“To all the women, whose life seems an utter mess,
Who see neither way out nor a cathedral to confess.
To whom survival is the immediate need,
Who no advice columns or feminism heed.
Listen to me, listen here,
I bring you nothing new, nothing that would cheer.
But don’t listen to all the crap they say,
Just stay the way you are…. you’ll be OK someday.”
The parents cried over the child, wept bitterly. “Somehow please save this child”, they pleaded.
The mother had just been discharged from the Intensive Care Unit. She had seen the edge of death and come back. She had also been told that she would not be able to have any more children.
“Is this your first child?” I asked.
“No”, she replied. Then she told me her story.
The first child was a boy, he had died at 4 ½ months, she was not sure how, but he always had some difficulty in breathing. The 2nd child was a girl, she was now studying in 9th standard. The 3rd, 4th and 6th ones were girls too, studying in 5th, 2nd standard and preschool. The 5th child was a boy, who did not cry when he was born and died within a week. The 7th child was the one lying unresponsive before me with little hope of being normal even if he survived. “We just wanted at least one boy child”, she cried.
Here was a family who struggled to eat a meal a day, who would never be able to educate their daughters beyond high school who so desperately desired a son. Listening to the story made me very resentful and angry. I avoided the parents for a few days, that is how long I took to talk to them without conflicting emotions.
“Why did you want a son so badly”, I finally asked her. That is when I heard the rest of the story.
She said that she did not have anyone. Her father had left her mother because she didn’t have a son, to bring up 3 daughters alone. None of her sisters or she had even been to a school, they just couldn’t afford it. Finally she was married to her uncle, her mother’s brother at the age of 12. This saved the usual marriage expenses that the girl’s family were asked to meet. You can read about wedding expenses in India here (http://www.unmappedmag.com/issue-24/the-true-cost-of-an-indian-wedding/).
At 13 she had her 1st child. By then her mother was no more. So she did not have her mother’s emotional or physical support in bringing up her children. Both she and her husband were daily wage labourers, who were hired for unskilled work occasionally earning enough for a meal a day.
Why did they want a son? Oh everyone made fun of her. They made fun of their 4 daughters, they told her that she could not bear a son. She wanted to prove them wrong. Her sister in law had a son (and a daughter). When you had a son, you had more privileges, like a better place to sleep in the house and better food to eat. “It is not that I don’t love my daughters, I will make sure they study till high school, but a son would take care of us in old age, the daughters will get married and leave.”
* * *
There is a story in the recent news about girls who were abandoned by their parents at birth 18 year ago, who grew up in orphanages, who now are being taken back to their biological parents after DNA testing (http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/Ghost-of-female-infanticide-returns-to-haunt-Usilampatti/article16899855.ece).
They go back to families who are already making plans for their marriage and education. The media emphasis is on the positive response of the biological parents and their regret about the initial mistake. Why make them look so good for taking back daughters who belonged to them and should have been protected from harm and brought up by THEM. I wonder why no reporters asked the now young women how they feel about going back. About going back to a place where they were unwanted. About having no choice or options regarding the same.
What will happen to them tomorrow when they are no longer in the news? Will they be treated better in their homes than in the orphanage where they were neglected?
* * *
The mother, whose features I have often tried to imagine, having seen only her eyes, pulls the veil over her 3 year old daughter’s face, who does not resist at all. It is a hot day. She’s just a child.
“Why do you have to do it?” I ask, overcoming my usually hesitation in asking intruding questions.
“She will have to get used to it”, the mother replies.
She didn’t want my pitying looks, and maybe wanted to defend herself, so she added: “It makes little girls look very cute, don’t you think? I like putting it on her!”
“She looks lovely.” I said.
* * *
“When I grow big I want to be just like you” she says, hugging me and pressing her soft cheeks against mine. She is 4 years old.
“What do you want to become when you grow big?” I ask her.
“I want to be a Mummy!” She says clapping her little hands.
“I know” I prompt further, “See I am a Mummy AND a Baby Therapist, no? What do want to be? Mummy and …….”
“I want to be a Mummy!” she says firmly, putting her hands on her hips. “And I going to have 100 babies!”
Dear Lord, I prayed, whatever it is that her heart desires, protect her from hurt and harm.
* * *
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie an excellent writer, a beautiful human being and a hard core feminist writes ”To raise feminist daughters, mothers must take pleasure in their own achievements, follow both the challenges and delights of the work, and give themselves room to fail. Ultimately, they must be full people.”
“Motherhood is a glorious gift”, she writes, “But do not define yourself solely by motherhood.”
Dear Ms Adichie, Feminism is for those who love eloquent speeches and for those who have been taught to appreciate poetry.
I don’t see a reason for not defining yourself primarily as a mother- isn’t that or doesn’t that become part of who you are? There is nothing inferior or shameful about that.
How long do we strive and to what end?
Its probably not even about striving.
It is probably finding yourself in a world which doesn’t care or see.
It’s standing against the odds and saying I matter… too.
It is resisting the urge to run and hide and wearing a mask instead.
I would like to tell all women-
YOU ARE WORTHY.
You are worthy of all you dream of. You do not have to prove your worth.
Your worth is not in the children you bear or your academic accomplishments.
Your worth is not in the name you add on to yours after marriage.
It is not in the things that you cannot do because the world won’t let you.
It is not in hiding your beauty, so others will not take advantage of it.
Your worth is in who you are as a woman, the obstacles you overcome.
The way you are capable of holding strong and moving on.
And when you realise your strength, you’re gonna be OK.
You’re gonna be OK.