I am watching a serial, and I do not like certain aspects of it. If you read on, you will understand why I am not revealing the title.
The story revolves around members of a self - proclaimed (many times over) middle class family, where there is the honest father, who is already struggling to make ends meet, when he becomes an invalid, and the mother who remains a dutiful housewife thus far.
There is the eldest, a daughter who is their pride and joy, as she at first works to contribute to the family exchequer, and then marries a very decent wealthy young man, who accepts her with all her baggage and is willing to stand by her and her family, despite his family’s remonstrations.
Their youngest child is a subservient and ailing teenage girl, while the two in between, a girl and a boy, are the “problems” or the ones that are used as examples of kopaal kharap. Of the two “problem children”, much of the plot revolves around the middle daughter who is portrayed as a nightmare, maney bettomeez and behaya.
To cut a long story short, she is beautiful, willful, and contemptuous of her own parents, as they are not able to afford all the luxuries she covets. Her attempt to attract a wealthy husband for herself fails, and when her family is unable to pay her college fees, at the recommendation of her friend, she takes up a position in a travel agency owned by a man of some disrepute.
So far so good. Until, her parents start urging her to leave the job because firstly, neighbours will look out of their windows and be scandalized to see a young unmarried girl returning home late evening or late night, and secondly, because her boss is a sleazebag. Meanwhile they are on the lookout for a suitable candidate for her to marry.
Now this is where I feel the plot becomes quite irrelevant. The neighbours will talk…really? Are the neighbours themselves not at work? If they are at home chances are they are foraging through social media sites, reading blogs, responding to messages, and checking out dawat pictures, instead of looking out of the windows. At this day and age of pollution, dengue, and chikungunya do neighbours even open up windows??
If she is indeed working because she needs the money, then she ought to look for another job first before leaving this one. She needs to have a plan. This is the #MeToo moment. The girl possesses initiative, cunning and gumption, so how is it that she does not become the ringleader amongst the office staff and find a way to neutralize the boss’s harassment? Better still, why does she not usurp him and take over his job?
If the girl is ambitious, the parents should perhaps be more progressive in finding the means to channel her intelligence and ambition in order that she can reach her potential. And if she is ‘different’ then the parents ought to be more accommodating and accepting of her, as she is their own.
I am rather perplexed that the parents being plagued by financial woes are not encouraging all their children to acquire education or skills of some sort. There seems to be no reality check on the older daughter either, instead they advise her that as the husband is a great guy, she should do as he bids. Then without any conflict she will love happily ever after, as all other things will remain equal. Hmmmm.
The subliminal messages in the story seem to be that female children are a burden, and the ones with agency more so; that it is not ‘decent’ for a girl to want something better for herself, unless of course
a husband voluntarily acquires something better for her, that women should run away at the slightest hint of trouble rather than hold their ground and be steadfast in the face of adversity, and that they ought to be invisible, and ought not be encouraged to negotiate their way through public spaces. And the usual, marriage is the answer to any difficulties one may encounter with female offspring.
If anyone is wondering why I am bothered with this story, after all it is just a drama, it is because I see how film culture seems to have pervaded so many aspects of our society. Therefore I do not believe that we can detach ourselves from what we see and hear, or that the visual medium is just innocuous entertainment. We have a tendency to emulate what the screen portrays. I also object to the normalization of the intolerance towards a daughter.
If we become immersed in such narratives continuously, for a considerable period of time, we might begin to sit by the windows all day keeping tabs on our neighbours, instead of progressing towards becoming women in our own right.
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.