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The Third Girl

Posted: October 12, 2013

Girls Rock campaign for girlsSakshi Nanda is a writer, with a past stint in the publishing industry. She says, “I love cooking ideas, and having them read even more!” She blogs at Between Write And Wrong.

Not all of us are conceived in the hope of a boy. But I was. Most certainly I was.

I felt it as I came into her room. The hushed sense of disappointment. I hear it now too, but in whispers. Makes me feel a little unwanted, and even after 19 years of my life. I’m not complaining, though. It’s just how things are, I have grown up to realise. When the first born is hoped to be a boy, and at least the second, the third girl is thrice removed from all things welcome – a reality we live in, I live in. Perhaps you too?

I love her. My mother.

I sit and try to imagine.

I try to imagine the expression on my mother’s face when the nurse must have announced to her – It’s a girl. Or maybe – It’s another girl. ‘Another’ becomes ‘just another’after a row of 2 others. They say so, but I hope it’s not true.

My mother. Was she disappointed? Cried out of tiredness, maybe? For being made to try and have a son. Months of pregnancy, 3 times over and in our kind of life. One after the other, as if pushing to fill a vacuum around. And inside. Did she cry because she did not want me, or because her family did not want another of my kind? She cried whole-heartedly. Must have lamented the absence of a womb that could not produce a boy but only 3 burdens as they call us, with me being the last. The heaviest. The nail that sealed the box of hope, never to be opened.

But I want to know if in her heart of hearts she was happy. Happy to see a healthy baby girl staring at her dripping eyes. Her bones her blood her breath her life. Something is asking me to believe that she was. That those were tears of joy. A secret. A silent secret between her and me.

But I will never know. For she will never tell me. And I never asked. Even though she was always by my side.

Always by my side.

the-third-girlBrought me up fine, so don’t get me wrong. Third hand clothes are as full of love as new ones, if not more. By the time I was born, my parents were used to us … frocks in the house. And I grew up on my own – stumbling, copying my sisters and using their books in school. I was not denied anything, not at all. For whatever my needs demanded was already available. Because my 2 sisters came before me. My own. What new could I ask for? I was well-provided, already. Born into it. And I studied well. I’m sure my mother noticed.

I know she was proud of me. She just did not know how to show it, yes, that’s what it must have been.

Even though it felt like we were passing time in school, till bigger more important things consumed us. The eldest got married when she learnt to plait her hair neatly. She used to cry hiding behind the curtain even as my parents spoke of preparations for her marriage. All I could hear was numbers, with 3 being repeated often. She should have been happy. Very happy. She is going to look like a queen and become Mrs. Isn’t that going up in life? Why is she crying?

Maybe because she knew that after she left, the 3 would become 2, a lighter number, but an unbearable thought inside. Because she would now be 1. We were used to being 3, all along.

Inside my mother’s heart too, perhaps this thought.

That kind heart. She would give her an extra roti, I noticed. Mothers understand. And then tell her to wind up the kitchen as she went to lie down. Was it sobs I heard, inside? I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I never asked anything. Either too young or the third. For instance, when the second in line refused to marry for she wanted to become a teacher, I supported her. She slapped me across my face. My mother. Said what would I understand, the 3rd in line, what it is to have 3 daughters. I did not ask to be born, but yet again, I was reminded that I came into their lives. After all, I did come into their lives, didn’t I? That slap …

But my parents were stressed. What is there to forgive? The arrangements the settlement the final wedding day. I knew, inside, they loved me too. Equally. Maybe more even. Especially my mother. Here I was, her daughter her kind. Third one. So what? So what?

She had to love me. There can be no other way.

I’m pregnant. With my first child. The pains are coming on and the nurse keeps coming in to check on me. And so I wander.

I’m not as strong as my mother. I know she loved to have me around, but couldn’t say it. Show it all the time. Stand by me, or my sisters. I know. She had to take care of so much else. That bag of bones. Maybe my father too loved me, but surely my mother loved me a lot. Even though she cried when I was born. Tears of joy. I never asked. But what else could they be?

I’m not as strong as my mother.

I’m stronger.

Within. And without.

I want a girl. I only want a girl.

And I will show her my smile as soon as she comes into my arms.

No, I will not cry. I will dance.

Changemaker of the day

Changemaker of the day Today’s changemaker of the day that we’d like to highlight is Adharshila, a Delhi based NGO with a focus on education – Adharshila focuses on vocational training for young women to prepare them for livelihoods and independent lives, as well as remedial training and other support such as computer classes, for children from underprivileged backgrounds.

Vocational training programs like these are critical for young women, many of whom do not have much formal education, to access the job market. Further, many are practically single mothers and head their households, with absentee or abusive husbands. Courses like these give them the confidence they need, besides the skills to support their families.

