Standing On The Inside

This post evolved out of a post-length comment I inflicted on a beautiful, loving lady that almost all of us have read- and agreed with. Her thoughts are so balanced and full of wisdom; her perspective so inclusive and broad; her heart so compassionate and genuine…. that it is easy to love her. I speak of none other than Zephyr, who wields a potent pen at her blog Cyber Nag… where she is anything but a nag.

She wrote a fabulous and in-depth series of posts on Feminism- the holy grail of the contemporary woman (and the contemporary man too if he knows what’s good for him). If you haven’t read the series yet, now’s a good time to do so. The first part is: Feminism and the Gen X Woman.

I have always shied away from being called a feminist. This is not because I am a wimp (ha!) or don’t believe in the radical concept that women are people too. It is because the things being done (and said) in the name of feminism sometimes appall and dismay me.  To use a simplistic, homely phrase: it seems like people are in a hurry to cut off their nose to spite their face. I don’t think that’s quite a good idea. Nor effective.

I don’t like the male-bashing or reducing the battle to it becoming a men v/s women squabble. To me the battle is about learning to stand unflinchingly, in unconditional support, of your  own perception of yourself. Provided you know what ‘yourself’ is. That’s where the doldrums begin, in truth.

The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.

~ Michel de Montaigne

It is easier to wage a battle without than within perhaps. Far easier to blame another than to introspect. So much easier to copy the behaviors and mindsets of your antagonists than to define Who You Are.

I don’t think that emulating men (in their vices OR virtues) is the way for me to underscore my own identity. I will only be immortalizing and eulogizing things which do not reflect Who I Am. In my quest and journey to discover and establish my own identity, what mileage would I get by holding someone else up as role model? I’ll only erase the last traces of myself that way. What kind of a statement would I be making about myself by doing that? That I don’t consider myself worthy of emulation?  Doesn’t seem frightfully clever to me!

Please read Zephyr’s post Opening That Window And Breaking Free (the third in the series) before you read my response to her thoughts. She has said it all far better than I ever could.

I was arrested by an astounding statement she made in the first half of her post. She wrote, and I quote:

“And so we perfected the art of ‘standing on the inside while sitting on the outside’, if sitting was what was expected of us.”


How perfectly and concisely she has said what I always thought wordlessly. I never could put it into words. The best I could do is to say- Women don’t need to be aggressive/ belligerent in order to win their rights. If they would only recognize their inner power, they would know that no one can bully them IF THEY CHOOSE NOT TO BE BULLIED!

Far from effective, besides being terribly pedantic… and befuddling the whole point in the process!

It saddens me to see that most people (men and women, both) raise their flag of discontent and get ready to battle over the smallest issues… and then concede over the major ones. It should be the other way round!

My in-laws were pretty conservative. They had decided ideas about what a DIL should wear and how she should behave- in all matters, big or small. I am perfectly fine with that. Every family has its own ‘culture’ which they work hard to preserve. As a part of that family, it was right that they should expect me to honor and adopt it.

(No, I don’t find anything wrong in making room for another in your mental map. Just as I was making room for them in mine, they too made room for me in theirs. The only difference is, I made the room first… and they did it later. What’s wrong with that? You can only change the ‘system’ from within- we all know that, don’t we? I got in and they moved over- without there being a song and dance about it.)

As a result I always wore a sari (even at night… and that was truly a pain) and kept my head covered at all times. I barely came out of the kitchen for the days I visited them. I touched every one’s feet (twice per visit; once when they came and again when they left) no matter how many times they visited in a day. But I always accompanied it with a breezy ‘good morning/ evening’. Everyone just loved the strange mixture. My MIL once confessed that they did not expect a ‘highly’ educated girl like me to fit so well into their family by adopting their ways.

Of course I smirked, secretly.

It is a mistake to look at someone who is self-assertive and say, “It’s easy for her, she has good self-esteem.” One of the ways you build self-esteem is by being self-assertive when it is not easy to do so. There are always times when self-assertiveness requires courage, no matter how high your self-esteem.

The opposite of self-assertiveness is self-abnegation- abandoning or submerging your personal values, judgment, and interests. Some people tell themselves this is a virtue. It is a “virtue” that corrodes self-esteem.

