Monday, May 09, 2005

Punjab - 3

Often, on this trip, I have been introduced to people as: "Saddi Annie... intelligent kudi"

This was usually said in a tone of wonder - as if I were a circus animal performing a particularly clever trick. As if I was a rare butterfly - that thing, the intelligent girl... ever seen one?

This happened so often that I began to wonder whether Punjab really had such a dearth of women they could be proud of? And then I remembered... what women? The child sex ration in Punjab is as low as 793.

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Later, I was introduced to this generous lady who invited me into her home. When she went to lie down in another room, she handed me control of the remote, saying "Watch TV."

I quietly picked up a book and switched off the television.

The lady saw this, and frowning with worry, she asked, "Are you getting bored?"

I said, "Of course not. Why?"

"You aren't watching TV?"

I said, "No, I'm reading."

"Oh... you're intelligent..."

Later, when I did get around to watching TV - some very raunchy remix videos on 'etc' - the lady comes into the room, looks at me, looks at the television, takes hold of the remote control, switches to Discovery, and leaves me to watch my 'intelligent' channel.

I tell you, it's no fun being an intelligent kudi.

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In Samrala, where I'd gone to visit Lal Singh 'Dil', the great revolutionary poet in Punjab, his neice dropped in to see me.

Word had spread like wildfire, in the whole mohalla, that a young girl from Delhi was in town. First the women of his family, then their daughters, then the neighbours and then the neighbour's friends... all of them peeped in to look at me.

Once, when Dil was too drunk to talk cohorently, I slipped downstairs to talk to his neice, Kuljeet. A pretty girl with smooth wheat-cheeks and a slim, compact body, her only negatives seemed to be a restless high-pitched voice and a sulky mouth.

She took my hands in hers and said, "Take me with you."

"What? Where?" I asked, bemused.

"Anywhere. With you. I want to do something other than sit at home... take me to Delhi."

"But what will you do in Delhi? I work."

"I'll sit and talk to you. Can't you hire me as your assistant? I want to see the world."

I smiled and shook my head, no.

I tried explaining to her that she needed to do something with her own life, here.
She said, "I thought of nursing... but there isn't enough money for the course fees."

It turned out that Kuljeet had dropped out of degree college, after the second year. She had fallen sick during the final exams and then, had simply lost the motivation to continue. She's done some embroidery and sewing courses, but was sick of them.

"But that won't do at all." I scolded. "You MUST finish your degree. Then you can get a good job. You could begin right here, or go to Ludhiyana. You could teach, study further, work with an NGO, join a Punjabi newspaper..."

She said, "I don't want to study. My parents keep asking me to finish my third year. But what happens then? They will just make me sit at home. Why bother?"

I said, "You must try, at any rate. The degree will be the first step."

But Kuljeet's eyes had already dulled. She smiled vaguely. I was already feeling guilty, as if, after letting her see how it was to be free, like a bird, I had clipped her wings.
I couldn't take her with me. I knew I couldn't stop her family from imposing its will on hers, either. I couldn't do anything for her, except tell her to fight back.

I said, "Kuljeet, it's never easy for girls. Even for me, it wasn't all smooth. One step at a time... One freedom at a time... one battle a year."

She bowed her head; we sat silent, a long time.

Then she finally said, "If I call you, will you remember me?"

I said, yes, I would.

"And will you invite me to your wedding? I want to look at you when you're a bride."

I said, yes, I would.

And then, we said goodbye.


Suhail said...

I tell you, it's no fun being an intelligent girl

It's fun being an intelligent 'engineer' too :) Many of em thought, I was going to wear a yellow-hat on a construction site, with a design blueprint in hand(thanks to Birla cement ads). Or some who got closer to the truth, kept asking me to fix right from their battery-operated toys, radios to printers. All coz I am 'into' electronics & computers.

This slotting which is ingrained in our heads right from our school days. If you are good at studies, you are forced to sit on front benches, be your teacher's pet and rarely make it in sports. Coz it'll 'affect' your studies. On the other hand, if you are tall, you have to sit on the back benches, they'll turn you into a bully if you aren't one, and then you get to be the head-boy or sports captain. There is hardly any space in between these two extremes. This mentality spills over in outside world. Some people grow out of it. Many don't. And that's sad.
And btw, I have strong suspicions about this 'schooling/graduating makes you strong' theory. It should be a good Education. Not just a higher form of certificate which most in our society are obsessed with.

