Our identity is a specific marker of how we define ourselves at any particular moment of life. Discovery and claiming our unique identity is a process of growth, change and renewal throughout a lifetime. This is my story – a brief part of what I call the projection of light through the mess of confusion, domination, power and control. The term prodigal is used to explain two aspects in which I, as a human being, as an independent woman, was received by the orthodox traditional Bengali Brahmin patriarchal Indian family and how I denounced that perception and proved not be prodigal to myself or to them.
The basic meaning of the term “prodigal” is “wasteful” particularly with regard to money, but in my case it came with my fierce way of embracing independence and denouncing the so-called set norms of the patriarchal society. Long story short, my act of going against the current and taking up for myself made me the wasteful little thing that everyone preferred to ignore or not to talk about in my family.
I was born in the mid 80’s in Kolkata, India, in a household where apart from my grandparents there were my four uncles and their wives and children and then me. We were all in the same house, and one room was allotted to each family with kids which meant the parents got the bed and we kids used to sleep in extra folding beds. Luckily there were three bathrooms to be shared by all. It was indeed a huge house, but with that many people residing together it seemed like a fish market most of the time. There were four maids, two drivers, and the gang of 13 cousins making it worse. We never needed friends from our neighborhood; we were our own football team. Cricket matches were always fun, as the rules were quite simple, (they were laid down by the elder two cousin brothers): Whoever paid for the cricket bat and ball would never be considered out unless and until they scored 100. Now, I realized that this was a creative selfish act, as the elder brothers paid for the bats and ball and we younger ones were the wicket keepers and ballers most of the time. By the time they were done, our parents were calling us for evening study. Hence we never did get the chance to be a batsman.
Anyway, as the story goes, my grandmother was elated when she came to know my mother was pregnant with me –well…hold on … I mean with a child. I was told she began to pray for a male child. My other two uncles already had two sons and a third one would bring supreme luck to the family. But my mother hoped for a little angel…a little girl. Hence, she started praying for her LAXMI (Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity). And the joke in the family goes like this…god got confused with these two demands of mom and sent the girl with a boyish attitude, the dream of her parents and a nightmare for the grandparents. So it began the saga of love manifested in a little child, negligence by the others, and efforts to stand by one’s decision and one’s dream.
I am the eldest of the girls, and till the day she passed away, my grandmother wished it could have been someone else. I was not the best example of a perfect traditional woman for my younger siblings. And I honestly do not blame her for that, as I was too inquisitive. My curiosity to know and then to apply that knowledge with a gusto not only got me into trouble, but also got my cousins and sometimes my parents into trouble as well.
Since my grandfather had limited earning he could not really afford a lavish lifestyle but he did make sure all his kids got the best education and till this day, my father and his brother are strict disciplinarians. Smoking and alcohol were strictly prohibited in our family. The culture of cinema was still a distance away. The only entertainment for housewives was the weekly telecast of some Hindi or Bengali serials and movies on the weekends. My favorite time was to watch the translated Hollywood serials .One day I saw my eldest cousin and his college buddies watching an English tale serial. I am not sure what it was, but because any time they said they were studying or it was important for the kids to stay away from that particular room, I knew it was my turn to inquire about the details. And to tell the truth, they were kind of scared of the little devilish avatar of mine. If my demands (chocolates and fresh breads from the neighborhood) were not met, I would go to my grandfather and describe in detail what I had seen. For example, when they said they were engaging in group meditation and they needed incense to burn, everyone believed them; my aunt even gave them incense and match sticks. tI was me who crawled under the sofa, laid there with the cockroaches, and discovered it was a secret experiment to smoke and survive a Charmin cigar,which my elder cousin had skillfully brought from the store . I felt like a Devi (goddess); I was literally worshiped by the elder cousin gang and all my demands were met. These are all materialistic aspects. Let’s talk about the mental delusion that was created by these secret adventures.
