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Build up instead of tearing down

July 10, 2018
By Zainab Khawaja

After feasting on a traditional meal prepared by my mother, the guests got up to leave.....

opinion

After feasting on a traditional meal prepared by my mother, the guests got up to leave. But it was a soft spring night, so no one saw any harm in standing outside and discussing jobs, children, and recent events for a little while. Savouring my mother’s delectable food and observing the joyful chaos all over the place had put me in a light, breezy mood. Unfortunately, one of the women decided to amuse herself. She flashed an impish smile at me and said, “Don’t mind, but you have started to look so bony. Doesn’t she look skinny?” The woman standing next to her nodded eagerly. What followed was a blend of loud laughter and a series of harsh comments, like:

“It looks as if clothes are swaying from a hanger. No flesh at all.”

“The next time your professor wants to display a skeleton in your Biology class, you should volunteer.”

The dials of my brain started whirring and rotating like the inside of a watch. My face remained expressionless, as I had been caught off-guard and did not know how to react. I could tell that this was not just playful humour or genuine concern about my weight. Of course, like any other girl, I have had a few unpleasant encounters with desi aunties before, but they were never this malicious. I usually ignored them, and in a few days, even forgot what they had said. But for some reason, this incident had a drastic effect on me. Their booming bursts of laughter kept ringing in my ears, even after they had left. I tried to divert my mind by reading the newest Jeffrey Archer novel I had purchased. But it was of no use. The words were English, and yet I could not read from one to another with any sense of continuity. For the next few weeks, whenever I bumped into those women at gatherings, I looked away, unable to even meet their eyes. Disturbance weighed upon my shoulders. I knew if I wanted to feel tranquil again, I would have to do something. I also knew that escaping was not a solution, as I would keep running into them at parties. It was time for negotiation.

First, I did what I usually do to unscramble myself - discuss the matter with my close friends. It was not at all surprising to them, as chatty aunties had fired inappropriate questions and statements at them too. For instance, one of my high school friends told me about a woman who did not keep in touch with her mother at all. But she did call on that one special day when the kids were getting their results. Her sole purpose of calling was to find out my friend’s grades, and then compare them to her own daughter’s. This is just a mild example of how desi aunties make lives difficult for young girls. There were many hurtful stories where marital choices, cooking, complexions, figures, careers, and even feet were ridiculed. Do these women even realise the repercussions of what they are saying? They need to register the fact that emotional abuse may not leave scars like physical and sexual violence, but words can hurt more than slaps.

My second move was to confront the women who had made fun of me. Now, I am aware of what kind of a girl our society wants to see - a bashful female, who obediently nods her head at people belittling her, and is convinced by others that she will never be good enough. But, readers, you do not have to sacrifice even a bit of your self-esteem for anyone at all. Also, I understand that we are not supposed to question our elders. But what if whatever they are doing is unethical and keeping quiet would only motivate them? In such a case, I believe it is important to talk about the issue, humbly but firmly. I am not telling you to forget your manners, and be disrespectful. However, when you know you will keep meeting certain people at gatherings, and they will keep humiliating you, then it is time to make a decision. Initially, I was nervous about talking to these women, as I know how sharp-tongued they can be, but I also knew that if I did not ask them to stop making toxic remarks about me, they will keep doing so to entertain themselves. Hence, with the help of my mother, I discussed the problem with them, and thankfully, they chose to leave me alone. Although, this was a bitter experience, deciding to communicate instead of keeping quiet helped me to get rid of the mental clutter. If you have ever had such an encounter, do not stay silent, and talk about it with your loved ones, so that you can devise a plan to approach the ones treating you with contempt.

Lift them up

It is a simple and cruel fact - a person can get used to anything at all, even to degrading another human. Undermining another woman’s persona, appearance, and marital choices might seem enticing, but there are many other gripping topics that can be talked about too. Like the recent dramas and movies you have watched or where you will be travelling during the summer holidays. Instead of finding faults in others, explore yourself as a person, and indulge in fun activities. You can learn a foreign language or take cooking classes. Anything that keeps you away from the ‘art’ of gossip.

If you are genuinely concerned about someone’s child, there are modest ways of sharing your opinions. For instance, if you feel that a friend’s daughter looks weak, do not call her ‘a tangle of twigs covered by a layer of thin skin’. Instead, start a conversation related to diet and exercise, share your experiences, and then gently put forth your opinion. The person will be happy to know that someone sincerely cares for her. If you think a young girl needs to improve her culinary skills, do not humiliate her by severely criticising the food she has made. It may be her first time. Instead, appreciate her efforts, and share your own recipes and techniques that you use in the kitchen. You can even cook together, so that she can learn from you!

Criticism is not a bad thing. Instead, it can prove to be an effective tool, if used correctly. You just need to know the difference between destructive criticism and constructive criticism. Both forms challenge a person’s capabilities, but the former has damaging effects on pride and confidence. On the other hand, the latter is designed to point out mistakes, but it also demonstrates how improvements can be made. Keeping all this in mind, you can actually become the cool and classy aunty, instead of the nosy one, whose presence is dreaded by everybody. Replacing all negative thoughts with positive ones will lead to a fulfilling life. Furthermore, it will make you feel good about yourself. So choose to build up rather than tear down.