The Scent of a Woman

Between the consumerist jamboree and the stringent call for action by activists, representatives and achievers in the past few days announcing the International Women’s Day, ordinary women like me were at a loss to know what are we supposed to do really on this day! Celebrate? Feel happy? Thank my male friends who posted me congratulatory notes early in the morning? Or my women friends who wanted the same posts sent in return to prove they are much loved and special in my life? I am planning to take a holiday today", I announced to my other half, to which he gave me a quizzical look Anything special?" Feeling unwell?" Then…"Oh…Women’s Day…??? Is it different from any other day??…alag kya hai…?"…. Well, I thought, so much for celebration!

I opened the newspapers and loud, pink and purple ads jumped out of the pages, urging me with heavy discounts on watches, mobiles, perfumes, clothing, accessories, cab rides, jewellery, call and data charges! Wow…What do I do? Go shopping? Ask my other half for a gift? Buy jewelry? Take a drive around the town? Or just treat it like a usual working day?

At one of the recent events I attended to mark "Women's Day", I felt quite like a misfit as I entered the hall since I wasn't dressed the part. Yes, I was not an "activist", in an ankle-length handloom or Sambhalpuri saree, silver jewelry, kohl-lined eyes and nude lips. Neither was I the grassroots level worker", who had field" experience compared to urban swivel chair elites like me who didn’t know a S**t about women’s rights. And of course, no way was I an expert" with a point of view on the "issue", with the requisite grey hair, clad in a Satya Paul or Kilol, spreading the scent of affluence…in their Ralph Laurens, Davidoffs and Estee Lauders, who had submitted thesis, papers and spoken exhaustively" on the subject. A long time ago, I recalled at an NGO I worked, I was admonished by a colleague for wearing lipstick…."how very pedestrian, Chandra and un-civil society like"…. The lips need to be nude and dry if you want to be taken seriously….and of course no nail polish…"

I could see that the event organisers had strived hard to keep a balance among the speakers. Bemusedly I watched, as one panelist after another waved reports at the audience, calling for a shift from the age-old patriarchal mindset, thumping their palms on the wobbly podium, quoting facts and statistics into the mike, making it break into sudden whistling shrills from time to time. Some of them swiftly went through powerpoints with graphs and tables that few could see from the back of the crowded room. The venue attendants in the meantime moved about serving coffee and the in charge, nervously adjusted the sound system, wholly determined that he will play a vital role in the women’s voices being heard today. I looked sympathetically at the couple of male speakers, sadly non-descript and looking extremely reluctant to step up to the podium and speak, knowing very well that none of them would be able to match the vitriolic power of the Women’s Day brigade!

In addition, the politics of the proceedings, where civil society, corporate and the academia were placed discomfortingly together, soon became increasingly obvious. A couple of radical speakers (who spoke pretty well with some right words that I noted hurriedly in my diary) received smirks and condescending looks from the other speakers…their expressions clearly revealing….Ha!… so much for the speech being drafted in a five-star coffee shop…"Inhe kya pata…ground level reality?....lo kar lo baat…! The ones who had the upper hand as chairs of the sessions made sure they kept strict time, thus not allowing a few to complete their speeches.

The organizers soon wrapped up the meet with an extensive vote of thanks…to all, right from the chief to the lesser mortals who must have worked day and night to make this celebratory event possible for the Sambhalpuris, Satya Pauls and Kilols to sway sensuously about..

I wondered while going back home in the evening….where do women like me fit in? We believe we are liberal women, we have always been independent, professionals and respecting of other’s spaces. If we want things done, we do it our way, quietly. We dress the way we like and want and that is what non-conformism and true freedom means to us. But even if we conform, so what? We have chosen to do it. So what if we are simple, with little radical, path-breaking statements to make, are caring of our children and families, not speaking at a seminar, ….we are still women of today. We are bold, maybe not brassy, and still change a lot of things! And yes, we do love lipsticks!

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