Celebrating Women’s Day in India

India, travel, Women's Day, women, homestay, stories

Women dancing at Aurovalley Ashram’s anniversary celebrations

Amid all the bad news, let’s celebrate the strength and beauty of women in India (and everywhere)

MARCH 8 IS INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day. It’s also my birthday, so I take special note of it every year. And this year, as the world spotlight is again on India’s attitudes towards women, and a debate over a documentary about the horrific Delhi Gang Rape is raging, I want to take a moment and celebrate the women of India. Social activism is important … and so is telling stories about every day experiences, small moments of human kindness and connection that inspire hope and keep us going — and sometimes even shine a light on the much larger truth behind material reality.

Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. – Joseph Campbell

So, though I want to acknowledge the issues women in India face, and the titanic shifts this society in undergoing, I also want to acknowledge the countless women who have smiled at me, fed me, helped me, showed interest in me, and most of all let me into their worlds over the past nine years. Life is lived in the moment, at the level of relationship. And as almost all travelers know, most people are good. This is the problem with media sensationalizing: it blows the terrible incidents out of proportion. It makes us forget day-to-day reality and the goodness inherent in most people.

India, travel, Women's Day, women, homestay, stories

Women at a temple in Ahmedabad.

Secret society of women

In the past nine years, I have spent two years in India, living in Delhi and travelling from one end of the country to the other. Though I have to take precautions that men don’t have to take, and I don’t have the same freedom I have at home in Canada, I have almost universally enjoyed my time here. And it’s due, in large part, to the women I meet on my travels.

India, travel, Women's Day, women, homestay, stories 

Geeta, the lady of the house.

There’s a secret society of women that only women travelers have access to, and this is the “silver lining” to having to be more cautious, in my opinion. Wherever I go in India, I find an almost instant rapport with women at every level of society.

Just now, taking a break from writing this, I went into the kitchen of the home I’m staying in here in South Delhi, and chatted in half-Hindi, half-English to the cook Anita and the maid Shashi. In the nine years I’ve been coming to India and staying with this three-generation Punjabi family, Anita is the first female cook they’ve hired. She’s changed the whole dynamic of the kitchen, and made it feel like a warm and welcoming place. I’ve been watching her cook and make chapatis, she’s a real pro and her food is delicious. It has a special ingredient: love.

India, travel, Women's Day, women, homestay, stories 

School girls in India

The ladies car

On the metro in Delhi, I always sit in the “ladies car,” even waiting for a train to pass if I’m not at the right spot to get on this car. I really enjoy the relaxed camaraderie, and the spontaneous conversations. Yesterday, a family of women, three generations, were standing beside me and after many smiles were exchanged, they started asking me questions: where was I from, how did I like India, did I have children. All the usual pleasantries, and it was indeed a pleasant way to pass a long metro ride.

India, travel, Women's Day, women, homestay, stories 

Parvati the maid at Kaori

Conversations with Parvati

In the homestay I lived in this winter in Delhi, Kaori, I often made my breakfast alongside the maid, Parvati. Though she was half my height, and we did not share a common language, we somehow grew to understand each other and develop a morning routine. I admired how she showed up every morning, early, through the chilly winter, and did our dishes and washed our floors. I found out she’s a single mom, with three kids; her ex-husband is an alcoholic. Though she’s had a hard life, she was always cheerful and always worked hard. One day, I saw her in the market, and it was like meeting an old friend.

The chai ladies

At Aurovalley Ashram, there are about five local women who work in the ashram, and they seem to be always cheerful, always ready with a smile even while sweeping the walkways. Each day at tea time, they passed my second floor room, chai in hand, to go up to the roof together. They always had a twinkle in their eye, and mirth playing on their faces. And they always gave me a jolt of joy as they passed by.

India, travel, Women's Day, women, homestay, stories 

Women in Raiwala Village

Singing songs of love

When I was on the Mirabai Expedition, I came across a group of women sitting on the floor and singing Mirabai’s songs in her temple in Merta City. They warmly invited me to sit down with them, and though I could not join the singing, I kept time with some cymbals. This was one of the highlights of the entire journey. For a brief moment, I felt connected to these women and this culture, and to Mirabai herself, through the magic of music. It was at about this time, halfway through the expedition, that I realized the importance of love to the Mirabai story. It seems to me that love is the special provenance of the feminine and what we’re at risk of losing in the modern, mechanized and patriarchal world.

India, travel, Women's Day, women, homestay, stories 

Girl on the ghats in Pushkar

Holi wow

Just before publishing this, I went for a walk in the green and tranquil park behind the house here in South Delhi. It was late in the day, on Holi, and most of the festivities had died down. I came across a group of women singing in the park, and walked over to them. One of the ladies smeared my forehead with a touch of lavender colour, and they all smiled at me and invited me to join them. It was a small Holi moment, a touch of colour … and the feeling of genuine warmth and inclusion.

India, travel, Women's Day, women, homestay, stories 

The ladies in the park on Holi

Thanks to the women of India

These are just a few small moments of the many I’ve had in India over the past nine years. With this post I want to say thank you to the women of India. I have found most of you to be remarkably strong and cheerful. It’s a great and rare combination.

India, travel, Women's Day, women, homestay, stories

Catching a special moment in Lodi Garden

India, travel, Women's Day, women, homestay, stories 

Priyanka wanted me to take her picture in Pushkar. The picture of feminine strength.

