A male colleague invited me and my colleague to lunch. His treat. My female colleague was hesitant. She said she has to finish something. “We’ll wait for you”, I said. Downstairs at the cafeteria, she asked me “what to do? My feminism is struggling with it”. My response was “Life is generous and generosity has many forms. This is just one of them. It’s your choice whether to accept it with gratitude.” She liked the perspective and accepted it.
It was a terriffic lunch. We talked about food, places to visit when his family is in town and best places to take his family out for dinner. We exchanged our impressions from our trips to France. We responded to his generosity with our generous knowledge of local culture. It’s mutual. Always. Generosity attracts generosity.
What does feminism have to do with who pays for lunches anyway? In one of its many definitions, feminism fights for everyone’s freedom to pursue happiness. It is totally fine, if refusing a treat from a colleague based on your beliefs makes you happy. An offer to buy me lunch has never meant that I was perceived as unable to pay for myself or that any of my abilities were disregarded. Quite the opposite.
A feminist is someone who believes in equality between the genders, reads another definition. Feminism is also about generosity to me. Money saved from the lunch paid by our colleague goes to a lunch for a homeless or a less fortunate one. It’ s going beyound and above the bubble we place ourselves in for the sake of bellonging to a social structure. These bubbles are a bit of luxuries. Once a single mother of five living a poor but dignified life told me: “you may perhaps afford all this feminist talk. I cannot. I have five mouths to feed.” And she is right. A female begger will unlikely object to a treat from a male just because the two of them belong to different genders. Or she may refuse it and hope that her own gender would be as generous and would not do it out of superiority of any kind.
Generosity is gender blind and I sure hope it will stay that way.
Feminism stems originally from a struggle, an opposition, a fight. For the sake of wisdom, I would like to believe we are over it and feminist or feminine we are simply grateful and generous with each other in all of our human interactions.
My To Read all Nobel Prize in Literature Project brought me to India at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Rabindranath Tagore (May 7, 1861-August 7, 1941) was a Bengali poet from India. Tagore won the 1913 Nobel Prize, based on a small amount of his translated works, and his 1912 work of poems named Gitanjali: Song Offerings.
Tagore was an humanist, a teacher and this is the reason I chose to read ” Stories from Tagore”.
The stories resonate with my country’s colonial past, when studying in a foreign language was imposed in schools. Tagore published these stories to help children get accustomed to a language foreign to their ears and eyes. At the end of each story, he makes space to explains “words to be studied” in plain language. He takes time to explain it in his Preface, addressing teachers’ difficulties in instructing Indian children out of books that are intended for use in English schools.
These are sad stories. If you a looking for a more light reading, these might not be it. They are stories meant to bring to light human struggles.
If your heart is justice centered you’ll find yourself dealing with silent or more vocal revolt. I must say that development realities do not appear to have changed much in India over the last century or so, at least from my recent development studies perspective. Inequalities, caste system, poverty, servitude, forced marriages, injustices, women and girls discrimination, lack of opportunities and affected livelihoods….. You’ ll also find the values of friendship, family, devotion and resilience emerge under most opposing circumstances.
The value of family is central in many of these stories. It overturns even the collective pressure in a patriarchal society, as in “The Castaway” : “Sharat and his mother turned a deaf ear to them, thinking that the little life of their darling was of greater importance than the united wisdom of a village”.
“Beauty is a truth’s smile when she beholds her own face in a perfect mirror” is my favourite quote from Tagore’s wisdom.
I like to observe people. To listen to what they say. To watch their moves. Sometimes it makes me judgmental, it’s true, but I am working on it.
One evening, at a table next to us, a 40 something lady was saying to a 60 something lady: “thank God the year of the snake is coming to an end. And next year is my year – the year of the horse.”
It was late December and at that point I realised that it was a year governed by the sign of the year I was born in. If one would follow the logic of that lady, waiting for your year would mean living only for six years in a 72 year life span. Such a waste, is it not? This conversation drew my attention because a 10 year old was with the two of them. Is this the lesson he will take with him, prejudicing his future perspective on life? “Be careful to what you say to your children, as it becomes their inner voice”.
I for one luckily got to know the value of time given to us on Earth. I’ve been on those ladies mental path until a critical moment during my labour when my kid’s heart bits accelerated to alarming levels. Those 10 seconds of antagonizing anguish marked a turning point. My brain reached a milestone of distinguishing the mundane from the important, the detail from big picture, the joys of life from petty struggles. I could not care less whose year or what month or day was it at that point. Anything ordinary might become extraordinary in the bit of a second.
From that moment on I know and constantly remind myself that every year is my year. Every day is my day. Every moment is my moment. Regardless of the sign a calendar marks it with.
“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”
― Omar Khayyám, رباعيات خيام
“Dear friends, would you like to join me for breakfast tomorrow, on Sunday? I have at least three reasons to celebrate:)” reads my email to my friends.
Earlier this week, they were the ones who said I should celebrate it when I shared the news about my master diploma. Fully taken by my daily duties, I left unmarked the moment i received the University’s confirmation that I met all the diploma requirements.
My friends’ support on the last stages of my dissertation and their natural joyful celebration mood made me think “Why do we need reasons to celebrate?” Reason is a function of the brain. Celebration is more from the heartland. Left to my brain, my master diploma is a fait acoompli and I should be heading to another challenge. “What’s next?” is already implanted in my mind. Pausing a bit, only my heart knows how it actually felt to raise a baby, have a full time job and study for my second master’s, all at the same time. I owe a big celebration to my heart for all of it. I owe it to myself, my wise friends told me.
A month after her birthday, my kid said she wants a Spring birthday party, and a Summer birthday party and an Autumn one. Indeed, who said there should be only one birthday party a year?! She does not have yet an adult perception of time and of a calendar. She does not need to look for a reason. The reason is always there. She is the reason and this is more than enough.
We wait and postpone. Other commitments take over. Accomplishments become info on a resume or a life event we put on our facebook wall. We look back and wonder how was our last month, last summer, last year, or last ten years…It can be a little fuzzy, isn’t it?’
To acknowledge an event or an achievement one does not always need a social gathering or expensive champaign ( which is nice from time to time) or anything very elaborate. Sometimes a simple “Thank you” ritual, a cup of tea shared with loved ones, couple of volunteer time hours, time to yourself indulging on your favorite pastime, paint a figurine, anything you choose to mark and cherish what you did to materialize your aspirations and how this made a better you, is memorable. Count your blessings, they say. Small or big they are yours. Observe them, mark and honour them in any way you like. You’ll see little stars appearing on your life board, joining in constellations and galaxies to brighten your life.
My Sunday breakfast turned into a celebration of the three of us. My master diploma was one reason to celebrate. “What are the other two reasons you mentioned in your email?”, asked my friends. “Well, it’s you”, I answered to their bemusement and offered each their portraits my kid drew on our last trip together. I framed and wrapped them as gifts for their upcoming birthday, which they celebrate a day apart next week. Their happy faces became stars on my life board. They mark our friendship, my kid’s talent and just a beautiful Sunday morning in a lovely company.