You can support Adharshila with donations, or if you live in New Delhi, consider volunteering your time.

Pic credit: Crystal Artwork (Used under a Creative Commons license)

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  1. Wow! This is hard hitting. I wish I could say I loved it, but no. All I can say is that it wrings my heart and makes me tear up inside

    • It’s not my story. But of someone who worked for me, long back. I was carrying it. And this is how it had to come out. I hope I did justice to her thoughts, thoughts she shared quite freely with me. Yes, it tore me up inside too. Thanks for reading, Ritu ma’am.

  2. Wow! I have goosebumps after reading this post!!

    Dear Sakshi, you did absolute justice to the girl’s thoughts…

    Have seen lots of cases like these…my maid is the eldest of 6 daughters…her youngest sister is 2 years older than her own daughter…cant even imagine the kind of problems they go through but all of them are employed and try their best to lead a happy life…

    I also know a case in the opposite spectrum-a financially very well settled couple with 2 sons were desperate for a girl child…they had a third child when the father was about 45 years old…the third one was a boy too!!

    Life doesnt always give us what we want!

    • Life doesn’t always give us what we want. Perhaps, we want too much sometimes? Or not what we get but what others do? I don’t know. 🙂
      Thanks for reading, Sri.

  3. Wow Sakshi….very nice post!! I can totally relate to u! Well m youngest and everyone was expecting a boy child….and today I have a girl child n m the happiest person in the world! Although I was sad when she was born coz of various reactions around….made me realize that this might be the scenario when I was born! But who cares! I just thank God for her!

    • These “Reactions around” are what we can totally blame for making our own motherly hearts feel “sad”, as you put it. I had included this emotion in the write-up above for exactly that reason. Love your “Who cares”. 😀 Thanks a lot for stopping by, Swarn.

  4. It broke my heart. Power to all girls!

  5. My stomach churns as I read it. Why does every household expect boys to be born in their house and girls in another’s house?

    • It’s a question I have no answer to, Kalpana. Maybe all of us should just migrate to another planet. See how the men will manage on their own without mothers, wives, daughter, friends, sisters… maybe a new day will dawn then. But until that happens, we just need to be firm in our minds what we teach our children to understand and follow.
      Thanks for reading, Kalpana.

  6. Wow. Loved it. It broke my heart. Everyone of us knows this story. We all are always surrounded by it. I hope some day it ends.

    • Times are a changing, Saudamini. Even if it’s so gradual that we miss it, they are changing. You and I are discussing this here. One day, we all will have greater courage greater spirit to discuss and reject aspects of gender inequality that infect our homes.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Just beautiful. Why people always prefer boys over girls? They need a bride for their son, a daughter in law to give birth to their grandson, but never a girl in their own house. How rude!

  8. Hi Sakshi, beautifully worded the post brought the childhood memories of a friend’s parents who in want of a boy child went for fourth pregnancy. Finally God conceded fourth time, else I wonder what would have happened to the mother. The three girls were always told to mind their manners, as they have to go to their husband’s house. The disturbing fact was that the friend who was just a small child knew all about cooking, cleaning and minding the house, as her mom was pregnant with third and fourth child.

    Thank you for writing this post and subtly highlighting the issue of early marriage as well.

    • When I decided to write this ‘stream of consciousness’ so to say, I wanted to bring out the girls love for her mother, and the hope that no matter what the world thought of her birth, the mother cried because she wanted her. I realised, automatically, how early marriage got woven into the post. Glad you noticed that. This is a partially true story of someone who worked for me. She was pregnant at 19. And I just wrote her thoughts down.
      Thanks a lot for your time, Swati.

    • You don’t have to thank me Sakshi these topics are close to my heart and my blog Swatisays has from time to time tried to highlight these issues. Thank you for writing this post and sharing with all of us.

  9. This made me wonder on a hypothetical situation. Imagine if everyone wanted only sons and if they knew it was a daughter, they would abort her. Then the whole world will be filled with sons and males and there would be no girls. I wonder how the world will seem then!

    This post does not come as a surprise to me. All that I can say is you write very well.

    Joy always,

    • Susan, to get an idea of how such a world will be, read Manjula Padmanabhan’s Escape.

    • No surprises here, really. I agree with you, Susan.
      I remember watching a movie called ‘Matrubhoomi’ which dealt with the situation you speak about. Only, they show just one woman is alive. And no, it was not a rosy tale. Still. 🙂
      Thank you, Susan.

  10. The telling of a story makes it what it is and conveys what it does. And you have done the job extremely well.

  11. This one really touched me deep inside the heart…beautifully expressed!

  12. “I did not ask to be born, but yet again, I was reminded that I came into their lives.” – Powerful lines!

