This appeared today in the Sunday Times.... and will explain \ justify my absence from this space. It has been a week filled with untold joy. I can't concentrate on a thing - not cricket, not politics, not movies, not even food!!!
Am taking your blessings to and good wishes for the newborn for granted. Enjoy the virtual 'pedhas', while I go back to my Angel.
Not in my ‘Aji’s chappals…. Thank God!
Aji, my mother’s mother, was a tough, taciturn woman who had pretty much led a joyless existence. Widowed fairly early and left with four children ( three daughters and a solitary son) to raise on her own, she was clearly not enchanted by members of her own gender. Females to her, meant trouble. And expense. Yes, during that era daughters could indeed be described as ‘liabilities’ (poor----------- will never be able to live this one down… and we certainly won’t allow her to!). My mother raised three daughters and a son herself.But my mother’s life was qualitatively different from my grandmother’s. And I like to believe her daughters brought her a great deal of joy. I have raised four daughters and two sons myself. As we move ahead into the fourth generation, my thoughts keep going back to Aji and her barely disguised hostility towards her own gender. How would she have reacted to the birth of her great grand daughter?What would she have made of this generation of young, urban mothers in India who actively pray for a girl-child? Not because these moms wish to be politically correct and project their progressive views. Not because they want to ‘fix’ the mother-in-law by producing a baby girl when the family is craving for a grand son, but because they genuinely like their own gender, are happy being female and actually appreciate other women. It’s about having a positive self-image. Apart from any of these reasons, the fact of the matter is , their husbands too feel good about raising daughters. This dramatic change in attitude is not based on sentimentality alone.Today’s forward thinking parents have recognized the value of daughters in real terms. Women no longer spell trouble ( well…they do! But those reasons are different). Investing in a daughter often turns out to be a sounder, smarter investment than backing a son. Daughters offer better long term returns. Daughters deliver!
This is true not just of urban India where women in the workforce are contributing equally if not more to the family kitty ( first, to their maternal homes and later, their in-laws’) but pretty much across the board. Rural India will take another decade to wake up to this new financial asset. But even there, the scenario is rapidly changing. Take a look at your domestic help. Most families prefer to employ women these days, especially as live–in staff. Afraid of being robbed or murdered by male domestics, urban families willingly pay the top buck for trained maids. These young girls send back a handsome portion of their salaries to their parents in the village, while systematically saving what they can for their own future. In a city like Mumbai with its vast population of working women who commute , good house help is a life saver. A semi-literate girl can earn up to Rs.8,000 a month (salaries go up substantially if she can also read, write, take phone messages and keep accounts). Her folks back in the village understand the value of her contribution only too well. And that automatically leads to a better ‘positioning’ for her, within the family, as well as the community at large. With a financial backbone to support her, today’s young female careerist is better valued and in a far better position to leverage her skills to negotiate and engage with the outside world. Sure. The statistics aren’t exactly encouraging – only 23% of India’s workforce constitutes women and we rank 112th in the global gender gap index, with less than 3% holding managerial posts. Despite these daunting figures, one can sense enormous optimism as women negotiate for better options, more opportunities. Not for nothing are women identified as natural born survivors. Inventive, resourceful and tough – is there a choice??
All these thoughts were flying around inside my head,when I spent hours outside a busy maternity ward last week. Several rooms had cheerful streamers and posters stuck on the door declaring, “It’s a GIRL!” I watched proud dads taking extensive videos of their newborns – baby girls included! And I recalled the pall of gloom that once greeted the arrival of ‘yet another daughter’ in most traditional families. Absurd as it sounds , when I gave birth to my daughter Arundhati, a grand- aunt ‘consoled’ me by saying, “Never mind… don’t feel bad…. try for a son next time.”
Imagine then, my unbridled pride when Arundhati herself became an aunt this week and shed tears of joy when she held the newest female addition to our family. I shudder to think how my Aji would have reacted. Perhaps no differently than she did when I was born. Yes, I was told my grand mother had cried copious tears as well. But her tears were different - they reflected her deep disappointment and sorrow ( “Hey Devaa…. another grand daughter…. why? For what? God is punishing us…”). Fortunately, my parents had felt differently… and I was saved!
We have indeed come a long way. And may our triumphant march continue…. Happy International Women’s Day!