Though in the Kuljeet's & other similar cases, anything is better than nothing. Atleast it will give her some exposure of the world beyond the four walls of kitchen. And you did good to encourage her.

However I had mixed emotions on reading that her parting thoughts to you were about seeing you in your bridal-wear. I wonder if she was thinking whether educated girls from Dilli look and behave differently in their weddings? Or was she seeing her own future holding you up as a mirror ?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Annie, you always make me think. Your story about Kuljeet is no exception. Thanks for that.

Annie Zaidi said...

I don't think she was holding my wedding up as a mirror... it is just that a wedding is like the most important milestone of a girl's life, esp in this country. that, and death... and Kuljeet had managed to get attached to the idea of me, (not me as a person) and so, wanted to be part of it.

And Dilip, Kuljeet made me think too... I don't know if I have the right to encourage women if I cannot take on the task of helping them

Anurag said...

Lovely post, Annie. I don't know the answer to your question to Dilip. I personally think no. I would not show anyone signs of false hope. MAybe it's my guilt I am afraid of, but I like to think that sometimes it's better to let sleeping dogs lie.

Jabberwock said...

I'm an intelligent kuda myself, which doesn't stop relatives from reaching out and pinching my cheeks even at this age. Which is one of the reasons I've stopped meeting relatives, come to think of it.

Quizman said...

Nice article Annie. You wrote:

The child sex ration in Punjab is as low as 793.

Dem darn socialists are everywhere!

amit varma said...

Excellent post, Annie. You wrote in a comment, "I don't know if I have the right to encourage women if I cannot take on the task of helping them." Well, maybe by all the things you said to her you planted some seeds in her mind that will help her to help herself? Even if it seemed futile at the time...

Janaki said...

certainly tis a touching post... and makes me think how i could, perhaps just by trying to encourage someone, could actually plant that first seed?

May be kuljeet will actually do something about her daughters..? Even if she may not get to live life on her terms?

Makes you think about ur freedom eh?

1conoclast said...


One thing I've learnt is that change ALWAYS takes time. From Azamgarh to Caferati meets, it's been a 90 year long journey. Kuljeet too will make some kind of progress if her desire is strong enough.

As for your feeling like doing more than what you've already done... Aristotle merely planted the seed of possibilities in Alexander's head. The rest ol' Alex achieved on his own. You've done the same; which is more than anyone else has done for her. In all probability, if she becomes someone, she will in her heart give some credit to you.

Anonymous said...

i m sry if u find this harsh, foolish or even sexist annie but i think u made a mistake then and u have made another mistake now.

there with kujit, did u try to prevent her parents from "imposing their will on hers", did u try to induce a feeling of pride in her for the skills she had which i doubt ne of has (i donn think i will be able to mend a briken button). couldn't u have tried to show her the ways she could have taken with the skillset she possessed. i think we all owe this country of ours at least n honest attempt to help the less fortunate children of hers.

and now by sharing this story on a blog u have made kuljit a sample in this free for all. we who have never met her and will probably will never do are passing our comments on her life, her thining and her future. wot gives us this right....having a comop with a net connection.

i m not replying to ne comments i get on this msg of mine and i sincerely request everybody to stop trying out ur intellect and benevolence on Kuljit.

Kuljit, if by ne twist of fate u r reading this, i m sorry for being a part of this debate which shoud not have been here in the first place. i hope u will forgive me.


1conoclast said...

Dear GG,

Sorry if I'm going to sound like an Intellectual, but I'm sorry I am.
There are two kinds of people in this world. People who are content with their lot and who lead peaceful, ancient, hand me down existences. And the other lot, troubled, often defeated, cynical lot, that MUST look beyond the horizon. Marie Curie could've been content to cook for the kids if she wanted. She'd have felt really satisfied with the thanks her family gave her for every sewn on button, every warm French delicacy she served up. But she decided to see what more could be done with that one life she got. So she became a scientist, discovered Radium, won the Nobel prize (twice!) & people like me look up to her.
I don't think you'll get my point, so I won't say anything further.

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