Being the daughter of a small-town unknowingly-feminist DadPriya Singh
So my Dad retired last week after approx. 33 years of public service. While I expected him to be a little sad and quiet about it, it was really surprising for me to see him excited and in fact looking forward to it. I couldn't help but think about it in my leisure. Here was this man, my role model, who never spent 1 minute of his life not doing something useful with his time and now can't wait to get idle?
And then I realised all the pain and criticism he has been burdening all these years. It should have really exhausted him long before, fighting with the society ever since he had sense to form opinions, for not agreeing to the norm and following his heart, because he believed in himself more than the 'suggestions' of his 'well-wishers'. And good for him, because he has been the envy of everyone around him since a long long time. He followed his guts and his intuitions and made his own way and got all the glory there is to be achieved in this earthly life.
While we had a great party organised for him, we also wanted to have some quiet family time. We did get a few hours late at night but by that time, my parents had got so emotional at what their 4 daughters had managed to successfully plan and execute without any help/support from either of them, that it felt a little too much for us to give any more emotional speeches. So this letter is what I was supposed to say that evening during the event but couldn't. Although I expect my Papa to already know all this but just in case :-)
My Dad's personality can be easily judged by this short conversation that happened just a few days back. To give you a background, I am a 29-year-old single Indian female having worked all over the world, India, UK, US and currently continuing my profession in IT in the US. My parents don't usually discuss the issue of marriage with me because I have already declared that my career is my priority until at least 5 more years. Plus, I need to fall in love to marry him, whoever it would be (if it will be). But in some way, thanks to the numerous "well-wishers", my parents (specially my Mom) have to do the obligatory business of asking me indirectly. Initially it used to end up in a debate with me being too furious and aggressive to defend and justify myself and even though, my parents agreed with me eventually, I knew they kept feeling that they have failed in some way as a parent. But off late, our conversations around the topic have become much subdued, or they have got rather tired?
Mom (to me but indirectly to Dad) - 'I know you don't want to marry and we are not forcing you to but we, as parents, have to do our duty to keep looking out for potential grooms. We can't back away from that. Your Dad won't do anything about it. He is really happy he got off one responsibility so easily.'
Me - 'Mom! I can't believe you are saying this. Since when has marrying your daughter become a duty for you? I thought my parents were so sensible and with wisdom much forward for their generation. But I'm disappointed.'
End of conversation.
Dad (when we were alone in the room) - 'I hope you don't think I am backing off from my responsibility. The thing is, as I read more and more about it, I realise that many of the successful leaders are single and unmarried, which I dint notice much before. I guess success trumps everything. And knowing you, I think marriage will only become a hindrance to your ambitions. Seeing how strongly you feel about your parents, gender equality etc., it would be a mistake if I was the one to force you into a wrong relationship and ruin what could have been an absolutely perfect life for you. So I know you are going to be fine. With or without marriage. You have lots of plans on your mind and lots of things to do, milestones to achieve and I don't want you to slow down at all. I know you will marry when and with whom you want to whenever you are ready for it, mentally and consciously. So that's the end of any discussions on marriage from my end. You have all the freedom I can give.'
I was speechless. I mean, I have always respected my parents to give me all the opportunities a son would get, in fact, I think, we (all 4 of us) got much more, thanks to all those sacrifices our parents did. But this was a new level of respect I felt for my Dad. This was it! It take guts for a parent in a small-town middle-class family of Uttar Pradesh to support their daughter in such a decision which breaks all barriers of society and peer-pressure. It establishes a new benchmark altogether! Suck it up, you patriarchs!
But these days my Dad thinks I undervalue him and think that he doesn't know anything because I argue over everything. Well Dad, lets settle this for once and for all. I respect you and value your opinion as much as I used to when I was a little girl. You still and will always be my role model. Nothings going to change that ever. Now regarding the arguing over everything, that's just my way of making you feel proud of your daughter that she is learned enough to form and have her own opinions, her own voice. I don't want to behave like some dimwitted girl who blindly follows what anyone around them is telling, be it their parents. I am learning from my own experiences and I feel grateful that you have always given us this opportunity to carve our own path and decide for ourselves. So whats different now? I am just exercising that privilege with my family. I though you would understand this much better than anyone else.
