The narratives that I really like are the ones which do not shy away from reality but while doing so, celebrate the goodness amongst all that is bad.
They are the stories that shine a light on the road to redemption, the tales which are the harbinger of change, correction and right action.
Not surprisingly the works of Ved Vyasa – the great Hindu scholar and author of the Mahabharata – are my favourites, for they do not shy away from telling the story of the villain instead of merely celebrating the hero.
In view of the din surrounding India and the way it treats its women, much of which is true and fair, I felt the need to focus on the positives which will propel me into corrective actions – actions that I control – rather than leave me angry, drained and pessimistic over endless cups of coffee and discussions both in real time and virtual.
Could I raise my daughter in India is the question I ask myself as a woman, and as a mother.
A resounding yes rings clear, from beneath layers of bad memories and harrowing experiences.
That makes me wonder.
What makes the lure of the land rise above all the issues it is weighed down with?
I grew up in India but have now lived in four countries and besides the amazing cultural experiences I have also discovered that there is no Utopia, a place where women are safe from harassment and abuse. There is no place where women have total protection from violence and stereotyping. If I have been on constant guard in India, I have checked the car, for a hidden serial rapist, before driving off from a mall parking lot in the US.
In the UK I know women who are victims of sexual harassment, trafficking, domestic violence and marital rape.
“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness”
It aligns with the available date proving that issues like rape and sexual violence cannot be stereotyped into race and region. It is a global issue. The second question that I am faced with pertains to me being the mother of a boy. How best do I teach him to respect women? As a parent and a social work professional, I know that only pointing out what not to do is incomplete and ineffective.
It must be accompanied with more of what to do.
So it is vital for them and me to know what evil looks like but never more important than knowing how goodness behaves.
To quote the Dalai Lama: “The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness”.
Hence clawing through the fog of fear that I have felt as a woman, I sift for the good.
Today I recall all those who have done the right thing, however miniscule it might seem.
Every word you said and every gesture you made counts. Every time you stood back, to ensure my personal space remained intact, it was appreciated. Every time you spoke up, I noted.
For every misogynist I have met, I choose to I remember the good people I encountered. I remember not only those who fought for me but those who fought with me. That is not only my way forward but also the reason why I have not just survived but I have lived.
As a seventeen-year-old, my first solo long distance train journey across Eastern India was my biggest lesson. A lesson in luck I thought then, but I now see it as a lesson in the knowledge that goodness prevails.
It was a twenty-one-hour journey across the Gangetic Plains, in the first-class compartment which shut out the world with a simple sliding door and a lock. In a nearly empty train, for co-passengers, I ended up with two men who remained shirtless and asleep for the majority of the journey. Three months of being away from the family for the first time, the festival rush coupled with poor judgment and naivety resulted in my choice of travel – a special train for the express purpose to ease the season rush.
I did not disclose my travel plans to my parents and throwing caution to the wind and relying on a sole protractor from the geometry box as suggested by my equally guileless hostel mates, I boarded this train.
By nightfall I was feeling better when I realized that my fellow passengers only woke to eat or use the bathroom. I let my guard down and dozed off, only to be woken up with terror in the middle of the night, as men shouted and banged on our doors demanding to enter.
These were travelers without a reserved ticket, a common feature on this route. Upon realizing that not opening the door could lead to something worse, the men were allowed in.
I shrunk inside the sheet covering me as I suddenly ended up with seven strange men in a closed compartment in a running train. Under my sheet I prayed and cursed myself alternatively.
I forced myself to stay awake and remain prepared to put up the fight of my life. I noticed that my original co-passengers, would from time to time rouse from their sleep and peer down at us.
But the men who had forced their way in showed no signs of mischief and seemed to purposely avoid looking at me, allowing me to breathe better. I fell asleep sometime in the wee hours of the morning and woke up some hours later to see the ticket-less travelers gone.
My co-passengers finally awoke and spent the last few hours of our journey together, coaxing me to eat. They had, even in their deep slumber made a note of the fact that I was surviving on water and a packet of biscuits. In between introducing themselves as men from the Border Security Force who were returning sleepless and weary from the Border, they gently admonished me about my travel choice.
I finally disembarked at my destination and my very relieved and exasperated father who had come to receive me spent a lot of time shaking the hands of these true gentlemen, profusely thanking them.
Many would think I was just lucky, but I know it was not luck but the goodness of those men that touched me that day, filling me with confidence to travel alone in India. I have a special affinity for train journeys laced with adventure.
In another such eventful journey, somewhere near Buxar, Bihar my train was suddenly full of men returning from a political rally. My friend and I spent the night nervously chatting with a couple of young men who were perched on our berths for the lack of any space or seat.
These young men were illiterate and from a small village in rural Bihar.
The legendary Chanakya said that the fragrance of flowers spreads only in the direction of the wind but the goodness of a person spreads in all directions.
Goodness is infectious.
They were fascinated by us ‘English speaking’ college girls from the City, but sensing our anxiety they pledged their protection and friendship in a very filmy style. We parted ways happily wishing luck to each other for the future. So much for classifying and generalizing crimes based on class, region and education.
Today I choose to remember these men.
Today I will talk about these men to my children.
The legendary Chanakya said that the fragrance of flowers spreads only in the direction of the wind but the goodness of a person spreads in all directions. Goodness is infectious.
Appreciating and acknowledging it, encourages the same behavior. For those who are these men, it will reinforce that they must continue what they are doing right and pass it on.
For my son it is a lesson in right behaviour. For most of us it brings hope. Hope that goodness is alive even in the face of wrong and that it must be nurtured and cultivated. The story you tell and what you say reflects why you tell it.
I sing the song of the good people because they have the power to heal and correct. I tell these stories to emphasize that where villains live, heroes exist too. Those villains are real and from amongst us.
But it stands true that the heroes also, live around and, perhaps more importantly, within us.