By Sarah Berry
Not many know that my middle name is Lakshmi. Well, not that this is a major discovery in any way, in fact, I never used the name myself, even though I was introduced to the world with, “Lakshmi has arrived!”
The decade I was born in was not quite ‘girl-friendly’ (not that much has changed now, or has it?). My place in the family was at the end of the line of girl grandchildren, where the birth of single male grandchild had long stolen any chance of affection being bestowed to us. After a while, it didn’t really matter.
I found my place under the sun, as they say, and it was worth every iota of a fight. Many feelings were buried over the passage of time till I read “One’s Own, Yet Different” one of Katha India’s many treasures, written by Meena Kakodkar, with art by Charutha Reghunath.
The book begins with the bonding between a grandmother, Aatibai, and her granddaughter, Banu, her daughter’s only child. The words stuck with me, “ … only child … ” What does it mean to be one? “A spoilt brat!” was what I or my parents had heard the most. Over the years, I proved them wrong, with great joy. Being an only child meant responsibility. Period.
The book goes on: “Aaje, tell me about your childhood … ”; “Childhood?”, Aatibai thinks for a moment … Yes, indeed, a relevant question.
What does childhood even mean for millions of young girls across the globe, especially while facing challenges like child molestation, sexual assault, malnutrition, illiteracy, child marriage, premature motherhood, and endless harassment? Yes, what does it, indeed, mean?
When Banu raises pertinent questions across the length and breadth of the story, Aaje and the reader are reminiscing about their own journeys, and that is the strong point of the book — the deep connect it strikes with a human, a woman, a girl — irrespective of the countless roles she is donning.
My writing is pleasantly interspersed with my daughter’s playful smile: “Come, write with me, little one … write about your journey …whatever it is, make it worthwhile,” I say to myself, and to her.
As Aaje’s and Banu’s journeys move on, I am drawn by a sentence, about “the family’s gold necklace”. It reads like this “…Your mother? How can I give this to our mother? She is an outsider…” “Why? Is my father an outsider?”
This simple question raises a tornado in Aaje’s mind, re-questioning her mindset. Has this not happened so many times in life — a simple question that led to a revolution of sorts?
I remember one from my childhood, Why do I need to marry? Just because I reach a certain age? Just because society wants me to? Just because a woman is incomplete without a man? Just because a woman needs a man to support her? The one question that led to many more.
Feminism is a delicate balance. I have learnt this over the years.
The book ends with a very valid sentence, “Remember: Girls can transform families, communities, and nations.” It is high time our boys realised and respected our girls and their accomplishments. And yes, the book has metamorphosed from One’s Own, Yet Different to One’s own.
About the author: Sarah Berry heads External Affairs at Katha and hails from a multicultural background — her father being Indian and mother being German. She brings with her 24 years of diverse professional experiences covering public diplomacy/advocacy, training, outreach, content generation/management and communications, amongst others.
This article is a part of Katha’s segment titled ‘Conversations On Books’, a space for the Katha family, and friends of Katha, to talk about Katha books.