Wednesday, April 22, 2020

S is for Second Daughter #AtoZChallenge

photo clicked in New York, Autumn 2019, on a walk with Seema

A year after my birth, my sister Seema was born. 

Mummy's memory of me when she returned from the hospital with her newborn second daughter was that I was so absorbed in my play, sitting on our manjhi in the vadda veda, that I didn't even look up.

She was probably expecting a one year old who'd missed her mother. But instead, she found me happy and content; playing with Bhim Singh who used to give us piggy back rides when we were little. Whenever Mummy recalled her memory of that day, she always mentioned my cheeks. Apparently, they'd turned red from sitting out in the sun.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Mummy's past struggles with bi-polar disorder had started resurfacing around this time, probably due to postpartum depression which didn't get diagnosed on time. Also, my younger sister needed extra care as she wasn't as strong as I had been as a newborn.

Papaji and Beji, welcomed Seema into the family just as warmly and affectionately as they'd welcomed me, their first grandchild. In fact, after Seema's arrival, she became their primary concern. My family tell me that I was quite happy to be left alone even as a toddler; exploring the garden and its many treasures. Once, I'm told, I had dug out ginger roots growing near the water tank and was chomping on them happily when Mummy found me. I still love to use fresh, raw ginger in absolutely everything I cook and yes, I eat it raw-ish too--pickled with lemons and green chillies and fresh turmeric. 

Seema soon became my grandparents' laadli (favoured one). Even when we grew up, Papaji and Beji would always check if Seema had eaten before they asked me. My love for food was evident to all so no one needed to fuss over me, ever. Seema needed the extra care and she was given that and more.

Papaji bought a new cow and told Seema when she was old enough to understand that this was her gaan (cow). He would encourage us to sit next to him while he milked our cows and send the dhhaar (stream of milk) directly into our open mouths. A lot of warm milk would trickle down our cheeks and dresses and Mummy would sometimes get upset about the mess. His dhoodh ki balti (milk container) would ring out with a sharp sound after every squeeze of the udders-- zheek, zheek followed by sharp tung tung when the milk hit the balti. The balti always became quieter as the milking continued.

Not just Seema and I, but all the girls  who were born into our family after us, the younger cousins, were  given so much love and affection by Papaji and Beji that I believed it to be the norm. I grew up with the notion that all families are like my family: loving and kind to all their children; equally.

December 2019. Jaipur Literary Festival made its debut in Doha. During one of the talks, Asma Khan, the famous chef, shared the story of her birth. She was the second girl child born into a royal family. Her quivering voice pierced my heart as I sat listening to her in the stunned silence of QNL. She was describing the disappointment her family had felt when she was born; a disappointment they had spoken about openly -- in front of her -- even when she was a little girl.

My normal was being questioned here.

How could this be? I thought.

How could a princess be ever made to feel unwanted?

My Papaji, a farmer-trader from Shinkiari, should've been there to talk to Asma's family, I thought. He would've shown them how to love children. Children. Period. Not boy. Not girl. Just children. Beji would've shared her secret of equality. I thought.

"When we find out about the birth of a second daughter is a family, we send the parents kilos of laddoos and fireworks."* Asma Khan said words to this effect during her talk. 


"We do this so that when the girl grows up and her family tell her she was unwanted, she can turn to her parents and say--but you distributed laddoos and burst atishbazi  (fireworks) when I was born. How could I be not wanted? That is why we send so many laddoos that the parents/family are obliged to share..."* she continued with a smile.

Every pore within me was cheering Asma on as she said that. Every bit of me was glad I was there that day as part of the audience at JLF to watch a real life Jhansi Ki Rani. A true princess.

After the talk, I went up to congratulate Asma Khan and to show her my appreciation of her honest, heartfelt sharing. I wanted to hug her actually but I made do with a handshake. Her beautiful, soulful eyes were gleaming with un-shed tears when I stepped aside to let the person behind me come up to talk to the star speaker. Her pain of being told a boy child would've been preferred when she was born is still palpable in her, all these years and successes later. 

This is the power of unconditional love. It is as potent when it is given as it is when withheld.

Asma Khan's Second Daughters Fund does amazing work for this cause. The link I've shared  above will give you more details about this Super Second Daughter, whose family is now known by her name and fame.

*Although I have used direct speech to recall what Asma said that day, the words published here are not her speech verbatim. It's what I remember what she said during the talk.
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Thank you all for your hugs and condolences yesterday. I'm sharing this video as a tribute to my friend, Rose, who loved making flowers and decorations with paper. 
Some of the decorations in the video were made by him.
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What are your feelings, experiences, views about gender biased parental loving in homes and families? 
If you'd like to share, I'd love to hear.
Please be safe and take care. 

40 comments:

  1. I'm the third girl (and last!) in my family, and it used to be a joke for my dad, friends told him he was so lucky to have 4 girls for him alone ;) Well, of course others would said it was not fun for him, but my parents were always happy with just girls.
    S is for Scherenschnitte

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    1. Sounds like you had a blissful childhood with a house full of siblings Frederique. Sounds Lovely.

