Recently, my mum recommended a television series on Netflix called Bombay Begums. It follows five spirited women of various ages as they fight for happiness in male-dominated modern Mumbai.
It surprised me. Mainly because when I totted up all the “taboo” subjects in it – periods, sex workers, hijra characters (south Asia’s “third gender", which includes intersex and transgender people), teens on drugs, bisexuality and more – I could not believe it had been recommended by my mother.
My mother who, when I was growing up, would decree nearly anything on TV immoral (sensual perfume ad: “Porn!") and create her own PG versions of lyrics (por ejemplo, Justin Timberlake’s “I’m bringing sexy back” became “I’ve got an achey back”). Mi madre, the woman I’d argue with for hours about what I could watch. “This is a good show!” I’d scream when she pulled the plug on The Sopranos. “How could anything be good with such terrible people and violence?” she’d fire back. And so the battle would begin, over art, censorship, morality, obedience and respect. TV was the lightning rod for our fractures: east versus west; young versus old. It seemed we’d never find anything to watch that we both truly liked.
Yet here it was, finalmente, and our bond is closer for sharing it.
It turns out that it came down to boobs. This gritty show wrestled with morality, but without flesh on show. Maybe it was simply nudity that was the sticking point – while the rest of it was not about TV at all, but insecurities about our place in the world. Or maybe the arguments were worth it, nudging us closer to each other’s side.
How many other seemingly massive divides can be crossed with a small tweak? Perhaps we really do have more in common than we think.