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I wrote this a few years back while blogging on a different platform. Recently I came across similar situations faced by other women and felt the blog is relevant enough to be re-posted here.

I was talking to a lady online yesterday and well into our chat, she remarked,

“It’s so nice I am enjoying talking to my hubby’s friend.” And she added, making it clearer, “his GF!” (Girl Friend)

Hmmm…. I laughed out loud.

“Hats off!!” she typed.

That had me stumped. To whom? For what?

“To me.” She answered my question.

“Do you think it is easy talking to a girl friend of hubby??”

Stumped again. I was dubious about what my reaction should be as much as what her intent had been. So I merely inserted a smiling emoticon, awaiting further developments.

She apologized and added that it had just been a thought she articulated and she WAS happy talking to me. Yes, that had been my impression too up till the point she spoke of I being her husband’s GF. Technically of course I am. I am female and her husband’s friend. So, what else describes me any better? And I could only hope that that was all she had meant.

This conversation left me thinking. I have grown up in the same traditional Indian family where girls were not supposed to talk to boys.  I have spent my formative years in all-girls’ schools except for a brief stint in a mixed school for one solitary year when I was thirteen (and during which time I was monitored by hawk eyes).  The colleges I attended were also those of the women-only ones until I ended up in ‘mixed’ company once again during post graduation days.

In spite of the strict and traditional up bringing I have never subscribed (and none have been able to convince me so far) to the view that talking to boys/men constitutes a crime in itself. Whenever travelling or such, while still a student, I have never been hesitant about taking part in a conversations with someone of the opposite sex. I knew girls who would shy away from replying any question put to them. Not me.

What the intentions of the other parties were or what they thought of me  while we conversed, never bothered me. After all they also came from the same traditional upbringing and probably thought I was not brought up properly, was of loose morals, easily available yada yada yada in much the same manner as people in the here and now do.  I spoke with them about movies, books, studies or whatever interested us at the moment and when I reached my destination (or they theirs) waved a cheerful goodbye. That was that.

Goes without saying of course that during these times I had been on my own and not accompanied by elders of the family, in which case I would have had to sit stiff and silent the whole of the journey pretending as if none else existed around us. Of course at those times, the boys would eye you from time to time, talk loudly, do silly things to attract attention which made the elders sitting with you slowly and surely start resembling a stuffed frog by the minute.

I have personally never understood (not then, not now) the logic of not letting the opposite sexes mix. I feel it is a dangerous formula for unwanted liaisons developing rather than one for the protection of the oh-so-glorified ‘Indian womanhood’ (of which I am fed up to here) as most see it.

Anyway as I was saying, it is in this background that I have grown up, rebelling at every step against orders like, ‘˜Go inside” “Don’t stand here” “˜Don’t go there!” “Don’t look to that side!” etc etc etc. And many times when we girls are simply having a swell time giggling and talking, we are chased off the premises because some boys had sauntered into the vicinity and were standing eyeing us. Now tell me, how fair is that? And are we even spoken to civilly? Oh no! The elders shout at us to get back in as if we have committed some grave mistake. How? By merely existing? I assure you no man unless he is empathetic to the core understands what it is to be a girl/woman. He has never been there.

Now, having had to follow the rules of the time (Yup, most of my molars have been ground away) did not mean that I agreed with them. But I know for a fact that many of the feminine gender around me accepted the diktats thrown at them without even a second thought, as if they deserved to be scolded. Some even had these fancy notions, which theme they developed to perfection when they grew up, that it was all for our own good. Talk about successful indoctrination. Not even in some remote part of their so called minds did they ever question any of this. Soon, I too became outwardly more accepting about things in general.  Perhaps it had seeped unknowingly into my system too, because I had turned into this goody-goody traditional girl who followed all the rules. Or maybe I did not have a choice and succumbed to survive..

Over time, marriage and two children later, as also due to changing circumstances, I have been able to undo to a large extent, some of the conditioning I made myself undergo and be myself. It is like breathing once again. Let me add here that the youngsters of today who have more freedom to be themselves, sadly do NOT accord the same to their elders. Most of them are selfish in their freedom to want it ONLY for themselves and not for their elders. (Yeah, that is another blog)

Now well into my forties and a netizen, the last vestiges of the taboo of not speaking to/interacting with those of the opposite sex, or accepting them as friends has been blown in the wind for me. Of course it goes without saying one has to pick and choose the right persons. The same traditional society spawns these men you choose to be friends with and not many of them are ready as yet for friendships. Quite a few of them are on the lookout for fraandships.

As luck would have it, the other half (L& M) has also moved with the times, maybe not as much as I have, but enough to accept my online male buddies. He is ever willing to meet them and has got on famously with most all of them. Never has he questioned me (like some husbands do) in a high-handed manner or even in any manner whatsoever, to check the antecedents and background of said friends whom I talk about or have introduced him to.  In short he treats me like an adult who is capable of making informed choices.  But I still cannot say my offspring has reached that level of trusting my capabilities.  (And yes, I am not yet sure about how the reactions of the family will be if at all I make a mistake in my choice of friends. Am I allowed to make mistakes and still be supported, remains to be seen.)

So, in short, in spite of being born and brought up in traditional India and never ever having set foot out of this land (I wrote this before I made that trip to California to look up my son), I have no qualms about talking with those of the opposite sex or calling them my friends. Neither am I fazed (nor have ever been) by the ‘what will people think’ mentality that seems to be the bane of third world countries like India. In fact I have always been cheeky enough to want people to ‘think something’ so that I can laugh in their face and say, “Yes, so what?!” And I am crazy enough to want an opportunity to stick my tongue out to the world and say, “Tchah to you!”

Anyways, it is at this juncture in my life that the above mentioned chat occurred with the wife of an online buddy of mine. What puzzled me about the whole thing was  this. The lady I spoke to is well educated and a career woman. I am sure she deals with the opposite sex in the course of her line of work. She probably meets them in a professional capacity as well as in social gatherings that her profession warranties or perhaps otherwise.  So aren’t friendships formed there? Don’t you exchange pleasantries, wish each other on festival days, have a cup of coffee together, share jokes or talk about the latest news, make phone calls to know what’s the latest? Don’t you invite some of them home to meet your family over dinner?  So are these men in the lives of career women to be specified as “Boy Friends”?

Or is it just that since I am a homemaker who does not normally come in contact with those of the opposite sex outside her own circle of family, husband’s colleagues and friends, I  am not entitled to friendships with men? Come to think of it, it is what I believe is widely accepted as the done thing by the Indian part of the world. Does friendship with the opposite sex at work place come without labels unlike those sought by homemakers like me, whether online or otherwise? Just a thought.