I was asked to answer a set of questions for International Women's Day for an online news portal, it went like this:
1) One social rule you have broken (it could be fashion/beauty/health/social norms etc) OR a rule you want to break and why?
2) That moment when you realized that you don't need to follow the said rule or succumb to societal pressures.
I pondered over it and wondered what 'norms' I had violated. Ironically nothing sprang to mind. Juggling my thoughts I messaged the husband who was in transit at Frankfurt airport enroute to LA. I sent the same message to my genius writer friend.
Husband replies in note form:
- When you met me you left England and we lived together in Rome.
- Living together for over 10 years before you eventually married me.
- Refusing to straighten your hair when every hairdresser in Mumbai told you to, you kept your defining curls.
I never really saw living together as breaking a societal rule, as for the hair comment - oh MY! It made me giggle, but to be fair to the husband, he read the question literally and he's right, I'd never be a cookie-cutter-type and a slave to the latest trends. Absolute man-points to the husband for being so attentive whilst in transit at the airport.
Genius writer friend:
'But you're not a rebel and a rule breaker, it's not your nature. Let me think...'
A few minutes later, another message comes:
'Yup, you're not a rule breaker, your life journey and your choices has led you down a certain path and you've risen to the challenge. You walked away from everything you knew for love. And for that pure action I love you.'
I should have known this is what she would say, I love her mad genius. Again, she's right, I'm not a rebel or an instigator but what I do have is the courage and tenacity to live my life no matter how terrifying the fallout of those choices may be. The courage comes from knowing that all will be well if you take that first step and your intent is clear and clean.
I learnt this lesson at a young age from my Mum's life experiences, she broke a ‘social’ rule in the early 1980’s when she separated from my father. Divorce was a big taboo at that time for Asian families living in England. I saw and recognised at a young age how fickle, cruel and vicious ‘society’ can be to women who do not fit the accepted norm and how men were left relatively unscathed.
My Mum proved to my five siblings and me, that there were always options in life, that nobody should be trapped or forced to put up with cruelty for the sake of appearances. I learnt so much from her experiences and if you ask anyone who knows my mother, they'd say this, 'she's not a rebel or a rule breaker' and there you have it. Life changing events and experiences of people leading ordinary lives can create extraordinary change by quietly revolutionising the thought process of all those it touches.
My early learnings paved the way for a life where I was free to form and express my own opinions, beliefs and convictions. This certainly translated into my work where I developed governmental social policies to help the most disadvantaged and marginalised communities in our society. I regularly worked for women's group, those with mental health issues and addictions. I'll be eternally grateful for my upbringing and the freedom of choice it gave me. I believe that conformists, rebels and traditionalists can all peacefully co-exist, one is not mightier than the other. Ideally, there should be no need to pull the other down to feel right or make a point! Here is what I finally submitted:
I’ve broken a few ‘society rules’ in my life journey….. leaving my country, family, career for love, living with an older man and not wanting marriage. After living together for 10 years I chose to marry this man I loved, and as expected the tried and tested centuries-old weapons of ‘societal’ norms were conveniently drawn against me. Everyone and their dog had an opinion and jumped on the band-wagon. My husband put it very simply, "Who are these people? And how do they matter?"
The obsession was comical, the name calling cliched almost pitiful - surely there could be more creativity? The utter glee of ‘society’ assuming it’s moral high-ground stank of hypocrisy, like a vindicated yet still crooked politician – smug! In short, it was a cesspit of back-slapping misogyny and the irony, it was fuelled by both men and women.
I’ve since developed Teflon-like qualities, nothing sticks to me, the words, barbs, whispers - they all slide off. I am living a life I have chosen for myself, one of love and companionship. I am blessed to have a wonderful family and real friends who stood by and continue to be my pillars of strength. I am truly happy, I have found my tribe and it is strong. There are many of us living our lives fully and authentically beyond the strict societal convention.
Taking everything with a huge dose of humour is the only way to rise above it all and focus on what really matters. Here’s to Teflon!