(What can I say? It’s a soppy column. I’m still a cynical bastard deep down inside, where it really counts. Written for The Kolkata Telegraph, October 2005)
This one’s for all the women in my life, from the toddlers to the grandmothers. But most of all, it’s for the thirtysomethings, those of us who’ve survived the teens and twenties and don’t know what the fifties and sixties will bring. Have a great puja.
This is what we inherited. The belief that we could earn our own paycheques; the ability to switch from saris to silk sheaths in a second; the knowledge that the best friends are those with whom you laugh till tears come to your eyes.
From our mothers and sisters, we inherited strength and grace, histories of abuse and violence, histories of growth and nurturing, stories and poems, tips on makeup and tips on how to handle office politics. They put us on the road to independence, the road on which so many of them had made long or short journeys; they handed us maps and the car keys, and waved us goodbye.
From our fathers and brothers, we inherited the knowledge that men were not the enemy, were not aliens. They let us see their force and their vulnerability. They taught us how to dance, how to shoot and how to cook; they shared our bad hair days and our losses on the stockmarket, they shared their problems and they picked us up when we stumbled. They let us go down our various roads, and sometimes, they made the journey with us.
This is what we learned. We learned to handle our own taxes, we learned what it feels like to hold the first paycheck; we learned to be many different women while holding on to the one we really wanted to be. We survived pain, grief, abuse, addiction, loss; we embraced joy, comfort, maturity, love, friendship–and chocolate. We learned how to pack a suitcase, how to make many cities or continents our homes, how to stay in one place.
We learned how to love men, and some of us learned how to love women, too. We learned how to lead the busy lives of mothers while holding on to ourselves, we learned to refuse motherhood without fearing emptiness. We learned how to dial an old friend whom we hadn’t seen for years, we learned how to sms new friends. We learned enough to want to kill our policymakers, legislators and bureaucrats for messing this country up; then we learned more, and started to become all those things ourselves in order to turn it around.
This is what we’re looking for. We’re wondering what secrets those women in their fifties know, the ones who dye their hair defiantly, the ones who let the silver show. The ones who for the first time are taking that Spanish course, taking the flight to foreign places that were always waiting for them, the ones who have their book groups and their Fortune 500 companies, who’re always on the move but who know when to sit back and cackle with their friends and lovers.
We want what those gorgeous women in their seventies and eighties have, the ones with the laugh lines and sorrow lines marking their faces, the ones who can still jive, still love their great-grandchildren, still cook, still love watching soaps on TV, the ones who still know how to hold their arms out to the world. Some day, we’ll be them; here’s to all of us.