I went swimming in the sea a few months ago and was swallowed by a giant fish that I could not identify because I hated my Biology school teacher and had consequently spent most of my classes drawing rude pictures of him. I was finally rescued by some fisherman who caught the fish and cut me out of its gooey, messy, smelly tummy. (Incidentally, that was the same fisherman who brought the huge ring-eating fish to forgetful ol’ King Bharat which made him recall his beloved Shakuntala.) The fish oil in the belly made my hair shine like a disco light and gave me the skin of a porcelain doll. On the downside, those things were of no use because people kept fainting the moment I was within ten yards of them.
Here’s another (boring) version of my story: I graduated and got into a cool but time-consuming, resume-boosting internship programme. However, I have decided that I hate it and I am counting days to next summer when it ends so that I can go and become a hippie in some psychedelic 1970s movie.
I am sure many of your must have already turned back to your DIY mask-making or half-written lipstick reviews or outfit preparation for the next OOTD or maybe even rushing to the MAC counter while muttering stuff like “Foolish Jabberwocky! What is she playing at? Wasting our precious time with her nonsensical stories!” MAC ladies, you’re right. Here’s a complementary MAC bullet for you in your favourite shade, be it sunshine yellow or midnight blue. Now, please continue reading.
I have been meaning to write something about female role models for a long time now and no, I don’t mean cocaine-snorting models like Kate Moss (who has a killer sense of style nonetheless) or the much too real Bollywood actresses. I wanted to make a list of favourite heroines from literature. Hence the post needed a story to begin with as a kind of introduction. 😛
So, without further digression (and no more free MAC bullets), I begin.
1.) Hermione (Harry Potter Series):
Hermione Jean Granger tops my list simply because I am one of 384923589375 kids who grew up with her while she was emerging out of Ms. Rowling’s superbly amazing head. She is the reason why I have spent my adolescence with relatively little drama by embracing my inner nerd the way Dolly Bindra embraces crazy. Feisty, intelligent, brave Hermione is one of the rare heroines that any woman can take inspiration from. It is very common to observe women “dumbing” themselves down so as not to appear like a nerd or to be just generally well-liked among their less intellectually blessed peers. Hermione is someone who does not give up being smart simply because others feel threatened and thus rejects the whole “dumbing down” principle by becoming what Snape calls “an insufferable know-it-all.” It is still any day better than being a pretend bimbo, isn’t it? And it’s not just valid for bookish knowledge. If you are good at anything (make-up, Tai Chi, drums, cooking, caricatures), Hermione Granger tells you to be proud of it. If you are not like everyone else, embrace it. Do not be ashamed of where you come from – be it a 50-bedroom mansion or a little thatched hut in some remote village. Just be “Mudblood and Proud.”
Let’s not get started on the whole comparison to Bella Swan. All Bella did was curl into a foetal position waiting for the sparkling Cedric Diggory/Edward Cullen to come and whisper to her about the smell of her blood. Hermione, on the other hand, was a walking encyclopaedia who topped all her exams, fought the Death Eaters, started an underground Resistance movement, always stood up for her beliefs, advocated the right to a dignified life for all creatures, fought off attacks by gigantic snakes, lived in a tent all over Britain with two untidy boys, beat up Draco Malfoy, and when the guy she loved left her because he was an idiot, she did not run off with him singing a British version of “Jahan Piya Wahan Main” and throwing her self-respect in the drain on the way. Instead, she stayed loyal to her friend, saved the world while crying into her pillow every night, but nearly jinxed away the aforementioned love to obscurity when he came back and let’s face it. For all the “Chosen One” jazz, Harry would be nowhere without Hermione’s brains and guts. There’s a very interesting dialogue from the first part of Deathly Hallows movie –
Harry (to Ron): “Come with me.”
Ron: “And leave Hermione? We wouldn’t last 2 days with her.” (Awkward pause) “Don’t tell her I said that.”
She does not need them to survive. They do.
J.K. Rowling has revealed in several interviews that part of Hermione’s mania for being good at everything comes from her deep-rooted insecurities about herself. I find it incredibly amazing that she turned a flaw to her advantage by becoming the most gifted witch of her generation. How many of us would do that (magical powers and witch-issues aside)? If we have complexes, we moan, grumble, whine, curse the Skin God, break our mirrors, gossip peevishly about the terrible hairstyles/shoes/clothes/looks of other women who are supposedly “better” than us. Take a leaf out of Hermione’s book. Excel and keep those little insecurity monsters at bay.
