What does women’s day mean to you? I asked my 46-year-old mother. “Nothing,” she said.
My source of inspiration thinks nothing about women’s day — a day celebrated globally on March 8 to commemorate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.
I waited for her to change her reply, but seeing my puzzled face, she started explaining how the concept of women’s day has never had any significance in her life. Considering that the trend to celebrate the day was followed since the early 1900s and that the discussion around it only slowly picked up over the last decade, this does not come as a surprise.
For her and many other women (I can vouch for a few), women’s day is just like Gandhi Jayanti — we know why it is celebrated in principle, but there’s hardly any striking change in society or mindsets due to it.
However, that’s not a case in point for the new generation. This generation is making noise about the issues they feel most about, and one of that is equality. In the past few years, March 8 has become a day when collectively women across the world share stories of courage and inspiration, demanding their rightful place in society.
One such courageous and inspiring person is my mother.
A working woman who landed a government job only seven years ago, after my father’s death, she never bothered to brush up on her academics until then and went on to learn writing English when she was 37!
Unfortunately, she did so under pressure, after tragedy struck and she was left to fend for herself and the children. Coming from a typical rural household in Uttar Pradesh, she was adept at household work and was nurtured to remain in her husband’s shadow throughout.
Although my father was among the best of men one could come across, only occasionally did he point out to my mother her lack of proficiency in basic English and Math, and how it would be useful for her if she learned it.
Back then, she used to brush aside his concerns, saying she could manage with whatever she knew, and if she needs to get something more done, she could always run it by him or us.
She tells me now that academics had never interested her. She was always into sports and preferred fetching water from the well than do math.
Anyhow, as Bob Marley said, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have,” in 2013, with no choice left, my mother started taking up English lessons to be able to work.
She started by practising handwriting on practice books for toddlers that had dotted letters, and gradually moved to copies. She later learnt names, spellings of family members and eventually to sign in English.
To some, it may seem a menial and ordinary task that any grown person can perform, but what makes this extraordinary for me is the fact that she reinvented herself to suit the demand of life at an age most people would not dare. To learn and practice like a school student, while also taking care of a house and cooking three meals a day, is no easy task.
Coming from a background where, at the most, she went alone only to the nearby fields, and if she had to go any further, a male company of a brother or father was a must, now she was learning to travel on buses and trains on her own.
Asking for a ticket, counting change, checking train timings and even shopping alone was a big change for her. In her 37 years of life until then, all this was taken care of by someone else.
She overcoming all her fears at that time made me realize that women can show remarkable courage and strength in dire situations.
It has been seven years now since she started working and she is still learning on the go. She can now write in English properly, sign her name and even picks up fancy words from conversations at the office and uses them at home.
I could have written a tribute to her on Mother’s Day, but I think what she did in the face of utmost difficulty and amid emotional turmoil, how she gathered courage and took challenges heads on is something, some or the other woman does every day.
Every day there’s some woman overcoming some emotional and physical pain, fighting her way upwards to make a mark in the world, demanding a place on the table, equal pay and rights.
And there’s no better day than today to share her story.
“Here’s to strong women: May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.”