My friend Jane celebrated a landmark birthday the other day. To celebrate, a group of women ate and dined at a trendy bar in downtown Mumbai. We ate pumpkin ravioli, drank French wine (complete with fire sparklers), and indulged our sweet teeth with flour-less chocolate cake. There we were, six successful women spending our money on the finer things in life. Enjoying the freedom that comes with being a single woman in Mumbai.
Riding home in an air-conditioned cab, I couldn’t help but rest my head on the window and watch Mumbai’s neighborhoods, heavily laden with Diwali lanterns, unfold in front of me. Soaking in the beauty of this city, I was full of appreciation for being able to live the life I have here. Then we rounded the corner and drove straight through one of many annual Muslim celebrations. The scene seemed regular to me at first; loads of people on the street gathered in colorful clothing listening to someone important speaking on a raised platform. Then, something peculiar caught my eye.
There, right in front of me, were hundreds of women, glittering and colorful, crouched together on the dirty street leaning and stretching their necks to see around plastic chairs occupied by men and boys, dressed all in white. Hundreds of women, sitting behind their sons and husbands and fathers barely able to see, but somehow part of the ceremony. It shocked me out of my dream. India has a way of doing that. One second you are sipping on imported French wine, the next you are traipsing a path through oppression and segregation.
As a resident of India, I am aware of the plethora of delicate social imbalances and somehow forget that my experience here, the one peppered with the luxuries of Western life, isn’t the reality of most women living in this country. It’s humbling in a way that I would never have the opportunity to fully understand as just a visitor. For that, I am thankful. Thankful for my home, my health, my friends, my family, my work, my brain, and all the opportunities awarded me simply because my parents chose to give birth to me in a country full of potential for a clever little girl.
I’m lucky. Lucky to be learning every day. Lucky to fall more in love with this country and lucky I don’t have to stay. I’m lucky I have the choice to change the world in which I live. Glass ceilings shatter everyday for women all over the world and I wonder, will these women crouching on a dirty floor ever have the opportunity to climb?