyes turning towards me. I stood up with trembling fingers, weak knees and thumping heart… I braced myself up for the next moment and faced Mrs. Roy’s stern visage when she suddenly declared how glad she was of my performance in the session before summer break.. Before my mother could react, Mrs. Roy informed her that I was also awarded the District Championship trophy in debate! I saw that familiar curve at the corner of my mom’s lips whenever there was a pleasant surprise in store for her. Her eyes brightened up as congratulations showered on her from different corners. A dizzy moment that was… I was happy because I made her happy as I always wanted to secretly.

As we walked out in silent closeness after the meeting, my Mom suddenly looked into my face and said “I know how you are my young lady… but no matter how you are, you must conform”. She continued, “In our society… I mean in real life, you will not be allowed to win the championship trophy… remember always! I don’t want you to be lonely… ” I touched her finger and declared Ma! Don’t worry… am strong enough to bear with that…

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