~ Nathaniel Branden

I made room for myself in that family… not by bluster but by sitting when sitting was expected of me- while I stood quietly within. With time I was able to do more and more things as I liked… while maintaining the broad framework of the values of the family I had married into.

A few years later, I announced that it was time to make good on a promise I had made to myself many years ago. It required me to do something that my in-laws would surely not like. Thankfully, I had discussed the issue with my to-be husband before our marriage was fixed. Only when he agreed to support me on the issue did I say yes to marrying him- that’s how important it was to me.

When the time came to actually do it, however, I found both him and my in-laws absolutely against the idea. My own parents weren’t too pleased either. My husband had agreed earlier but his secret hope was that he would be able to dissuade me when the time came.

I refused to budge and reminded him of the promise he had given me before our marriage. He couldn’t deny the promise he had made. I held him to it and did what I wanted more than anything in the world. My in-laws did grumble for a bit… but what could they do, I was already a part of them!

That’s when everyone realized- my own parents included- that I wasn’t as docile and pliable as they thought I was. 🙂

Later of course, they all congratulated themselves for being awesome enough to let me do what I wanted. “And look”, they told each other gleefully, “how wonderfully well the whole thing has turned out! We took an excellent decision, didn’t we?”

Which was perfectly fine with me. I got what I wanted where it really mattered- without heated words or a trace of acrimony. That, I think, was the real victory.

Standing On The Inside does work!

Picture Mine
Picture Mine

Standing On The Inside

31 thoughts on “Standing On The Inside”

  1. What do I say about Zephyr? I have known her and loved her for the longest time. And she has been the person I loved reading when it came to her astute observations about people and relationships. Having met her, I know that she is all for real. To me she is a doting mother and a fantastic friend. And, yes her writing is just sterling. So much to imbibe and learn. About this series, it was quite an eye-opener. I read them when she originally wrote them a few years back. I read all the posts again today and felt more enlightened.

    As far as your post, Dagny, you echo my sensibilities. I am considered outspoken by most people. What they fail to understand is how I gently prod my way through respecting the other yet getting them to do things my way. Because, honestly, I know that I am a good and fair person. I would never stand for the wrong. I was so happy to read about your experience. I integrated myself in my in-laws family similarly. I did things their way because it made them happy even wearing sarees which I despised. And I saw my mil return the warmth and understanding. What wars cannot achieve, compassion and understanding does. But sadly I don’t see people using gentle persuasion, tact and compassion so often these days. I can just about go on and on. Suffice it to say that we are connected in more ways than one. <3

    1. I agree with you about Zephyr. It is extremely enriching to interact with her. How much there is to learn from her! Isn’t it wonderful to meet people like this..? How lucky can one get? You, Zephyr… so many others. What a wonderful world!! <3

      I am beginning to believe that tact and patience are a fast disappearing essential commodity. There is a lot more to be achieved by yielding than by attacking. We are becoming a society of super fragile egos where someone's momentary criticism/ displeasure can rob us of our self-assurance. When did we turn into such delicate hot house plants? And how come we have no definition of self at all? Is the education system at fault or are parents raising insecure children? It is an alarming phenomenon, which ever it is. I don't like to see it.

      Sometimes I think it is the western ethos of 'only one life' that's at the root of our desperation to 'have it all… right NOW'. More and more I am beginning to think that if our kids were to study- or be taught- our own scriptures, they would lead more fulfilled lives. No?

      Thank you for being Who You Are. Your presence gives me immense solace. <3

      1. I don’t know, Dagny. It could be a reflection of the times we live in where every little battle must be won, where giving in is considered weakness, where scoring minor points at the cost of the relationship itself is considered crucial. While we need to be independent, it must not be at the cost of trampling over the wishes and happiness of others. My choice is almost always related to the choices and consequences for others. If we keep that in mind, we will pull ourselves back whenever we wish to stray.

        I think the society, the media, the education, the parenting are all responsible in some measure of raising a generation that seeks instant gratification and places emphasis on short-term happiness without even being aware of long-term consequences. Not all, of course, but many. The other day, I met an 18-year-old girl who is a delight to speak to. She reads the Geeta and discusses meditation with me. What a pleasure she is to speak with. So mature for her years, a worldly wise citizen, self-assured yet confused, aware of the choices she has and the will to experiment and make mistakes if needed. She made me so happy.

