The Breakthrough Voice 4th July, 2019

My Letter To The Ma And Baba Who Nurtured Respect Over Fear.

I never had to hide anything from you because you always treated me like an independent individual and respected my decisions.

Dear Ma and Baba, 

As absurd as it sounds, when I look back at my teenage years, which wasn’t too long ago, I don’t really have any complaints. I have asked you if given another chance, you’d do things differently while bringing me up, and you said that there are always areas one could improve upon. However, I think you both hit the right balance between control and freedom. Moreover, what I appreciate the most is how you instilled this irrevocable trust, which went both ways. You chose to trust me and my actions, and let me be. While I always have faith that no matter what happens, I can always depend on you and come clean about my latest immature, reckless ‘kando’ (actions).

I acknowledge the fact that it isn’t an easy job bringing up a daughter – with the constant nudging of the media portraying gruesome assaults on female-bodied persons. I can only imagine the kind of worry you went through every time I stepped out of the house, especially as a young teenager. Yet you kept that worry to yourselves and allowed me to explore the world outside – little by little, till I finally moved to Delhi at the age of 18 to live on my own and experienced first-hand the cause behind all the worrying. 

I know that some of the things I’m going to write should be normalised in our society, but unfortunately it’s still a dark world out there, and I’m glad you didn’t succumb to the conventional methods of bringing up a ‘girl child’ and allowed me to find my way, on my own. 

I realized for the first time how privileged and fortunate I was when I was 15 and wanted to spend New Year’s Eve at a nearby club – it wasn’t a nightclub, but one of those elite social clubs which would organize fancy parties. Baba, as you walked into my room and noticed the little black dresses each of us were wearing, I saw a flash of nervousness across your face – but you hid it just as quickly as it came and excused yourself to make a call.

What I appreciate the most is how you instilled this irrevocable trust, which went both ways. You chose to trust me and my actions, and let me be.

It was only later that I found out that you had made the call to ensure there was enough security at the club, and these three girls, who were excited about going to their first un-chaperoned party alone, would be safe. In other words, we could, for just a little while longer, live in the bubble that the world isn’t full of lecherous people who were capable of spiking our drinks. I know today that we could afford to do this because of our privilege. But the fact is that instead of asking us to change our clothes, as I’ve witnessed so many parents do, you went along and ensured increased security. 

As per what I have witnessed, most parents would ask their daughters to change their clothes if they don’t find it ‘appropriate’ with the justification that it is too ‘provocative’ or ‘exposing’ (which is quite problematic since it’s in the ‘you asked for it’ discourse). However, I’m really grateful that I never had to face something like this and I completely acknowledge that it is because of my privilege. For a bunch of teenagers, who had no idea how unsafe the world out there can be, we could enjoy ourselves without having to worry about anyone making us uncomfortable. Of course, as we grew up, we came to realize that this wasn’t a proper representation of the real world and we were living in an unrealistic situation. But as for that particular night, I am really grateful that WE didn’t have to bear the responsibility for our safety based on our attire.

Growing up in a household where neither smoking nor drinking is a taboo, I never felt the need to hide anything from you. In fact, the first time I got unknowingly drunk, it was you both who sobered me up. Baba, I still remember how the next morning you took me for a long walk in the park and explained to me why I should be in a safe environment when I indulge in intoxication, instead of scolding me. I’ve always known that if my friends and I ever wanted to know what whiskey tastes like, we could come to you. It is this relaxed, non-judgemental space that I am truly grateful for. It is this acknowledgement of you and Ma, who realized the inquisitiveness that is common at an adolescent age, and the effort to handle it in the most mature manner, that I have come to respect. 

You inculcated respect, not fear. 

When I had my first boyfriend at 16, who belonged to another religious community, you welcomed him enthusiastically. In fact, ever since I was a kid, most of my friends have been from different communities, and you’ve not only encouraged these friendships, but I know for a fact you happen to be one of their favourite set of parents, and our house – the favourite hang-out spot. You were the ‘cool’ parents, the ones to whom my friends always preferred to go whenever they needed advice on anything, from relationships to academics. I’ve always had more male friends and it was honestly refreshing how completely okay you were with that, as I looked around and saw many of my female friends struggling to hide their boyfriends and male friends from their parents and saving their names in their phone’s contacts under fake names, which brings me to my next point. 

You always gave me my share of privacy, you never went through my phone, laptop or journal and I could leave them unlocked in my room, assured of the fact that you would never breach my trust like that. What I’m trying to say is, I never had to hide anything from you because you always treated me like an independent individual and respected my decisions, and that has boosted my self-confidence to a great extent. You inculcated respect, not fear. 

Being the only child, I know I have been pampered and never felt the lack of anything. Maybe this is a big reason behind why I’m perhaps not as street-smart as the rest of my male friends and initially struggled in the first months away from home, with public transport, roommates and just living on my own. Some would perhaps say that you should have let me wander about a little more when I was in my home city so that I would get the taste of public transport and learn to deal with the constant ogling of perverted men as I wore a pair of shorts and the sexual harassment which would follow. 

But hey, who does it right the first time around anyway? You wanted to keep me secure and ensure my happiness and this was how you chose to do it. Eventually I did learn how to carry myself out there, and of course, I’m still learning. 

Honestly, now when I look back, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lots of love,

Your little cub.

Also Read: Why Do We Need To Focus On Adolescent Empowerment?

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