I wish I could have captured the toddler son’s reaction to the election results. He burst out crying and sobbed that he did not want President Obama to go. “He has been the President my whole life!” he sobbed. That is true. The little fellow has since picked up a book on Barack Obama from the library and has had it read to him every night.
“Amma – stop over-reacting. Why are you so sad? It is fine.”, said the daughter, seeing me mope around with drooping shoulders. I was reading a Children’s book called ‘Night World’ by Mordicai Geistein, and my mood matched the illustrations in the book.
I am not able to shrug it off in my usual manner, because this time it feels personal.
What I am about to tell you happened all of 20 years ago. I was selected to become the first female General Secretary of the Department in my college in my final year. It was not exactly an earth shattering position, but enough to cause a stir in the conservative community.
I took my responsibilities seriously and went out of my way to find someone note worthy in the industry to come and give us a talk for kicking off the year. I myself prepared a speech simply dripping with quotations and positivity, exhorting us all to Dream Big, Achieve High, Reach For Stars and so on. Einstein jostled with Jawaharlal Nehru, Ramanujan and C V Raman.
Some stalwart friends (both boys and girls) helped me with the various tasks associated with this event. A large auditorium was booked, flowers procured for chief guests and professors, some of the folks with the best singing voices were to ring in the August Assembly and wrap up with a hearty chorus of the National Anthem. It seemed to me that it was going to be a function fit enough to ring in a new year of hard work, and success.
What I neglected to do was order sufficient food for the gathering, and here I accept full responsibility. The truth is that I had simply under-estimated teenage appetites. I assumed everyone will be content with half a biscuit and a whiff of tea. But that apart, time and venue were printed out and sufficiently publicized in the college, professors reminded their students in the classes and smiled at me when they told me that they had told their respective classes to attend, and how they themselves will be there with their bells and whistles on. The Principal himself came out for the event. All very noteworthy.
I must say everything went well except for one glitch: Not a single boy turned up for the event. Minutes before the Chief Guest was to arrive, a boy in the first year came and told me that he had been told to inform me that all boys were boycotting the event because they were biffed that the ‘prestigious’ position of General Secretary of the Association had gone to me, a girl.
My crest fallen face evoked sympathy from the poor fellow and he left looking miserable and determined. That boy went on to become a friend in time, but then I could not bear his looks of sympathy. Tears stung my eyes. I turned away from him. I told myself that I must brace myself and got on stage. Great leaders instead of romping on stage with their inspirational quotes simply waddled up there like dispirited ducks on sewage water.
When the Chief Guest was speech-ing away about Networks and Protocols, a few of the more decent fellows made an appearance and lurked at the back entrance so it would look like they came but also would not look like they had overtly supported me. Obviously, that boy must have told the other boys how crushed I looked.
Twenty years on, the humiliation still rankles. What I wanted to do most was to take off the next day, week or month, and possibly burrow myself in a hole. But of course, I knew I had to face this problem head on. So, I made my way to college the next day determined to find out what the problem was. Had I done something to upset all the boys? Were all the boys upset with all the girls? Or just me?
The previous year, I had been the first Associate Secretary, and that time there did not seem to be dissent of any kind. So, this was truly baffling. Had I done something wrong? When I holed some fellows in my class, who were decent enough to look abashed the next day for staying away, and then making a half hearted appearance, they told me, that the Boys did not really mind me being the Associate Secretary because that involves a lot of work, and not much recognition. But the General Secretary was quite something else, I was told. There was recognition here, and that was what they could not bear. They felt recognition should not go to a girl.
Who could not bear? I asked. But all I got out of them was that ‘They’ felt that way.
I pushed on. Can you not bear?
‘No no’, – they quickly assured me. ‘We like you, but we were told by Them not to go. You understand? ‘
I told them I didn’t.
Twenty years later, America has done the same thing to Hillary Clinton, and I still do not understand it. The pain is raw. The wound still stings. I am sure there are plenty of women out there who have things in their past that hurts the same way, and for those people I offer solidarity.
I sighed a bit and continued reading. I turned the book over to the last page, and like President Obama said, The Sun Did Rise Again. In the book at least.