        Thank you for writing this post and for the discussions.

        1. This 18 yr old you speak of, she has delighted me too. You must surely feel redeemed somehow.

          I have noticed anomalies of this kind before. I had a colleague, all of 21, who was so sensible, so centered and balanced that I would look forward to going to work just to talk to her. Her world-view was so mature that I wondered how a girl of her sensibilities had remained unsullied by the silliness of the world we live in. When I met her mother, I knew. Both of them are avid readers. When a girl has imbibed the vastness of Tagore’s vision at her mother’s knee, what wonder that she became as she did.

          Perhaps, that is the remedy to the ills of our times.

  2. *thud* that’s me jumping down from the clouds I was flying after reading your lovely words followed by Rachna’s 🙂 What a perfect post you have penned in such a short time!

    One of the reasons many families shy away from getting an educated girl for their sons even today is that they are supposed to be arrogant and disdainful of the customs of the families they marry into. But covering your head and touching feet twice during a visit? I bet I wouldn’t have been able to do THAT! 😀 And oh yes, when we seemingly give in in small matters, we get the leverage when we need to achieve bigger things. Isn’t that what good negotiations are all about? It is indeed sad that it is the other way round as you have so rightly pointed out.

    I am so glad to have connected with someone who shares my thoughts and validates them on so many things. I had begun thinking that I have become an old fogey who goes, ‘ During my times…..’ and so needs to be avoided at all costs 😀 Thanks for the link back!

    1. I wish there were more ‘old fogeys’ like you in the world. Much of the angst that plagues the Gen Y would be nipped in the bud… or find resolution.

      The truth of a principle is in it being relevant in all eras and situations. I would have paid rapt attention to the things which fell into the ‘in my time…’ category. That’s where I’d have met timeless truths and pervasive insights. Those who skitter away from those stories lose much methinks.

      As for touching feet twice a visit, it didn’t seem a frightful lot actually. All my young brother-in-laws (there was an army of cousins) did the same with me. One must pass on the goodies and love one collects! 😀

      I think you must prepare to ascend the clouds once again. Opportunities surely abound! 😀 😀

      Thank you for writing a wonderful, wonderful series. I am certain those who are ready to learn, will find much to imbibe from your wisdom. The rest, as they say, are no concern of mine. 😀

  3. I realize we dont even know each other yet but i can relate to this post on so many levels. Right from hating the current perception of feminism to fitting in with my in-laws (yep, the saree, ghoonghat and not talking to elders, everything). Standing on the inside – that is just what we need to do. Im still on the ‘sitting on the outside’ stage, waiting for the opportunity to assert myself and Make them allow me to do what i too really want in life. With the turns my life has taken lately, its going to be very very difficult convincing every one. But i mean this, your post today has given me a little more confidence.

    And also, thanks for leading me to Zephyr. Do visit my little blog someday.

    1. That’s the magic of the blogsphere! You ‘meet’ perfect strangers and you find such resonance with their thoughts and sensibilities that it amazes you. When I began to blog, people used to think bloggers (specially women bloggers) are empty headed people with too much time on their hands and too many resource to fritter away online. Only in recent times, that attitude has diluted a little bit. But we still have a long way to go.

      I wish you growth and victory in your journey. May you find joy yourself and bring it to your loved ones. 🙂

        1. I doubt if they ever read anything… let alone blogs. I’ve had people snigger at me when I told them I blog. Oh well! Thankfully I had no hesitation in snapping my fingers at them and telling them frankly where they could keep their opinions. 🙂

          But it is heartening when appreciation finds its way to you… 😀

  4. Dagny and Rachna have said it for me. My idea of feminism resonates with you all. Zephyr has a beautiful heart, a distinctive yet powerful pen. I did pretty much the same to win hearts though my efforts didn’t reap positive dividends.

    1. Alka, your comment has made me realize that I was very lucky that my in-laws gave me the response they did. I’ve just realized that they might not have… and that would have been pretty awful.

      Thank you for this eye opener. How insufferably smug one gets at times!

