Here in India, just three days back all of us were immersed in hues of pink, blue and green. We celebrated Holi with a lot of passion and high spirits.
Since I was a kid, I have always wondered what is it with these festivals that carry the power to break the monotony of the day and bring to life dull and ignorant people, re-energise the youth and galvanize human existence.
Imagine a world where everyday is treated like a festival, a world where evey child blushes out of excitement for what the day has in store for her/him, a world where one learns from the errors made and approaches each new day like a fresh and blank brand new page.
Wouldn’t things be so much better off in a world like this? Only if all of this was real, sigh.
Today, I’d like to talk about an incident which has left me to think fervently about issues deeply engrained in the society we live in and how they affect the mental health of the people so close to us.
Shanaya (name changed) is my cousin and is exactly my age. I’m closer to Shanaya than her own siblings. Shanaya has two sisters and one brother (all younger to her). We played together since we were in nursery, studied together till we changed schools in Grade 5 and till date we watch movies together.
When we were both very young, I remember Shanaya was the quiet – meek little girl, shy of performing in public but extremely creative and artistic. She liked to be in her own world but what the world said to her, did matter to her. I think this holds true for a lot of people out there.
Shanaya’s parents run a huge business and are based out of the busy streets of the walled city of Jaipur.
Her parents always wanted a baby boy. They wanted an heir to their age old family business. A son to take care of the mammoth network of business executives whom they were in touch with, a son to foster the business and grow it manifold, a son to take the operations of their national entity to a multinational level, a son to ultimately take charge of the wealth that they would leave behind.
Whatever I’m talking about is insanely routine in India. Not only rural India, but also urban India. Modern India I’d rather say.
Shanaya has grown to have a lot of interpersonal issues. She is unable to communicate her thoughts freely to her parents because she doesn’t trust them to understand and empathize with her. Since she was a child, she has felt unwanted. Unfortunately, unwanted is the word that she quickly associates with. Her family had always desired a son and they did get a son. But in the process, knowingly or unknowingly they neglected the aspirations and rights of the three daughters they had, before they had their son.
At times I fail to believe that I’m living in the 21st century. Its difficult to absorb the truth, but incidents like these remind me of the bitter and hard-to-digest reality.
Shanaya also has had body image issues. Her siblings were younger than her and so were unable to fathom what she meant to say. I was away because I’d shifted to another school away from Shanaya’s locality. The fact that she didn’t find the right trustworthy friend in her parents further aggravated Shanaya’s search for someone to house her secrets and issues in life.
Shanaya started becoming conscious of how she looked more than ever before. Although I know that 46% of 9-11 year olds in today’s world are sometimes or ‘very often’ on diet, but back in 2009 it was difficult for me to accept the fact that my cousin (exactly my age) was so focused about what she ate, what she wore and how she looked.
The school that Shanaya went to was extremely elitist. Almost all kids were from extremely well off families, just like hers. Unable to enjoy herself at home, Shanaya yearned to get more and more time out with her friends. Tutions (coaching classes) were her calling from Grade 7 onwards. When Shanaya was in Grade 9, I remember her going for tutions from 8 am in the morning and returning back home at 8 pm in the evening, even on days right before her final semester examinations. I always wondered how did she ever get the time to self study, as in my times I had never even stepped out of my room the night before the final exam.
One day when Shanaya and I went out for a movie (this was the time when we were stepping in Grade 11 and choosing subjects to major in), I asked Shanaya which stream would she be opting. Without an iota of doubt, she uttered Business & Commerce – even though I knew how deeply inclined she was towards Arts & Humanities. When further interrogated about the reason to do so unflinchingly, Shanaya replied that she’d seen her father fix business deals and that she fantasises over the thought of being able to do so one day. That day I’d seen the glitter in her eyes.
Today, Shanaya has grown to be extremely capable of handling everything related to her father’s business. She has received an offer for pursuing a Masters degree in Management from the extremely reputed London Business School, a diploma in fashion jewelry designing (her father is into traditional jewellery business) and the unique business instinct that her domain requires. However today she isn’t even slightly involved in the family business and has never been allowed to develop an interest in the field. On the contrary, her younger brother has started to sit at the shop in his leisure time, even though he is just 12 years old.
Three days back on the day of Holi, on dinner table I asked my mom if Holi meant anything more than immersing our near and dear ones in bright and happy colours. My mom instantly replied that yes, Holi meant so much more. She talked about how this festival is a reminder to always keep the flame of truth and higher consciousness burning bright within our hearts and minds. No matter how hard the evil may try, truth possesses an innate quality to come out shining, as does gold from the test of fire.
When I think about girls like Shanaya who are denied involvement in ancestral business, even though they’re so deserving, interested and well equipped to carry forward the profession, I feel bad. Really bad and sad, to an extent. Why so much injustice for no concrete or well thought out reason? Why deny her the right of enjoying an untroubled childhood? Why forbear her from excelling in the field she likes?
Why not let her shine and strive for what is her forte? Why not let her cherish fond memories of a lovely childhood? Why leaver her to find solace in fake – good for nothing friends? Why make her grapple with mental health issues when she doesn’t deserve to undergo any of them?
When today I speak to Shanaya, I only remind her of how wonderful she is. I try to keep motivating her to go ahead with her further studies in business and choose to do what she really likes to do. One day I’d even suggested to her to start something of her own. She loved the idea and has been thinking about it for a while. However, she never had the guts to go speak up to her parents about the same. She fears they might just dismiss it, as they’ve previously done for almost everything she asked for.
This fear will just keep hanging with her for life until her parents talk to her. Talk to her with an unbiased mind and an open heart. They have to talk and listen. I think all of us need to talk and listen.