But because divorce was so unheard of in middle-class Indian society, people looked at divorcées with a sort of incredulous shock and wonder, as if they were somehow criminals. They were ostracized from everyday life because of an invisible scarlet D hovering over them. Meanwhile, Second Wave feminism in the United States was changing attitudes about how women were treated in the workplace and in society and how unmarried women were perceived in particular. Women were challenging age-old notions of their place in the world. Western media was full of unafraid, smart American women who published magazines, were marching in DC and were generally making a lot of noise. No such phenomenon had reached our Indian shores. I’m sure my mother had read about the ERA movement, Roe v. Wade and bra burnings. She, too, wanted the freedom to earn a living in a country where she wouldn’t be a pariah because of her marital status. We could have a fighting chance at surviving independently in the United States, versus being dependent on her father or a future husband in India. Conservative as he was, my grandfather K. C. Krishnamurti, or Tha-Tha, as I called him in Tamil, had encouraged her to leave my father after he witnessed how she had been treated. He respected women and loved his daughter and it must have broken his heart to see the situation she had married into. He, too, wanted us to have a second chance at happiness. America, devoid of an obvious caste system and outright misogyny, seemed to value hard work and the use of one’s mind; even a woman could succeed there. My grandfather was a closet feminist.
Padma Lakshmi