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‘You’re Being The Son They Never Had’… I’m Tired Of Being Compared To This Mythical Son

It’s always expected that the son has to bear all responsibilities of the parents. Not the daughter. Her one and only responsibility is to take care of her parents-in-law.

It’s always expected that the son has to bear all responsibilities of the parents. Not the daughter. Her one and only responsibility is to take care of her parents-in-law.

A medical emergency in 2018 forced my father to relocate to the nearest city, which is Kolkata, West Bengal. Of his three daughters, I was the only one around. Hence the responsibility was totally mine. After a couple of days in the Intensive Care, Baba stabilized and came home. Since then I have been around helping them with every need of theirs. My sisters have also been a pillar despite being away physically.

Every time I meet someone, I am rewarded with, “Oh you are just like the son they never had.” Or “You will put all the sons to shame.” Another well-wisher pointed out, “Not even the sons can do what you are doing.”

Initially, I would shrug it off politely. Gradually, it started irritating me. I would reply back. “I am fortunate that I am being able to do at least something for my parents.”

Only because your husband permits you… and more!

And then one day a relative said something which I had never heard before. “Oh, it’s all because of your husband. If he hadn’t permitted you wouldn’t have been able to do all this for your parents.” That shocked me.

But then I recovered over it. Why should this shock or surprise me? I have always grown up listening to such caustic remarks.

I think I was in the sixth standard when a distant relative dropped in for a day. While leaving, he blessed me saying, “always be the son your father never had.” I stood there. A quizzical smile on my face. And then I forgot all about it.

‘That’s why a boy is needed…’

My elder sister got married when I was in the tenth standard. She soon joined her husband stationed abroad. Ma missed her terribly. That’s when a friend of hers consoled her. “Buck up. All your daughters will leave you one day. In the end, you will be left alone. That’s why a boy is needed. Your girls can never double up as boys.”

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Baba applied for Voluntary Retirement Scheme in the year 2000. I and my younger sister were still in college. His friends advised him against the move. Burdened with two unmarried daughters, it was a foolish decision. Baba ignored them.  The well-wishers lamented. “If only he had a son, his future wouldn’t have been dark.”

Our ancestral, undivided property was under the supervision of my father’s older brother. When baba demanded his share, the relatives reasoned. “Why do you need so much? Your daughters will anyway get married and leave. You don’t have a son to enjoy this.”

At every step, my parents have been made to feel how cumbersome it is to have not just one but three daughters. It signified bad karma! Sympathy was all that they got.

‘You are like the son they never had…’

This continued till we got married and settled down. And then the tables turned. Our husbands have been an equal partner in our lives. From relocating our parents to fighting off the land sharks, they have been a steady and strong fixture in our life.

People started talking about us again. “Look at the way the girls are fighting back…. behaving like a son.”

People tried hard to appreciate me. “You are doing so much for your parents. Even a son would have failed to do whatever you are doing for them.”

They would also quip in. “You are fearless and courageous like a boy.”

Another friend exclaimed. “Wow…this is just the way a son would have handled his parents. Kudos to you for doing this.” Or “you are every parent’s dream child.”

A cousin voiced her complaint. “You have set a tough example. I can’t do this much for my parents.” Last year on Durga Puja, I touched the feet of my elderly relatives. They sighed. “May we all be blessed with children like you.”

I am a daughter, and I am doing what ANY child should!

The compliments heaped on me have failed to impress me. The appreciation flowing in is torturous. I am continuously compared to the son my parents never had. I am continuously made to feel that as a daughter I am going out of my way. It’s almost like I am doing charity to the parents who have given me life. And I am doing a favour to my elderly parents by taking care of their needs.

The definition of a daughter is a meek, subservient creature who is paraya dhan. She has to be brought up with ‘good ideals’ and great care so that when she moves into her new household, she continues preserving the dignity of the household. The girl marries, gives up all her rights and goes off to live with her in-laws or her husband to plunge into another chapter. If ever an emergency arises with her parents, she is supposed to be a mute spectator.

It’s always expected that the son has to bear all responsibilities of the parents. Not the daughter. Her one and only responsibility is to take care of her parents-in-law.

I don’t fit into the typical image of a ‘good’, well behaved girl

In that case, I have been an aberration. I rejected marriage proposals that expected me to quit my job or move in with the parents-in-law or drop my maiden name or give up on my rights and duties towards my parents. My parents have always been told how their daughter doesn’t fit into the typical image of a well-behaved decent girl.

A daughter like me who doesn’t cry on the day of her bidai. A daughter who refuses to marry her suitor ‘cos he allows his parents to demand dowry. A daughter who states down her terms and conditions even before the marriage has been fixed. A daughter who decides to stay with her parents after marriage. A daughter who decides to bring her parents to live with her. A daughter who doesn’t spend enough time in the kitchen but ventures out to perform unwomanly tasks. She is an anomaly. That’s the verdict.

The last few years have made me think about this. The constant comparison with a male counterpart is offensive and unhealthy. The assumption that a married woman has no rights over her parents or has no duties towards her parents has to be eradicated. I have broken every norm, and every time I have done that, the people around me have tried their best to pin me down by comparing me with the men. “She is unwomanly. She is not a stereotype and she is trying to compete with the men.” My husband’s uncle had once rued wistfully. “In this household where we have no girls, we thought a daughter-in-law would be the much-needed breather. But what we got was another son who decides to stand shoulder to shoulder with the husband and his brothers.”

These comparisons do not work for me. I don’t believe in challenging men. I believe in fair practices. I believe in a just and equitable allocation of rights to us. In the end, all I want is respect and dignity for being a woman. Not ‘being a woman in a man’s world’. But for being a woman!

Image source: a still from the film Piku

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About the Author

S Sen

Sreemati Sen, a Masters in Social Work (MSW) From Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan. She is a Development Professional, specialised in Psychiatric care of Differently Abled Children. That hasn’t stopped her from exploring other fields. Years read more...

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