"Are you really a Nepali? But you do not act like one." Having heard these remarks umpteen times (from various camps and sects, and all in an urban context) I finally decided to embark on a quest for the ideal Nepali female. What is a real Nepali woman? What did I have to do to 'belong'? At the end of my exploration, here is what I have found:
One must start at the very beginning with historical Nepali women: Sita, Gargi, Bhrikuti and the like simply because our society has an unshakable hang-up about them. I asked a character pundit what was so Nepali about these mythological figures, what was the essence of the Nepali female character? He pulled out the Sita Scale, according to which you can rate a woman on how she embraces the concept of shame, honour, guilt and self-worth as defined by values still prevalent in our society.
Nah, you may say, the urban Nepali woman has moved on, she is not shackled by these outdated values. Wrong. If it wasn't for this hang-up and brainwashing would Shrisha Karki have hung herself last year? Probably not.
'Every woman is a mother,' they say. Fair enough. My only problem is that I do not have the prevailing Joan of Arc quality of Nepali mothers, which would allow me to be perpetually martyred for the greater causes: my husband, my children-especially my sons-my house and everything else but me.
I would like to take a moment here to thank Bollywood (and now Kollywood) for its unfaltering dedication to produce an eternal galore of role models for the mothers of this subcontinent. Come hail or storm, or fast-paced mobile clutching Indian generation next, when it comes to the mothers, they are still martyred, grieving, and recounting their fate and sorrow. If you wondered where your mother learnt that emotional blackmailing tool, wonder no more: she got it from the silver screen. Our wise mothers know that nothing has a greater social appeal and resounds better with people than dukha.
These are the empowered and gender stigma transcenders. In the West, women used to burn bras and grow armpit hair 25 years ago. Today, our women start NGOs and say stuff-it to the kitchen to watch the Hindi serial, Kasuati, where a bunch of thoroughly empowered women do all sorts of revolutionary wheedling.
With all these empowered women infesting the workplace, things have become a bit topsy-turvy. Recently, staff in an office in a tarai town were so taken aback by a female engineering specialist that they ended up calling her 'Sir Engineer'.
The days when urban girls and young women didn't get a chance in higher education is gone. All parents now want nothing short of a post-graduate degree for their daughters. "Why a Masters?" I asked one father. Is it because these progressive parents believe that their daughters need to stand on their own feet? He laughed at me. "Nobody would marry my daughter if she didn't have a Masters degree." A masters so she can get married to a lord and master.
I take my hat off to actress Jharana Bajracharya for publicly admitting that she has sex appeal, and yes, she is proud of it! Brave Jharana does not believe in the Sita Scale. And there are the underground women's group calling themselves 'Charitraheen Chelis' who dare to reveal that Nepali women actually are in control of their own sexuality.