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Category: Reflections 13 Jul 14


As feature speaker, what could I say to the smart young women of Parvati Girls’ Hindu College that wouldn’t make them zone out? When I was graduating I was agonising about my weight, dress, boys. I was not popular. I was wispy thin. I wore glasses.

My father took me to a seamstress and I picked out a design that was a cross between a medieval collar and a gypsy skirt. Thankfully, only one blurry photograph survives of that time. My dad took me to my graduation and my brother stayed by my side the whole time. I was home by nine, even before the party got going.

Now graduation ceremonies are as hyped as a mass audition to play Evita Peron, with elaborate attention to hair, nails, dress, shoes, jewelry, makeup. I marvel at our secondary school girls (who have academically shot way past boys)—they can look like they’ve walked out of a Vogue shoot, while acing exams and applying to do engineering and math degrees.

I brought the troops. I asked my dynamite women friends for advice that I shared with the Parvati Girls. Here is some of it.

From Sharon Amow Gay:

“You’re living in an over-sexualised world. But you should avoid an intimate sexual relationship for as long as possible, perhaps even into your 20s. Our sexual drives at this young age determine with whom we form relationships, which in turn determines our future life partners (or ex-partners who cause us deep emotional wounds, depending on how things unfold).

Regardless of how independent and mature you believe we are at 17, 18 or 19 years old, we can never anticipate the emotional storms that accompany our sexual relationships. You simply do not have the experience at this age to grasp that sex is never casual, even when it is your intention for it to be ‘no strings attached’ or ‘a small ting.’ “Give yourself time to grow, to recognise a messed-up young man who comes into your life, often to satisfy his fleeting desires, fill his voids or soothe his emotional wounds. Don’t be somebody’s collateral damage as they work through their issues.

“I’ve seen so many bright, beautiful young women who end up abused, disrespected and discarded by their messed-up partners.

“What exactly are you offering semi-clothed at a party to the young men, looking for some action—action that doesn’t include any form of commitment, short- or long-term, to you and your well-being?

“Yes, there are psychologically healthy youths, but they will still be around in the next couple years if you are meant to be together in fulfilling, respectful long-term relationships.”

From Dr Charlotte Bigland:

“My father said: ‘Take what you want from life—you are young and it is yours for the taking. But understand, everything comes with a cost. Be prepared for that cost. When making a decision, carefully consider the cost/implications of doing or not doing something. Understand if the price is right for you, and if it is, let nothing stop you from getting what you want.’ It helped me get through many exams by consciously knowing that the cost of a missed social event or watching TV was worth it for a scholarship. I still analyse decisions that way now.

“My own advice is: There is no such thing as the ‘Disney princess happily-ever-after’ life. The universally perfect woman is an unrealistic myth, but you can strive for what’s perfect for you.

“As a doctor, people often tell me about their actual life, and it’s quite different from the front they put on. We should discuss our struggles more to let other people know that success requires work and is not simply delivered by a fairy godmother.

Choices are necessary. Compromise is not a failure.

“In a similar vein, it is also worth remembering that real women’s boobs don’t look like you see in the movies—so quit worrying about it.”

From Teresa White:

“Be reflective when faced with criticism—even if it is given unkindly or by somebody who does not like you. Do not let this cloud your ability to digest a harsh truth about yourself. You may decide to discard the message if it is untrue, but you might be able to take something useful (even though it is painful) out of it.

“The best career advice I have been given (three instances come immediately to mind) came from line managers who, put baldly, disliked me—what they said was not gentle or sympathetic, but it was true. I am better off for having internalised it—though it felt very crappy at the time.”

Finally, from my sister

Rashmi Mathur:

“This world is vast—keep your eyes, heart and spirit open to everything new. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone or try something new because you’re afraid.

“Have strong relationships with family and friends—it grounds you and gives you a sense of self.

“You don’t need to fill all your time with external distractions such as TV, radio, someone. It’s important to hear what’s in your head so you can start trusting your own voice.”

Congratulations, girls. Go forth and conquer. 


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur