The post ‘When The Issue Is A Girl’ by Priya Mani makes me want to travel all over again the beautiful journey that my wife and I have had in bringing up two lovely daughters – the elder one is employed in the UK while the younger one is an honours student in a premier college.
I have often been asked whether I did not want a son, and my answer has always been an emphatic no. My answer catches people by surprise, and I recall a close friend of my wife asking her whether I meant the ‘no’ or whether I was just trying to hide my unhappiness for not having a son.
As the father of two girls I am yet to come to terms with such unnecessary and crass questions, and my replies have always been rude. When I tell people that my elder daughter is abroad, the standard questions that I am asked are whether she is studying there, or whether she is married there. I do not recall a single instance when someone has asked me if she is working there.
Oh, but she is over 25, I am reminded by friends and relatives, when are you going to get her married? Well, I tell them, I am not going to get her married; she has to decide if she will or if she won’t. But what if she ends up marrying a foreigner? Her choice, I tell them. I smile to myself when I realize that no one can even imagine that she might not marry at all – foreigner, Indian or alien.
There have been snide comments about my ‘uncaring’ attitude about my daughters, and I have been told that all my ‘modern’ views will ultimately be meaningless when I will end up spending at least a ‘khoka’ per marriage – two daughters means two ‘khokas’. I did not know what a ‘khoka’ was, till a friend enlightened me that it meant a crore in the language of a certain north Indian community. It is another matter that people believe that a former bureaucrat like me must be worth at least a few ‘khokas’.
My elder one – once she moved to London, phones us every single day to find out how we are. She ensures that at least one of us visits London once a year – I was told even that was a sin – parents ‘enjoying life’ because their daughter wants them to. “Hamare yahaan toh beti se kuch bhi nahin lete…” is a common refrain. She flies to India twice a year to be with us, and shares a special bond with her younger sister, who herself seems all set to finish her education and achieve her ambition of being a journalist with the BBC.
I had once told the elder one not to spend so much money, especially on us, and in reply she had sent me a very moving email. She reminded me that when she was in school she had told me she would marry a rich man and move to London. I had apparently lost my temper and told her that either she would go to London on her own merit or not at all. She ended the email by saying, “Dad, the biggest gift a father can give a child is the ability to stand on one’s two feet, and if I do anything for you, is just to say thank you. Don’t deny me that privilege.”
“We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons…but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters”: Gloria Steinem
I am a former bureaucrat, and have worked a lot on gender issues, disaster management
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