(Published in Khaleej Times dated 8 March, 2022)
Usha must be in her mid or late fifties. I credit her with bringing the filter coffee close to my house in Kerala. However, her freshly ground coffee powder shop isn’t the reason why she is part of my column today. She is here because of the backstory that led her to become an entrepreneur. She is here owing to her resolve to carve a niche for herself at a time when life threw curve balls at her and left her stranded in the wilderness. She stands out in my mind as I pen this piece on Women’s Day because she essentially represents the idea of a strong, emancipated woman to me today.
Allow me to take a peek into the backstory. The business venture was Usha’s late husband’s initiative. Just two years into it, fate designated him to death, and the business faced imminent closure. Enter family, friends and the society that coerced Usha to shut shop. How was a woman who had no prior experience or exposure carry forward something as complicated as a business?
Following their advice would have been the easiest thing for Usha to do, but she chose to do otherwise. She put her best foot forward and decided to dedicate her life to establish her business firmly. She didn’t need unsolicited counsel or aid from anybody. Her grit and passion was enough to see her through the bumpy roads. She walked over her deterrents, learnt the ropes of the trade herself, and today, four years down, she describes herself as a happy and fulfilled woman who defied every norm, broke every social expectation and secured her space in a world that still takes sadistic delight in running down a self-made woman.
Usha’s story takes me back to a doctrine that I staunchly believe in: when the challenges from outside mount, find the strength within to tackle the adversity than to battle it. With due respect to all those who raise their voice against atrocities unleashed against women, with immense regard to the stalwarts of feminist ideologies, I must aver that the din around us has got so loud that it often signifies nothing on the ground.
The real change for a woman has to come from within, from the core of her existence that will push the boundaries set by history. It has to inspire her to take positive action towards establishing her own authority in life. And this strength emerges from a sense of fearlessness and freedom that serve as our bolsters when faced with difficulties.
Fearlessness and freedom. These are our prerequisites. It is the absence of these two fundamentals that is setting women back by four steps for every two steps of advancement they make. A majority of women do not even know where to seek and find freedom and fearlessness in their lives and they continue to suffer in silence, condemning themselves to their conditions. Slowly, as time passes this tendency to surrender than to act in one’s own favour, this inability to stand up for herself despite a yearning saps a woman of all her innate energy.
Let us face the truth. The world and the societies that we fashion out of it cannot be expected to be inordinately kind to us. Compassion will fall in our lot if we are lucky, but we cannot depend on alms and handouts to thrive in a society that inherently loves to denounce the ambitious, mostly out of envy and habitual spite. Ambition in a woman is often viewed as aggression, aspirations are considered as wanton cravings. Never will this world allow a woman freedom and fearlessness of its own accord. It must be won, by persistent pressing, by putting ourselves on priority, by knowing that we have the choice to pave our way to the future.
We have come a long way from the days of Sati that thwarted a woman’s dreams about her life, but we still carry the blots of old societal patterns that make us second-guess our newfound beliefs. The onus to be fearless in making choices that guarantee the best avenues in life, to allow ourselves the freedom to adopt measures that will fulfill our aspirations, to make ourselves robust enough to win fairness without compromise is on us and us alone.
Between lambasting an intrinsically biased world and emboldening ourselves, between expecting others to grant us a life and carving our own individual existence, let us firmly choose the latter. It is only when we realize that we are in the driving seat and that we have the option to steer our lives any which way that we will become the monarchs of our own domain. Know this. We can be the queens of our lives by our own choice.