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  2. Hari OM
    I am the elder daughter of three and then one son came. Mainly due to a strongly independent mother and a loving father, we did not feel our gender being enforced; indeed, when I showed interest in aeroplanes and cars and such, father encouraged this with airfix models and practical lessons in mechanics! We were never constrained; in our family. Like yourself, once outside that bubble, the rest of the world shows much variation on this theme... YAM xx

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    1. Thank you for sharing Yamini. Wish more and more childhoods of this world are like yours and mine.

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  3. You write your personal stories so beautifully, Arti. I am so glad I found your blog through AtoZ. By the way, I live in your neighbouring island Bahrain and have accompanied my husband to Doha many times in 2010 :)

    I was born after my brother and was probably loved more than him! I am more educated than him, a fact which I certainly don't take pride in. Being a boy, he had to take over the family business and was not allowed to study more lest he found a career for himself! Maybe someone needs to tell their side of the story as well..

    Also, this line of yours will stay with me for a long time: This is the power of unconditional love. It is as potent when it is given as it is when withheld.

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    1. Welcome dear neighbour Nisha:) First, it was the blockade and now its Covid19 keeping neighbours apart. But if you visit Doha while we are here, please get in touch. Will be lovely to see you in the real world:)

      Thank you for sharing your brother's story. Yes, all biases and 'rules that restrict' personal choices should be spoken about and discussed. One day, we may live in a world where there is only one kind of love:unconditional.

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  4. I was the eldest of three boys, all very different from each other and all with our own role in the family dynamic. Another really interesting post once again.

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  5. I'm an only child from a nuclear family so there wasn't much to say or talk. But of course, relatives and neighbors would ask my parents about another child, specifically a son. They would say they had me and I was more than enough.

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    1. Your parents brought you up to be the beautiful soul you are today Srivalli for the poetry you pen is proof of their unconditional love for you. Give them my love please.

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  6. I see this all around. I am so glad to hear about Asma and her work. And you have an amazing family..I can feel the immense love your grandparents and parents had for you both.

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    1. Thank you Arti. Asma Khan is truly inspirational. She runs her kitchen with an all women crew and most of them worked as nannies or household helps when they first met her. Her episode on Chef's table on Netflix is worth watching.

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  7. I am the only child, and I have only one child, a son; though we wished to have a daughter.
    Though I didn't have a sister when growing up, there were many girls among my close relatives.
    Children, boys or girls, are all the same, aren't they? There is now lot of awareness about these issues, and there is considerable change now.

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    1. Thank you Pradeep. Yes, thankfully, there is certainly a change of attitudes.

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  8. We are two sisters. My younger sister is the third in my paternal family. She was wilfully ignored. Another friend of mine who was the third daughter in her family had a rather grim tale of her birth. But some other day.

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    1. Thank you for sharing Sonia. It's time all this changed for good.

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  9. I love hearing your childhood experiences, and also knowing that you and your sister are close today. It gives me a sense that "all's right in the world." It grieves me when siblings don't get along when grown. Although of course I understand there are often very good reasons for estrangements, I'm always hopeful everyone can have the unconditional love that one wishes were always true in families. Gender bias is simply unacceptable in my book, and when practiced by families and cultures, I literally see red. How can we not have evolved from this attitude?!

    And while that's clearly not always (and perhaps not even mostly) the case, that makes me appreciate Asma Khan's work all the more. I'm so glad you shared this with us.

    The video clip you shared is lovely as well - a beautiful tribute.

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    1. Thank you for your words Deborah. Talking about such prejudices and initiatives like Asma Khan's will help in getting rid of these silly and unfounded notions and biases.

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  10. How honest and how real Arti! Love it each time i read your posts.
    I am being honest too. My tale was a little ulta.
    It was the 7th month check up and the Gynae, informed me you know its a boy na? And i went into depression for the next 30 minutes. I was upset because it wasn't a secret anymore & i was also upset as I secretly desired a sister for Srishti. Just like we were 2 sisters. Perhaps i was little scared to raise a boy. With Arav's arrival, i realized how each child comes with their bundle of excitement & happiness to share. And how guilty i am to have thought that way!!
    Both my parents wished for 2 girls and their wish was granted! ( For once my Appa wished for something and he really got it too).
    Infact we are a battalion of girls in our Khandaan. Amongst cousins we are 6 sisters & one brother He is the youngest of all. (the one who played counting mango seeds with me) He is the only one who didn't get any hand-me-downs from anyone. We were all equally welcome and are celebrated till date.

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    1. Thank you darling Vidya for your aam jaisa meetha comment. I'n so, so happy to read about your khandaan of knayas--and each one of you is a super star of talents galore.
      That bit about hand-me-downs is so cute.
      I once put Arshias' pink socks on Arnav when he was about two and i was working full time. His childminder, Sue, was not happy! She loved him to bits and was very protective of him.
      Guess what--Arnav loves to wear pink shirts even today--and they look so good on him.

