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A world outside my world


- By Learncy Paul -

My mother was 32-years-old when she lost her husband. 32 is a young age to decide how you want your children’s lives to pan out. To decide how you want to raise them. Despite pressure from relatives to move down south of India, she decided to raise her then four-year-old and one-and-a-half year-old children all by herself, in a city that was foreign to her. And thus began our own journey. She created a small little world for us. A world of equal rights and opportunities. In our world, we did the dishes and ran errands regardless of our gender. In our world we washed and ironed each other’s clothes. In our world, my brother and I had the same curfew. In our world, my brother and I were the same.

For the longest time I thought the outside world functioned the same way. Until we took a trip down south of India. A trip that had started with immense excitement ended on a rather disappointing note. I felt like I reached Alice’s Wonderland minus the wonder, where everything was opposite to my world. In that land I was asked to sit and dress a certain way. I was not encouraged to go out past a certain time, whereas my cousin brothers could. I had to get up by 7am but my brothers could get up any time they liked. It was considered decent if I made one round of coffee for everyone. But this decency did not apply to my brothers. What appalled me the most was, the males of the family could leave their plates on the dining table and walk out after any meal. And it was the responsibility of the females to take the plates and wash them. A couple of days before, hundreds of kilometers away, my brother and I were fighting over who’s turn it was to do the dishes. But here, there was no fight. There was no choice. Here, it was the most obvious thing to do. Pick up after your ‘gentlemen’.

We knew we had to pick up the plates ourselves even before mom gave us that ‘you better do those dishes’ look. We knew it wasn’t fair for one person to do someone else’s work, everyday, not willingly but out of compulsion and habit. In our world, we had the option of discussing matters that didn’t make sense and required a better alternative. Here, there was no such option. This was my first encounter with patriarchy. Before this I had only encountered it on the pages of my sociology textbook. I always imagined a patriarchal figure to exercise his power at a panchayat or somewhere where it was expected of him to be in charge.

I had no idea patriarchy was so deeply embedded, in the nooks and corners of generational homes. In the narrow streets filled with what looked like merry children. But a second glance, and you would see only merry boys. In the 2-3 cups of coffee served each day.

I went back home confused, angered and a little helpless. As thankful as I was for my own little world, my heart broke for what I saw. You could be the most liberated person ever but it won’t matter if you cannot share that same freedom with the person next to you.

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