You say I don't listen to you anymore. But Dad, that's what I inherited from you. You see, there are two kinds of people in this world. One, the followers and second, the leaders. I am a lone wolf and I don't like to travel in a pack. I would rather burn my fingers to conclude that fire is beautiful but it hurts rather than not go near it just because someone said I shouldn't. And you know it. Because you have been the same way. I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree?
You can't imagine how privileged and lucky I feel myself for being born as your daughter. Our childhood can easily be an inspiration to all parents on how to raise strong and independent daughters who have their own voice and take only what they deserve.
As I look back, I can't believe how those little things you and Mom brought into our formative years impacted us and made us into the kind of people we are today. The sharing of each chocolate bar among all 4 of us taught us the value of sharing and caring and in some way, helped us not to know what being jealous meant.
The concept of earning our pocket-money during summer vacations by doing household chores like ironing both of your's clothes, folding washed clothes, making tea, sweeping the floors, made us financially conscious right from a very very young age. I remember we used count how many cups of tea we would have to make so that we could rent out the Digest comics (the thick ones with 4-5 volumes combined) for a day. And then all 4 of us would pool our money to get 1 digest and share it among us so that everyone can read that comics in a day. So much saving! Which could be used to buy anniversary gifts for Mom and Dad!
O yeah, the gifts and the celebrations! I remember the results day was always a celebration day for our family. While other kids used to get scared of the results day, we would look forward to it. Because no matter how bad we did, you would always buy samosas and rasgullas (Indian sweets and snacks) on the way back. I guess that's why we were never scared of any exams. Even now. You both always told us that we should just give our best and then leave the rest. The results are not in our hands so why fret over it. We should be scared only if we haven't been honest in giving it our 100%. I think this is a lesson for all the parents out there whose kids go for preparation of competitive exams. It's important to assure them that whatever the results are, it's going to be ok.
And lastly, thank you so much for never putting us under any pressure to perform. I remember I used to watch 'Kaun Banega Crorepati' even during my 10th board exams and still managed to score a 95%! For my non-Indian readers, this is like watching Hanna Montana just a day before you are going to war as the Captain of your platoon. Yes, it's so dead serious and big a deal in my country. So why am I thanking for that? Because it inadvertently taught us to be calm in tough situations. To not lose our brains over a single fleeting event. There'll be more to come, maybe worse, and it doesn't help to stress ourselves out over thinking about how you would perform.
And then the scooty incident! When I used to go for tuition at 4:30AM in the winters when it still used to be dark outside. All alone on my scooty approx. 2kms. far from home in pitch darkness fearing somebody following me all the time. I came to you one day and demanded that you drop me to tuition in the morning from the next day or come with me all the way. You asked for the reason, I couldn't explain that I feared something invisible lurking for me. And you denied. Oh how I hated you that day! And now that I know it was actually you keeping an eye on me without me relying on you, I can't thank you enough Dad, because it taught me that in the toughest situations in life, you are mostly on your own. Everyone has to fight their own battles. And look, here I am, fighting and winning all my battles all the way.
There is so much more to say and frankly, I think I can write a whole novella on this. So Dad, thank you so much for just being who you are. I know it must be unimaginably challenging to survive in a society where having one daughter and no son is enough to be socially boycotted, let alone four and then educating all in top-class english-medium schools, sending to other states for higher degrees! It's just nerve-wrecking to think you did all that without second thoughts. But you are my Superman and my hero! You will always be!
It has been a real privilege and honour to be born as your daughter. I realise it more day by day as I understand the condition of daughters all around the world and how lucky I got. It is because of under-the-hood stalwarts like you that women like us get the courage to keep fighting and believing that the battle is not yet lost, even though we have a long way to go. I know you are not aware but you have set an example and inspired numerous parents in our community to believe in their daughters and give them a chance.
So thankyou is no where close to express what I want to but what other option do I have? Here's to my Superman!
'Behind every strong, independent woman is an open-minded father who trusted her and not the society'