The fresh aroma of the spicy chicken tikka masala wafted into my room. I fell into a daze—”Annika, come down and serve the chicken,” my mother yelled. Of course, it was me. My brother was downstairs playing video games, while I was studying; nonetheless, I had to serve dinner.
Exhausted after a day’s trip to NYC, I was eager to get to my beloved bed alas. I ran across Penn Station, attempting to catch the train that would leave in 3 minutes—I yelled in fright; something had pinched my waist. Rather, someone had grabbed me, a drunk, older man wretchedly laughing while I ran as fast as I could. You see, I was wearing a two-piece set that revealed my midriff.
The glistening jewels lured me to the embroidered lengha suspended on the glass window. I walked towards Mumbai’s popular boutique, eager to buy the dress—”Item aa gayi (There comes the chick),” a man sitting on the curb yelled to a group of his friends in the shop. This time, I had made sure that I was fully clothed, only my face, neck, and hands exposed. Still, it happened. My cheeks turned red, and tears started to fall, one by one. I immediately took the next taxi home.
These experiences kept building, and soon enough, I began to resent my femininity. I hated having the curves, the hair, the makeup, anything, really, that made me a girl. Whether, I was surrounded by the inadvertent discrimination at home or the premeditated indecency on the streets, I wanted nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with womanhood.
Fast forward a few months.
Lights flashed and sirens buzzed as my town’s First Aid Squad and I arrived at the scene of a fall victim. It was a little girl, a mere 6 years old, in extreme pain with abrasions on her knees, blood creeping down her leg. The other EMTs treated her, while I offered her comfort; I had just become certified last week. Before transporting her to the hospital, they decided that some of the crew would stay behind, including myself, in order to make more room in the ambulance. Hence, they loaded her onto the stretcher and I said my goodbyes. Just as I was about the close the door of the ambulance, the little girl pointed at me and hollered, “No, I want you.” My heart lit up. I was the only woman in a crowd full of male EMTs. She needed me, not because of my experience or appearance, but rather who I was—a girl. She wanted someone she could relate to, laugh with, seek comfort in. And that person was me. My cheeks never hurt this much from smiling.
What started as a single call for a fall victim, has now sprouted a life-long journey of acceptance. Somewhere in that little girl, I accepted the curves, the hair, and the makeup. I was no longer ashamed of being a woman, but rather proud that I had this implicit connection with girls all over the world. The high pony I used to wear slowly became replaced with a loose braid. The oversized sweatshirt with a floral blouse. The bare face with mascara. Of course, I could never forget the basket of experiences that had come before. But slowly, the fruits of sisterhood made those memories seem not so bad. Who doesn’t face adversity? Almost no one. But, the ability to look beyond that, to find comfort in your own adversity, that, I realized, was the power of womanhood.