2.) Little Red Riding Hood:
No, I don’t mean the one whose story you heard in school when you were seven and then woke up every night for a week after that sobbing, “The wolf ate the little girl!” No, that did NOT happen to me. Ah well, not after the first week, I assure you. My parents got so tired of trying to calm me that they gave me an alternate version in the form of a children’s rhyme based on the same story by Roald Dahl. His Little Red Riding Hood was an innocent and nice little girl like the original. However, that is only up till the part where the wolf bares his big teeth and announces that he is going to eat her. Here’s what Roald Dahl has to say about what happened next:
“That’s wrong!” cried Wolf. “Have you forgot
To tell me what BIG TEETH I’ve got?
Ah well, no matter what you say,
I’m going to eat you anyway.”
The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.
A few weeks later, in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change! No cloak of red,
No silly hood upon her head.
She said, “Hello, and do please note
My lovely furry wolfskin coat.”
Suffice to say that I got a toy pistol after this and pledged to kill all the wolves. Years later, I read a surprisingly interesting interpretation of the original tale. According to many literary critics, the story of Little Red Riding Hood was written as a cautionary tale for young girls, especially those nearing puberty. The red colour of the cloak is sexually suggestive and was not worn by morally upright women at the time this story was created. The fact that the girl deliberately strays from the path that was carefully instructed by her mother and even talks to strangers means that she has strayed from the “morally righteous” path by being independent. The “come into the bed with me!” cry of the wolf and the fact that he eats up Little Red Riding Hood is seen as a metaphor for rape. In other words, it’s the same story that a lot of so-called guardians of the society tell Indian women these days – “stay at home and you won’t be harmed by rapists, madmen and axe murderers.” Roald Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood gives you an alternative – learn self defence, carry a Swiss knife, skin any attacking wolves alive and get a stylish new flesh-coloured coat (you may even do an OOTD later). I am sure that PETA would not object.
Do you remember Alif Laila? It is one of my earliest Doordarshan memories along with Byomkesh Bakshi. I was barely three when the show used to come on TV and the only story that I remember from that show was that of Sindbad, the Sailor. Other stories like those of Aladdin and the Lamp were narrated much later by my grandmother and of course, even immortalised by Walt Disney by creating what is by far the hottest cartoon character of all time. If that Disney Aladdin were real, I’d have abducted him and forced him to marry me in typical Prem-Chopra-abducting-the-heroine style of old Bollywood movies complete with the classic “Pandit ji, mantra jaaree rakhiye!” dialogue while Aladdin writhed trying to escape my clutches. Anyhow, I digress.
So, Scheherazade is the star of The Arabian Nights (aka Alif Laila). Her cool quotient lies in the fact that she had not only “studied philosophy and the sciences, arts and accomplishments,” but she was also “pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred” and that too in the middle ages! I assume you all know the frame tale about Shahryar, the crackpot king who invented the worst way of relationship rebound ever in the history of humanity. He was so incensed at being cheated upon by his first wife that he took revenge by marrying a virgin every night and then killing her the next morning. Everyone in the kingdom was busy saving their own neck or hiding their daughters and people were too chicken to even squeak out a protest against their king who needed a psychotherapist more than a virgin. Then one day, Scheherazade volunteered to spend the night with him going against her father’s wishes and thus began the path to reform for Shahryar. Night after night, Scheherazade narrated captivating tales to Shahryar and left them in the middle which forced the king to keep her alive until the next night. This went on until Shahryar got his mental faculties back (which also involved a change of heart) and he fell in love with the brilliant woman. This is a classic example of that old Ravenclaw saying, “Wit beyond measure is (wo)man’s greatest treasure.” Scheherazade gained the right to live by using not only the beauty of words but also her intellect. She was even supposedly stunning to look at. So, in one fell swoop, she dismantles a gazillion stereotypes about women such as:
- Women can be either intelligent or pretty.
- Women can only win over men through their beauty.
- Women are not as brave as men and so on.
To cut a long story short (something that Scheherazade did not believe in), what this woman did was simply make the best of her abilities and use her experience, knowledge and skills to become a superheroine. If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.
