This early 20’s Mumbaikar who believed she could have the world spinning on her tiny finger, who was motivated and career-driven by mama who repeats the phrase “jaa beta apna sapna pura karo,” singer and advocate of Beyonce’s ‘Who Run the world? Girls’ went through a life-changing experience in a tiny village called Bhap.
Bhap, a village in western Rajasthan where the male population outnumbers the female by hundreds, was not just the definition of gender inequality but it was a pocket full of fewer women whose stories triggered goosebumps, lumps in the throat, occasional glossy eyes and tears, and a deep sense of admiration, hope and gratefulness. These stories were going to change the meaning of dreams, not just dreams but the hope and strength behind dreams of the women in this village!
While the small boys were seen standing or playing near the entrance of their houses, far behind the grills of the window and entrance of the aangan were little girls cooking and cleaning or just sitting, doing nothing.
As my colleague Niyati and I walked the streets of Bhap we clearly felt foreign and lonely as we could see younger women often accompanied by older women and walking around in groups, covering their faces, almost making themselves feel invisible. While the small boys were seen standing or playing near the entrance of their houses, far behind the grills of the window and entrance of the aangan were little girls cooking and cleaning or just sitting, doing nothing.
I had read in textbooks and newspapers about discrimination against women but here I was not just witnessing discrimination, there was this deep feeling of hope which was greater than fear. These were just observations but I was yearning to have conversations, I had to understand what was going on in their minds, what were these feelings, more importantly, what were they dreaming about?
A conversation with five-year-old Meera was where it all started. Meera wakes up at 5 am to study, well not just study, but study well to get her parents to trust that she too is worthy of education and not just her brothers. When asked about dreams, unlike five-year-old girls in cities who would confidently scream doctor, teacher or pilot, here I had an innocent face, a little above my knees questioning the meaning of dreams. What was even more shattering was that although she understood her dream was to study, she didn’t even dare to let her mind and heart absorb the thought of it. She knew her reality was what she was born for; to get married at the age of ten which was nowhere even close to the word ‘sapna’.
She understood that I was living my dream of being independent, having a job and travelling to different parts of the country meeting new people unlike her and there she was, still smiling.
What was interesting is that during this whole conversation I saw a tiny face that was innocently happy but curious to know what my happiness felt like. She asked me how I felt leaving my parents, getting on an airplane and travelling all alone to her village to ask her questions about her life. While I answered her question, I could see eyes that were longing to see what I had seen and a mind that wanted to think what I had thought and feel what I had, when I decided to embark on this journey. She understood that I was living my dream of being independent, having a job and travelling to different parts of the country meeting new people unlike her and there she was, still smiling.
We had to know more, so we decided to visit the nearby hostel accommodating teenage girls for primary and secondary education. This was where I was hoping that at least one of them would happily jump up and shout that they dream to be a ‘someone’ and surprisingly a few of them did. But, my happiness didn’t last long. Their dreams of becoming an IPS officer or a teacher were followed by “Kya pata kal kya hoga, nahi soch sakte hai yeh sab.” (Who knows what will happen tomorrow, we can’t think about all this.)
Although they knew staying in the hostel would ensure complete primary and secondary education, they would have to eventually adhere to what their parents decided for them and no say from the teachers too would help. Interestingly, despite knowing their reality, they took on this opportunity of getting to study and expressed gratitude and happiness for their ‘now’. I was now burning with fury, how could they take it all in their stride? I then ventured to know if it was any different for women who entered family life.
These women taught me that even if you know your reality, you know that your dreams will not come true, don’t stop, at least dream to dream. My heart now understood what living in the moment actually meant and felt like.
I met Chanda, an MA in literature who used to work in an office, but left her job to take care of her kids and family. She expressed battling her inner fears of what society would think of her as people in the village would put her to shame in front of her in-laws and would decimate the family’s status and name if she left her 6-month-old baby and still chose to work. Although she was so close, she was yet so far away from her dream of having a steady career. Here was a woman confessing, “Ek aurat ka sapna kabhi poora nahi ho sakta, ek aurat kabhi sapne nahi dekh sakti hai.”(A woman’s dream can never come true, which is why she can never dream.) This harsh confession pained my soul and those bottled up tears finally trickled down my cheek. What touched me was how she revealed it to me with such grace, accepting her reality. She also mentioned she would work hard to ensure her daughter would also study and work despite the reality that may hit her later.
This was when I felt most fortunate as I was not only living my dream but had the privilege and chance to dream. These women taught me that even if you know your reality, you know that your dreams will not come true, don’t stop, at least dream to dream. My heart now understood what living in the moment actually meant and felt like as these women embraced each passing moment with a smile. I was grateful for the women who stood by my dreams. The saying ‘women should stand up for other women’ seemed so powerful after this, if only we understood and helped our daughters, daughters-in-law, nieces and granddaughters to embrace their current situations positively and yet help them dream, nothing would stop us women from being the best we are meant to be.
On my flight back home I was filled with fury, wanting to save them from their nightmare but I was also feeling this positivity within me. I thought to myself, I have accomplished my dream of having a job that has allowed me to be inspired by meeting new people and exploring new places but she still smiles and she dreams to dream in Bhap! That was my valuable life-lesson, my metamorphic moment!
Picture Credit: Tanya Pereira
Tanya Pereira is a Storyteller and Qualitative Market Researcher. The views expressed are the author’s own.