Mary Poppins And Us
I have lost count of the number of times I’ve watched Disney blockbuster Mary Poppins. What began as a child’s fantasy world soon gave way to a layered story, lending a dimension that would set thoughts rolling. Although the movie was set in Edwardian England before the First World War, one of the issues it highlights continues to stay firm for women.
Many who have watched this movie will recollect the character of Winifred Banks, the distracted wife of a bank employee, George Banks. She is portrayed to be torn between the expectations of being a perfect wife running a perfect home and a woman who is realising the wisdom behind demands made by the suffragette movement. She returns home, exhilarated with a sense of meaningful participation in what was Emmeline Pankhurst’s suffragette movement. She is so caught up with the possibilities of a new age for women, of equal opportunities, that she quite misses the grave situation that awaits her at home.
The governess of her mischievous children leaves, and her children are nowhere to be found. Winifred is left wringing her hands, for her stickler of a husband is soon to return home from work. And once he is home, he is the lord of his world where nothing is out of place and everything works with clockwork precision. And it is his wife’s duty to maintain the status quo with a cheery smile and a happy disposition.
We live in the twenty-first century and nothing much has changed from the script. Yes, suffrage for women is a universal truth, and the last country that joined the list was Saudi Arabia in 2015. But the onus of a perfect home with perfectly raised children continues to lie with the fairer sex. No matter what her achievements are beyond the threshold of her home, within the four walls, there are many women still struggling to balance the two.
On the other hand is the lead character Mary Poppins, the new governess with magical abilities who is a no-nonsense woman, who sets her priorities right and goes about getting things done. She is not intimidated or cowered by the bossy Mr. Banks. She knows what is right, the importance of inculcating true human values, and takes measures to conduct accordingly rather than imposing mindless discipline over children as dictated by society.
We continue to find clones of these characters till date. The battle within continues between, individual assertion and social lines. Although an external force like that of the suffragette movement helps garner support, make people realise and bring about a change in their attitude, it is the inner realisation of an individual that truly will mark the difference. We no longer live in an Edwardian society or in pre-Independence India. Although there is a long way to go as far as women’s education is concerned in India, at least those of us who have been equipped to do so should take charge of our lives. There is nothing wrong in being a homemaker or a working woman. If she is content being either, it is not for anyone to judge. The core of the matter is that it is for her alone to decide her course in life, without external or psychological pressures of any kind.