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Mon Jun 19, 2017, 11:05 AM

How Dadaji Became a Feminist

Source: Jezebel

My grandfather has always encouraged my independence. When I broke off an engagement with a man I know my grandfather had come to love, he surprised me when he said, “For the first time, you are not living under the control of a man.” Last year, when I objected to an ancient Hindu belief that says a grandfather goes to heaven if the firstborn of his firstborn son (which is me) is a son, Dadaji joked: “God is a male chauvinist pig, you must have figured that out by now. No matter what God, what religion, they are unanimous on this!” A few months ago, he told me that he was adding a third meaning to my name. “In Sanskrit, ‘Prachi’ means destroyer of darkness and Goddess of the rising sun. And, in your case, terminator of the male ego.” We both laughed.

These statements are not what one expects to hear from your average American millennial, let alone an 86-year-old Indian immigrant and family patriarch. But my grandfather, who tears up at the mention of Pakistani human rights activist Malala Yousafzai, the girl who was shot by the Taliban for daring to go to school, has, in recent years, begun to identify as a feminist. He is one of the only men in my family to identify as such. When I told my Dadaji (which means father’s father in Hindi) that I wanted to interview him about how he became a feminist, he didn’t understand why. “You want to talk to me about something that I don’t know about!” he exclaimed.

Dadaji’s speech is poetry. His voice is thick and knotty like a Banyan tree, lilted by a slight slur and punctuated by a stutter from a stroke he suffered a few years ago. He speaks in concise, pithy sentences and half-sentences, weaving between the sardonic and the serious so quickly that either he, or myself, is always on verge of laughter. He hugs not with his arms but with his hands, showing me how much he misses me with each light, excited pitter patter on my back. The constant pain from sciatica has made him stiff, but the light in his eyes dances like a flame and in the reverberations of his animated voice I can feel the weight of his life. As all of his children’s children have reached adulthood, he passes his time reading the philosophy of Krishnamurthi, the poetry of Omar Khayyam, and history books about the Mughal Empire. I have a tattoo of my name in his handwriting in Hindi, and so now he calls me his “signature granddaughter.” He is only 5'3", but to me, he has never seemed small.

He was born in 1931 in India, the year after Mahatma Gandhi marched 240 miles across the country to defy British colonial rule to make his own salt. On the night he was born, his father, a doctor and freedom fighter, was locked up in a British jail cell for writing articles and inciting protest against the white colonialists. My grandfather spent his first years as a student in one of Gandhi’s ashrams in Gujarat, which roused an intellectual curiosity that he would follow the rest of his life. From there, they moved to Kota, Rajasthan, where my great-grandfather served as a court physician to one of the few remaining Rajasthani kings and ran a hospital of Ayurvedic medicine. Then, when my grandfather was nine, his father caught an infection from a patient. After battling the illness for a few months, he died. My great-grandmother was no more than 30.

...

One of the greatest gifts my grandfather has given me is the freedom to live as I want to live, to encourage and nourish and even revel in my decisions, despite how uncomfortable that must be for someone who has dreamed of laying a stake in the land and finally having something to claim as his own. I, the 30-year-old granddaughter of the would-be servant from Haldaur, am unmarried, rarely cook Indian food, and can barely speak Hindi. But when I ask him what he wants of his granddaughters, he looks at me, confused by the question. “What do I want for them? Nothing more than they are,” he says. “They are already what I want.”

Read more: http://jezebel.com/how-dadaji-became-a-feminist-1796147906?utm_campaign=socialfow_jezebel_twitter&utm_source=jezebel_twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

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