Having an elder brother has many perks. One of them is that you get to be friends with his friends. As a child, I would feel privileged to be a part of my brother’s so-called ‘cool gang’. I would often tag along with him and his friends for outings or manage to hike a free ride to a friend’s place.
Growing up in a small town in West Bengal, I had to tread lightly. Everybody knew everybody and slander and scandals were discussed across rooftops and over innumerable cups of chaat para’r addas (rooftop meets). Thankfully, I was raised in an environment where there weren’t too many wagging tongues, or random people offering advice to my parents on how best to ‘school’ me into abiding the unsaid rules of social purdah, during my teenage years.
Life went on at its usual pace till I opened an account on Facebook. I still remember that eventful day when Aunt X and Aunt Z decided to ‘tutor’ me on the disadvantages of uploading photos with boys on a social-networking site. Such a short-sighted decision could apparently deal a fatal blow to my ‘clean’ image in real life. It took me some time to process these thoughts and put my argument forward.
I felt that the so-called ‘scandalous’ photo, a supposed blot on my ‘purity’, was nowhere deserving of the attention that it unwantedly received. It was an innocuous enough picture–a group of young boys and girls enjoying good music at a cafe.
I presented my argument politely and coherently in front of Aunt X and Aunt Z. The boys in the photograph were my close friends, and the number of pictures I would post with them would only increase over the years.
But to allay their ridiculous fears, I deleted the post and for a while stuck to uploading pictures with my girlfriends, partying. Interestingly, Aunt X and Aunt Z were perfectly comfortable with an all-girl crowd partying. In fact, they would often be the first ones to comment on how pretty we looked.
It took me a month to see through their hypocrisy and to shift-delete their dumb advice.
And so, every passing photo of me with a boy generated comments like, “Why can’t you have more girlfriends?” Ominous messages waited for me in my inbox: “You will have trouble getting married.” They would often be accompanied by outrageous claims, “This is how you are misusing your freedom.” Trust me, it only got worse over the years: a relentless cawing of the self-appointed guardians of sanskar.
If having male friends qualifies me as a ‘bigdi hui ladki‘, then yes, I am one – happily and proudly so. The dictionary simply defines a friend as ‘a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection’. No specifications of gender are mentioned. But then again, here we are, in 21st century India, still reeling under the scorching stares of Aunts X and Z, from behind parted curtains, doors half-open, windows half-closed, and the glorious promise of gossip that stalking us on social media would provide.
Among the many barbed-wire rules of growing up as a girl in this country, the most ridiculous one is surely this: abstaining from interactions with the other sex till a flimsy piece of paper declares us as the rightful property of one!
I shake my head in disappointment and outrage. Surely someday, such people will see the light of reason. Meanwhile, I won’t stop roaming around with my brother and his friends. Cheers to all of them and to the day when words and phrases like ‘asabhya‘ (uncivilised) and ‘bigdi hui ladki‘ would be relegated to the dust heap where they actually belong, to be wiped out of immature, bored minds.