  13. This is beautiful. I just shed some tears.

    I am the third girl in the family. Fortunately for me, my mom wanted girls. Even now she is happy she had all girls. But I am aware, I am part of the exception. 🙂

    So well written Sakshi! I am sure you did her story justice.

    • A fortunate, very fortunate exception. Kudos to your mother! Not many have the courage to even fell happy, let alone show it. 🙂
      Thank you for liking this!

  14. Speechless! Beautifully expressed and hard hitting.

  15. Sakshi…. this is hrad hitting and my eyes are brimming with tears right now. 1st 2nd or 3rd… a girl child is often faced with the question of why often almost all her life.

    I agree sometimes we just don’t know if our parents were strong enough to accept us but of course the experiences do make us stronger for sure. When I was pregnant I swear each day… each single day I prayed that I eould have a girl. Glad my prayers were answered. I got a chance to prove that girls can and must be loved.

    • You are right. The ‘why’ comes into picture even when it’s a 1st or a 2nd girl. I just think the intensity of the ‘Why’ increases with each successive birth of a girl.

      I am happy to know you, Kajal. Only a person who is proud to be a woman can pray to have a girl child. Plus, somewhere, we need to thank our social circumstances as well.

      Thanks a lot for stopping by! 🙂

  16. A heartfelt piece Sakshi. I always wonder what mother goes through when she is under such kind of pressure.

    • I wonder too. As a mother, I cannot imagine anything but love for one’s own child. That is what I wanted to girl in the article to believe too. Thanks, Saru.

  17. I love the post , as i can relate to those few families i personally know with only girl children..

    But somehow, i couldnt agree with this line
    “I want a girl. I only want a girl.”

    what difference does this desire have with those families craving for boys?
    Both are sick in my opinion..
    imagine she give birth to a boy, will she be able to give same love to her son which she never wanted ?

    the child will grow up just like those 2nd/3rd girl in patriarchal, misogynist family.;

    wont u people react with sick and disgust to somebody who claims
    “”I want a boy. I only want a boy.””

    let stop these gender preference …

    let pray for a healthy, smart, intelligent child, regardless of gender..
    i will always do that if i ever plan to become a mother..

    • There is a remarkable difference in desire from ‘I want a boy’, even if it does not erase gender bias and selective thinking. The difference lies in the very desire for a sex which, in the concerned mother’s parts, is still a financial burden. The strength, courage and conviction needed to pray for a girl child under the circumstances the mother faced is a desire that speaks of Change, to me.

      I cannot fault her for wanting a girl. I can stand and applaud. No reason to believe that she will cry if it;s a boy either!

      However, I do understand what you mean. I have been talking about this phenomenon of propping up one sex over the other, doling out privileges to one by virtue of mere biology and in the process forgetting to notice the male counterpart and his problems. My blog will point that out to you. I see such campaigns as lop-sided but that’s because I have not experienced, 1st hand, oppression and regression at the hands of patriarchy. Those who have will understand and praise this campaign, even if lop-sided to you and me.

      I have to tell you this – when I was pregnant, I prayed for a healthy happy child. I did not even pray for “smart” and “intelligent” because somewhere even these terms are full of social biases. Don’t you think?

      Thanks a lot for your perspective. Some posts on my blog will tell you I agree with you. But as far as this story goes, I stand by the 19-year-olds courage.

    • “. I did not even pray for “smart” and “intelligent” because somewhere even these terms are full of social biases.”
      is it? frankly i am not aware, but i am sure these biases are no where close to gender biases..
      i believe there is nothing wrong to pray for these qualities for my future child..

      ” I cannot fault her for wanting a girl. I can stand and applaud. No reason to believe that she will cry if it;s a boy either!”

      i am not sure but people who strongly desire child of a particular gender, for whatever reason , will always be depressed and heart broken if their child just born belongs to other gender..and the child will never receive the same amount of love from his/her parents which the child would have receive if he/she were the other gender..
      this is the case of thousands of girls born to misogynist families..
      There cannot be any justified reason for gender preference…
      “in the process forgetting to notice the male counterpart and his problems. ”
      i am not discussing male counterpart and his problems anywhere..I am just talking about gender preference which is wrong in any form..
      i love this article till i read this line..
      ” I only want a girl.”
      tell me why its not disgusting
      i remember when i was watching the superhit movie aradhana, and how disgusting i felt when the character of rajesh khanna desire a son so that the unborn son can become a pilot like him… I really felt sick and disgusting, i was only 12 when i saw the movie….
      Sorry i cant choose to applause the comment “i only want a girl” while feeling sick and disgust when movie characters desire a boy..

