It was somewhere in the middle of March, last year. I was entrusted by a voluntary organization located in the eastern part of the city to document the proceedings of a workshop on the dignity of women and prepare a report on it as a consultant. The workshop expectedly centered on the plight of women in the broader socio-economic perspective and the ways to overcome them. Towards the end of the workshop an exquisitely dressed lady of the organization with a plump frame appeared on the dais to present vote of thanks to dignitaries as customary with workshops.
She, however, digressed a bit from the general practice by speaking to the audience her personal views and experience related to the topic. She contended, “Women in our society had no identity of their own. A woman had to identify herself as someone’s daughter, wife or mother according to the circumstances.” Then she went on to supply a couple of personal examples.
She continued, ‘One day I was at the grocery shop when I overheard some people speaking among themselves alluding towards me, “Look, that’s the proprietor of Eastern Logistics, S. K. Kanungo’s wife,” and another day when I accompanied my son, a class IX student, to his school, I overheard his classmates talking to one another, “Hey, that’s Anubhav’s mom.” Some people may take pride in that, but I did not like to be referred to in such manner. I thought I must do something to get out of this state of affairs. So I joined this organization in the search for an identity for myself. Now people know me as Ms Deepika Kanungo, the social activist. At least, I have an identity of my own.’
Then she went on to thank the participants in the formal way. I, of course, did not record her informal talks, but they dwelled in my mind in search for a missing link. It occurred to me that her contention lacked logic, notwithstanding the applause she received from the audience.
Do professional ladies have something called identity and others do not possess it? Is it peculiar of women to be referred to as someone’s spouse, parent or offshoot? Isn’t it equally applicable to men? Moreover, can a person, male or female in sex, cease to be referred to as related to someone in some way simply because he or she is now engaged in some or other activity?
These were the questions to be answered. All the same, I prepared my document and submitted it the next day.
On return, when I was searching for some paper at my office desk, my eyes fell on my Voter Identity Card lying there. A week ago I had brought it to make a photo print of it at the office copier as I had applied for a new SIM for which it was necessary to furnish the same, and being pressurized by workload had forgotten to keep it safe.
As I lifted it to keep it at proper place, I found that it specified my name, my parents’ name, ward number to which I belonged, my address and of course, my date of birth among other things. But it did not specify my profession as such. Perhaps the Election Commission did not think it necessary to ascertain it for the task of identifying the citizens. Is it my socio-political identity that I am the son of so and so, and belong to a particular place? I was aware that the commission needed specific information for married females-the name of their spouse and it is not difficult to assimilate that. But it seemed they did not think it necessary to know what profession the woman adapted to identify herself as the country’s citizen.
I wondered how it could be an act of denigration to women, if at all, any more than men. Then why there is so much fuss about it?
The next day it was Sunday. I received a call from my friend Arun Ray in the morning while watching news headlines on TV with a cup of tea. He asked me if I could meet him on the bank of Kathjori near the Park. I was glad to accept as it reminded our olden days. We were to meet there at 6 pm.
I was awaiting Arun at the site. For, he was yet to arrive though it was a quarter hour past the right time. It was a clear sky. The sun was going to set in the western horizon casting streaks of golden rays through small patches of white clouds and the shallow water of the river had mirrored the idyllic beauty of the scarlet ball.
I glanced at my watch. It was 6.20. Then he arrived raising his hand and yelled, “Hi, friend!”
“Long since, yaar,” I retorted
We touched each other.
“Wow, what a scene,” he exclaimed at the scenic beauty of the setting sun.
We sat on the rampart of the bank instead of entering the park nearby and watched the scene nature had endowed to lovers like us.
“Now tell me Arun, how you would put it if someone asks you about your identity,” I inquired.
“Well, it depends. You know, you have no identity in this vast universe. It is almost negligible,” He replied.
“But that is metaphysics. Come down to the earth. How should anyone know you in the society?”
“As for me, someone will single me out by my father’s name and my address, or may be, by my work.”
“You mean unless, of course, you have done something flamboyant, not simply by your work, I suppose.”
“Of course, you are right.”
“I am sure that a person’s identity has no gender bias.”
“Then why should our women argue that they must do job rather than stay a housewife for their identity?”
“Well, housewifery is also a job, Deepak.”
“Is it because the house wife saves money though she does not earn anything pecuniary for her effort?”
“You see, Aurn, the whole thing boils down to this: irrespective of the fact if you are a job holder or not, your identity depends on how you are related to a place or person, unless you are a Newton or Einstein. I cannot nullify my being the son of someone or for that matter another person cannot deny to be the wife of someone else simply on account of my or that person’s job”, I summarized.
“O. K. Now, let’s go and have tea,” said Arun. So we moved to our old tea stall.
A week was over. I was called by the same organization to prepare a document for them. As I had no engagement for the week, I reported at their office and took up the job from the next day. They showed me a desk at the upstairs where I concentrated in preparing the report on the basis of the given data.
Hardly an hour would have passed since I commenced the work that I overheard a harsh rebuke from a woman. The voice was coming from the ground floor.
It sounded, “Do you know, who I am? I am the wife of Sangram Kesari Kanungo. I can maim you to such an extent that you would think why do you live after all, and would be forced to commit suicide.”
After a minute the attendant came with a cup of tea. I asked him what the row was. He explained that someone, an unknown number had sent a love sign to Madam Deepika’s mobile phone, and hence this fury on her part.
The attendant was off. But I could not hold my laughter.
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