It was a strange experience – finding that book and reading the title. For a while, I just stood with it wondering what it meant.
The book had dropped innocuosly in my hands while I was searching in the library for a suitable topic for my physics project. The unexpected post-script “For Boys” in the title both confused and teased me. I put down the book on the library table with an annoyed jerk and saw a ‘Boy’ classmate look at me with a wry smile after having looked at the cover.
I opened the book to glance through it, almost ready to dismiss whatever it offered. In part, I was also curious to find the exclusive ‘boyishness’ in the contents. I was a little irked to see that it offered interesting (and fun) experiments that I could use for the exhibition, but there was nothing that would limit the knowledge to a specific half of the world population as the title declared.
As soon as I got a chance, I asked the librarian about it, unable to hide either my surprise or my annoyance. My surprise was of course at the post-script, finding mention in a british book.
And it was then that the knowledgeable lady opened my eyes.
Up until then, I had believed that gender bias was a phenomenon exclusive to India. With a smirk so typical of the convent going kids, I would love to point out to anyone who would listen that ours was a degenerate society plagued by ills such as female foeticide, dowry deaths, sati, gender bias, religious fanaticism (this after the infamous riots of ’91) and explosive population. Somehow, in the history books that were read to us by the nuns, only the Indian ills found repeated mention, while the extreme conservatism, racism, nationalism of the west were mellowed out.
Thus when the librarian described for me the conservative English life, where formal education was reserved for men while women only so much as attended finishing schools if at all, I was nothing short of shocked. Her description of strict disciplinarian schools of Britain further horrified me. It was a picture beyond my imagination. I had always assumed the western world to be the perfect world – a society diametrically opposite to the Indian where all plagues of the latter did not exist (and never had). I do not know nor remember where I picked up that impression. For until then I had not watched any English movies and my reading of English books was limited to Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven and Famous Five which hardly supported this view.
Perhaps it was the convent education itself then. Or a curriculum that had deeply borrowed from the British education system. But subconsciously, we had been spared the awareness of western evils.
Post this incident, I picked up a lot of history books and attempted to read about the British society. The enthusiasm did not last long, but I read enough to realize the folly of my previous assumptions. I read of crusades and holocaust and figured that Christanity was not absolved from religious intolerance. And I read classics where I found british girls faced with the same predicament of finding a suitable catch that Indian girls have to often worry about.
I still wonder why was it so easy for me to believe the worst about my own nation and its history, while aparently gloricising the west.