So much has been said about the safety of women, our daughters in our country. The fear-mongering and divisiveness and the shrill voices have been growing and it has been a very depressing time. After I wrote my poem A Mother’s Lament a friend challenged to tell a happy story about how daughters are treated in our country. I would love it if you would write in with your own happy stories.
This happened 8 years ago when our daughter Viveka was around 9 years old. We live in a quietish suburb of Bombay in a middle class colony that abuts the busy Bombay-Pune highway. Viveka had recently become proficient in riding her bicycle and wanted to take on the big bad main road. My heart was mostly unwilling, but she knew she was ready and when they know, you know, you know? (Whoever gets that reference, wins the internet for the day).
So I agreed to to run behind her as she cycled ahead. When she exited the colony gate to turn into the highway, with me racing after her, I was stopped by Munna who runs a small pan-beedi shop.
‘Bhabhi!, he yelled, ‘Aapko pataa hai, Choti main road pe cycle chala kar gayi hai abhi-abhi?’
Haan bhaiyya, I do, she has my permission and approval.
The look on Munna’s face was not one of joy and wonder at the wisdom of new-age parenting.
Viveka had gone past the bus that had stopped at the nearby bus stop. With a dry mouth I ran and thankfully got a glimpse of Viveka’s bright red cycle turning left into a quieter street that forms the southern boundary of the colony. As I raced to catch up, I was stopped by Khan, our burly fruitwala, an immigrant from Gorakhpur. ‘Bhabhi’, he yelled, ‘ Aapko pata hai bitiya bus ke samne se cycle chala kar gayi hai? Ghar pe daant zaroor lagaana’.
‘Haan Khan bhai, poochkar gayi hai’, I sighed.
I thought I heard a disgusted snort, which could have been the exhaust from the bus. Or not.
Viveka had disappeared by now and beads of sweat were rolling down my forehead and I ran on when someone grabbed my arm. It was our bai, Sangeeta.
‘Bhabhi, Munnu main road pe cycle chala rahi thi, aap hi ne yeh sab stunt sikhaaya hoga, na?!’
I ran in through one of the smaller gates to re-enter the colony. I still couldn’t spot Viveka. I ran to our building, hoping she would now be parking her bike when Jagger Uncle stopped me.
‘Do you even know what your daughter is upto?!’, he thundered.’I caught her cycling on the main road. I have just given her a stern warning. Please make sure you’re looking after your children better.’
By this this time, I didn’t have the courage or the breath left to explain. I just muttered something about children these days and rushed into the building only to see Viveka locking the bike.
Rats. I should have sat at home and had a cup of chai. Choti/ Bitiya/ Munnu/ Viveka was being looked after, by the entire village.