FEATURE: DECCAN HERALD LIVING/ON WOMEN BONDING/THOSE SILKEN TIES

                                                              


                                     That silken bond






Tomorrow is international women’s day. And contrary to popular misconceptions, the ladies aren’t at each other’s throats. Sheila Kumar reckons that they are enjoying each other’s company and forging close bonds.




Move over old image, it`s time the new one took its rightful place.  The old image? Why, that of  women being each other`s worst enemies, at home, in the marital home, in the workplace, everywhere, anywhere. It`s the familiar trope you see in movies, in adverts, in news snippets, all around you.


It`s the mother who rides her daughter hard, forever criticizing, loath to part with praise; that`s tough love, see? It`s the harridan ma-in-law,  but of course. It`s the boss from hell, and never mind if she doesn`t wear Prada. It`s the bunch of friends who bitch you out behind your back, even as they know what they say will make its way eventually back to you. It`s those women who can help you with a recommendation, a heads-up that could well change your very life, but who will deliberately refrain from doing so. And yes, it`s the neighbour who, true to cliché, will chuck garbage in your yard, pinch any  magazines left on your stoop unattended, steal your maid away with promises of higher wages.

Except, that woman is so yesterday. For a while now, the gentler sex has been,  to use that rather quaint Americanism, getting each other`s backs, being each other`s BFFs, best female friends. They are now looking out for each other, going out on a limb for women who are not necessarily their best friends. They are sharing life-saving tips at home, in the office, while on their morning jogs or evening walks. They are sharing warmth, laughter, good friendships, sympathy, empathy, succor, support.

They are bonding, genuinely and strongly. At home, they are loving and supportive. As in-laws, they are understanding and relaxed. As bosses, they make excellent mentors; as friends, they stick with you through thick and thin. They are a true celebration of woman power. 

Listen to Priya Chetty-Rajagopal,  CXO Search Consultant and Women's Leadership Champion, as also self-confessed,  all- time fabulous woman and goddess. ``Oh,`` she says, `` it`s absolutely all about women bonding now. That erstwhile polarisation of women either as cats or as Fevicol twins is so outdated. Even as the warmth and laughter has become much more gender- neutral, like-minded souls within a gender will naturally have a lot more to share and discuss. There`s less of hierarchy among women,  I feel, as also the ability to take or give good advice quickly. `` 

``I think the freedom of being able to hang out a little more with women, pursue things with them like a yoga course or work at an animal rescue centre, or even a professional course,  is most rewarding.``


Homemaker Manik K  sees women dining together all the time, women  in their mid- twenties up to sixty plus, Indians /  foreigners, all basically having a great time laughing, drinking, eating . She prophesies solemnly, ``Mixed groups will soon become something of a rarity. Think about it. Men- only groups are downright boring:  cricket, politics or business, glug- glug, chomp-chomp,  bye- bye!``

Amy Gigi Alexander, a writer, explorer, traveller and confirmed believer in goodness, is very clear about the silken bond.  ``Increasingly, women worldwide are travelling and exercising independence,  as solo travelers or with other women, `` she says.  ``Women are discovering that there are so many ways to experience the world and have a sisterhood, whether travelling in a group of women or with a single friend. Part of this is because women need to feel safe, and group travel offers this without the concerns of single travel. Even when we travel solo, we seek the company of women, because women are our best guides to culture, customs, and experiences.``

She nails the issue under discussion when she avers, ``A larger part of the conversation is that women are enjoying the experience of being around other women: it’s fortifying and empowering. The modern woman is concerned with being a force in the world and being part of the world. To this end, close bonds with other women are our greatest strength.``

Sujatha Karun, a homemaker and one of three sisters exclaims, ``I love going on trips with my sisters and girlfriends! We have a blast, we go scouting new places to eat, we shop like mad, we giggle over everything and anything. My husband is a seasoned traveller and it`s great to take trips with him but on the laughter scale, it`s always the girl gang that wins, each and every time.``


Keerti Ramachandra, a freelance editor- translator, sounds something of a dissenting note when she says wryly, ``I feel strongly that women are their own worst enemies  because the sense of competition is so strong. Blame it on nature/ genes/ sanskar,  whatever. And now I tread on very thin ice:  even today, for all our emancipation,  women seek their worth from the opposite sex. Which is why I see the women bonding scenario in relation to the traditional men-women bonding scenario.

``In old Hindi films, girls were always seen frolicking, exchanging hugs, holding hands, pretending the other was the lover. The sakhi in dance, songs/thumris, paintings, literature, has a very special place, but in relation to the male lover.


``But change is under way. The hierarchy in  woman to woman relationships  is being toppled. Maybe women are more able to see each other as equals in every sense  and therefore, able to bond more easily. Also,  maybe  economic and emotional independence gives them the freedom to have a good time with women friends rather than the male partner /husband,  and  to say ``You do your thing, I`ll do mine?`` 


Can we bond with our mothers-in-law? Well, by and large, that continues to be a mixed bag but there too, the equation is undergoing a sea change. Young women no longer view their husbands` mothers with trepidation, and they seem under less pressure to perform as `ideal` daughters-in-law. The older woman, for her part, no longer sees the younger woman as a threat to her son`s affections, mainly because she now has a life of her own. They each do their own thing, cut each other much slack, enjoy each other’s company and maintain a most pleasant relationship.

Here  is Ishani Joshi, a homemaker`s take on this particular relationship.  ``The mother- in- law/ daughter-in-law  relationship is extremely fragile and tenuous,  especially in the Indian context. Can we bond with them? Most certainly yes, but only when we live apart.  Unfortunately, most mothers- in- law continue to hold sway over their sons even while living with their son and daughter- in- law which becomes unbearable while living under the same roof.  

``Besides, one doesn’t have a common history with one’s ma- in- law. As a result, all those old family stories are most often heard more with perfunctory politeness than with genuine interest. Harder to accept are tips on how to raise or feed your child. Sadly, one is automatically attuned to one’s mother’s advice but not one’s ma- in- law. Much of the bonding depends on the two people in question. Respect for your mother- in- law? Definitely. Friendship,  as in considering her a confidante? Well, that is another thing.``

To counterbalance this cautious if pragmatic view, though, we have Ammu Menon, a graphic designer,  who stoutly says that she is as close to her mother-in-law as she is to her own mother. ``My husband is an only child and we have been married for a decade now. I turn to both Ma and my ma-in-law whenever any kind of crises happens. And both come through with solid advice, much sympathy, the occasional shoulder to cry on. Often, my ma-in-law (and my father-in-law, too, for that matter) crib to me about their son`s sayings and doings!

``But yes,`` Ammu continues, ``I don`t really go whining about everything that happens in my marriage to my ma-in-law. Ultimately, she is his mother and I have to respect that her loyalties will lie with him. It is enough that we can share a laugh, go catch the occasional movie, try a new restaurant, and shop together at least once in four or five months. I consider myself blessed.``

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