By Sonali Kokra Mar. 11, 2019
A few days ago, I invested in a house of my own. I want a home where I don’t have to spend three days in a month lurking outside the kitchen because it’s “that time of the month”. I want a house where I can’t be removed from no matter what (or who) I do. Not by misogynist landlords or housing societies that randomly decide they don’t want “bachelors”.
It’s the day when everything — from toilet cleaners to non-stick tavas — are potential tools to lead us to the conclusion that we ladies are positively brimming with awesomeness. And that the only thing missing from our emancipated bliss is the possession of said toilet cleaner or non-stick tawa or mosquito repellent or anti-ageing cream or… you get the drift. But the good news: In celebration of our lady bits, all of the above-mentioned products were accompanied by limited period, attractive discounts that would make us shudder and convulse in orgasmic (the real, not the kind we fake) glee. Nothing spells freedom like slashed prices and 40 per cent discounts on skin whitening/brightening/tightening creams.
But this year, between bookmarking the most liberating online discounts and scouting local bars for smuttily named womanly coloured cocktails that are ek pe ek free, I decided to give myself an actual, authentic Women’s Day gift — a room of my own. Or, more realistically, the tiniest parcel of land that can justify the existence of four walls and a roof that is (a little) more than a corrugated iron sheet in an area that can best be described as Mumbai’s smelly armpit, given the astronomical property prices in the city.
The decision to become a homeowner is not a whim or a sudden flight of fantasy — it’s a yearning I’ve quietly carried within me from the time I was a little girl; its roots tightening painfully around my heart every time I was hectored into accepting that a girl’s lot in life is to go from her father’s home to her husband’s. We may call it maika or mummy ka ghar to lull our brains into an emotional slumber, but when it comes to legal ownership of property, it is almost always the papas, bhaiyas, and husbands who sign on the dotted line. It’s a commitment that scares me witless, and the thought of spending every last rupee I’ve saved since the first snotty group of kids I tutored at 16 makes me want to lie down and never wake up again.
Why can’t I be a good girl and stop creating trouble?
My parents, understandably, can’t quite wrap their heads around their daughter’s sudden need to own a house. They raised a girl who was never meant to be encumbered with existential worries like home loans, EMIs, and horror of horrors, depreciating property values. I wasn’t just supposed to go from my maika to my sasural, I was supposed to arrive there in a chauffeur-driven luxury car.
Then why can’t I, like most of the women in my family before me have, simply go on a vacation when the urge to do something “different” starts becoming too hard to suppress? Why can’t I be a good girl and stop creating trouble?
Because, I’ve learned that the price of being a “good girl” is too high, and that without a home that has your name on it, true freedom is impossible — especially for women.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived a dual life: the person I am when I’m living under my father’s roof and the one I am when I’m under my own. This person does not want to have to spend three days in a month lurking outside the kitchen because it is “that” time of the month. This person does not want to spend considerable energy in ensuring that the mandir is not “violated” by her presence during said time of the month because apparently god doesn’t already have enough to do, and would like the added responsibility of tracking my periods. This person wants to be able to walk around in what she’s assured is her home in shorts with the same careless abandon that her brother — with legs that could put Anil Kapoor’s chest to shame — does. And this person doesn’t want to feel like inviting a male friend to the house is a decision that requires multiple rounds of approvals and interrogations.
A woman is truly free only when she has a room of her own.
I want a home that I can’t be removed from no matter what (or who) I do. Not by misogynist landlords who sniff around your trash to see if there are any alcohol bottles buried under the empty packets of Lay’s and bhujia, and whose wives are glued to the windows to ensure no penis-bearer enters or exits the house after sundown, or better still, ever. And not by housing societies that hold secret meetings to randomly decide they don’t want “bachelors” or pet-owners to pollute their hallowed grounds.
I want a home I can return to without feeling the need to provide explanations or entertain unsolicited advice if I ever have the misfortune of being in a bad marriage and need to leave. A place I can go to and rightfully shut the door on the questions of the world.
By the time you’re in your 30s, enough of the women in your life have been married for you to know that “where will we go” is one of the biggest fears that keeps women trapped in shitty, sometimes even abusive marriage. A close friend recently admitted that the house she is paying half the EMI for is registered in her father-in-law’s name, and she stays up nights worrying that if ever things go south between her husband and her, she won’t have any claim on it. Everyone has a great husband and in-laws until some day they don’t, and controlling all the property is the most effective way of keeping a woman under the thumb of patriarchy.
It’s been 90 years since Virginia Woolf wrote her iconic book A Room Of One’s Own. And even though her writing concerned itself only with the fate of a certain kind of women — those who wished to create great literature and art but were unable to do it because they didn’t have a peaceful space in which to do it in — the underlying principle holds true for all women, everywhere. A woman is truly free only when she has a room of her own.
Sonali Kokra is a journalist, writer, editor and media consultant from Mumbai. She writes on feminism, gender rights, sexuality, relationships, and lifestyle. In her 12-year-long career, she has written for national and international magazines, newspapers and websites. She was last seen as the lifestyle editor of NDTV, and HuffPost.com, and has published a coffee table book on Shah Rukh Khan.