What is the basic difference between a woman and a man?
Madhavikutty (Kamala Das/Kamala Suraiya), one of the most controversial and talented Indian writers, had an answer.
It was the last decade of twentieth century. The internet explosion was yet to be accepted by Malayalam writers and intellectuals as part of the social psyche. Madhavikutty and I were writing a Malayalam novel ‘Amavasi’, a combined effort. Our very open intellectual discussions about the characters in the novel brought out many original viewpoints and, as everybody knows, Madhavikutty had one of the sharpest minds, uncontaminated by the conventional school or college education.
She had been brought up in Calcutta (Kolkota), put into wedlock in middle teen age to a relative more than double her age, even before she could complete matriculation course in a semi-European school where she was the only brownie girl. Her command of words in Malayalam was very limited, less than two thousand words, according to her, but the dreams she brought in her lyrical style was unimaginably wonderful and unique.
I used to tell her that Malayalam literature was lucky that she did not have school education in the language. She agreed. She was in Mumbai with her husband till his retirement and then came back and almost settled in Thiruvananthapuram. After the demise of her husband, she made Kochi her home.
She said: ‘Varma, I have been in Kerala for the past few years. During this period, I had met hundreds of top men in various fields, but I have not found a single one with even 50 per cent of my IQ, and you know the funny part is that they are not only totally ignorant of it, but also never treat me even as their equal. For them, woman is a sexual object ultimately and incapable of outwitting the men’.
I disagreed on the percentage in my case, and she gave me a 90 per cent, a grace mark.
In 1990, I was planning to write ‘OHARI’, the Malayalam novel which later earned wide acclaim including a commendation by ‘Indian Express’ in 1992 as the year’s best fictional work in all Indian languages.
I had decided to make stock exchange the epic centre of the story and as we know, it is a dry area to make an emotional reader-friendly plot to develop. I had many other limitations pertaining to the jargons and the playing field. I wanted a woman as the main character, a decision kindled by my social commitment.
The choice narrowed down to a young Malayali woman entrepreneur based in Kochi. But there was no model in real life because higher education, social studies, languages and medicine were overcrowded with girls and the few who opted for engineering or business management preferred salaried jobs.
Finally, I had to create plot involving a helicopter accident in Himalaya precincts killing her father and younger brother to bring her back to Kochi from Delhi to take over the family business. To give her freedom, I had got her married to an Officer who cannot leave Delhi.
Marriage and consequent motherhood are physically and mentally part of the woman. An interesting observation by Muhammed Yunus, Bangladeshi Nobel prize winner /social entrepreneur about the basic untapped strength of unschooled village women in this situation is worth examining. He says: ‘The poorest of the poor has potential to be a successful small business entrepreneur. Rural women are overwhelmingly confined to their family compounds. But the longing for independence and autonomy runs deep. Women need just minimal assistance and encouragement to become thriving entrepreneurs’.
But in the present system of higher education, we are yet to come out of our legacy of Lord Macaulay where the education was for creating better clerks and peons and not managers or inventers. The Gandhian idea of integral education with vocational training as compulsory part of the curriculum, was undermined by the attractive higher education system, which is now a perfect launching pad for brain drain. We spend billions for developing the best brains of our country, creating scientists, techies and doctors to serve developed countries for their personal benefits.
Exploitation of the weak is inherent in all living organisms. Humans have developed it as part of their mindset and are super-efficient in execution to such an extent that the weak doesn’t even suspect that they are exploited. It starts from the family. As the phenomenon grows, our education, interaction and survival instincts enable us to create techniques and laws with hidden motive of grabbing the best of benefits and power to as few as possible. The statistics of averages and sermons ensure that the weaker will remain ignorant of the game.
Can anything be done?
I am an optimistic. Education connected to talent identified by robotic assessment is not a dream but a possibility of near future. Obviously, gender will not be a crucial factor then and human interventions will not be there. The present problems may not last even a generation. So, there is nothing to worry.