A lot of us write because writing is its own reward. There is much peace in putting down in words stuff that’s churning inside, demanding to be expressed. You hope it will be read, but that’s not really what drives you. What drives you is something more primeval, a fierce sense that there are unarticulated arguments that need to be out there in the public domain. They might, with any luck, shape emerging discourses, but more importantly, not putting them out there seems like a copping out.
When readers respond, it’s the icing on the cake. I get some lovely mail. They are encouraging, appreciative, sometimes touching when they describe how a particular issue is what the reader herself faces. Some are short and sweet — for instance one had a series of smileys and thumbs-ups in the subject line and nothing else.
And then, there are the others — people who are infuriated with what I write and those who mock what I say. There are those who worry about me. Should I not talk about other subjects as well because, horror of horrors, did I want to be known as a feminist? Then there’s the gentleman who mailed to say that I must and ought to be ‘coy’ about the outrageous things I write. (I assured him I was not.)
So you can imagine how delighted I was when Christmas came early and landed this particular mail in my inbox. It was from a young boy and this is what he says right at the start. “I’m Keren Sam, a 12th grade student from Chennai, and I’m a feminist.”
If I had to stop writing my column after today, this one mail and this one boy would have been worth the effort of writing it for so long. In these contemptible times, when the word has been so successfully undermined that even high-flying women achievers hesitate to call themselves feminist, here’s a young boy who declares he is one. Can you imagine what courage that takes? Can you imagine what hectoring he might have faced from his peers? Can you imagine how much faith he has in his conviction to stand apart from the tribe? Keren writes that he’s had months of arguments with friends, and two have finally agreed to the term ‘equalist’ if not ‘feminist’. This is a huge battle to have won.
This is no boy from those famously uppity schools, where they hoist banners with pop slogans on equality and back-to-basics, but whose students have never seen the insides of any public transportation. He is from The PSBB Millennium School in Gerugambakkam, a suburb I confess I hadn’t heard of until now. He reads newspaper columns when most boys his age chase Pokémon, and he has opinions on gender equality and not just on Virat Kohli’s run rate.
I know educated, cultured, professedly non-chauvinistic men — fully aware of the privileges they’ve inherited — who are still sniffy about the feminist agenda. Men who would prefer that we toned down our anger and distress because they don’t like their comfortable conviction in their own vaunted “goodness and justness” to be rocked. And here’s a young boy who is as distressed as we are and not afraid to show it.
What’s in a word, you might ask. A lot. It means commitment and conviction and a readiness to take up cudgels for a cause that affects everyone and not just women.
Overwhelmingly, our homes and schools and workplaces believe in reinforcing prejudices, and are unlikely to support anyone who speaks up against the system. If Keren still does so, it’s because he’s a rare voice that cares not about being popular but about being right. I don’t know if his parents and teachers encourage him, but I hope they will.
Thank you, Keren Sam. Knowing there’s even just one of you has made the writing worthwhile.