We are a family of five. Two adults called Mamma and Papa and three little children.
A few months ago, I met a woman in an empty flat. A regular person, quite like you and me. Posh school, Delhi University, an MBA and her own small business now. She was house-hunting with her husband and they were there to see a flat our friend owns in south Delhi. Our friend lives abroad, so we had gone to unlock the door for the potential new tenants.
It’s a boring old chore, but when one is a family with little children, every simple outing has the potential to become a little adventure in no time.
“Hi, I am Natasha,” I said. She looked at my children. She looked at me.
“You wanted a boy,” she said to me.
I stared at her face. A question mark appeared on mine.
“You wanted a boy,” she repeated.
“No,” I said, tentatively.
I began to get the drift of what she was saying. By now she was looking directly at our youngest child, Naseem. Naseem was embracing the empty, dusty spaces in the house, humming her own song. Now encircling a pillar with her hands and trying to climb it like a coconut tree, now treating her father like a pillar and climbing up on him. Afzal swayed for a moment like a coconut tree in a storm, then regained his balance, Naseem still hanging on to him.
“She’s a girl,” said the woman. “They are all girls.”
“Just step outside the house with me for a moment,” I said to her. I opened the main door and led the way. She didn’t seem to understand.
“Come out here,” I said to her. She stepped out. “Sahar,” I called out to our oldest daughter, “I am just out here consoling this lady.”
“What, Mamma?” she called back from the empty cupboard she and Aliza were sitting inside.
I gestured to her. I am here, just letting you know. Play carefully. Sahar is 9 and she and I read each other’s faces quite well.
Now I turned to the woman who had come to see a flat but was distracted by little girls. To be accurate, distressed by little girls.
“What are you saying,” I asked her directly.
“I’m just saying that you must have wanted to have a son, that’s why you tried three times,” she said.
“It may not have crossed your mind yet,” I said to her, “but some people have children because they WANT to have children. Some people are in love with each other and become pregnant and get moony-eyed ideas about wanting to create a family together. It may be a foolish idea that doesn’t always work very well, but it’s something that happens to a lot of us.”
“But you have three daughters,” she said. She showed me three fingers.
“Before I start feeling sorry for you,” I said to her, “let me just cut through the crap. Do you realize how WRONG it is to talk like this IN FRONT of children? You are saying to them that their parents don’t want them? That they don’t have a right to exist? That random strangers can be rude to them just because they are girls?
What is it about them that you hate so much?”
She didn’t have answers, of course. Only preconceived, borrowed ideas and conditioned responses. She’s not alone. We all isolate each other, callously spitting smug, self-righteous judgements without a second thought. We have quick-stick labels for everyone, irrespective of the personal choices we may have made.
I’ve just figured out that one way to shut out ignorant voices is to speak louder than them. It doesn’t always come naturally to me. I feel furious but my anger creeps into dark corners and hides inside me. I stumble upon it unexpectedly.
I am learning to hold on to my anger when I meet it. It is slippery and likely to get me into trouble. But really, sometimes it is better to be in trouble with others than to be troubled alone. It is critical to shake people up than be left shaking with rage oneself.
“Mamma, Papa is calling you inside.” Sahar and Aliza came out of the flat. “What are you talking about?” Sahar asked, looking at my face for clues.
“Important things,” I said. “Things I learnt from you.”
[This was first published in Mint Lounge]