Google search on the keywords “Art of being a woman/man” provides quicker response for woman than man. The response time of the world’s powerful search engine is symbolic of the quick realisation of the timeless responsibilities of women. The timeliness of this realisation as the entire nation celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda is another unique dimension. The young ascetic monk stole the show at the World Parliament of Religions with his uniquely characterised speech which rattled the entire audience. The spiritual tsunami of Swamiji generated thought waves that signaled the renaissance of old India in the new world order. The spiritual assets of Swami manifested in different forms and captured the quintessence of India’s strength. One form of manifestation was Swamiji’s original and unadulterated view of feminism. Swamiji believed in adding the mother side of Nature to the character of a nation, and brought to the forefront the underlying force behind a nation’s welfare—its status of woman.
The concept of motherhood has always been held in high respect in India. The common reference to Mother Earth or Mother India is aligned with this noble supremacy of motherhood. The noble state of motherhood is a subset of a nobler state of womanhood which is the noblest form of the superset architecture called humanhood. Womanhood is the true symbol of strength and in E Roosevelt’s words, “A woman is like a tea bag—you never know how strong she is until she gets in to hot water”. The sanctification of womanhood is unique to the Indian philosophy of feminine divinity that has been held in a high pedestal by the functional society despite intrusion by dysfunctional deviants. It is this eternally enriched social capital of India that has insulated Mother India from invasions of Western thoughts packaged as modern lifestyle.
Indian womanhood symbolises the higher state of humanhood and is the guardian of India’s cultural, spiritual, civilizational, economic and social assets. Only the West needed a vanguard movement to elevate the status of womanhood and ensure women get their rights. In the rights vs respect conflict, the resultant casualty was the social capital as the rights movement pushed family functions to the periphery, promoting exclusive individualism. “Advanced economies” driven by free market capitalism and liberal democracy, two sides of the same “rights movement” coin, are now struggling to decode and implant the genuine social DNA. The idea of individualism over collectivism, lifestyle over living skills has dominated global discourse of human life reducing the high philosophical form of womanhood to a trivial biological form.
There is no need to enter into a clash between Western and Indian thoughts but seize this opportunity to understand the difference between rights and respect. A rights-driven western society is incapable of building a responsible filial framework similar to the one built by Indian society that reveres women. A rights-driven society has a repeated history of failures that were unable to polish the bruised contours of livelihood. Contrastingly, societies like India and Japan have ensured respect and responsibility override rights, thus ensuring quality of livelihood. The quality of life of a nation’s citizenry is its biggest strength. In this perspective a multidimensional role of Indian women is an art in daily practice at its threshold of global acceptance.
Nations have differing opinion on trade, commerce, economics, business, etc. and such differences are addressed through multilateral regulations. The confusion between lifestyle and living skills always results in a conflicting mind misguided by a distorted understanding of modernity. The conflict cannot be resolved through printed copies of regulations governing human life. Neo-modern feminists seem to measure life through lifestyle and the true Indian barometer measures the living skills of women. There is a fine distinction between the two parameters—lifestyle and living skill. Traditionally, the living skills of a household are built by the woman in charge and not by the man who is the “official head”. A majority of Indian households are adequately endowed with these life skills and that is why India is a successful economic aggregation of millions of its microeconomic entities called families. A rich or a poor family in India is very rarely differentiated based on the life skills but grossly differentiated based on lifestyle. A common thread that unites Indian families, rich or poor, is the foundational living skills missing in advanced “modern” economies. A “living skill-developed” India is the best answer to a lifestyle-impoverished West that is grappling with a high socio-economic crisis of cataclysmic consequences. The building block of India’s developed living skills is India’s multitasking woman specialists. Multitasking specialism in Indian women is not a double-barrelled diction but certainly social ammunition that needs to explode globally.
As an IT veteran, I visualise Indian womanhood from three perspectives—hardware, software and antivirus. She is the key hardware forming the spine of Indian humanhood, a hardware that has a strong anatomy and physiology ensuring strong family aligned with Indian ethos. She is the software as a service model capable of multitasking based on the needs of the family—a responsible daughter-in-law, loving wife, caring mother and socially respected individual. Thanks to the social armoury an Indian woman provides, she is also the anti-virus that protects family functions from a virus called Western modernity.
The advanced world’s (read USA) social architecture is foundationally shaken by its rights-driven hyper-individualistic society. India is strong through its womanhood that perpetuates respect-driven collectivism. A crisis-ridden Western lifestyle should embrace a crisis-immune Indian living skill model. I feel elated to recall Swami Vivekananda’s words to conclude. “The ideal of womanhood is motherhood—that marvellous, unselfish, all-suffering, ever-forgiving mother.” The motherhood in Indian womanhood rejuvenates the purpose of life—a purpose that stresses on building living skills and not just lifestyle. It is Swami Vivekananda’s attachment to Chennai that provides a perfect springboard for the women’s convention on his 151st Jayanthi to showcase to the world that Indian woman is a guide to the world at a crossroads. This path-breaking convention aligns with the spirit of Indian woman who makes a global difference.
The author is vice-president, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, and can be reached at