Okay. I just cannot take it anymore. It has been around six months that I have shifted back home (which is a small town in Maharashtra), and the mentality of the people here is driving me crazy. Since the day that I have come here I see people killing themselves everyday, for other people who have killed themselves already. Everyday, I see 17 year olds getting married, 20 year olds giving birth, and 13 year olds committing suicide. I see men restricting their wives from working, parents restricting their children from moving to better cities to pursue their career, women restricting their daughters and daughters-in-law from learning how to drive or wearing what they want to. I see well-educated women giving up their careers because the oldies in the house want to see a grandchild before they die. All because of the lack of importance of individualism in our society.
“Individualism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook that emphasizes the moral worth of the individual. Individualists promote the exercise of one’s goals and desires and so value independence and self-reliance and advocate that interests of the individual should achieve precedence over the state or a social group while opposing external interference upon one’s own interests by society or institutions such as the government.”, Wikipedia tells you. And maybe this is the definition that works in all parts of the world. Maybe this concept works in all parts of the world. But in India (both rural and urban), it never has, and it never will.
I am sure that about half of my country is not even aware of this concept, let alone giving a thought to it. In India, this complex concept can be easily defined in only one word – selfishness. Anytime an individual wants to do something for himself, say follow a passion or live by himself, or to stay single until he is ready, people will be quick to judge them, curse them, and even banish them. In a country like India, there is no scope for individualism. When we are kids, we think about our parents, our siblings, even our extended family; we get older, get married, our spouse becomes our priority; our whole life starts to revolve not only around them but now even their parents and siblings, and then come the kids, and we almost forget ourselves. And this pattern is to be followed so strictly, that no one can even think of breaking the loop.
Thanks to the values that are inculcated in us, the minute we think even a little about ourselves, we are tagged “selfish” or even rebellious. “Apne mummy papa ki socho, unko kitna bura lagta hoga”, “Think about your younger sister, if you behave like this, who will marry her”, and “You want to be a singer/actor/painter. Arreey beta log kya kahenge” are some of the standard replies that individualists are bombarded with. But what happens because of all of this is that we start a cycle … a cycle of expectations. Your father expects you to study medicine, because he has sacrificed his dreams and chosen a safer career option, your mother expects you to be married at 22 because she was only 20 when she had you and gave up her entire career, your sibling starts expecting because they have already fallen prey to the loop. But what they don’t realize is that, they could have chosen otherwise. It is really sad that the youth in our country is not standing up for themselves. A few girls I know were not even allowed to have any dreams except for the one to become someone’s wife. A few women I know are not allowed to talk to others, because their in-laws do not want them to. A few men I know would have made excellent singers, but were made to plough fields instead.
If your father would have thought about himself during his young years, followed his dreams and passions, excelled in his career, he would have been less frustrated to see you follow yours, and you would have had to hear less of “Shoe laces tie karne ki akal nahi, aur janaab mujhe sikha rahe hai life ke baare me”. If your mother would have stood up for yourself, not gotten married at 18, had worked and been independent, you would have got to hear a little less of, “I was only 18 when I got married, and my life worked out just fine. What is the problem with you?” Because, dear mom, you were you, and I am me. Different individuals, you see?
Individualism is the idea that the individual’s life belongs to him and that he has an inalienable right to live it as he sees fit, to act on his own judgment. Look at the western countries, they move out at 16, choose the career on their own, and never judge or are judged by others. Don’t you think that is how it should be? Is wanting to live your own life on your terms really selfish or liberal?
Former slave Frederick Douglass expressed his thoughts about individualism in a letter he wrote to his ex-“master” Thomas Auld after escaping bondage in Maryland and fleeing to New York. He wrote, “You see, Thomas, I am myself; you are yourself; we are two distinct persons, equal persons. What you are, I am. You are a man, and so am I. God created both, and made us separate beings. I am not by nature bound to you, or you to me. Nature does not make your existence depend upon me, or mine to depend upon yours. I cannot walk upon your legs, or you upon mine. I cannot breathe for you, or you for me; I must breathe for myself, and you for yourself. We are distinct persons, and are each equally provided with faculties necessary to our individual existence. In leaving you, I took nothing but what belonged to me, and in no way lessened your means for obtaining an honest living. Your faculties remained yours, and mine became useful to their rightful owner.”
All I want to say is, we are an individual first. It is ourselves that we should think about first. If we don’t, who will? And I do not feel that there is anything wrong with it. There is nothing wrong if you eat at 12, and not wait for your family who eats at 2, it is okay to want to get married at 30 (yes even if you are a girl), and it is okay to not want to get married at all, it is okay to want to go away from everyone, shut the world out, and just dance the shit out of yourself. It is okay to pamper yourself. And it is okay to be happy.
Apart from all the changes in our country that we crib about … the corruption, the poverty, the backwardness, the illiteracy, I feel individualism should top the list, and every one as a person should first aim to make themselves happy, love themselves, really do what they love, without the fear of being judged. That way our fathers will be happy because they are more than satisfied with their work and success, our mothers would not just be housewives who are taken for granted, and we would no more be a nation that just produces millions of engineers every year, but a nation of brilliant writers, great actors, and inspiring sports persons.
I am going to choose to live this way because I am an individual first, and a daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend, a wife and fucking everything else later. I am going to choose to stand up for myself, to follow my dreams, to be free, to listen to my heart, and to make myself truly happy, will you?