      1. .How very true, Dagny! Sometimes no matter what one does, things simply refuse to work. But it is important to stand firmly on the inside and never let the others have the satisfaction of having you under their power. The mantra that kept me going for decades was, ‘My spirit is my own. No one can touch it, leave alone break it,; even as I did what was expected of me, responding the way I was expected to. Oh, I have even had to hear taunts about being ‘modern’ ‘proud’ and whatever not. but .I never rose to the bait 🙂 And also, when things are not going the way we want, we should completely forget about winning people over. Some people don’t want to be won over but want to remain a pain 😀

        1. You were called proud too Zephyr! Yay! So was I! I was called snotty and arrogant too. I was told I was unfit for human consumption. Unfortunately, in those days I didn’t have the sangfroid to ask them to define ‘human’. I rather took it to heart I’m afraid. Tsk…! The silliness of youth! 😀

      2. Oh yes, some people will never want to be won over. I saw the struggles my own sister faced. Her love and respect was never reciprocated. You and I have been fortunate in that regard, Dagny.

          1. True Zephyr. It is they who lose… but what’s annoying is that they never know what they threw away. Very vexing, that. 😛

  5. Dagny, you are such a wise soul. I love everything you write. Standing on the inside… I am going to be repeating that to my self for the next few days. It’s needed everywhere. At work and at home. When we are strong on the inside no matter what we are doing on the outside, it just shows. Thank you for the lovely post.

    1. You find me wise because you are so serene and wise yourself. As you said, standing on the inside is needed anywhere. We fight over inconsequential things and concede on major issues.

      Women specially, I feel, need to learn their own strength. They would stop feeling so exploited and suppressed if they would only see the truth about themselves!

      Thank you for coming by. Hope to see a lot more of you! <3

  6. Now you wonderful ladies (young and old-who-really-are-younger-than-the-young) have said it all, nothing left for me to say! That’s what one gets by coming late to the discussion, I know, I know 🙂 I will only re-emphasise – in a different way – what Dagny and Zephyr have both expressed so beautifully in their posts – we can only figure out what it is really to be a woman when we have truly figured out what it is to be a human being. As long as we are caught up in and concerned only with our outer ‘social roles’ that we fulfill on the way to our final recognition and discovery of ourselves we can’t hope to see the big picture. Our roles don’t define us, we define our roles. This is true, both for men and women. Somehow, somewhere along the line, women have gotten into their heads this strange idea that if they start challenging and criticising everything about their roles merely for the sake of challenging and criticising they will be able to figure out their true identities. Such actions only end up creating more divisions, more hurdles, more walls.

    Since so many of our Gen Y (or are we on Z now?) feminists look up to the West for all guidance and direction, it occurs to me that some feminists in the West long time back gave up on the term feminism and call themselves womanists. But I think that too only captures half of the truth. The first thing a woman (or a man) needs to be is a humanist.

    Well Zephyr and Dagny, you two with your thoughts and words have really, really enriched me, and made me discover a deeper dimension to blogging which is so rare. ‘Thank you’ just isn’t enough.

    Love and big hugs to you both.

    PS – and I really like this ‘touching the feet’ tradition. Something so divinely sublime about that. I do that all the time in my in-laws side of the family. And feel so good when my brother and sister-in-law and nephews do that to me. The mere act of bending down in a gesture of surrender and gathering/showering blessings and love is so beautiful. Too bad that people are simply forgetting the spirit behind such gestures. Too much outward living, so much shallowness….look Zephyr, I too have gotten into the bad habit of – “back in our good old days….” and I am not even 50 yet!!!

    1. No matter how late you enter any discussion you have so many new angles to explore and share, Beloo. We really don’t know who we are and in our ignorance believe we do. and worse, try to make others believe our own perceptions. If only we respected our heritage (I wouldn’t call it culture or tradition because both are sneered at by our youngsters), we would not be so arrogant about ourselves. Self esteem has given way to individualism and self-centredness to the exclusion of everything.

      As Rachna has pointed out, our rights are linked closely to those around us. I wonder if such individualism brings happiness or contentment. I would suspect that it doesn’t. The west has become disillusioned with their liberal society and its attendant ills and are looking for remedial measures and we are rushing to make the same mistake. Do we need to learn only from their mistakes? I remember Sri Aurobindo’s replies to his disciple on industrialisation, which you have quoted in your latest post.

