‘Just because she is a girl, doesn’t mean her worth is defined only by her obedience. She has a thirst for knowledge, which is evident to everyone except your perfect patriarchal family.’ Anu aunty then continued in a somewhat softened tone, ‘I’m not saying you’re a bad mother, I’m just saying that you got used to this male dominated society and now you think in the way they want you to. Your parents felt marrying you off into a good family is the best way to secure your future. That’s what you wanted too, so I never had a problem with it. As your best friend, all I wanted was for you to be happy. If I knew a good family meant one in which women lived in the shadows, I wouldn’t have let you get married into this house.’ Anu aunty waited, for mom to disapprove of her statements, like she usually did. This time, she didn’t. She slowly nodded. Anu aunty continued, ‘Women were taught to be dependent on men then, but now the scenario isn’t the same. Today it is important for every person to make sure that if all fails, there is some way to stand up on their feet. I don’t say things will be bad for Hema, but I think we should get her prepared. Don’t you think we should give her a chance to prove herself, before forcing her to be the silent nod to a person from a ‘good family’, whose only qualification is being male? For the sake of her future, let Hema stay with me, till she completes her studies.’
When mom brought up this topic, about me going with Anu aunty, for the first time ever in that house, she wasn't requesting. Though some initial resistance was present, they finally conceded. If Anu aunty’s presence for one day could bring this effect in mom, I wondered how much I’d change under her guidance in the following 4 years.
‘You think it is OK to be in a co-educational college, Aunty? I’ve been to a girls’ only school so far and I never had any guy friends. I don’t know how to behave around boys; you think I’ll be alright in this college?’ I asked. ‘Hema, you should remember one thing, no boy is ever greater than a girl. If not now, then when will you get to glimpse the real world and when will you adjust to it? Once you face that, you need to be prepared to survive there.’
I enjoyed my college life to the maximum. Anu aunty didn’t hesitate to help me, whenever I consulted her. But, she never interfered in my personal choices. Initially, I asked her permission for everything. Gradually, I understood standing on my feet also meant taking my own decisions and facing their consequences.
It was a few months after the college had started, that I admitted to liking a guy in my class. I knew Anu aunty hated men, I couldn’t tell her about this. Also, I didn’t want to hide things from her. I gathered all the courage I could and told her about this little crush of mine. ‘I don’t entertain such activities, Hema,’ is what I had expected. But heard, ‘I don’t think you should wait for him to approach you. If you’re interested, make the move but be sure he’s not another chauvinist male supremacy believer. I don’t see it being a problem unless he is the kind I mentioned. As far as my opinion is concerned, I think all guys are the same. Good luck with this one.’
After a lunch date, I found out that there was going to be a problem. He said, ‘I haven’t been asked out by a girl earlier. I never expected it from you. I mean you don’t look like that kind, who’d dare to do something this sort.’ I thought it’d be cool to date this mysterious, aloof, heart-breaker. If he didn’t think I was good enough to even ask him out, that means he will think about me this way, always.
I never answered the follow up text, as I felt escaping was easier than confronting. I told Anu aunty that we were different and believed in different things, so we ended it right away. For the next two years or so, dating became a strict no, because I didn’t want to be in a position where I’d sympathise with myself. Then, we both interned together at a company in a different city, that summer.
‘Whatever happened to that second date?’ Third time he has mentioned that in this week. He seems to be nicer than earlier. He could’ve learnt humility. Or maybe being unavailable made me more attractive. Whatever it is, he seems to be funny and caring. Neither of these two adjectives, I’d have used to describe him two years ago. Maybe I should give him another chance. I texted Anu aunty, she called me back immediately. ‘There won’t be a different result when everything stays the same,’ she said. ‘He couldn’t possibly have changed in this short while, like you claim.’
‘But, the change is visible,’ I pleaded. She said, ‘You must've known by now, girls' hearts are just toys to boys. They’re no good, if they aren’t putting in more effort to make sure the girl knows she’s special. I don’t want to see you hurt, that’s why I forbid you from proceeding any further.’
‘Aunty, aren’t you the one who said, ‘men and women are equal’. You told me, that girls have the same potential but have been disregarded because of their gender. If I expect him to be nicer just because of my gender, that would make me a hypocrite. Judging a guy, because he’s a guy, isn’t what I expected from you. I work with him now; I know he’s not what I presumed him to be earlier. I wanted to ask you if I should give him another chance. If it was a girl, who did something similar, you’d have forgiven her already.’ Aunty ended the call before I could say more.
However, she called me back a short while later and said, ‘I realised it immediately, but my ego prevented me from admitting it. I just want to say, I am sorry. I was wrong, yet I taught you right. All this time, whenever I said 'Men aren’t greater than Women,' in my head it had meant 'Women are greater than Men.' Now thinking, it seems you are right, everyone is equal, is what it really meant. If I’m being pro-choice, that means irrespective of their gender I should try to fight for the cause. Give the guy another chance, if you think he truly deserves it. I trust your judgement, Hema. I’m proud that I’ve been taught something by you, something for which I thought I’ve been fighting my whole life. Better late than never, my cause now seems to be clearer, yet more difficult to achieve. Do what you want. If that means giving a second chance, give it.’
With Anu aunty’s approval, I had to make the choice. I let time lead me on, as I wasn’t about to make a mistake, by deciding too early. ‘Because,’ I keep thinking, ‘We are different, so we can't make it work.’