We, The Women

There are very few politicians that I admire. But among those I do, I was greatly disappointed the other day to hear one of them attribute West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s tantrums to her `singledom’.

Only, he used the very ancient, very outdated and very antediluvian term for that state of non-marital bliss: spinster. He attributed Mamata’s madnesses to the fact that she was not married and, perhaps, seeing all her friends in a state of married hell (`hell’ is my spin on it) and with children, she poured her frustrations upon the world in the form of targetting the Left, the Congress and every one else who stood in her way.

Personally, I thought, Mamata was simply a mad Bong (and may all Bengalis forgive me for this stereotypical presumption). (For) she reminds me greatly of my Chakravraty uncle (a Godfather of sorts) who now seems like a perfect male version of Mamatadi. In my growing up years, I saw him throw as many tantrums as Mamata does, intimidate people in his booming voice just as Mamata does in her shrill tones, for no reason at all threaten suicide by jumping atop a car roof and threatening to throw himself way down below (ha!), as I believe the Bengal CM did once years ago. I saw him fall at the feet of a much younger girl my age (who ran from that sashtang pranam) because he thought he had seen the Devi (Goddess Durga) in her as she offered prayers to the Sun god. She was offering water through a kalash, gracefully pouring it into her garden when he saw her astride a tiger with a bhaala (spear) in her hand (instead of the water pot) and could swear he had seen a vision…

Chakravarty uncle also threatened to bomb out a cinema hall (he and my father both worked for the ordnance services: he described it as a `bomb factory’) when I and his kids did not get tickets for the first show to the first day’s release of a popular Rajesh Khanna starrer (we were given chairs in the projector room in that `House Full’) theatre on that threat) and had lots of fire-crackers delivered to our home at Diwali ahead of the market opening precisely on that threat to shop keepers… there were so many more mad instances, I cannot begin to list all of them!

I could never work out if he was just mad or was putting on an act for getting things done. For he did manage things (like the cinema tickets which my father could not with his polite `pleases’ and `sirs’ and `thank yous’. Much later, I came to the conclusion that Chakravarty uncle was not as mad as he seemed and acted but he got along (and ahead of others) pretty well in his life on just that act alone.

I have always looked at Mamata Banerjee’s mad acts in similar light – and believed she has an additional handicap: that of being a woman (though being single is not necessarily a handicap, instead it might be quite an asset).

When this politician made those uncharitable remarks about other women politicians, too, like Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha and former Madhya Pradesh CM Uma Bharti, I jumped on him and he swiftly retreated. I wonder if he realises that a woman has to work twice as hard as a man to win half the credit for doing a quarter of the job that she does, at the best of times.

And, while I have long felt that many hysterical women in politics bring a bad name to the rest of us in that gender, I can understand: if they do not shout from the roof tops, their achievements are likely to be swallowed up by the men. If they are not dictatorial (like Mrs Indira Gandhi was), they may be taken for goongi gudiyas (dumb dolls) as, of course, the former Prime Minister of India was in the early years when a coterie of old men chose her for the job for precisely the reason that they believed she would be more malleable and highly pliable for being a woman. Boy, did they have another think coming – my hats off to Mrs Gandhi for teaching those patriarchal men a sound lesson!

But, although Mrs Gandhi had all the qualities of an Iron Lady herself, sometimes her achievements fall by the wayside due to the tag of being a beneficiary of dynastic politics (though I feel that that tag suits Rajiv Gandhi better than it does his mother).

But, as I have said before, Mamata is the sole woman in Indian politics who has not benefitted through male patronage as all others (including Delhi CM Sheila Dixit and UP CM Mayawati) have.

To that extent, she is more like former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, except for the fact that Lady Thatcher thrived on the anti-feminist image of a wife and mother getting to the top of the ladder. I recall a television image of a meeting of European Union leaders where Mrs Thatcher was pushing for a particular policy after much thinking and changing of mind when a male leader commented rather sharply if that God had had so many doubts he would never have created man.

Whereupon Mrs Thatcher silenced all her (male) critics by an equally acerbic repartee, “Well, God did better on second thoughts when he created women!’’

“ It may be the cock that crows but it is the hen that lays the eggs. In politics if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman,’’ she stormed back.

But while disagreeing with the male politicians, I, too, would like Mamata Banerjee to be rather less shrill than she is even after becoming chief minister. She must take lessons from Lady Thatcher who remodelled herself after discovering that while her sex/gender `elevated her visibility, it greatly undermined her credibility’, every step of the way – and that had nothing to do with being single, frustrated, married, contented or otherwise. The men called her a `bitch’ and a `witch’ simply because she was a woman lording over the, well, not `dogs’ or `wizards’ (or even pigs) but, simply, men.

And all the women politicians in India should take cheer from the former British PM’s inspirational approach. She said, “I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.’’ Et tu, Mamatadi!

And don’t we all, We, The Women – single, married, widowed or divorced, politicians or otherwise – know that only too well!

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