HT Brunch Cover Story: Individuality begets insecurity? In conversation with Tahira Kashyap Khurrana
In 2018, as she battled breast cancer, Tahira Kashyap Khurrana put up a post-surgery Instagram post. Bespectacled, smiling and holding mastectomy drains, she instantly went from being the woman people knew as actor Ayushmann Khurrana’s wife, to being an inspiration for many.
At HT Brunch, we noticed her too, and decided to give the story a spin. We put Tahira on our cover to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October with the five most important men in her life. “Breast Cancer: The men get it too” the headline read, and focussed on each man’s journey, when an important woman in their lives was battling something so big.
Today, Tahira Kashyap Khurrana is an author, filmmaker, opinion leader and women’s rights champion. Alongside the beautifully sarcastic and funny (although a bit filmi) cover story she has written championing all that’s obvious, we ask her this: must a strong sense of self and the success that follows always provoke insecurity in one’s partner? And what can one do to beat it?
Jamal Shaikh: Tell us: when individuality begets insecurity in a partner, isn’t it more often the man who is insecure of a woman’s confidence?
Tahira Kashyap Khurrana: Of course there are always anomalies, but for the majority of men, petrol prices aren’t enough of a worry. They have a wide and useless spectrum to anguish about their womenfolk acknowledging their identity. Sometimes it doesn’t even require the woman to be more successful to instil insecurity. Just the idea of women standing up for themselves gets the family and society worried.
JS: To play devil’s advocate: insecurity exists in all healthy relationships, doesn’t it? And it often stems from love?
TKK: I disagree. Nothing negative can stem from something as positive and liberating as love. If anyone needs to work on being secure, it is the man. Why should women feel guilty about being successful? Having said that, we all are humans, and I believe there is nothing that a sincere dialogue can’t achieve.
JS: If a husband is more successful than his wife, the wife is often seen as proud of his success. When it’s the other way around, the couple tends to hide the fact. True?
TKK: Sad but often true. Successful women are often seen like nuclear weapons: a threat to the harmony of a quintessential happy family.
JS: What happens when gender roles are reversed: when a woman is insecure because of her very successful husband?
TKK: Usually women are very supportive of their husbands because they see a successful husband as growth for their family in terms of financial and social status. Thus the women are okay to live in the shadows of their husbands. Not to offend anyone, but this is the general understanding of a patriarchal set-up, since women want harmony at their homes, especially in joint family set-ups. They know if they want to step out of those shadows, it might create family discord.
But is it okay to compromise with such a set-up? That’s when this question gets answered. Women who itch to work on their identity, but are caught in the regressive mindset of patriarchal family pressure, then perhaps end up envying their successful husbands. The solution lies in our collective growth and the expansion of the belief system of our country.
JS: You’re an author, filmmaker, women’s rights champion and opinion-leader in society. Your husband is a successful actor. Is there any way you two can work out who is more successful than the other?
TKK: We have our individual journeys and take immense pride in them. We cherish each other’s victories and root for each other during our struggles. We know there are some battles we need to fight together and some where we need to let the other person be.
JS: Relationships are also about compromise. When is the fine line about compromise for love, and when is it about compromise with patriarchal norms?
TKK: We human beings evolve for the rest of our lives. In that process we learn from each other. I would call it learning rather than compromise. But anything that takes away from one’s freedom to choose or one’s individuality, anything where one feels restrained and isn’t allowed to express herself or behave freely, that is something that one should not be okay with. I am not advocating fights and arguments. Family harmony is conducive to everyone’s growth and mental well-being. But one needs to start having conversations around the issue.
JS: What would you tell your son to condition him to treat his wife as an equal partner one day?
TKK: There is no disparity between genders. I want the next generation to start treating fellow human beings with respect and compassion, irrespective of their caste, sexuality or gender.
JS: We all have relatives who have built successful and decades-long relationships and families on compromise. Do we look at them as weak, or celebrate them for their resilience?
TKK: What is behind the façade of successful generations staying together and posing for the family portrait? The murder of the aspirations of the women? Sons being accustomed to take on their fathers’ business even if they want to venture out? Sons being conditioned to treat their wives the way their mothers were treated? I would consider them not resilient, but insensitive and weak, because they are working for an invisible medal from society for maintaining a tradition that causes women especially to suffer. A strong family is one that takes pride in every member flourishing.
JS: Second-last but not the least, Tahira, you have a new book out, published by Juggernaut. Please tell us about it.
TKK: It’s called The 7 Sins Of Being A Mother. All the challenges I have talked about in this chat are from a woman’s perspective. Now multiply them by 10 for a mother’s perspective. If women are boxed in, mothers are further compartmentalised. In the book I have spoken about not-so-expected behaviour from mothers in a quirky and fun way. But beneath those funny incidents, I am trying to make some points. I hope readers can see them.
JS: Finally, what would you tell a woman who is holding back her success to make her husband not feel he’s “less of a man”. And what would you tell the husband?
TK: There’s only one thing I need to tell that woman: ‘You go, girl! Please continue aspiring for even bigger dreams’. And to her husband I would say, ‘Please take as much pride in her journey as you would take in yours. She is your partner, not a lesser being!’
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From HT Brunch, December 5, 2021
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