Quintessentially good girls from good households will always dream about topping their class, especially when they sport two thick braids and thick-rimmed spectacles. True to the anonymous prophecy, I remember trudging along to school each morning, on mornings that now seem from another era, and devoting tremendous attention to what the teachers said. My eyes, always on the smaller side, diminished further in size due to the excessive squinting I subjected them to.
“Would you like to come for the Christmas carnival?” The hyperactive class coordinator asked me one December, to an uncontrollably giggling audience. Class toppers, it seemed, especially ones who never bought anything from the canteen, are a terrible misfit at such social dos. Never mind that Mom and I spent the greater part of our evenings putting up handmade Christmas decorations at home. In Mom’s eyes, I was the painter, plum-cake lover and carol-singer who always performed Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for the family on Christmas Eve.
As time passed, life was generous in offering me plenty of choices. When I decided to take up writing, I was offered the choice of taking up management or sticking it out in my present job for the money, which “wasn’t bad at all for a girl”. I was offered choices of “plenty of good Bengali guys” for wedlock because love marriages happened – and worked – only on the silver screen. Subsequently, I was up for severe lamenting from crushed “choices” when I decided to take up writing, move to a city away from home, and marry the man I had fallen in love with, notwithstanding the fact that he wasn’t Bengali.
Ghosts of the long trail of choices I have rejected so far often find their way to several aspects of my present life. “Can you either share the first draft tonight or early tomorrow?” I am sometimes told at work, at around 6 PM on a Friday. “No.” I often venture to say. “I leave office on time, take the weekend off, and work on this on Monday.” On my days off, I become the experimental cook, the movie buff, the sunshine addict and the party planner.
Choices, I have found, often come padded with preconceived prejudice, gender-based restriction, refusal to believe that a girl can decide for herself, and general apathy. The only choice I love is one that sets sail to my dreams, allows me to breathe. It isn’t the choice between taking a year off or more after marriage, but whether I need to quit in the first place. It isn’t the number of children I should have, but when, if at all.
I sit by the window sometimes and listen to the wind flapping away, oblivious to the burden of dishonest and hollow choices in the world. There’s the choice between being a responsible homemaker and a fulltime professional, a doting mother and an ardent traveller, a free woman and one bound by restricting relationships. I tell the wind of my resolve to chuck the claustrophobia-inducing “or” and instead use my “and” to do and be everything my heart tells me to. The wind, after such a conversation, blows twice as merrily and the world fills with sparkling new colours.
* * *