In fifty years from now, what do I see?
I have a vision, not a dream.
Where Bengali girls can go to their mothers and tell them anything. Absolutely anything. They will be able to tell them about their first crush, their first love. They will be able to discuss puberty with all its curiosities and enquire about topics like menstruation and marriage without shame. Mothers will be who they turn to if they experience anxiety, trauma or bullying as we enable our mothers to play their full role of protector, rather than the one who needs to be protected. Mental health struggles will be shared without judgement and with compassion. The support for our girls will go beyond the boundaries of teachers and schools, instead it will overflow into the home of every female. Mothers and their daughters will enjoy honest and healthy relationships. These relationships will flourish and be reciprocal rather than be a one way, authoritarian or even submissive one.
As you read this, I hope there will be little judgement; this is not a debate or a discussion that is up for counter arguments. This is an observation of the lives of the many Bengali women I know personally and indeed, of my own experience.
A positive relationship with our mothers is key to success in life. Subconsciously, it is this relationship which oozes into every other sphere of our lives – it is everlasting. Those earliest formations ripple through the sea of life endlessly, often going on to determine the quality of all our other connections with humans. Strength, self-esteem, and self-respect stems from our mothers and can be as capable of standing on par with Mother Nature herself.
In my vision every Bengali girl stands as an equal among her counterparts in all her relationships, both private and public. This is because her mother is her role model.
It is only fitting that on this auspicious occasion of Bangladesh’s 50th anniversary, we pause to celebrate some of our greatest writers and thinkers. They were visionaries ahead of their time; Begum Rokeya knew that we would flourish more rapidly if we empowered our women and gave them a voice to be heard. In our reflection, there are horrors and triumphs. Today we stand together to embrace all our rich and beautiful cultural traits, but with the same energy and breath, we must stand together to expel and be cathartic of all those aspects which hurt and harm our girls.
In this vision, could we ever consider that marriage is not the ultimate destination for every woman? Must it be a fate set in stone? Could our women ever know true liberation – the event we have come to celebrate today? Obligation, guilt, the need to please are deeply rooted like the twists and gnarls of an old, oak tree. Are we capable of a time when we accept free will? So heavily entrenched are the paths of the conventional route, that we ourselves as women frown and whisper upon those who ‘fail’ convention. In my vision, we all learn to respect and be considerate of those who choose another path.
Fertility, so prized a possession in our culture. It sits at the heart and is in the fibre of the fabric of our society. Bearing children is the unspoken expectation of adulthood. It is non-negotiable. Those who do not fulfil this expectation risk losing all face, status and sense of belonging. Why pile on shame? Whisper cruel utterances? Load all the fault on her? In this reflection of fifty years, my vision sees us offer compassion, hope and unconventional routes to motherhood.
Integral is the notion that you will marry. The blushing bride has her colourful, wedding feast and then off she walks into the sunset to fulfil her duties and responsibilities, essentially the perpetual cycle of life. Thereafter, how many of us check in on her sunset? How many of us ask how she is? Did life fulfil her dreams? We dare not ask the questions. What if she tells us her life is a nightmare? What would we do then? In the next fifty years, we need to equip ourselves on how to support such a scenario.
Pause if you will please. Go to your mother, grandmother or aunt. Now ask them this:
“Was your life happy?”
I can say with considerable conviction that the chances are they will say,
“I don’t know.”
They will not know how to respond to this question.
Because no one has ever asked them.
How does one find the words to respond to a question never asked, let alone even considered for themselves?
At what point do we make happiness the fundamental purpose of life so that it blends into our daily lexicon and psyche like night does into day? When will we tell our girls that life equates with joy?
The story of my own mother is the story of all our mothers. She arrived in the UK in 1969 as a 16-year-old bride and pregnant. By the time she was 19 years old, she had lost a baby and was the mother of three. She settled without the love of her kin, without support and built a home on foreign soil. Torn away from her parents, nobody ever asked her how she felt. Nobody read her signs of mental anguish. Nobody stopped to think of her well-being. Nobody prepared her for the loneliness. I think we owe it to our mothers to say thank you. For all their sacrifices. Who needs a superhero, when they stand before us every day in the form of our mothers?
Fifty years later, ask yourself, do you know your mother’s story. If the answer is ‘no’ then talk to her today, collect her memories and experiences, and be sure to pass them on so they may shape our future.
Rabindranath Tagore wrote of a woman in one of his stories, “…Did anyone try to find out what I like?” Do not let our mothers and sisters continue in their silent journey.
It is never too late. Be the leader of controversial conversations in your home. Don’t for example, allow your mothers to go through the menopause alone with all its bodily chaos and mental confusion. Help her understand it or seek help. Be her counsel.
The liberation of Bangladesh should encompass all things liberating for our women and girls throughout all their life experience. Let us embrace a transparent and honest dialogue: young with old, mothers with their daughters, females with males.
Let us all be visionaries. Let us be the first and lead the way. So that all women will be celebrated and cared for in their womanhood and in all their struggles.
Breaking down the taboos and barriers which still surround all women of the Asian subcontinent today could be a mission we undertake and succeed in, if we agree this as a shared goal.
This is not just about Kazi Nazrul’s vision in which he sings the song of equality, this is about love. Can we and future generations shine the light and make this vision a collective one? If we can, then fifty years from today, the vision will be a reality. We will hear the stories of empowerment and innovation as the thread which binds all Bengali women.
Written for our mothers and our daughters yet to arrive.