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You’re already loved, says Vijayalakshmi Harish to her future daughter, speaking of all that she wants for her, as a mother, and as a woman.
The Indian girl child is told often enough that she doesn’t deserve better. That she’s nothing more than a womb. That she can’t possibly ask for more. Yet, women refuse to give up on the dream of equality, of seizing their place in the sun. Starting 6th October 2018, as part of the conversations we have at Women’s Web for the International Day of the Girl Child on 11th October, we present a special series in which a few of our best authors write about #GirlPower. Some write from their own experience as girls, some about the significant girls in their lives, and some even to future daughters – a rich tapestry of emotions that is woven with love, bravery, inspiration, hope, fear, pain, and so much more.
In this letter to her future daughter, penned so beautifully from the heart, Vijayalakshmi Harish tells her all about the dreams she has for her, and about the long line of wonderful women that she is the heir of.
As of now, you exist only as a wish – a memory of the future, if such a thing were possible, because in my head I have already lived a life as your Amma. Believe me love, even before you exist, you are wholly, completely and unconditionally loved.
Mothers aren’t supposed to have preferences, but I have always wanted a daughter. According to the world I live in, I should want a son who can carry on the family name and feed our souls in the afterlife. People offer me advice about ‘x’ prayer or ‘y’ fast, to be undertaken so that I will have a son like the baby Krishna, or the brave Shanmugha. The only prayer that has been recommended for a Goddess is to Garbharakshambikai – so that I will soon bear a child, and read child as son, because such ironies abound in our country.
You are lucky though. Like me, you will also be part of a family that doesn’t regard daughters as a liability. Your existence will not be cut short in the womb, or shortly after birth, as it still is, in some parts of the country. You will not be abandoned. Your education will not be compromised. You will have educated, urban, middle-class parents. All these parameters are in themselves a privilege. As your amma, I will teach you to appreciate that.
Before I tell you what my vision is for the life you will build on this foundation, let me tell you about your ancestresses. This is important because through your life you will want them as role-models. This is not to say that your appa, or your grandfathers and great grandfathers cannot be an inspiration to you. You will learn a great many important things from them too. But I have learnt from experience that a woman needs other women to look up to.
Your paati is an amazing, strong-willed woman who raised her son, your appa, single-handedly, with limited resources. She hasn’t let hardship dampen her spirit and compassion. She makes friends with ease and is loved by so many people.
Your tathi is an accomplished woman who has always inspired amma. As a child, I used to often ask her to stop working and be at home, like the mothers of some of my friends. It used to frustrate me that she never listened. I used to hate sharing her with her students, for whom she always had an open ear and unending patience. Now, I am glad she never listened to me. I am a richer person for having had a mother who had a life that did not revolve around home and hearth.
Tathi’s mother, your kollupaati, is one of the sweetest persons on the planet. I hope you will have the privilege of meeting her. She is curious, hard-working and full of love. There is a lot you can learn from her.
Your other kollupaati, my appa’s mother, was well-educated, and had a sharp mind. She loved her independence and tried her best to remain so till the end. Unfortunately, she is no more, but I will share my memories of her with you.
About me, your amma, you will learn as you grow. The most important thing about me is that I have an undying passion for the written word; a passion I hope you will share. I cannot wait to introduce you to books!
There are many dreams I have dreamt for you, but I shall keep them to myself. I do not want my expectations to guide your life. Based on my experiences however, I will share a few thoughts with you about how I wish your life would be different.
What I see every day in the news and on social media disgusts and angers me. I have experienced the utter dread of being cornered, of having come too close to being violated. Anger at having been regarded as a piece of meat is a bright, hot fire that burns incessantly within me. If there is one part of my life experiences that I wish you would never have to share, it is this. The protective instinct in me tells me that I must never let you out of my sight, but my practical side reminds me that stifling your freedom will be counterproductive. I will teach you instead to be smart. To protect yourself. To be brave and strong.
The greatest gift a parent can give to a child is the gift of choice. My grandmother, married at 15 and a mother at 16, gave my mother the choice to earn a post-graduate degree, and to work before she got married. My mother, who wasn’t allowed to stay out after dark, never stopped me from staying out late. For you, my child, I shall open the gates wide. Your choices will be limitless.
I want you to be able to choose freely and without fear, shame or guilt. To be able to wear what you want without wondering if it will lead to you being ogled at. I wish to see you succeed in a career of your choice, without having to deal with male colleagues who think you are inferior to them. The choice whether to marry, and who to marry; to have children or not etc. will be yours.
The world though, will fight you at every step, as it has fought me. You will be expected to fit into boxes with names like, “goddess”, “slut”, “good girl”, or “superwoman.” I want you to know that those boxes are pure fiction. That no woman can, or should, change herself to fit into them.
It is easy to identify some of these boxes. Others are a little tricky. Like the box which tells you that to be a strong, modern woman, you cannot let your vulnerabilities show; that your femininity makes you weak and therefore must be sacrificed. This box is a trap too.
For ages, I contorted myself to fit into these boxes. I kept myself locked in. I shut up, I crash dieted, I adjusted, I said yes when I meant no. I did a great many things that made me feel like I was being untrue to myself. Only now, I have begun unlocking these boxes and emerging from their confines. Which is why, from the get go, I want you to steer clear of them.
Be yourself. Be too intelligent. Be too strong. Be too emotional. Be too bold. Be whatever, and whoever you want to be.
I want you to burn bright, like the sun. You are nobody’s satellite –remember that.
The other way this world will trick you, is by telling you that you cannot rely on other women. It will try to isolate you, by telling you that other women are your worst enemies. Do not believe this.
It took me a long time to see women as friends. There was a time in my life, when I prided myself on not being like “other girls.” I had mostly male friends, who I thought were more intelligent, more fun.
It was much later, in college that I found the female friends who continue to make my life better each day. They are there for me in my troubles and rejoice in my successes. They safeguard my secrets and honestly tell me when I am making a mistake. A man, no matter how considerate, will never know what your life as a woman is like.
Trust that healthy female friendships will enrich your life. Nothing can stop a woman who has other women supporting her.
To help you navigate through these traps, to help you be the best you can, I will have to fight many battles, till the day comes that you can fight for yourself. I will have to fight a society that tells us that there are some things that a girl cannot do. Or that there are some things that a girl must do, whether or not she wants to. I may have to fight friends, or family, and even myself, because I too have much to unlearn.
And I will. This is my promise to you.
Even as I near the end of this letter, I am aware of a painful truth. You may never exist. That does not mean however, that these wishes are meaningless. As much as I want these things for you, I also want them for my nieces and my friends’ daughters. I want them for every girl in the world.
I want to see a generation of women that has grown up without arbitrary, unfair boundaries; without being discriminated against. I want to see you all live the life that we, your mothers, are working to create.
Read all the #GirlPower posts in this series here.
Image source: shutterstock
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