As a young girl of six, I discovered a desire to be the most liked person in the room. I adored the praise, and I wished to sustain it for the rest of my life. I then found myself a foolproof template to follow; I would be the sanskaari one, the girl who brings tea with a coy smile and a bowed head, and doesn’t speak out of turn. I would be super pious and sacrificing because these are the hallmarks of being the ideal child. I believed that if I checked all the boxes, I’d be incredibly likable. In retrospect, I can safely say that even if I had stuck to my plans, I’d still manage to fall short someway.
Refinement to achieve purity and perfection. It is an indicator of family values and shows how cultured and civilized we are.
The conditioning we are subjected to isn’t very apparent at first. It always starts innocuously, by teaching children manners. Everybody learns that it is wrong to interrupt when someone is speaking or to talk back when an adult reprimands you. We take it one step further in our society—we teach our children that adults are never wrong. It is against our morality to point fingers at our elders. So when our uncles spew venom against minorities, we stay quiet. When they ill-treat those around them, we brush it under the carpet. The tendency is to place adults on a pedestal, even if it is at the expense of justice. It is said that children learn what they live, and thus, children grow up mimicking the wrongful behaviour that was downplayed in their childhood. And so the vicious cycle continues.
A significant aspect of Indian pop culture is formed by the daily soaps that light up our television screens every day. While the general critique of these shows highlights their over-the-top dramatics and senseless plots, their portrayal of “Indian family values” is seldom condemned.
The ideal woman depicted is the image imprinted in most people’s minds; a sari-clad woman who is undefeated at domestic chores and whose sole ambition in life is to pray for her family’s well being. She is the traditional Indian woman who doesn’t walk away from a toxic marriage because divorce is against our culture. She tolerates every injustice meted out to her in the garb of “compromise.” She seldom speaks her mind and lets her family make all decisions for her.
The ideal man is one who is ambitious and extremely successful in his field and is eternally strong, physically, mentally and emotionally. He is always the “knight in shining armour” saving the “damsel in distress.” He is not expected to lend a hand in household chores and his contribution towards raising his children is minimal, to say the very least.
Sadly, young adults across the country are not only held to this standard but also constantly encouraged from a very impressionable age to emulate this behavior. Ideas and practices from the West are frowned upon, to the point that you might be shunned for straying from “traditional” values made for society’s proper functioning.
There are more conspicuous mistakes that you can make if you want to taint yourself permanently. These include closeness with the opposite sex, forging romantic relationships that your family didn’t arrange, premarital sex, and live-in relationships. Raising children in a loving environment is not as crucial as raising them with someone chosen for you to marry. It is expected of you to marry someone that your parents pick. The harsh reality of these rules is that, more often than not, they are more strictly imposed upon women as compared to men.
Furthermore, in a saddening large number of crimes, the survivor is often ostracized, whereas the perpetrator is often left to walk scot-free. Ironically, it is the survivor’s family honor at stake; seldom is the upbringing of the accused questioned.
Perhaps the most damaging aspect of trying to fit into society’s idea of being good is the constant sacrifices that are asked of you. The ideal son has to be more than grateful towards his parents— he must be indebted. He must put aside his dreams and ambitions, and his feelings in favour of what his parents want. The ideal daughter must understand the repercussions on her family if she decides out of the norm. She must resign to her fate and learn to adjust. We pride ourselves on our low divorce statistics, failing to notice the mounds of misery left in its wake.
Fail to follow these rules and you are in for the guilt trip of a lifetime. It is this fear of being labelled or falsely called out that keeps people from making healthy decisions.
While the very idea of sanskaar is based on the principles of honesty, love, respect, and morality, we must learn to draw a line between what is right and pushing ourselves to attain these standards at the cost of mental health and individuality. Lack of questioning and blindly following these almost unattainable objectives may be detrimental to society in the long run. It is damaging to cut off ties to our culture and equally so to shut our doors to progress. A delicate balance can be maintained between what is morally expected and the adoption of new ideologies.
I no longer wish to be the most liked person in the room. I have realized that there will always be someone unhappy with how you live your life, and honestly, that is okay. You cannot live up to the standards set up by everybody. The most valuable quality to imbibe is to hurt no one—not others and certainly not yourself.
Written by Ishita Sharma for MTTN
Edited by Shivangi Acharya for MTTN
Featured Image by Katheryn Macnaughton
Artwork by Nikita Chauhan