New Year, New Beginnings

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Each year, in the first week of January, we are joyful and hopeful. We hope that the New Year brings us bucket-loads of happiness; we hope that everything that had disappointed us in the previous year will straighten up and present itself in a better way. We hope for many such little things that might make our lives better.  It has been two years since the horrifying news of Delhi gang rape splashed across newspapers, and the protest it had generated has mellowed out.

Recently, I read a post that said- “This incident happened two weeks ago. I had an exam and my exam centre was at Nangloi, near Kashmiri gate Metro station, Delhi. As I reached the metro station, I took the escalator. On the escalator, I had a guy standing in front of me, who had a girl in front of him. The girl was wearing high-heeled footwear and was carrying a big trolley bag. The girl lost her balance for a moment and was about to fall down. This guy in front of me noticed this and out of reflex and courtesy opened his hand facing out to support her. His hand happened to touch her back. Her balance was restored. As we reached up the platform, to my surprise she slapped the guy and yelled at him “How dare you touch me?!”

You probably think that the girl is ungrateful, and arrogant to first accept the help from a stranger and then turn all the fury on him as if he had molested her rather than helped her. In india, even though women trot in high heels and short skirts, they cower in fear. To them, every man walking on the road is a rapist. Women are suspicious of any benevolent act. If a guy offers you a ride- he could be a rapist, if an auto-wallah is willing to drop you to your destination at night- he could be a rapist, if some men are standing beside you at a bus stop- they could be rapists, if a male friend asks you to come alone- no matter how much you trust him, he could be a rapist. A woman feels unsafe even in the protection of her own family, because who knows if her own father or uncle could force her into doing things she never wanted to do.

In a time when people ask to be treated equally, women in India silently pray with hands clasped and quivering lips to keep them safe from any attention that might lead to her “shame”. This year, I hope that we take a few steps towards making women feel like they have their own space to breathe in, and that they do not need to feel defenceless against those who disrespect them and do not care about their wishes.

“We Don’t Love You”

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When does a parent feel distraught, exasperated, annoyed and anxious? When their children are in some sort of trouble, when they feel that their children are shutting them out of their lives. Everything that could possibly bother children bothers their parents. Imagine how broken a parent must be, when her/his teenage daughter screeches, “ARGH! I hate all of you! I wish I was dead! I wonder why you brought me into this world, when all you had to do is love him!” (Him- the younger sibling), or a child nonchalantly repeats, “I know you don’t love me mother, don’t fret over it”

The parents claim that they do not understand why the elder siblings are so jealous of the younger ones, and why they believe that their parents love the younger one more. I believe parents themselves play a major role in making children believe that. A child who has been reared alone for say, four or five years, is used to being pampered and has been the only one with all attention showered upon her. She realizes that she can wrap anybody around her little finger, and that even if she throws a tantrum, it will be borne with patience. She never has to share her belongings with anyone, has everything at her disposal. She can preen like a princess and nobody would bring her down. Even the parents are blissfully happy to have a child so pretty and adorable and smart, because they are blinded by parental love for their only child.

The parents are happy, and so is the child. But it is after the second child is born, that the problem starts. Parents expect their first child to be very happy and excited to have a new playmate. And initially, the child is, she asks what her sister/brother is doing in her mamma’s tummy, or if she/he is listening to what they are talking about, or if she can talk to her sister/brother. And all is well.

When the second child is born, there is a flurry of activity. In India, a function is held to welcome every child- every relative visits the parents and the second child, coo over her, gift her clothes or toys, eat, and leave. The first child does not care much about it all, because she believes all will be normal in just a while. And that is when it gets ugly for her. As the other child grows, she realizes that the attention that was previously bestowed upon her has now shifted to this alien creature that came from mamma’s tummy. She will scream, or cry, or even be violent sometimes to gain attention. This makes the parents wary of her. They shrink a bit away from her and bestow even more attention to the younger one as they see her as a prey to the older one’s scathing attacks. That agitates the older child more, and thus the cycle goes on.

This goes on for about ten or fifteen more years, when either the siblings come to terms with each other, or the rift deepens. And thus it is embedded in the older child, that no one will budge to take it back to older times, to make her feel loved and attended to again, that no one loves her anymore. And when these declarations, passionate or nonchalant, are made to parents, they are appalled. They agonize over the times they had sacrificed to spend with these ungrateful children which had come out of them. Of course there is a child’s fault in being selfish and unthinking and uncooperative, because she has to bear with the younger one’s tantrums, but aren’t the parents a wee bit responsible for being too consumed by everything other than the first child? The reason parents give for being so apathetic is, “why, the first is always the first! She has always been the privileged one! Poor child (second child) has always worn the worn out clothes and never complained!”. But little so they realize that it is never JUST new clothes or toys a child craves for, she craves for attention, and love and care, which the parents forget to divide as the second child comes in. It makes the parents look like they are screaming “We do not love you”, but silently.

So even though it is agonizing and annoying to hear a child whining about how her parents don’t love her, parents must accept it, if true, and try to make it better, at an initial level, because then the thought becomes deep-rooted, and hard to be rooted out.