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In a country where sons are revered and daughters looked down upon as burdens, here is a letter from a mother of two daughters rejoicing in her children!
Though the words are mine, this letter is solely a product of my mother’s experiences, her thoughts and reactions on a topic very close to her heart. So here goes –
Yesterday as I sat in the garden in front of the house that my husband and I have built through years of labor and love, and sipped my green tea (green because my husband insists that at this age we ought to be health conscious) I felt the same comforting feeling of a life lived well that I tend to feel often these days. Just as I was about to finish my tea and get back to the kitchen, I heard someone call out to me.
“Mrs. Gupta! How are you?” it was Mrs. Raisinha my neighbour of 20 years.
“Hello! Madam Raisinha, how are you?” I called back on her. I am an amicable person. I like starting conversations with people, specially neighbours. It’s a good time pass!
“So… having your tea alone today? Where is Mr. Gupta?” she ran her eyes across the compound trying to find my husband.
“He has gone to the garage to get the car serviced. The silencer was being a little problematic,” I told her cheerfully.
Suddenly her eyes turned sympathetic and her toothy smile became sloppy, “Hmmm. Aur kar bhi kya sakte hain.(What else can be done?) You people live alone. So you have to do all your tasks on your own. If you’d had a son, he would have made sure that Mr. Gupta didn’t have to do all this in this age. And worse, both your girls live far away from here,” she clucked her tongue and feigned sympathy.
“Chalo. You must be busy right? There is dinner to be prepared. I am going to the Guruwdara. By the time I will be back, my daughter-in-law would have prepared everything.” And without waiting for a reaction, she turned to proceed to the lane that would take her to the gurudwara.
I stood still with a straight face, rooted to my spot. Not that I heard such hollow words of sympathy from her, or any one, for the first time.
Neither was it that these words don’t entice any thoughts or reactions. It’s just that I didn’t even want to react to such stupid remarks by ignorant people. What do they know about my life? Nothing. So I remained quiet and did not react.
I often receive phone calls from my family and friends, who are constantly worried about me, because my husband and I live all alone and that we are growing older. And that this growing old business is scarier, or at least should be so for us because we ‘only’ have two daughters and no son.
They add ‘only’ as if my two daughters weren’t a hand full while growing. As if it was any less laborious to bring up them. As if they are not as qualified as most of the sons that I see around me. And finally as if, I am any less proud of them.
But my purpose of writing this letter to the society today is not to go on about how excellent my girls are. Still I would like to make a deliberate mention of the fact that both my girls are professionally qualified and are financially independent while being . And they take care of us too.
We spend a month or at least a fortnight every year at each of their places. Only last year my younger daughter took us to Singapore on a cruise. Both my daughters make sure that we do not feel left out whenever they plan their vacations, especially if my elder daughter’s kids are travelling too.
But sorry, let me stop myself here. This letter is not about my daughters. It’s about me and my husband. Who supposedly are the ‘poor old couple’ who are left alone to fend for themselves in their old-age.
Ok, let me start from the beginning, when I had my second child, who turned out to be a girl, barring my immediate family, everyone seemed shocked.
As if all hell had broken loose. But I know that my husband was unperturbed. He knew enough science to understand that the gender of the child cannot be manipulated. It is nobody’s fault. And it’s better to accept God’s blessings in whatever form they have arrived.
My father-in-law was way ahead of his times even 32 years ago. He lived in a village then, and when he received the news of the newborn’s arrival, he sent us a letter that read,
‘Dare you think that you have an additional burden at your hands! You have my blessings to bring up your kids without any bias. And I will make sure that they never feel neglected in our family.’
And he stood true to his words until he breathed his last. He was most fond of my girls and made sure that they were never discriminated against even when we visited my husband’s native which happens to be a remote village near Gorakhpur.
So as you see, right from the beginning, we were used to facing looks from people around us, when they realised that we had two daughters. I still remember the disdain looks on people’s faces when I responded,
“We aren’t planning on having any more kids.” It was almost as if I uttered something awfully sinful.
But a couple years down the line, it became a way of life. Yet I have been painfully aware of how my girls were made conscious of the fact that they were missing something in life due to the lack of a brother.
Ironically, my daughters were headstrong too, and from early on in their life learnt to deal with the situation with a pinch of salt and grew up to be absolute feminists.
So much so that though my elder daughter has two sons, I see that distraught expression often on her face that reads, “Why couldn’t God have given me at least one daughter.”
And I laugh it off saying, “This even we understood in our times, that you can’t help it dearie!”
Oh! I am sorry. I digress a lot. Old-age and its attributes!
To get back to my life, some years later, my elder daughter started preparing for entrance into a reputed engineering college. This meant that she had to stay out late and go long distances on her bicycle for coaching classes.
