Conversations with Dadima


Freedom is not something that is handed to you: you have to take it. Don’t wait for someone’s approval, don’t be that subservient brown kid, - who spends the next 5 years grounding their decisions based on what society excepts of them, because you’ll probably end up regretting the next 50 years of your life. 

Noble actions vs Feeble words

Dadima: “Are your tattoos permanent?”

Me: “Yes Dadima”

Dadima: “So, when you get married one day, will they still be there?

Me: “Yep”

Dadima: “What will your in-laws think?”

Dadima got married at the age of 16 and fled the India-Pakistan war shortly after, during which she was estranged from her maternal family for a number of years. She was widowed at 40, during a time in India when a single woman was deemed worthless without a man by her side.  Not only did she break the norm but she did it with pride and dignity, she didn’t play the victim and nor did she succumb to the laws of society. 

*My dad is washing the dishes*

Dadima: Why are you washing up, you have 2 daughters to do that

Me: Because he wanted to!

Dadima worked hard, she raised four children, alone, on the salary of a mid-wife. To raise extra money, she would babysit the doctor’s children. Her day to day life was arduous, but she still fought against the odds to give her children the chance to a bright future.

*My cousin is visiting a relative abroad, - the male relative has been making breakfast for my cousin every morning*

Dadima: “What? But why!? Does his wife not know how to cook!?”

Me: Because he wanted to!!

Now in her mid 80’s Dadima tells me of how she pretty much taught herself to write and read Punjabi, and how she once protected a young woman from an abusive husband.

She tells me of the respect she gained within her local community and that her retirement party turned into a celebration, attended by over 100 people. 

Freedom is for everyone

Dadima is a magnificent woman, I admire her. But, more so than not, it leaves me perplexed how a woman of such nobility, can speak such feeble words. She means no harm and usually my somewhat aggressive responses leave her just as confused as me.

Time and time again I fail to understand why ‘the freedom to make your own choices’ is such a faraway concept for a number of young South Asians. What would it take for us to truly understand that we have right to make our own choices, guilt-free.

Every conversation is based on a set of expectations, these however are never the expectations you set for yourself, they are almost always set for you by society. The judging panel (which is our community) becomes the reason for our misery. More so than not we find ourselves holding back from our full potential in case we make a mistake. The notion of a young South Asian having the freedom to make their own choices is attached to the impression that they must be spoilt and must have a terrible upbringing.

At this point I should add that, choosing your own path, is often filled with road blocks, pot holes and a couple of disastrous accidents. However, obstacles born from your own freedom are always worth falling for, because the eventual rise has a certain magic about it. This is the sole reason I feel responsible for encouraging the members of my community who are afraid to take that leap. You have the right to freedom of choice, and to not feel bound by what is expected of you.

Yes, there are consequences for every action, and yes, you will have to deal with them, with or without the approval of your community, but would you rather take a risk or sit and wonder ‘what if’ for the rest of your life?

Be it marriage, career, education, tattoos or the colour of your hair, make a decision. Some of the auntyjis and unclejis in our society will have something to say till the day you die. You’ll probably be in your casket and they’ll still judge what you’re wearing! “Hawww why did they put red lipstick on her, she wasn’t even married” 

Her actions speak louder than her words 

Dadima’s actions make her an anomaly, but her words not so much. The stoicism with which she lived her life is inspiring to say the least. She’s been broken not once, but several times and she still stands strong in presence. For me to assimilate the paradox of her character is near to impossible but I can make a promise to myself, a promise of living an unconventional life, in any given situation. Just the way she has done.

It’s bizarre when the one person you thought would never understand you, turns out to be the person that inspires you to do more than just live the same day over and over again. If you’re going to be bound by anything or anyone it should be by a belief system that is destined to set you free, a belief system that you set for yourself. Nothing is impossible.

“It was not life that amounted to nothing but rather nothing which brimmed with life itself” – Parviz Tanavoli