Other than young Štepan and Jaroslav, the most everyone who argued with me were women of all ages. The argument I often thought about and failed to make was the question that constantly nagged me. Why would any woman in the 21st century – Czech or otherwise, want to be “owned” by males of the species? The suffix ová means that you belong or are owned by the whoever’s name it’s added to. As a girl, she would belong and be owned by her father. As a grown up married woman, her ownership would be transferred to her husband. Shouldn’t they be instead marching down Václavské náměstí demanding for the yoke of ová to be removed from around their necks?  Or better yet, unilaterally tear it off with their bare hands!

One of my teachers, Olga Nádvorníková even jokes about the extent of sexism in the Czech language: If there were a group of a hundred women walking down the street and walking along with them were a single male dog, describing the crowd in plural would assume masculine form! Wow! The expression she has picked up and uses frequently from her short visit to the States, and then lets out a big laugh. So the Czech women seem to have not only accepted their fate, but also desperately cling to the status quo, with rare exceptions. One of them I recently came across on the web in an article published in LA Times dated June 26, 2009, by Henry Chu about Lucie Kundera, the Czech woman who though took her husband’s name but refused to add suffix ová: because [it means] you are owned by your husband.  Bravo! There maybe some more, but up until now, I haven’t heard even a small movement or a concern about it.

Some years ago when I was no longer living in Prague and am visiting the city, I meet with Jaroslav one evening at the riverfront pizzeria Fresco Vento. Now he is an editor at Mlada fronta’s weekly supplement E15. Actually I am doing for him Poznamká Hareshe Shaha, an opinion column and am also contributing an occasional travel piece. This is like almost twenty years later. As a part of our nostalgic conversation, ová comes up.

‘What do you think about it now?’

‘Well, I think then I was a bit rigid and naïve.’ He concedes as much. The same impish smile crosses his face.

© Haresh Shah

Illustration: Celia Rose Marks

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