4.) Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice):
She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me. Haha, I am kidding. She is “ohmygodaciously” awesome! She is irreverent, opinionated, witty, intelligent and can be deliciously horrid to characters who we love to hate. In an age when all that women did was swoon and fall into the hands of rich, eligible young men while waiting for the smelling salts to come, Lizzie Bennet scoffs at such “weaknesses.” She does not think twice before taking a mile long walk and muddying her clothes to visit her sick sister. She may not be Frodo Baggins of the Lord of the Rings, but she is pulled into a ring-centric quest too. In her world, marriage is the key to happiness. Rejecting the norms of the society in Austen’s time was no easier to do than it is today and and yet she places her own judgement over social pressures and refuses to marry that disgusting, obnoxious, unbearably smug Mr. Collins. She also gives more tongue lashings to snooty Mr. Darcy than he ever received in his entire aristocratic little life, and he actually deserves them at first. I mean, really, how rude could a guy get? I am sure that if all the IMBBians threw a party and invited him, he’d stand in a corner, refuse to speak to anyone and silently judge our eye make-up and lipstick shades.
What I love the most about Elizabeth is that she is so REAL. She is prejudiced, she jumps to conclusions too soon and she falls for the wrong guy. And yet, she is not afraid to learn from her mistakes, eats her own words and makes the correct decision in the end while kicking that spoilt old aristocratic hag, Lady Catherine, in the shins too. Overall, I think the fact that most women can still identify with Elizabeth nearly 200 years after the publication of “Pride and Prejudice” is the major reason for her appeal.
Also, I am tired of people raising their noses in the air and saying, “Oh, Liz Bennet? I prefer Jane Eyre to her! So much more independent and SUCH a feminist!” Udder naansense, I say. Jane Eyre was a sermonising, over zealous, insufferably pious little toad who bored the pants out of the readers with her whines and boohoo-I’m-such-a-martyr act. Sure, she is mentally strong and stands up for her beliefs, her feminism is nothing but a sanctimonious, holier-than-thou attitude arising out of religious zeal instead of real independence of mind. Also, what’s the deal with her marrying Mr. Rochester only when his house burnt down and he became blind? Terribly preachy and it seems to be sneakily telling women – “Marry someone who loves you only when is a wreck so that he is your slave for life.” Pooh.
5.) Jean Louise (aka Scout) Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird):
She is a fighter. A schoolmate says something negative about her father, she attacks him with her little fists. A neighbourhood kid is not paying attention to her, she pulps him. A lynch mob member grabs her older brother, she kicks him (in the place where it hurts the most, no less!). And in all these fights, she emerges victorious thulping her adversaries who are usually bigger than her. No matter how hard she tries, she always finds herself cocking her fists at one kid or another in the school yard. Scout is your regular tomboy – hating dolls and dresses, running wild with the boys, beating up people and mostly being reckless. Despite all this, she does not whine too much about having to act like a lady when she needs to, and sometimes even takes pride in following her prim aunt’s lead even if she does not succeed in becoming absolutely “proper.” She is also a very interesting character in the way she develops throughout the book. From being feisty and uncontrollable, she grows into someone who learns to listen to her father’s ideas about the moral superiority of not falling prey to people’s taunts. While Scout is the kind of person who if asked to “put herself into others’ shoes” would run away with them just to teach those people a lesson, she still listens to this advice given by her father. By the end of the book, Scout seems like the kind of girl that you would love to be.
I also find her to be an amazing character not just because she is wild and fun, but because she does not need to criticise her gender even if she is just as good as (if not better) than a boy. I would have loved to include Georgina Kirrin of The Famous Five series in this list but this is precisely the reason why I did not. I hate the fact that those books imply that Georgina’s character is so strong, independent and good at all the difficult things DESPITE her being a girl. It’s positively revolting every time she scoffs at other girls and does not respond to her real name (preferring to be called George instead. (If having a boy’s name was what one is all about, then someone like me would have been six feet tall and would have ridden around the fields of Punjab on an Enfield Bullet.) It is as if anyone who likes dolls is a substandard human being and the only way of living is by not only beating the boys at everything but by actually being ashamed of being born as a girl. That is why Scout will always score over Georgina or other similarly idiotic characters. She is cool because she is just what she is, not in spite of being a girl. She made me believe that I can wear 4 inch heels, pretty frocks and wonderful make up, and still beat the living hell out of idiots if I want to and be good at anything without the mania of “proving to the boys” that I am better than them.
I would have loved to add more to the list but I am afraid that I shall be lynched for being an insufferable bore. Also, I must go anyway. It’s “Jhalak Dikhlaja” time and I need to boo some of the contestants who I hate with the fire of a thousand suns.
Meanwhile, you can list your favourite fictional heroines and sing their paeans.
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