India, travel, Women's Day, women, homestay, stories 

A woman in the Leh, Ladakh market

India, travel, Women's Day, women, homestay, stories 

Women at the Jaipur Literature Festival

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17 Responses to Celebrating Women’s Day in India

  1. Rutavi Mehta March 6, 2015 at 9:32 am #

    Women of India are strong and they will protray to be awlays strong.I m one of the them and the society is growing gradually and Im proud that it has developed to be better places. Bearing couple of cases which all women have to take precaution and support to fight back.Happy Women day !
    Rutavi Mehta recently posted..Trek With Me To Gaj Pass, HimachalMy Profile

  2. swatibassi March 6, 2015 at 2:12 pm #

    Indian culture is diverse and women play a very important role.
    Amidst all the chaos of worldly lives, we know how to smile and keep going.
    swatibassi recently posted..Faith – My Look up storyMy Profile

  3. Aalisha March 6, 2015 at 2:55 pm #

    Hi Mariellen ,
    I would like to thanks you for your appreciation. I really fill glad to know your views on us and also your best experience in our country. In India you will find the same beautiful behavior, strong and cheerful nature of the woman irrespective of the religion and society.
    Wishing you a happy birthday and happy women’s day in advance.
    Aalisha recently posted..Reduce weight for your beautiful looksMy Profile

  4. Ananya Tales March 6, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

    Thank you for this wonderful post 🙂
    Happy women’s Day 🙂
    Ananya Tales recently posted..How to wear a Summer dress in WinterMy Profile

  5. Melanie March 7, 2015 at 12:25 am #

    Love, Love, Love your article!

    It is obvious how much you care about India and maybe more important it’s women, especially right now as times are changing (Insha’Allah)!

  6. Renuka March 7, 2015 at 2:03 am #

    I LOVE your Jaipur Literature Festival photo! So beautiful! And I couldn’t agree more with your statement here – ” most people are good. This is the problem with media sensationalizing: it blows the terrible incidents out of proportion. It makes us forget day-to-day reality and the goodness inherent in most people.”

    I thank you for bringing the goodness of India out to the world! 🙂

    Happy Women’s Day and a very special birthday! XOXO
    Renuka recently posted..Savour Kutch Quintessentially At Devpur HomestayMy Profile

  7. Plan Your Trip March 7, 2015 at 6:00 am #

    Well said.. i am a guy and i respect women alot and its everyone’s duty to protect and respect them too. Really amazing photos though. thanks for the info. happy womens day to every women around the world.
    http://www.plan-trip.com

  8. Moon March 8, 2015 at 5:40 am #

    It’s nice to see how you always see the beauty and strength in all these simple, ordinary women in India and portray them with your words. This is the most wonderful post I read on this International Women’s Day. My best wishes for you, Mariellen.
    Moon recently posted..Explore The Elements – Travel Photoblogging Challenge 2015My Profile

  9. Moon March 8, 2015 at 5:43 am #

    And wish you a very Happy Birthday! 🙂
    Moon recently posted..Explore The Elements – Travel Photoblogging Challenge 2015My Profile

  10. SL C March 8, 2015 at 11:33 pm #

    Lovely post! What you describe is much closer to my experience living in southern India for 5 months than the sensationalized news coverage of India. Warmth, friendship and open sharing are what fill my memories of India.
    International Women’s Day always reminds me of my first week in India when I was on tour and wondered what was bringing large groups of women out to meet in parks. Before that, living in Canada, I had never been aware of International Women’s Day.

  11. Will Hatton March 22, 2015 at 2:40 am #

    Happy women’s Day! India is a really nice country! keep it up! nice post
    Will Hatton recently posted..Civil Unrest in the World’s Richest Country…My Profile

  12. Holly Hopscotch March 22, 2015 at 11:06 am #

    Wow, you probably couldn’t have picked a more poignant place to spend Women’s Day. Your story, especially about running into the singing ladies and getting the paint on your face during Holi, is inspiring and it shows that sometimes such little things can make someone feel so included and full of warmth.
    Holly Hopscotch recently posted..Santorini Greece PanoramaMy Profile

  13. Aijika April 1, 2015 at 12:09 am #

    Thanks for sharing this information .. without this page i didn’t know india have a womens day. anyway Happy WOMENS DAY! i wish i would be there

  14. Mallory January 17, 2016 at 12:51 am #

    This is the first time I’ve learned how women in India celebrates womens day. It’s very delightful indeed. I really enjoyed reading about such awesome blog post and thanks for a nice contribution. 🙂

  15. Suchit February 11, 2016 at 1:49 am #

    Thank you Mariellen. You’re a wonderful writer and a great observer. I’m so glad to have reached this article. It suddenly makes me smile, thinking of some wonderful women i came across in the past years.

    Would love to have a heart-warming chat with you over coffee the next time you’re in Delhi.

    My best wishes.

  16. saam senthil March 7, 2016 at 11:00 pm #

    Happy women’s day.

  17. jeetendra suvarna March 11, 2016 at 4:56 am #

    My beloved Mother who is no more but lived a selfless life is a women, My Sister is a women, my wife is a women, My everyday prayer I offer to Mata Durgha is a women, a man comes from a women, I don”t know how one can not respect a women. In India women are special because of our culture and sampradya, We Indians specially younger generation need to introspect and change our attitude.

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