Feminism at its’ First!


An excerpt from childhood, a story of an iron lady, a tale of love, an unraveling of feminism - all bundled together in this heartfelt journal from Aabha Bakaya, Founder, Ladies Who Lead. 



Let me tell you about my grand mother (nani). She was like a rock when it came to our family, always there, always on the same chair in the sun room, making me halwa and a phone call away if I wanted to just hear some love. She may have had her fights with her tempestuous daughter (mom!) and while I carry the same rebellious trait, I could never do any wrong with her. She was always dressed in a cotton venkatgiri sarees and most of the time would be singing bhajans, reading or just being a grandmom.

Nani was a brilliant student. She was daughter to a senior official in the railways, big house, a dozen siblings. She was simple - she wore only khaadi (his was around independence and she was a Gandhian), she never used cosmetics, at the very most she would put on a bindi. She fell in love with her music teacher who had crossed over post the partition and had nothing to his name. Not the obvious choice for her parents who stiffly opposed the idea of her marrying this man with no money, no house and no prospects.

aabhaimage2But she was adamant. She took off the one bangle and small earrings that she used to wear, kept them by her father’s bedside table and left. She waited for three days in case her parents would change their mind and accept her decision but no one from her family came forward. Her college principal, whom she was very close to, took her in, supported her and helped her get married. When she moved into her new home as a young bride, all it had were two chatais (reed mats), two pillows and lots of music.  

She had already done a double degree, and while she was also teaching music like my grandfather, she wanted to do more. So she sat for her UPSC exam and got a job at All India Radio. During her long term at AIR she was also transferred from Delhi to Bombay for three years.

My grandfather handled the house and teenage kids and in fact encouraged her to go. She would only come back when she had periods of extended leave.

 aabhaimage3Before long she was promoted to Doordarshan as controller of programmes where she worked till retirement. She built a name for herself as someone who fought for what was right, did not come under pressure or get bullied even under the most extreme circumstances. She didn’t bend the rules for anyone. In fact she lived her whole life by her strong principals.

Together my grand parents ran the house, developed their careers, looked after the extended families, grand kids and built a home which they lived in for over 50 years and where my grandfather still teaches music till today. He misses her and while they had clearly defined roles as man and woman of the house, being married to him never stopped her from having her own identity, her own choices, and her success.

In all this time I don’t think they ever were familiar with the word Feminism which we struggle to define today. There are countless other such stories as well if I look at their peer group and around us if we take the time to listen. These are not necessarily celebrated or hyped but are quiet visionaries who wanted better opportunities for future generations and encouraged their daughters and granddaughters to go out there and chase their dreams.

It shows us that it’s possible to do it all, to tap into our inner strength, to not compromise on our ambitions, to work hard and to do it despite all odds.

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