Once there was a little girl. She was a fanciful kind of child, and she liked nothing better than to listen to her grandmother spinning yarns on lazy afternoons. At one such session, her grandmother abruptly interrupted her story and admonished the little girl for shaking her legs while sitting. The little girl protested, "But Dad does it too!" Grandma replied that it was alright for him because he was a man. The little girl could not understand how she knew, but she knew instantly that Grandma was wrong. Maybe it was because she had heard her Dad tell one of her aunts who had tried to sympathize with his son-less state that in his eyes, each of his three daughters was as good as ten sons. The little girl kept shaking her legs.
In time, the little girl grew up to become just a girl. She started noticing that people on the streets looked at her differently when she walked on the road. Their eyes followed her, bothered her, made her feel like she was under some kind of spotlight. She hated every instant of it, so she decided to cover herself up and make herself invisible. She wore clothes which could have accommodated her twice over, she wore dull colours, she did everything she could do make herself invisible, and yet they never stopped looking. She envied her friends who wore shapely clothes and riotous colours, but never had the courage to follow suit.
Then came a day when that selfsame grandmother told the girl to wear jeans, because they flattered her more than the gunny bags she usually wore. The girl realized that she need not be ashamed if people looked at her. She wore colour, and she was happy. She wore well-cut clothes, and she was pretty. She felt sorry for all the women trapped in the faraway realm of Talibanistan, who were beaten in public for showing the teensiest bit of skin, as though their very physical existence was somehow shameful and needed to be hidden. She felt secure and thankful for the country that, for all its lascivious eyes, did not seek to put her away in a corner, deny her being and make her feel like she was less of a person than any man.
The girl grew into the woman who laughed aloud without fear when she found things funny, earned a living through her own hard work and also earned the luxury of doing what she wanted in her free time. When she had her first drink, it was not really a momentous occasion, mostly because she had never thought of this as something proscribed to her. She danced when she was happy, and her friends danced with her. She held hands with the one she loved, because it made her heart sing. She was free, unfettered and proud. She was the daughter her Dad had been so proud of.
Then some people decided that the woman was not how she should be. She did not hide her face anymore. She did not cower at their sight anymore. She did not cast her eyes down when they spoke to her. And she spoke back. She made them feel less sure of themselves, no matter how many times their mothers told them that they were special too. They could not deal with her, so they beat her up. They hit her, shamed her and laughed at her. They pushed her back into the box and labelled it culture, because most people had no idea what culture was. They felt secure because she could no longer undermine them, could no longer make them feel less.
Some people saw her in the box labelled culture, and came towards her. She looked at them hopefully, because they looked like they had power in their hands. They looked at her for a moment, refusing to meet her eyes. In that instant, they betrayed her. They talked in serious voices, while shutting out the sound of her voice. They quickly agreed that she belonged in the box-labelled-culture. She was less than a person, she had no mind, of course she didn't know what was bad for her. She would drink her liver into oblivion if given half a chance, she would corrupt the spotless minds of the boys on the streets by holding their hands and the country would descend into chaos if she didn't bring up another generation just like the one that had shamed her.
And the woman was silenced. Her country turned into a repository of culture, a culture of silence at the pain of death. She trained her daughters to keep quiet, stay out of the way and never talk back. They were told that shame was their raiment, that honour resided between their legs and not in their conduct, and they were too base, too stupid and wicked to preserve it without the instruction of their fathers. The colour went out of life once again, the country withered into a cultured shambles, and she still kept quiet. She heeded every instruction of the guardians of the box-labelled-culture and she had no need to think ever again. After all, she was a woman, not a person.
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