Saw an interesting picture in the newspaper today – a women’s pancharimelam team from a Kudumbasbsree unit welcoming the Health Minister Ms P. K. Sreemathi to the Tourism and Trade Fair.
It was an extremely pleasing sight. So different from the usual thalapoli walk comprising ladies dolled up in traditional Kerala sarees, looking pretty and walking ‘gracefully’, thereby endorsing the age old image of woman as an ornament, a seductress, the creature whose very rationale for existence is to bring joy and fulfillment to the man, the family and society – the frames into which are fitted the devadasi, the gazal dancer, the courtesan.
I don’t think these entrenched images have changed fundamentally in any part of the world. I was disappointed to see Michelle Obama dancing - for the white female electorate, was it? I would have liked to see her doing something more relevant to the role of the would–be consort to the most powerful man in the world – it’d appear that dancing and charming are only the roles that suit her, the woman. A President’s wife or a janitor’s wife, the story is the same.
Surely women are capable of less frilly roles too. The kudumbasree is a superb example of that. The cities of Kochin and Trivandrum would stink and be a breeding a ground for life threatening microbes if not for the fantastic service rendered by the kudumbasree in waste removal. Where the corporation and the municipality have failed, the kudumbashree has stepped in. It is the awakening and experience of the women power – sthree sakthi - that is seen in this picture where the kudambasree women chose to welcome the minister, not with thalapoli but with drums that are always associated with the strong, male of high utility value.
It’s time that women from the more privileged classes too made conscious efforts to break themselves free from these controlling images brewed long years back in the cauldron of patriarchal values. That liberation can come only when they experience the self esteem that the kudumbashree enjoys, a self esteem that is born of a realization that women can address and tackle not only women’s social and economic problems as they do, but also those of the society. The innovative self help banking system that they follow, their success in turning society’s problems into opportunities for themselves and service to the society, have enhanced their sense of independence and self esteem.
Which, I guess is why they didn’t line up in the Kerala kasavu sarees, holding thalipolis and walking seductively.
This reminds me to a function I attended in Florida sometime back. The Malayalee teenaged girls donned the kasavu saree, loaded their heads with jasmine flowers and walked up the aisle with the talapolis. What struck me was the most ‘unladylike’ movement of these young girls who had spent all their lives in Levis and Bermuda shorts. It looked awkward to me at first, particularly when one of them, impatient with the saree getting in the way, kept on hitching it up! But, as I watched them, I felt a certain sense of relief rising from deep within me. That ‘graceful’, seductive, annnanada(swan walk) is not something a woman is born with. It is imbibed from the air she breathes. Yes. No one is born a woman; she is made one.
I am not trying to say that these young teenagers are a liberated lot. Only, they have not been influenced by the Kerala concept of “how to be a lady” –at least, at that superficial level. As they weren’t trapped and trained in the ‘womanizing’ clothes, they hadn’t fallen victim to the images that control and shape the mind through the agency of the traditional attire.