Apparently the elder cousin gang was very fond of English tele soap, so much so that one of them rented a dvd of that soap and it was one scene that they used to watch again and again. I do not remember much except a beautiful blonde woman running on the sea beach in a red swimsuit. Till date, I do not remember the name but I wanted that red swimsuit…I wanted to be on that sea beach and I too wanted run barefooted like that. Wearing a bathing suit?? Who me??? No it never mattered whether I was 6 years old or 16, I was a girl. Girls do not reveal their body like that at least in a good family like ours. They don’t that’s what my grandfather told me or rather tried to convince me…so I had to do it.
This was a family trip to Puri a beautiful sea beach in Orissa, twelve hours away from West Bengal. I had already convinced my father that I needed a red bathing suit and luckily for me he did not see anything wrong with it. It was time for a family photo on the beach. By the time the photographer was there, I decided to go to the temporary changing stations and run barefooted on the beach with the red swim suit. One foreign tourist saw me, stopped me, squeezed my cheeks and said, “Look at this little red riding hood”. I already knew whom red riding hood was from my English story telling classes, and that boosted my confidence. I ran all the way to my grandfather who was having coconut water peacefully.
He got choked .He could not believe his eyes and then there was a moment of silence. According to him that moment defined that I was going to be a rule breaker, the Prodigal Daughter, and for me that moment made me embrace my wish and honor that without any jurisdiction. That was important. I became a water baby forever and red color became the symbol of independence and rebellion for me. However, to this date, I do not recall the name of that English serial or that beautiful blond actress. Everything happens for a reason…This was a reason to do things I was not supposed to do or as told by others.
The first step towards independence
This was just one humorous incident I remember. But as I grew up, the signs and dominance of the patriarchal society became more prominent. Jawaharlal Nehru, Leader of India’s Independence movement, and India’s first Prime Minister once said “You can tell the condition of a Nation by looking at the status of its Women.” Although at this time India had gained its independence from the British and entered the modern era of technology, education and progress for the orthodox traditional Indian families were tied up with social evils in a strange way.
I knew I had to break free. I was fortunate to have supportive parents. Although my grandparents did not like the idea of me getting a higher education, they did not prohibit it. Gradually the idea of personal freedom was accepted, I would say with more hesitation than ease.
Another big incident that became a turning point in my life was when I passed high school. I was barely eighteen and my grandparents thought this must be the perfect time for me to get married. With the arranged marriage system in India, they talked to my father and expressed their wish of finding a suitor for me.
Lucky for me, my father stood by me and told them there was no way he was going to get me married against my wishes. This not only made me strong, but also increased my respect for my father by leaps and bounds. I told him I wanted to go to USA for my higher studies. He agreed and his reply to me was, “If you want the freedoms and the right to make your own decisions, then you must take responsibility for the results of those decisions. “
Since then a decade has passed. I still remember the day I graduated from University Of North Alabama. I understood graduation was only a concept. In real life every day we graduate; graduation is the process that goes on till the last day of our life. Fortunately I learned how to grasp this and it has made a difference in my life.
University Of North Alabama Graduation!!
I am an independent woman now. I have a great job; a loving fiancé and cute little pet English bulldog “Pluto” that make me feel loved all the time. I now reside in Las Vegas Nevada, USA. Now, I think about the future like what else would I like to do? One of the greatest influences in my life was my maternal grandmother. I learned from her that grandmothers have special powers. She was a queen of her own world. She kept her standards high and passed on her values to others. When I become a grandmother I will become a living ancestors too. My stories will be different, as I will be living in another world and at another time. I would like to translate to my grandchildren the taste and smell, the environment, and the understanding of values that shaped us. Most importantly, the family is the key social institution in which children are nurtured and socialized. The family is touted as the centerpiece of human life. Every child must be treated as unique and precious and not prodigal.
Indrani is from the “city of joy” Kolkata , India. However she has been living in the United States since 2005 and at present she is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. She holds an MBA degree from University Of North Alabama. She is the business lead for major manufacturing company. She is passionate about poetry and literature and other forms of arts like music and cinema . She enjoys her happy hour with her friends and often takes on adventurous outings or vacations, which include rafting , base jump or skydiving . To sum up , her life is measured by “3 F’s namely fun, food, and friends .