Friday, April 29, 2005

Progati - The tale of Progress (Part I)

"Have we really come to an age where we no longer differentiate between the sexes? Have we really given women their true position in our so-called well-educated and advanced society? No, we have not!
There are still those narrow minded and conservative people who believe that letting women of the family step out into the world is hazardous to their family's honor. There are those who not only restrict the freedom of the women in their own family, but try to influence the others to do that as well. Then there are those who are absolutely unconcerned with whatever goes on outside the four walls of their own house, inside, the women are captives of an age-old culture. One such captive was Sudha....."

As soon as I read the opening lines of this book, I was reminded of Rewa. Rewa Shastri, the tall dark girl from my colony, an ordinary girl with an extra ordinary personality. It wasn't as if she was very beautiful or very charming, but she had a personality that left a mark. Every one who had met her was impressed by her. Well, everyone except Nabin. Rewa lived in the same neighborhood as me, and we ended up in the same school and college. But we were never close friends, acquaintances you might call us, but not friends. She had her own group of friends who were interested in everything from sports to dramatics to movies to debates, from fashion to boys. I was this demure girl from a simple middle class family where the stress was to raise a girl to grow up to be a good homemaker. We were three sisters, and my Father was forever worried about our dowry. My mother spent the entire day looking after her elderly in-laws, and our home. The three of us began pitching in at a very young age, and the time that should have been devoted to books was devoted to pulses and rice, and needles and threads. My sisters accepted this gladly, for they had no interest in the former, but I always wished I had some more time to spend with them. But I could never vocalize my feelings. The very upbringing my parents gave me prevented me from rebelling against them. I found it ironic, and laughed it off sometimes. At others, I simply pushed it to the farthest corner of my mind and continued with my chores. Rewa led an exact opposite life. She was the free spirit of our neighborhood. She lived with her aunt and uncle, and was always out of her house. Yesterday was a basketball match, today a debate, tomorrow a dance competition. Where was the time to sit at home and learn the chores?

Rewa had been popular in school and in college, her popularity grew double fold. Three months into the start of eleventh standard, Rewa became an instant celebrity in the entire college. She had taken Nabin Mukherjee head to head in a debate. Nabin Mukherjee was the college star, intelligent, good looking and the son of an influential industrialist. He was a student of second year B. Com and had won many university medals in debates and elocution. When Rewa faced him in the intra-college debate finals, all were sure of his easy victory. Can't blame them, none of them knew Rewa. They had to speak about the freedom of women in a man's world. Rewa was supporting and Nabin opposing. That was probably the first time Nabin met his match. Quite literally too! Well, fact is that Rewa won and Nabin, not used to facing defeat, took it very badly. He claimed on stage that Rewa had had the advantage of an easy topic. Everyone is advocating the freedom of women in today's society. Her part was cakewalk. And Rewa, stung by his remarks, refused to accept her prize. Not only that, she called for a re-debate where she would speak against and Nabin could "advocate for the freedom of women". Two days later, the auditorium was packed. Everyone had heard of an SYJC girl who had challenged Nabin Mukherjee. This time, the debate was more heated, more passionate, and once again, Rewa outshone her opponent.

I think of Rewa often, wondering where she is and what she is doing. Last heard, she and her family moved to another part of the city. And since then, no one from the neighborhood had heard from them. And that was twelve years ago! While we had been waiting for our final year B.Com results. So much has changed since then. And in the deepest corner of my heart, I thank Rewa. After all, it was the article written by her that changed my life.