Nandita Das

Itching to shake a leg

  • November 1, 2012

This holiday season was an overdose of consumerism, traffic congestion and pollution of all kinds; water in particular, given the many immersions. I don’t intend to offend anybody’s religious sentiments or question the immersion of non-biodegradable deities or rant about the onslaught on our eardrums. What I want to share is an image that hasn’t left me since the time I saw it. 

A few days ago, just outside our building, in the heart of Mumbai, I saw a man playing a drum and about 30-40 men, of all ages, dancing away to his beat. Some devotional song set to a popular Hindi film tune was also blaring. It attracted a few bystanders who also joined in and swayed without inhibition. Some of us, who passed them by, smiled at the fun these boys (and men) were having. There were also a few women huddled together in a corner, smiling shyly and a few little girls, not more than 10 years of age, who looked like the younger siblings of some of the gentry. It seemed all they were allowed was to tap their feet, which they didn’t seem to mind, as they probably felt privileged over those who were stuck at home. 

For the rest of my walk, I kept thinking about those girls and how they must be itching to shake a leg. After all they were just kids! When we say children deserve to blossom, to dream, to fly… are we then only talking about half the population? Boys remain boys for the longest time and they can play or dance on the street without raising any eyebrows. Whereas even by age 10, society hardwires little girls and they know with their premature wisdom that the freedom to sway is not for them to enjoy. Are little girls not children? 

In India, November 14, Children’s Day, is probably more important than the Universal Children’s Day declared by the United Nations. Either way, we never fail to proclaim how important children are to the world, to our lives, especially during this period. So isn’t it shameful that we don’t even wait for these little girls to be adults before discriminating against them? It is fashionable to say in our class “we want girls over boys”. But clearly, this is not the norm in the educated urban elite as there is enough data to prove that the sex ratio is dropping mostly in the affluent segments of society. Well, the poor just can’t afford sex determination! 

While the limited success of government policies is disheartening, what is more shocking is how slow the change is in the mindset of the civil society. When we can’t give a little girl the right to live like her brother, the right to eat the same food, the right to play the same games and the right to sway to the same music, then there is a big problem somewhere. In today’s day and age, when I hear people say things like, “after all the girl goes away to her in-laws, so why invest so much in her”, or “they will not light my pyre, so the importance will always be different”, I am aghast! Where do you even begin the dialogue and what logic would make sense to such illogical arguments? 

One day while cleaning up some of my pregnancy medical papers, I remembered how my husband and I, too, wanted a daughter. Wonder why there was a preference at all? Was it the collective guilt that was subconsciously playing out? The challenge of raising a daughter who can have all the freedom despite the societal mindset would have been enormous, but no less than that of raising a son who will be sensitive to all beings without any discrimination, in a world that is so full of it. But I hope I don’t burden him with this, and can gently expose him to the beauty of equality.

Virata Parvam


Director: Udugula Venu

Language: Telugu

Character Name: Shakuntala

Key Cast: Kundan Alexzed, Chakrapani Ananda, Banerjee

Feastivals and Awards: NA

Film Stills: 9

BTS: 11