I’m a big sister with a big responsibility

I stopped at my usual spot, the roadside tender coconut stall, after a particularly strenuous yoga session.

Now, this coconut stall  is owned by a family – a husband, a wife and a little girl – and the wife has become a good friend of mine. I have been frequenting their stall for many months now and akka has been really sweet to me.

It was only recently that the little girl plucked up the courage to come talk to me. And might I say, she is such a chatterbox! She would run up to my car window and peep in. She would bombard me with questions like – What is my name? Where do I work? What does my job entail?

Sometimes, she asked really difficult technical ones too: What was the light on my stereo used for? How do the a.c. vents work? How did it feel like to drive a car?

She was a proper little girl who wore her school pinafore, and had her hair down in two plaits, with the tails ending in matching ribbons and all. When I (occasionally) asked about her, she would demurely reply with single-worded answers.

I could see adoration in her eyes wherever she spoke to me. I recognized it because I have had the same look in my eyes, countless times.

I could tell that she was at an impressionable stage in life, and my words could influence her.

One day, I happened to ask her “Do you go to school regularly?” She replied, “Yes.”

The next statement at the tip of my tongue was “Nithya (name changed) , you should study well in school. You should study really hard, okay? Studies are very important.”

A lot of you might not understand what is wrong about this innocuous statement. I’ll make things clear.

Why did I assume that only studies can help her? Why not arts? Or sports? Why didn’t I ask her what she was interested in, before concluding that she had to study well?

Heck. How did I assume that she was NOT good at studies? 

And that was my big revelation. Thankfully, this thought hit me before I could give the poor girl a lecture on studies.

Disclaimer: I’m not against education. In fact, I’m a firm believer in primary and secondary education for kids. 

I simply assumed that she struggled with subjects at school. I simply took it for granted that if she didn’t pass her tests, she wouldn’t grow up to support and uplift her family.

When I break it down, my intention to encourage her was right. Her parents were doing their best, sending their only daughter to school while lumbering in the hot summer selling coconuts all day.

Yeah, I have to encourage the little girl. But I had no rights to steer her into a path she wasn’t interested in.

The biggest mistake I made was to assume the proverbial ‘big sister’ role and begin a lecture even before I knew this girl completely.

C’mon. I had only known her for what, 10 days, and I never bothered asking her what she ‘liked’. What if she was an artist? What if she was the next super singer? What if she was really good at sports ??

Of course, as a responsible adult, I do have the rights to tell her about the importance of education. But I should do it only, and I repeat, ONLY after getting to know her better.

We are at the edge of a paradigm shift. A Court denied alimony to divorcee woman because she is empowered to find a job for herself. There are celebrities who prefer ‘single motherhood’ over marriage. And then, there are young entrepreneurs and young creatives who prise themselves away from the society and blossoming on their own, in their niche.

It is awesome that we are sending kids to school and providing them with basic education. That’s amazing. That’s progressive. That also means that in 15 years, those children are going to hit the cul-de-sac of graduation – engineering. Then where’s the progress?

It is really important to identify an individual’s strength and do our best to encourage that. We have got to ask more questions. We probably have to ask a million questions before we can get close to an answer. But these million questions will help us in the long run.

Nithya and many more Nithya’s are quite shy. They hide their superpowers in their tiny little pinafores and their tiny little ribbons. 

I’m going back there tomorrow and figuring out who Nithya really is. I’m going to understand her better through her likes and dislikes and get to know her dreams. And then, I’m going to give her my big sister lecture.

 

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Know thy purpose

A recent ad in the newspaper claimed to conduct fun activities on Women’s day and decided to call it ’empowerment’.

Time we understood the purposes of different things:

Purpose of women empowerment

You make great sandwiches! Happy Women’s Day

So, I saw this advert in the newspaper today:

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And I thought, “Wow, women empowerment programs by The Hindu and PSR. Must be really good”.

And then, THIS caught my eye.

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Imagine my disappointment. Strike that. Imagine my rage.

Seriously guys? A cooking competition???

A leading newspaper and a giant in the garment business – both of them claiming to be modern and progressive – are acting in the most backward manner.

STRIKING DISCLAIMERS: 

I am NOT calling cooking a lowly activity.

I am NOT insulting cooking or the people who enjoy cooking – be it man or woman. 

 

My point is this – a contest doesn’t fulfill the purpose of empowerment.

Competitions (it just so happens that here it is a cooking competition) can’t be classified as ’empowerment’, especially women empowerment.

In a competition what we do is pick 3 winners. That means nearly 97% of the participants go home feeling like losers.

They leave the event feeling the same or feeling worse than how they came in.

How is that empowering??! Someone please explain that to me.

The purpose of events like cookery shows and the purpose of an actual program to empower women are very, very different.

Purpose of women empowerment

 

Now, I don’t want to transform into a super-feminist and complain about the state-of-affairs in our city. But I do want to suggest some activities that I consider to fall under women empowerment.

Here’s what you could do on women’s day if you really want to help women break out of their shells:

  • Initiate small-business opportunities: If you want to do something cooking related, go ahead and conduct a small session on how to start her own small business making and selling her special item (personally, I think that home-style Biryani would be a huge hit).
  • And when I say start business, I don’t mean a Facebook page alone. Yes, that’s a starting point, but she can be equipped with other business-related skills like inventory management, website development, sales, marketing etc. without relying on anybody else to do the ‘technical‘ work for her, while she (ironically) slogs in the kitchen.
  • Give her some personality and professional training so that she can not only start out, but also make a thriving business for herself.
  • Leadership training: Bring women together and bring a consultant trainer to identify the leaders and pick them out for further training. We need more women leaders.  We have lost them to diapers and dirty dishes.
  • Start a purpose-driven networking session for women from different backgrounds and watch the magic unfold. Women will instantly start networking with the right kind of people. Say, Mrs.Latha (totally fictional) is in the IT and is looking for someone who can do some content writing for her website. She can meet Miss.Divya (also fictional), who does freelancing. And there you have a working relationship. Now, women will be grateful for such opportunity.

If you think that all the above is only for aspiring business women, don’t fret. There’s more:

  • Conduct ‘talent hunts’ to find out the hidden talents in housewives. You’d be surprised how many  latent prodigies are hiding behind that coy demeanor.
  • When you organize an event, bring an expert from a field and conduct a workshop on any new skill you think would help her future (NOT sewing. We have had enough of those in our craft classes in school. Besides, we learn to sew when necessity hits.)

Think  IT training, Website development, Android app development. 

  • Teach a new skill/ enhance their existing skills – drawing, singing, painting, DIY crafts.A lot of them learn arts till they’re about 17 then stop all of a sudden. Who knows where her singing skills might take her one day!!

Please encourage women artists (however small).

  • Expose housewives to the world of soft skills like business etiquette, phone and email etiquette, language training – now I’d be impressed with anyone trying to do that. I know it costs a lot for this stuff, but I’m sure that a few hundred chairs and one trainer is much cheaper than the LPG and raw materials you need for conducting a cookery show.
  • Conduct a workshop on how to manage  Biowaste better – there is a group that does a wonderful job and my mother herself is involved in it. She has been talking about biowaste management in various settings. I’d like to see some big players show some interest in it.

So, those are a few suggestions from my side. I’d like to see a world where cooking is disassociated from the women sector and is simply a task for a human being’s survival.

The hungry can cook for themselves. Let’s support Women pursue their dreams.

P.S. I cook more than noodles. I make decent south Indian meals and nobody has been severely injured or taken ill because of my cooking. So please don’t turn this into a mockery of my culinary skills.

Let's get more empowered