The Generations Game
I apologise if my existence offends you.
Here’s the thing. I inherit my tresses from my grandmother, an elegant lady in her mid-eighties, with a mane intact with waves of pride that have their roots traced back to an era where children used to chase bullock carts to get to school.
I’m not sure I can imagine the texture of ribbons she must have worn, running at her house that was blessed with her eight other siblings, dripping sweet mustard oil into her thick eyebrows that matched the curl of her eyelash.
I may be the same as my grandmother.
I might even have the same streak of curiosity, I also sometimes wonder about my instinct of altruism. We’re women from an upper-middle-class Mussalman family, reared on the milk of virtue and the bread of honesty. Clothes, food, culture, hospitality, grace, politeness are things we eat for lunch every day — some of us, even five times a day.
Perhaps, morality comes naturally to women of that character — but then, women in my family have faced dire urgencies to protect themselves from one another, and often the society, at different times, throughout generations. In a close-knitted family like ours, stories don’t remain stories at all — everything from what the maid says to what the women counsel each other for, becomes a sequel with no end.
It’s just the way we’ve trained ourselves. We programme ourselves to not believe in endings.
In the mid-nineties, I have vivid memories of how every woman in my family used to dress. My grandmother, even today has sheets of beautiful georgette that she uses to casually cover her crown. My aunts, on the other hand, used the georgette to design clothes that befitted their generation.
Zardozi, chickankari, phool-patti all done with threads of gold and silver were inherited in their grace and glory.
Women from my generation, on the other hand, are not shy of wearing inexpensive fake georgettes that we pick up from H&M when it goes on sale.
Ours is a different story, you see.
We are on Facebook, making relics of our culture that has been bred in the stone lanes of our small town. We are born at a time, and luckily so to be sent away, with the scope of finding work, maybe building a life. Competing with cousins and friends, children of the neighbours, another distant cousin in Pakistan or if we’re luckier, the United States. In the middle of all this, we’re supposed to be cherishing the best afternoons of our youth too.
Truly. Ask your mother, she will convince you that you are in a much better place than she was at when she was quite as old as you.
We are, in fact, a chaotic aggregation of our mothers and grandmothers, aunts, and sisters. Some of us might not realise, but we may be living on the moon. The world has progressed in ways that were unthinkable only a decade ago. Our DNA however, hasn’t evolved with the same pace. Our capability to process emotion, our judgement of right from wrong, good from bad, real from virtual may sometimes be out of sync. I like to believe am not very different from my grandmother, or for that matter, even her grandmother. My privileges may have increased, but that has happened at the cost of facing what seems to me at this age, newer challenges. Our biology, intelligence, emotional awareness, the extent of courage and the displays of insecurity is much the same. Our habits may be different, our poisons might not be the same, but the virtue of putting up a brave fight for survival has been going on for generations.
Putting myself at the risk of being terribly wrong, the one thing we often miss is calibration.
We’re a busy lot. We have things to do, colleges to go to, jobs to finish, friends to meet, weddings to attend. In the middle of all this, it is impossible to think of how far we’ve come. The one thing that can help make sense, and put a method to the madness of life would be to take a pause and look at the collective intellectual evolution of your family. Doesn’t how bad your report card is, undoubtedly, you have progressed leaps and bounds for your generation already.
And am here to tell you to never ever feel guilty for anything you’ve ever done. Or worse still, will do.
The world will put you down, and the world is not yours to fight. Against or for. No one ever said being a woman in a society like ours and at a time like this is going to be easy. Hell, no one gets to choose their own name, or even takes the decision to have their earlobes pierced; let alone decide your gender at the time of birth.
There are challenges everywhere. If you look hard enough, you might even find a glass ceiling at home, within your own family. The only one thing that hasn’t changed for generations, at least with the women I know is best compiled by a popular western saying that I resolve to abide by and remind you in a very small way. This is the secret to building a happy home, excelling in your career, and even comes in handy when dealing with a hurtful teenage heartbreak. If you get tired of fighting for yourself, remind yourself to fight for all the women who have struggled against their time and told you —