“Isn’t it risky?”
“She is a girl after all. She has to take care of a family eventually. How does it matter if she study’s engineering or arts?”
These words constantly echoed around me. But my husband and I were very clear in our approach.
We told her that she could study whatever she wished to. But to make sure that she was financially independent by the time she turned 24. It was because that was a threshold that we held in our mind for her marriage.
I remember, my elder one researching and figuring that the quickest route to being financially independent is to study engineering from a reputed institute, since it ensured a placement by the time one graduates at the age of 22 years.
So engineering it was for my girl, that too from an NIT.
Sorry, again I seem to be digressing from the point and indulge in my daughter’s achievements. I am a mother after all.
But the day we allowed our girl to pursue the technical field, we knew that she would be going places. That we could no longer keep her tied down to my ‘saree ka pallu’ (end of the saree)
If she were to give a flight to her dreams, then we would need to be the wind beneath her wings. And we did that. For both our girls.
You see, exactly like anyone would do for their children. Didn’t matter if it were a girl or a boy!
And then it started. People telling us that, “Yeah! How does it matter to you if your girls live any where in the world. They are girls after all. You would have to get them married and they would eventually leave your abode.”
It hurt. Frankly, it hurt quite a lot. It felt as if I didn’t care about my girls spending some more time with me, before I sent them off by getting them married.
I went through a long phase of mid-life crisis when one day my younger daughter too went to work in a city far away. I felt lonely and distressed. But I now know that it is a common scenario among women my age. It’s the ‘empty nest syndrome’ or something similar.
I thought my husband too would be going through this phase. But he seemed unperturbed.
One day when he saw me crying inconsolably, he sat me down and lovingly patted my back and said, “Looks like you aren’t able to cope with this distance with your girls. Let me call them and find a solution.”
He went on to pick up his newly purchased mobile handset and made a huge production of dialling a number.
“Don’t you dare call either of them!” I snatched the phone away from him. He only smiled in return.
“I know what you are trying to do. Don’t make me feel guilty for being the cause for my girls to lose focus and device ways to come back home.” I said with determination, “If they want to come back, they are most welcome. But they should not feel obliged to do so, because I turned out to be a weak mom.”
Ever since, the direction of my life changed. I found things to keep myself busy. Joined a ladies club to socialise and spend some quality time away from the domesticity of my daily chores.
Over the last decade, both our daughters got married and have created a world where they remain busy. My husband retired last year, and we have been spending a blissful life since then.
Both of us maintain a strict exercise regimen to make sure that we give enough respect to our bodies, who will, in return, help us keep our health intact.
“Whatever we save while we are hale and hearty in our mind, body and soul, is all the legacy that we will leave for our children” is the mantra we live by.
All our life, we, as a couple, shared most of the responsibilities. And we do it now as well. Only now there is no division of tasks.
We do everything together. I cook, he washes the dishes. I clean, he sweeps. I talk, my husband listens. We go out shopping together. And rejoice whenever we find a killing deal on groceries, appliances or car accessories.
Yes, life does get boring in some ways. There is no daughter-in-law in the picture about whom I could gossip about with my friends. Or boast about how I live a care-free life without having to bother about home chores, while my daughter-in-law takes care of everything. Believe me, I wouldn’t want to do that. I live a wholesome life where I am not dependent on anyone for my tasks, or for my happiness.
And you are talking about having to physically run around to get errands done? Hope you are updated with the modern trends and all those mobile applications. Because in this date and time, everything is available at your doorstep for nominal fees. We as a couple make full use of all such services. Yes, I have learnt technology too. Actually my daughters forced me to. And I can’t thank them enough.
Oh! And you may be thinking that has we had a son we would have someone to look upto for our financial needs. That he would spend on us, god forbid whenever need arise. But I have to tell you a secret here. We do not need anybody else’s money. We have managed to save enough for our retirement. Both my daughters were very clear that we don’t spend extravagantly on their wedding.
“Mamma! You must save for your old age, instead.” They never lay any claim on what is their parents’. And have never shied away from doing what any son would have been expected to do.
I must not forget to mention that their husbands are real gentlemen, who understand their wives’ commitment towards their parents.
I look forward to meeting my children and serve them food that I cook. I feel heavy in my heart, when it’s time to bid adieu.
But let me tell you a secret, I also feel relieved because I can finally get back to my routine without any interference.
You do see the point now that I am no bechari. And like any self-respecting individual I do not want to be dependent on anyone.
My kids only owe us love and support.
So yes, I am a mother of two girls.
And I have lived a fulfilling life with no regrets.
And I am proud of myself too!
Picture credits: Screenshot from the movie Delhi 6
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