‘English Vinglish’ is a very realistic tale of the average Indian woman. It is a tale of how the family has scant respect for the woman who runs the show. She is the woman about the house and everyone is dependent upon her, so much so that the daughter has to place a phone call to her mother in the US all the way from India to know where one of her books is! Quietly Mother tells her that the book is in the wardrobe and under the blue nightie. And still the girl has the audacity and arrogance to insult the Mother by telling her that she did not know English. Just for another foreign language! The mother is a talented woman and is also a small entrepreneur where she sells sweets and earns her own money but that goes unnoticed by her family. All they highlight is her disability to speak a language which is anyway imported. And, as the tale goes, the teenage daughter has learnt to disrespect the mother because her father disrespects her.
When the movie released, one woman called me to say that ‘English Vinglish’ is her very own tale — of regular insults at home by husband and children. “Everybody has only one question: ‘You are at home, and what do you all the time?’ They don’t realise how much the woman of the house has to do to keep the heads, hearts and hearth doing well. I feel so insulted all the time. Therefore I say that ‘English Vinglish’ is my tale of insults — day in and day out.” Another woman professor, a woman of substance, called the movie ‘a typical story of a Marwari woman’. That was something!
How true! In spite of the fact that the woman is the family’s only full scale multi-tasker, the family does not recognise her worth. And let alone recognising her worth, the woman of the house is handed down insults. More than half her energies, therefore, are wasted in fighting the near-hostile climes and times. Everybody uses her in every manner possible. She is wanted by everybody — not for expressing affection, but for getting things done, not for love, but mostly for lust. Still she maintains her positivism and her desire to learn and her love and respect for her family! In spite of all the shit she is subjected to.
Whether this happens all over the world, or not, one does not know, but one knows very well that it happens in many, many Indian homes. There is no doubt that the average Indian woman does not get the respect she richly deserves. On the contrary, she gets ridicule and indifference (even hostility) at home which she builds with so much of love. She is the one who is taken for granted all the time.
‘English Vinglish’ is the tale of such women. But this is not just to praise the movie; this is to apprise the larger society of what is happening in its folds. This is to share with the people the agony of being an ordinary woman of the average Indian home. The movie certainly touches the sensitive chord of most women.
The question is not of insult per se. The question is about how we regard our women. And the question is why we do that.
This is so because our men-folk feel inferior to women in most matters. This is so because men cannot treat women their equal. They must deride the other to feel superior. And to hide their shortcomings, they brag and boast and bawl and bark. This is a severe indictment, no doubt, but the truth in it cannot be denied. As a psychologist, I realise that the average Indian male is becoming a victim of a silent inferiority complex. This is also in evidence when women fare better than he does in most fields wherever women, too, are party. There are many fields where women dominate in a twenty-to-one ratio — teaching, for example. In most ranking examinations like 12th standard, for example, girls often outshine boys in garnering top positions. At university convocations, the number of girls bagging more medals is bigger than the number of boys.
And therefore many families play out ‘English Vinglish’-type tales in their homes, insulting Shashis’ in the house and showing growing indifference to their in-born talent. And, let me repeat (as I have done time and again) that a society that does not know how to respect its women cannot rise to sublime heights.
This is not a feminist’s insistence; this is evident from history.