Swati Ali explains: I come from India, where women are worshipped, yet raped; where wives are put on a pedestal, yet broken down to dust. I come from a country where sisters are respected, yet killed if they fall in love with the wrong person. A land where some daughters are shielded, but many are killed in the womb. I have learnt from these women. I am a writer and TV producer in India and I love my country. But I hate it too. I am a photographer too, but I only look for pretty things so I can ignore the ugliness.
I remember the saris she wore. Faded, tired saris that had been washed too many times. But, soft, like her skin, and always comforting. When I put my tired head on her lap, I sank in, the soft fabric enveloping my dreams. I remember her food, prepared with so much care and effort for her family of five. She strove in the kitchen from five in the morning never once questioning her life. Mothi Aai was the gentlest soul in the family, but the moment she walked out of the door in a huff, after a fight with my grandfather, and walked back hours later, we knew she was a dangerous woman.
She had only studied up to tenth grade, the least educated person in our family. But when she walked into the office of a pharmaceutical company, they offered her the job of a receptionist. This was a time when a receptionist only needed to be beautiful and competent in the English language and so we belittled her choice. A job that needs you to be beautiful wasn’t considered a good enough job. We were proud of our intelligence.
Five years later, she was already making more money than her husband. We still looked down on her, though. Women weren’t supposed to be ambitious.
But ten years later, when Mai became the first woman in the family to buy her own house, we realized she was made of sterner stuff. Her husband still ridiculed her, though. Wives weren’t supposed to be so pushy.
Fifteen years later, when she became, no, not the first woman, but the first person in the family to buy her second home, we grudgingly gave her some respect. Her children still hated her, though. Mothers weren’t supposed to be so successful.
It has been twenty years now. She has just bought her third house and now we know she is a dangerous woman.
Her husband committed suicide a year after their first child was born. A workingwoman, she worked even harder to raise her daughter and pay off her husband’s debts. Every day she would leave at eight in the morning, travel for an hour to reach her work place, work till five in the evening and then travel back home. She then cooked and cleaned, tended to her daughter’s homework and went to bed, exhausted, at midnight.
Years later she married a man who turned out to be an alcoholic. People expected her to give in, to be docile and humble because finally there was a man in the house. But when she refused to bend or break, refused to give up on her life and choices, we knew she was a dangerous woman.