Preeja Aravind writes about how it has been for her to be a daughter, and why she doesn’t wish she should have had a daughter.
Since I got this assignment, one question has been nagging at me, “Why me?” Why would I have a different take on what it meant to be a daughter in India, and through that, what it would have been to have a daughter of my own.
I am no special daughter: my mother, as I tell my child all the time, has been “in heaven” for eight years now, and these special days are completely lost on my father.
You might have also guessed I don’t have a daughter of my own either.
I am, however, a firstborn girl in a matriarchal genealogy. But I grew up in the shadow of my brother, who is five years younger, because we used to live in the predominantly patriarchal culture of Delhi. I was a dark-skinned girl who studied among the fairer gang. I was a model student and all-round performer, leader of choice, but who has been overlooked in favour of my boy competitor at present-day alumni meets and informal greets. But I thank that my teachers weren’t discriminating, except for on merit.
After this kind of regular day at school, back home I got to be the chosen one again.
Being the chosen one
It’s presumptuous of me, but all these reasons could be what gives me a unique perspective and, might I add, objectivity — albeit skewed — on being a daughter and a daughter-in-law. I married into another matriarchal family, where my husband only has male first cousins. And my progeny, too, is male.
Thus, it is safe to say I am surrounded by men — young and old. From a three-year-old to a seventy-three-year-old. This fact of my life, however, has not taken anything away from me being a girl, or a woman.
That is not to say that being a daughter doesn’t come with its own set of inhibitions and prohibitions. Like, when I turned 15, my parents started giving me “girls should not do this” spiel after letting me do the same thing for years before. It was like they suddenly realized that I was a girl. Like, walking in ‘baniyan and shorts’ in peak May-June summer was only allowed for my brother, because I had grown breasts.
In a world where a ‘mothers and daughters’ search on Bing gives me mother-daughter porn videos and father-rapes-daughter news, I have been extremely privileged. I have been in a family that raised me with love, and taught me social values. That love, and care, helped me develop my own personal code of conduct, an ideology that is my own.
They let me do, learn, see as I wanted — most of the times — yet, when I was to go to college, my mother sat me down to give me ‘keep away from boys’ advice.
Contradictions of a girl
When I became marriageable age, my folks were insistent on taking the traditional ‘studio photos’ for matrimonial sites, and made me undergo several meeting-the-girl rituals. Once, at one of those meetings, I even told the prospective groom about my sick mother, whom I was not willing to leave; and I was still asked how soon could I relocate with him “after marriage”.
Bollywood has tried to touch upon this dilemma of being a daughter in several movies. I am no Deepika Padukone to Amitabh Bachchan’s portrayal of a father obsessed with his bowels, but I have come close to feeling similarly frustrated with my father several times. And like Padukone’s Piku, I do not have a mother to keep my father in check. Thankfully I have a brother to share the frustration with the parent.
Now parental frustration is also the one that I face every hour with my three-year-old son. There are times when I have wished he was a girl: because I, too, am guilty of assuming that daughters are more malleable, more obedient — more docile than sons. According to my father, though, I have never been any one of these.
If wishes were pennies…
All through my pregnancy, I had been oscillating between wanting a daughter and wishing for a son. I was petrified of bringing up a girl in today’s world. Up until the moment my son was born, my husband was convinced it would be a girl. We had only ever picked girl names. Our worry for a girl child aside, we were convinced that we could give our girl the best possible upbringing, telling her the rights from the wrong.
But why did I want a boy? I had a near-perfect childhood, with ample sheltering from all quarters; why would I not want to pass it on to another girl? For one, I see how much the world today is unfair to the girl child. Because teaching a girl to stand up for herself and fight for her rights would have been easy.
What I want to do is what my mother taught my brother, and my mother-in-law taught my husband: to see the strengths in a woman. To know, without doubt, that sweeping, mopping and washing are not just womanly chores. To be able to stand up to people and tell them he likes kitchen sets, the colours pink and purple — and doing that will not make him gay, or girly.
I want to teach my son to be chivalrous, not chauvinistic.