      ” I stand by the 19-year-olds courage.”
      , .the real courage is raising a girl child , the 2nd girl child , and even the third one , in a gender neutral environment, thereby contributing to equality of sex in society, while fighting with misogynist societies, relatives, elders,etc

      not, “i want only a girl child”.

      “if you see the girl’s wish for a girl in the context of her story – her relationship with her mother, how honest expression of love and want was missing, you may see how she herself wants to make amends in that regard by openly loving her daughter ”

      she will do the absolute correct thing by making the amendments, by openly loving her daughter
      if nature/destiny choose to give her one
      praying “i want only a girl child” is wrong IMO.. I feel such prayer disgusting as much as i feel the existence of son temple in punjab/haryana which i will love to blow away..

    • Thanks for your response, Humanist. Sorry for disappointing you and ‘disgusting’ you as you mention so many times in your response. I had not set out to please anyone. I do think if we talk of gender equality, we must mention the freedom to pray for whichever child a parent wants. I mean, a parent CAN desire one over the other right? I am a parent, and I know it’s perfectly normal. However, it is the WHY behind the preference for a certain sex that makes the choosing questionable. We should also see decisions within contexts, or else they get reduced to rhetoric and create a lot of hate and misunderstandings.

      We can agree to differ. 🙂

      Thanks a lot!

    • My dear friend, we are not here to please anyone, but to voice our opinion . So u are not disappointing anyone 🙂
      may be , i am not a parent, and still a single, so i think in this way.., and may be it will change one i plan to become one..

      But as of now i must say, if u have a preference of gender of ur child as a parent, and support gender preference for whatever reason,
      u cannot shout and raise ur voice against those patriarchal families in north india who prefers male child for whatever reason, which we always do in website like this

      yes , We can agree to differ, just like we can agree to differ with families like saina nehwal’s family, who desperately wanted a boy child during her birth, instead of criticising them..

    • Also, Humanist, if you see the girl’s wish for a girl in the context of her story – her relationship with her mother, how honest expression of love and want was missing, you may see how she herself wants to make amends in that regard by openly loving her daughter. That should make us understand her decision. After all, it’s her context we have see her decision in.

      I think for you and me, it is both easy and important to talk about lop-sided gender preferences. But we have to understand that between where we sit and where so many others survive, there is an abyss of a difference.

    • You simply read “i want a girl child”. What the protagonist actually meant was “i want a girl despite society saying otherwise. I want a girl despite her being considered a financial burden. I want a girl despite knowing that I will be shamed and made feel less as a mother by the society.”
      She did not meant ” I don’t want a boy”. You have to see her context, struggle- for her, her 2 sisters and her mother. Despite knowing the hardships she will face she said ‘i want only a girl’ meaning ‘i am not afraid of other’s opinions or facing hardships’. in a society already facing Ill effects due to skewed female ratio and skewed mindset, standing up and saying ‘i don’t equate gender of my child with financial benefits’ is important. And for that, in her context, in her society where women are not wanted saying ‘i want only a gal’ is a slap on their faces. Not her non desire of having a boy.

  18. Such a hard hitting post! left me totally speechless

  19. What feels….your words are so hard to put aside

  20. Well written Sakshi…just as evocative and thought provoking as your other writing. Yes, I too wanted a ‘happy and healthy’ baby, so when I first heard the wails of my child and the doctor asked what do you think it is I said, “I wanted a girl, but I know this one is a boy.” The doctor instead of telling me the gender of my child asked, “Why do you say that? Did anyone tell you that?” No one did, my heart told me that I am carrying a boy. It so happened that we had 5 short listed names for girls and only 1 for a boy. We didn’t zero in a boy’s name until the last week when the days were drawing close. Needless to say that the birth of a happy and healthy child brought us more relief (since mine was an emergency C-sec). No one spared a moment on the gender. Definitely not the parents, and I hope neither others.

  21. Sakshi, this was so beautifully written. I think no matter what the gender of our babies, we should give them our love, fiercely, ferociously even. I know many girls who were born one of many daughters, and I know the disappointment they were made to feel, in themselves, in their situation, as if they had let their families and society down somehow just by virtue of being who they were. The only thing to do is for us, as women, to make other women feel proud of who they are, and encourage them to pass that fierce pride in their womenhood to other women.
    I will repeat, Sakshi, this was indeed well written.

  22. we know if the genes are XX, its a girl, if its XY its a boy. now can anybody tell me why its always a mother’s fault(!!) for having a daughter, as the Y gene has to come from the father? isn’t it the guy’s fault that he couldn’t pass on his father’s Y gene onto his child? hmmm..interesting.

  23. what do i say…?everything is shared n told … i am very sad after reading this.

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