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  11. How sad that any parent would make a child feel unwelcome. It sounds like the Second Daughter's Fund is doing great work. I have two girls myself. I remember the day I brought my youngest home from the hospital. My oldest took one look at her and buried her face in her hands in sadness. She thought the party was over and now she'd have to share us. Fortunately, it was just an initial reaction and she quickly learned there was plenty of love to go around. My girls were great playmates growing up and are still close. Weekends In Maine

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    1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful moment with me Karen. How cute!
      Sisters can be such great confidants for each other. Seema and I can talk to each other about anything and everything and I see the same with my two sisters-in-law. It's a special bond.

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  12. In earlier days like in the times of my grandparents it was very normal for the girl to get to know she was unwanted and only boys were favoured etc. Come to my parents generation that is just one generation before us and I have heard stories and talks where second child also being a girl was a huge disappointment.... In fact I have seen with my own eyes in the case of my childhood friend whose family went for a third child just to have a boy and when even the third child turned out to be a girl... The family actually cried for a week and my friend couldn't come to school! But what had saddened me the most was when in my own generation I once heard my female colleague narrate her plight... When her second kid turned out to be a daughter and she had opened her eyes after a complex C-section only to find that no one from her family side that is husband in-laws were there... As they were so disappointed that they just left for home... And three days after being in hospital alone when her husband finally came... She actually apologized to him and his family for not being able to "give" them a male child. If this can happen to a well educated decently earning lady who had to apologize to her family for not being able to give birth to a male child and live with it... I have no words!! I only blame God now for gifting girl child to such families!!

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    1. I'm shocked to read this Ira! Is this really how the world is even today? Do they know that it's the man whose sperm is responsible for the baby's gender?

      When will people learn? And here I put the ownership of being treated equally on women-your colleague, her mother and mother-in-law should be the ones defending baby girls and celebrating instead of being part of this horrid patriarchal practice.

      Thank you for sharing today. I'm sure it wasn't easy for you to relive those moments of anguish you felt when your heard colleague's story to write this comment. But only if we share and speak out, can any change become possible.

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  13. Glad that you had a a wonderful welcoming family. There are all types some children can never gain favor. Be safe and well.
    Searching

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    1. Thank you for visiting and yes, I'm aware of how fortunate my siblings and I were.

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  14. So glad you were able to hear the speaker and realize not all families are as blessed as yours. It hurts when I hear any person say they were made to feel less than fully welcomed and fully loved by their parents because of their gender.

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    1. Thank you Jade. Yes, it's not an easy thing to get ones head around--especially as we call ourselves a modern, forward thinking society!

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  15. Not many are blessed to have a warm and loving like yours and mine, dear. My brother and I were and still are treated equally. Azma Khan's words moved me to nears. I love the idea of Second Daughters Fund.Kudos to such a great initiative. If I had been there, I would have wanted to give her a hug too.

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    1. Thank you Shweta. If, like me, you've become a fan of hers, check out her Netflix episode on Chef's table.

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  16. I also have a little sister, but we have 14 years between us! I learned how to be a nanny with her... :)

    The Multicolored Diary

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    1. Aww! Sweet.
      Did you tell her bed time stories and fairy tales?

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  17. We were 16 cousins ,all girls before my brother was born .people to loved our home to witness him the miracle . He was pampered to the core but my parents loved me and my sister equally . My parents named him Samrat the king or prince but called us Lakshmi’s of the house .
    Loved reading

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    1. Cheers Sahitya.
      Gosh, 16 beautiful souls like you and your sister in one khandaan---your family is truly blessed and how lucky is Samrat. All that pampering:)

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  18. I grew up in a bubble too! My brother was the more 'homely' one. I was the one running behind intellectual pursuits. I had a wonderful childhood. My dad likes girls better, but I have 2 boys. Now, we have started to think of them as 'children' and not boy or girl.

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    1. Chasing intellectual pursuits proved good Namratha:) Look where you've come.
      Children sounds so much better than boy or girl, no?

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  19. The thought of partiality between a boy and a girl shudders me. I am the first born girl child and my daughter is also the first born girl child where I was welcomed and we welcomed our daughter as avatars of Goddess Laxmi. Thank god we are born in an era where the gender equality is shouting on the roofs. Azma Khan’s words aren’t still echoing in my ears. Thank you for sharing such beautiful thoughts and asking for ours at the same time.

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    1. Thank you Pinkz. It's worth sharing as the more I share, the more I realise how different (and stuck in age-old patriarchy) some parental views still are.

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  20. Sadly in India, till today a baby boy is more preferred over baby girl, just to see the continuity of their Vanshavali. Although its not expressed as openly as before. But, yes I definitely feel very blessed that I never experienced this gender bias in my house. I am the youngest among three siblings, my brother is the eldest one. Actually, I was the favorite of my father, so my brother used to use me to seek for some approval of the requests which he otherwise felt would be turned down by my father. Love Arti

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  21. That is such a sweet thing to read Nisha. Thank you for sharing. Makes me all warm and hopeful:)
    Love. xx

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