As I rambled through the narrow alleys I saw little girls playing hop scotch on the dusty pathways. Oblivious of their surroundings they had converted the parched earth left free after harvest as their playground. The girls had drawn a large rectangle, divided it lenghtwise into two and further divided each oblong into four squares. The left square on the further end was marked with a big X denoting the place where the player could put both her feet down. A bright smile lit up the little faces as they stood and watched their playfield all ready to jet, set and go. A little girl whose turn it was first stood at the end of the rectangle raring to go with the vigour of a participant in the Olympics. She threw in the little flat stone she clutched tightly in her fist into the first square on the right. Bending down she picked up the stone while still on one foot and hopped the rest of the squares carefully until she reached the square marked X. Putting both her feet down she hopped further down holding the stone in her flattened outstretched palm. On reaching the last square she threw the stone down to the ground in front of her and put both her feet on the stone. Some of the other girls objected, a few thought she stamped the line while some were not sure whether she really touched the stone.
As their argument heated up I heard a loud voice. Instantly I knew it was the mother of one of the girls. There were varied expressions on the little faces in front of me. The game had just begun and their dispute had not even been resolved. In flowed a series of expletives and the little girl who was hopping the squares fled in the direction of the voice without even defending herself or completing the game. The grass for the cattle had not yet been cut nor were the cattle led into their sheds from the grazing ground which was another paddy field after harvest. The hen and chickens had to be put into their wooden home as the little girl called it, to keep them safe from the hovering night wolves. The pots were still half empty, water enough for the night for all in the family had to be drawn from the community well. Once while waiting for her turn to draw water she had heard of a lady talking about getting water directly to their homes through something that resembled a long hollow bamboo stem. Since then she was eagerly awaiting that day. The little frail girl who was playing till now sprung into action. I was pleasantly surprised to see a new facet of the kid.
Taking a cue from their friend, the other girls too dispersed. To me it seemed to be their daily routine to attend to the chores allotted to them. Drawing water for all the boys and men were their task. After school the boys were pampered and sent off to play until their fathers returned from work. Wasting no time the little girls dashed off to the play field directly from school as soon as the gong was sounded, for they knew that if they went home first that day’s play would not materialize. They did not mind the boys being fed and spoilt by their mothers as long as they were granted playtime for themselves. They could easily manage a few games of hop scotch before the boys took over the playground. They were trained in that fashion and it was drilled into their minds that within a couple of years they would be married off and would have to be the keepers of the home and hearth of an alien family and so the sooner they mastered those skills it would be better for them.
All the chores assigned to them completed the girls helped their mothers with cooking dinner, it was a preparatory to the chores that awaited them at their prospective in laws’ house. As dusk fell the menfolk started returning home bringing their boys along with them. An incessant flow of loud foul language from one of the houses was enough for me to understand the dominance men had over these women. Dusk gave way to night and the men assembled in the courtyard of one of the houses. I noticed that more and more men gathered there. Perhaps it was their way of unwinding the fatigue after a day’s toil. Some played cards while some took turns to draw a long puff at the hookah or the long native pipe with the sound of gurgling of the water in the earthen urn attached to it, while the rest talked about anything and everything under the sun.
I was rudely jolted out of my pondering by the loud wail of a woman. To me it appeared like the cry of a woman being beaten up or harmed. Maybe her husband was in an inebriated condition. I had come a long way to the village looking for the simplicities of life. The masks of urban super happy women rotting within themselves with a host of issues were so deceptive. Beneath their glowing made up faces lay a kaleidoscope of problems, the kind of which was so alarming. I found the city bred women mask their true emotions whether they were materialistic, financial or emotional. Women who slog it out in home and at work, but are deprived of the benefits of her toil are a sight not very pleasant. Women rushing to office and back with little kids and even babies in tow, being taken to school and baby care centres so that she can help to foot their family bills. Unhappy women putting up with infidelity or even silently putting up with the wrong partners life has tied them to unable to break free for a host of reasons. Stress all around in various forms, be it in the office or in the family. Most houses I saw around me bore some signs of unpleasantness.
Huge billboards in the city screamed of emancipation and upliftment of women, treating them with love and care, giving support to their causes, reminding one and all that they would be a non entity if it were not for the women in their lives and what not. Whereas in reality these were just ways of saying nice things on certain occasions celebrated to remind others of the real state of affairs. Did I see all the women around me being treated with dignity? Were they all very happy about the way they were treated? No not at all. This led to my meandering off the village path in pursuit of a more dignified life the women seemed to live. Innocent and naive might not have to suffer trauma and atrocities, I thought. I was sadly mistaken. Here it began at a very early age. Girls barely out of their childhood had to shoulder a lot of responsibilities which their male siblings did not have to. Hardly out of their teens they were married off and the full cycle was repeated. Not meaning to say that every girl and woman had to bear the brunt of being taken for granted, most of them did have to, at least emotionally.
It is all a game of hop scotch, having your own stone, the throw is in your hands if the other players in life move favourably with you. The day the world recognizes the value of all women in their lives and society at large will be the day of true emancipation of women. It would be a tribute to womanhood and those who brought us into the world to keep each woman happy. Mere billboards and exchanging of greetings on the social media are just farce. As I tread back home I’m more confused and in dismay. Looking forward to such a day when women will be liberated from unseen bonds and be able to soar in the sky of her dreams turning them into reality, a celebration of womanhood and women!!!