Dear Chotu Singh,
This is a letter you will not read for a long, long time. Not until you grow up. In fact, this is not as much a letter to you as a reminder to myself. But maybe someday you’ll be interested in Mom’s thoughts as a parent and want to read these letters.
While we were safe and warm and happy in our little world this week, at least two terrifying things happened in the big world outside. There was another mass shooting in the US. But this time, it was so much scarier because twenty little children were killed. Another horrible thing happened much closer to home. A woman in Delhi was the victim of very brutal violence. Four men were responsible for it. They took advantage of her belief that she would be safe taking a ride on a bus.
When I read both pieces of news, once I had a common thought. For just a single moment I felt relieved that I live far away from places where these things happened – in India where I haven’t heard of such mass shootings happening and in Chennai so far away from Delhi. Then, I felt ashamed of myself. After that, I had a longer lasting thought. How do I raise a child in a world where such things happen? It’s not the happenings themselves that worry me as much as a world where there are people whose minds drive them to do such things.
A lot has been said (some of it by me, in my more emotional moments) by Indian feminists about how badly most Indian men have been raised. (I said all these things before being mom to a son but I still stand by the words). We say they are raised to be entitled, to not know their way around their home and kitchen. We talk of their propensity to feel superior, and their unrealistic expectations from women. We like to think that Indian men are, well, MCP’s. We talk of a strongly patriarchal society. We talk about a country where girls are not wanted. We have endless rhetoric. At the heart of it all, deep down, I am afraid to be a woman in Indian society. I never know when I might offend someone enough to end up a victim of violence.
A different set of people like to talk about American society and its lack of “values”. Dad and I thought never in terms of values but we did think a lot about how the culture there is so different from ours. It was this difference that brought us back home. At some level, yes, I was afraid of the differences and I was not sure how to handle them for a lifetime.
What am I afraid of this week? Am I worried about protecting you from this world? Or am I more worried about what sort of people this world would make us all into if we let it? I think it’s a little bit of both. So now, for the first time, I think about what I want for you beyond good health and a bright mind.
I don’t care if you grow up to be a doctor, an engineer, a film-maker, a mathematician, a dancer, a whale-tracker, or even a literature major. I really don’t. I can never imagine telling you what you should be when you grow up. But I do dream about who you will be when you grow up. I don’t have dreams as glorious as those in Rudyard Kipling’s If but I do have a few not-so-tiny wishes. You see, we named you after both your grandfathers hoping you’d be a little like each of them.
From Dad’s dad I wish you would learn courage and the strength of action. Instead of criticizing the system from afar, I wish you would have the courage to be a part of it and effect the change that you can. I wish you would learn from him how to be the kind of person who can work for 14 hours a day, go para-sailing, perform homams, eat bajji on the roadside, enjoy masala movies, and just generally live life to the fullest. Learn from him how to read the latest research in journals yet understand the origins of traditional practices. I wish you would develop the strength it takes to walk up four floors to get home just days after having an angioplasty.
From Mommy’s dad I wish you would learn how being soft, sympathetic, and expressive of emotions doesn’t make you any less of a man. I wish you would learn from him how to be idealistic and have a strong value system and value it above any material rewards. I wish you could learn from him how to be patient and forgiving. Most of all, I wish you would learn what it takes to do what needs to be done and detach yourself from the rewards. Mom’s still trying to learn the last bit and curb her expectations…
I wish you would learn from both your grandfathers how to be kind and generous and never hesitate to help anyone you can. I wish you would learn from both to be modest and not let anyone guess by just looking at you how much you’re capable of (Sorta like Al Pacino in Devil’s Advocate but let’s not go there, eh?). I wish you would grow up to be a feminist just like them.
You know, a long time ago, before you were born, Dad and I had one of those discussions we’re always having. “How can I impose my value system on my child?”, I said. “His values should be for him to choose”. Your dad said something very wise but I forget what. Just know that he had this all figured out before Mom did. This week I realized how silly I was being. There’s nothing else I can give you. Your talents are your own and not for me to decide. Your personality seems to have been formed already. Your preferences are already clear to us all – you never hesitate to let us know that you hate wearing a hat, mittens, or socks, or even be covered by a blanket when you’re awake. But your values? Ah, those are for Dad and Mom to impart. And
we I hope (can’t speak for dad, you know) they’ll be the foundation of everything as you go through life. I just hope I have the strength to do the right thing no matter how hard Indian society may make it.