Last week my daughter’s school announced a Ramayana activity where all kids were given a character or episode from the epic tale and were asked to narrate a few lines. This drove all mothers into frenzy and thus started the series of messages – “What’s your daughter got? What role is she enacting?” Every mother secretly wished her daughter got the role of Sita, after all Sita is the quintessential example of feminity in Ramayana. But with several aspirants and poor Sita alone, it indeed was the perfect mix for heart break.When I saw the Almanac to realize my daughter was supposed to speak on Kishkindha, I was horrified. I googled what exactly that meant – a character, place or what? After almost an hour of online search, I got to know that Kishkindha Kanda was where Sugriva re-challenged his brother Bali, in alliance with Rama, for combat to reclaim his throne.
Much to the incorrect conditioning that we give our kids, my daughter was visibly upset over not getting to play the role of Sita. It took days of convincing her that she will play the role of learned and respectful Maharishi Valmiki and will make many aware of the Kishkinda Kanda on her school stage. I repeatedly reminded her that it was way more important to be intelligent than beautiful. The excitement to narrate the lines and dress up took over her initial inhibitions.
Dressed up as Maharishi Valmiki this morning, we were striding happily to her bus stop when the girl who boards the bus along with her changed the course of her mood. Her excited parents told me that their daughter was essaying the role of Shurpanakha. I noticed her beautifully dressed in a lehenga choli with bright red lipstick, kajal and rouge on her plump cheeks. She tells me, “Shurpanakha boht beautiful hoti hai! Sita se bhi zada beautiful!” Then she heads to my daughter and starts to make fun of my daughter’s hairstyle and how funny she looked in her attire. Swirling her lehenga, she pokes her further, “Tu toh boy lag rahi hai. Mera lehenga dekh!” I silently observe, hoping that my daughter will give an apt response but she breaks down. She hides behind me and starts to cry. I try to console her but nothing works. Streams of tears start flowing down and right in front of me I see my whole week of hard work going down in pieces.I take her to one side and ask her to look into my eyes. I reassure her she is looking nice and how she should focus on playing her character right but nothing seems to help. She tries to hide behind me, embarrassed to be dressed as a male character. And before I could try other tricks to console her, her bus arrived and she half-heartedly boarded the busThis left me wondering how long it will take to break stereotypes. Why after years of feminism, we are still so stuck on exceptional beauty for women? Why, if our daughters don’t get to play the role of Sita, we have to constantly remind her that she is still beautiful and amazing? And how exactly do we define beauty? It’s time our girls understand that the women we see on magazine covers, movies or the perfect shape that their Barbie dolls have are all unachievable goals. They cannot be Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone or their favourite Elsa or Barbie. They can be their best self!
Wish I could teach my daughter that the beauty lies in being confident in your skin – whether you play Taadka, Sita or even Raavan.