Raising a child in today’s day, age and time is challenging, as presumably it may have been in the past for our parents in their era. Living in a city like Delhi makes it even more tedious. Especially when my girl is no longer the small, rosy cheeked, pigtailed & bespectacled cherub. Neither for her mom and definitely not for the world around. Beautiful as she is, going through the teens is a challenging task for all Moms. Equipped with being fiercely independent both in thought and action- the first rebel is against the parents for a child , as my father once shared with my mom through my rebellious outbursts, for the parents are the first taste of the world beyond their own budding individual identities. The teen tantrums aside , the real world views my girl as a woman. And it sends down shivers for me to know, how the world we share sees its women today.
I have long debated about making her grow beyond her years both because of the circumstances I brought on for her while choosing to live my life alone and by making her a precocious child by sharing lessons on good and bad touch and so on. A loss of innocence but a small price to pay for protecting the well being of your child, this argument always won over.
On a recent trip for work to Mumbai she joined me to spend her summer holidays with a cousin. More of her friends from school were also there and it worked out well to hang-out at cafes, go shopping on linking road and take autos between destinations on her own or with friends. Something which is monitored with a hawks’ eye in Delhi, under all circumstances, including going for tuition in the nearby society. She sensed a freedom to be on her own, now that she is grown up and the social security that a city like Mumbai offers. Despite being aware of this all, a casual remark from her friend hit me like a jolt.
‘I have worn a skirt and nobody is staring- it feels so cool! ‘
To be wary of all glances, always on high alert, never to walk home alone, or wear clothes that attract attention- are standing instructions that I and many mothers have raised our children with. What is this city called Delhi we live in? And why do we continue to do so? On walk back from a tuition on an earlier occasion, one of my teen aged daughter’s friend, offered his cycle for her to rush back home, on seeing a group of rowdy guys approach. When she shared the same with me my reaction was- but what about him? What would he have done if anything were to happen?
Right before our trip to Mumbai, through a drive to a party around 7pm, I remember noticing a North eastern girl in a short skirt hailing an auto ride. Two men on a bike quite literally hovered around the auto, peering in standing next to it through a traffic signal. I had a mind to stop my cab, get out and accost them, till the signal turned green and the long drawn jam finally inched to move, we turned left and I chose to let it be. Many a time I have to tell myself to pick my battles carefully lest I will always be at the tethers end.
The very next week, coming out of a Mumbai club at 1 am, I hailed an auto and was immediately reminded of the incident. Delhi and Mumbai seem 2 different worlds all together. Coming out of a club post midnight , wearing an off shoulder dress and the red Lipper or whatever was left of it after the deliciously potent Sangrias- to hail an auto rickshaw ride back to my hotel, is something I never would have even considered, even as a thought had it been Delhi. A week later in Goa I was dancing in my swimming costume in a beautiful seaside shack in South Goa. Different worlds indeed. Not that the latter is immune but the incidents are considerably low . Mumbai for one definitely has its own set of problems but for a woman it feels like a breath of fresh air. Its like choosing between the lesser of the evil.
Back to work in Delhi, an indirect colleague of a sister concern narrates an incident she encountered. Where a senior executive of a magazine, in a backslapping gesture with the Chairman, hurled an obviously misogynistic cuss . The Chairman reprimanded him politely citing the presence of women in the room. To which the senior executive turned around and said (sic) ‘ Ye toh cigarette peene wali ladkiyan hain, inhein koi farak nahi padta’ (This girls smokes cigarettes, doesn’t matter to her) The girl, much junior, stood her ground saying ‘Farak padta hai Sir’ (It does matter, Sir)
At the expense of making a sweeping statement, all of us mothers and daughters, especially living in Delhi, have experienced such situations and learned to cope with them. Brushing aside most, choosing the battles we need to fight. With my daughter coming of age, I am increasingly wondering why I continue to do so. College in this city of Delhi meant taking a DTC with strangers rubbing their penis on my behind and pinching breasts while I tried pushing my way through alighting or de-boarding a bus. And now when my own daughter is at the cusp of university- I still find myself in the same city that seems to have gone worse over the years. How do I encourage her to stay put here, why? Why did I continue to stay? What have we let this city become? What are the battles I am choosing to fight and lose continuously?
My brother who left the country many decades ago shared – You must choose the battles you stand a chance to win. Either change the situation or change yourself and if neither are possible then remove yourself from the situation.
We all have chosen to change ourselves, to adapt to the situation, since the battle is far from being won.
Macaulay’s children are in a trap. Some believe Macaulay, an English Politician, introduced English in its colony to create English speaking ‘babus’ for the British administration. While some of us have been through these schools, that besides using English as a medium of education, also encourage questioning as a process as opposed to benign acceptance. The latter may have been propagated through the ‘Guru-shishya parampara’ of the ancient times where the Guru was all knowing, spiritually evolved and his word was law. Given the lack of such spiritually evolved teachers today and some fine schools that promote a thinking process questioning status quo- there seems to be a breed of English speaking patriots that have evolved. Unfortunately for them, they are increasingly being sneered at within the country by a wave that has a disdain against anything ‘Western’. So while I may love watching ‘Friends’ re-runs and Hollywood blockbusters, and hope to wear skirts and go to clubs drinking wine or smoking up. I will always be looked upon as someone ‘jisko farak nahi padega’ from verbal abuses to sexual assaults- since I have brought this upon myself along with my ‘western’ education. I can continue to say for my own and my children’s sake ‘Farak padega sir’ but who is listening.
Is it then, the time now for me to remove myself from the situation, since this battle is far from being won and I am done adapting myself?
Change is a long drawn process and the price is much higher than the loss of innocence from daughters to mothers. Are we ready to look within our own families, neighborhoods, societies and stop each time to lend a voice to anothers’ seemingly lost battle?