      I was just kidding about touching feet. I do it all the time too. In fact we are supposed to do dandavat pranam to our elders, but these days I reserve it only for the very elderly relatives and for the rest it is touching the feet in the North Indian style 🙂 You have talked about surrender while touching feet, but do you know another reason? I have not read it anywhere but have experienced it, It disarms the one whose feet you are touching and if that person is hostile or thinks ill of you, the moment you touch his or her feet, they feel exalted. And when someone feels exalted and flattered, their animosity vanishes! I used to touch the feet of a close relative whenever I was going on an important work or traveling and the beatific expression said it all. The truly great however just transfer the surrender to God. I have seen my father do it every time. Oh, this has become such a long comment. Sorry girls!

      1. Yes, I have also heard it that the surrender we offer when touching the feet of our elders or any revered person is actually an expression of surrender to the Divine in that person. Hey, this is that country where twice a year people in some parts also touch the feet of little girls. So it is really about the spirit in which an outward act is done. Thanks for adding the other beautiful explanation about the touching of the feet. I can totally relate to it, I get so emotional (in a good, calm way) when someone touches my feet, and the aashirwad and love that pours out feels so genuine.
        And yes, the whole ‘rights’ thing is a misleading idea, or at least it has become so because of the way it has been cut off from the equally important ‘duties’ idea. Our view of dharma of course goes beyond both rights and duties, but how many are even willing to give dharma a chance? That’s the kind of individualism we need, I think. A dharmic individualism. Hmmm….now I need to think some more, I thought I was almost done with that individual and society piece I was working on 🙂

        1. Beloo and Zephyr… your insights and wisdom make me feel complete. The width of your perceptions are extremely enriching. You have both made this post an absolute gem by sharing your thoughts so freely. Thank you… thank you both!

          About the touching feet tradition, many years ago I read that the reason we touch our feet is to absorb/ imbibe all that is good in the person whose feet we touch. It is believed that the true essence and goodness of a person emanates from the big toes of that person. When you touch the big toes… and they lay their hand on your head… they close the ‘circuit’ thereby allowing all their goodness to flow through you. As this current of goodness flows through you, it seeps through the cracks of your inner world, leaving you enriched.

          I hear a lot of young people reject the idea of feet touching entirely. They look at it as a practice of dominion and subjugation. That’s a terribly narrow… and downright false… view of the practice.

          While on that subject, I also read that the reason we put a ’tilak’ on our forehead on auspicious occasions is to create a ‘memory’ of that occasion by touching the ‘third eye’ with vermillion/ sandal paste. Aren’t Vedic traditions absolutely wonderful?

          Thank you both once again for this very enriching discussion. You bless me…

  7. Pingback: Opening that window and breaking free! | Cyber Nag

  8. I am glad that sitting at a distance I get to read the minds of you and cybernag via these blog alerts 🙂 She articulates her words wisely and in rhythm thus making it all sound so poetic.

    Dagny, your story sounded so much like my mom. Coming from a well educated family, and yet mingled so well with the “culture” of my dad’s family was mindblowing. When the time came, she stood to her grounds, and till today my bua’s, chachas respect her for who she is…amen!

    Loved the quote…”Standing on the inside” cause its all about your will power that actually makes you walk that mile, which seems impossible but then only we can make it possible!

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more Ruchira. Thank you for sharing your experience and validating Zephyr’s and my thoughts.

      Blogsphere is a blessing to all of us for sure.

  9. Now, my mom’s words make more sense to me. I can proudly say that I have become mature over the years in how to adjust and deal with in-laws and the husband. About Zephyr, I am waiting for the day to meet her. and you too. :)And Rachna too 🙂 What I have realised is, with little patience and perseverance we can go a long way. Not little..actually a lot more than needed. You are BRAVO. touched feet so many times, I would have shown my middle finger and got my way out long back…kudos to you di.

    1. Lol… no I don’t think you’d have done anything like that. You too would have touched feet as many times as I did.. 🙂 It really wasn’t as much of a hardship as all that you know. 😀

      Kudos to us…!

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