It is quiet this morning. The crows have been awake for an hour. Long enough for them calm down after the frenzied effort to awaken the world. I need to finish the piping on my daughter’s skirt. A new found love with my sewing machine.Or a newly remembered one. My daughter wanders in sleepy-eyed, sits down heavily and lays her head upon my lap and is lulled to a few more minutes of sleep by the drone of my super quiet Japanese machine. Then suddenly she gets up,goes to her cupboard and pulls out the kurta she’s been learning to embroider and pulls up a stool next to me.The companionship is only punctuated by hers sighs over snagging threads and the music of the machine. A bulbul stops by at the window to enquire.
It occurs to me how right this is. I could be my mother and my daughter could be me twenty-five years ago, we could be Kutchi women hurrying to finish up the daughter’s trousseau; we could be mother and daughter in Victorian England or early settlers in America. Time, race, culture don’t exist here. We’re doing what mothers and daughters do. A father would take his son out hunting and show him the stars and teach him the language of the great Outside. That perhaps can’t be done anymore, at least in the exact same manner. But inside the house a woman’s role has remained unchanged,give or take electricity and exchange the sari for a pair of shorts.
My daughter will grow up and go outside the house to work, a privilege women before her have fought long and hard for. She will learn the language of the Outside for herself and lose herself in the cacophony of sounds. My wish for her, twenty-five years later, as a mother herself may she find in the company of her daughter, the Eternal.
Right. It was 7 years ago that I wrote the above passage. Said daughter is nearly 18 years old now. She is more outdoors than indoors these days. She has taken up her first job volunteering at a primary healthcare centre in one of the poorest localities of Bombay. She’s using Bombay’s beleaguered public transport system to discover her home city and her independence. She’s a militant vegan, an animal rights advocate and bestfriends with all the street dogs within a 5 km radius. She dreams of a future as a Mixed Martial Arts combatant/ Nutritionist/ Writer/ World Traveller. She hasn’t knitted or sewed or crocheted anything in a long time.
The accompanying photograph is of a cushion cover that my 13-year-old son Dev Ashish has been embroidering for the past few weeks as a birthday gift for his 90-year-old great grandmother. It’s a complicated mix of styles, a Kolam pattern embroidered in Kashida stitch in the Celtic under/over style. I was half expecting him to run out of patience, but he didn’t. He kept at it, night and day. He’s a slight boy, my son. Wiry, gangly, with skin charred by the summer sun. Puberty is still a ways away. Which means he’s open to kisses and squishes, though he protests energetically. I claim to be the primary caregiver to my chronically ill father, but it’s my son who spends the maximum time with his Taatha. He tells him about the world outside that my father can’t access now, he has learnt to make his coffee for him just the way he likes it, even my father’s incontinence doesn’t seem to bother my son. While I’m standing there, yelling in frustration at my father, my son gestures to me- I’ll handle it. He then cajoles and teases and lovingly leads my father to the bathroom. He’s a terrific cook, an avid gamer, a talented badminton player and a clown. He also a nurturer, he’s the reason my extended family, his aunts and uncles are even in touch with me. The reason my Ranjana still works for me. His great-grandmother loves to hear of his antics- Bal Leela, she calls it. Devoo, my son knits our family together, a role that is traditionally a woman’s.
So here’s the thing I have learnt, since I wrote the first part of this essay. I needed to move away from the traditional gender binary of a woman’s role, a man’s job. This is the manner in which we have ruined the earth for our children. Forcing external structures when internal realignment (mine) was required. We have made many mistakes, their father and I, continue to make them. But perhaps it’s Grace, or it’s life that relentlessly shines a mirror at us, forcing us inwards, to reclaim lost bits of ourselves, to drop false constructs and to stop ‘Parenting’. Our children easily blend the masculine and feminine within them in combinations unique only to them. A few months ago while discussing the Mumbai Gay Pride Parade and sexuality my daughter shook her head, I don’t even get what the fuss is about, she said. We fall in love with people, their hearts, their minds, their character and not what’s between their legs.
These days we limit our roles to a watchful presence as our children figure things out for themselves. We find ourselves wanting to play with them, seeking the child within that was lost when we became parents. I’m signing off now, the family is belting out songs on the newly acquired karaoke machine. Sounds like pigs are being butchered. I want to play too.