My eight year old daughter was in an unusually contemplative mood yesterday as she sat at the dining table, watching me serve her lunch.
I asked how her day had been.
“Oh fine…Mummy, a huge billboard has come up opposite our school gates. It says in bold letters “SAVE THE GIRL CHILD”. Is the girl child in some kind of danger?
I winced and took a deep breath. One part of my brain started frantically formulating a suitable response to the query. I know I tend to get carried away by topics such as this, and I did not want to tell her more than what was necessary– at this age. Another part of my brain reproached me for not having seen this coming and being unprepared.
“Yes, I suppose they are. Many people in our country do not want to have a daughter,they only want to have sons. Some of these people prevent their daughters from being born.”
Daughter looks uneasy, puzzled. “Prevent them from being born? How do they know they are going to have a daughter?”
“Well, the doctors doing the ultrasound can tell if it is a girl even before the mother’s belly starts showing. They are not supposed to disclose this, but many of them do…”
“Did your ultrasound-doctor tell you anything when you were going to have ‘S'(my younger daughter)?”
“He didn’t. I never asked. Maybe he’d tell those who ask.Or maybe he wouldn’t. I don’t know.”
“Okay, so when some people don’t want to have a daughter, and come to know that they are going to have one,they tell the doctor to give them a medicine which makes the baby go back where it came from, right?”
I wince again and mumble ,”they can’t make the baby go back where it came from. The medicine they give kills the tiny baby.”
She is too shocked to say anything.
A couple of minutes of heavy silence later, she finally whispers,”Kills the baby without killing the mother?”
I manage a weak “sort of”.
She finds her voice again and cries,”But why do people not want to have daughters?”
“Due to several reasons, but the biggest reason is that parents of girls have to spend a lot of money on her marriage, and then the girl goes away to live at her husband’s place and is not there for her own parents when needed.”
“But even the parents of sons have to spend money on his wedding.Remember the jewellery and the sarees which DadiMa gave to KakiMa–they must have cost a lot. And the reception.. ”
I cannot help raising my voice ever so slightly,”Sure, but didn’t you notice how many gifts and suitcases and gadgets KakiMa brought with her? And the jewellery she came wearing…don’t you think they must have cost a fortune? Way more than what your DadiMa-Dadaji may have spent?”
She nods and is quiet for a while.
Eyes downcast, she asks in a strangely subdued voice, “Were you disappointed when we were born? Were you too hoping for a son?”
I consider my options. I have always told her how honesty was always the best policy, how it keeps you out of trouble in the long term even if it seems to land you in hot water in the short term. To be able to set a good example, I’ve always taken care to be completely honest with her at all times . It is something of a ‘dharma-sankat’ for me right now–I do not have the heart to tell her just how disappointed I was the second time around if not the first, even though I put up a brave smiling front. I cannot bring myself to admit to her that not a single day passes without me pondering over my ‘sonless’ status.
I quickly realize that it would be unwise to be less than truthful–she’ll see through it eventually.
“Well, you were our first child, so it did not matter much whether you were a boy or a girl. We were happy to be blessed with a perfect little baby. But yes,I was kind of hoping for a son the second time. Since I already had a girl, I thought a boy would make my family complete. I was a bit disappointed when I was told it was a girl. But the disappointment vanished a s soon as I got to hold her for the first time. I don’t think I could have loved a son more. Do you think I could have loved ‘S’ better if she’d been a boy?”
She thinks it over for a moment before saying,”No.”
I heave a sigh of relief .
She has not yet touched a morsel of the food in front of her. I gesture towards her plate. She makes a face. “Do you mind if I don’t have any chapatis today? They’ve gone cold…I’ll finish my dal and sabzi.”
“OK…shall I make you some chocolate shake?”
She looks at me incredulously–not only is she getting away with not having her chapati, she’s even getting to have a chocolate shake…is everything okay?!
She gives me a big bear-hug .”Love you Mummy!!”
All is well !!!