Children of no lesser God

In a politically correct world that is duly celebrating the girl child, in a world where it is almost in vogue to wish for a girl or adopt one, I begat a boy.

It was a time when most of my friends were dealing with troubled teens at home or, at the very least, had graduated to baby number two. I found myself telling the husband within a few months of our marriage that we should adopt a baby girl in two years if we don’t have a child of our own. I had, at that point, underestimated our ability to procreate.

Exactly a year after this talk, Re arrived. I, who was proud of my womanhood and had bashed men for the longest time in my gender column, had finally given birth to a man. I felt nothing except mild shock. Poetic justice, I thought. “At least he has curly hair, and my cleft,” I consoled myself. I was ready for another man.

Something told me that this project would not work on auto-pilot. I had no clue about how to raise a man: how to understand his layered complexities, how to let him be, yet let him grow and what to expect of him. Plus, the world around me displayed a kind of reverse snobbery about the boy child. In it, boys are best underplayed, or not played at all. Mothers of boys are constantly scrutinised for subtext. Consider this: Boy throws a tantrum and he is shrugged off as “boys will be boys”. Girl throws a tantrum and she is said to have a mind of her own. Boy climbs on to the table in a restaurant and he is “not brought up well”. Girl does the same and she is slated to be the next gymnast. It’s as though in the race to celebrate our girls, we are trying to pretend our boys don’t exist.

As soon as Re’s hormones surfaced (and they show up intensely close to age two), I was at sea. I think a lot of the confusion arose because of my own expectations from men. We want our men to be sensitive but robust, quiet but communicative, accomplished but understated, generous but thrifty, leaders but followers. We want them to be independent and successful, yet we like it when they can’t do without us.

Boys have to prove they can make good friends, good boyfriends, good husbands, good sons, good brothers and good fathers. The men in my life, whether it was my father, my brother, the boyfriends and the husband, constantly had to prove that they were “men enough”. They still do. We are constantly raising the bar for our men. There seems to be this daunting task of making a good man out of a boy, but it is somewhat assumed that all girls grow up to be good women. And for some reason, mamma’s boy is not as cool as daddy’s girl.

I found myself extrapolating every tantrum of Re, every sign of defiance, and wondering, alpha-male, bad boy or just age? By some twist of fate, Re is surrounded by mostly girl children, whether it is in our apartment building or my circle of friends. The ratio is skewed in favour of girls, at least in our world, whatever the statistics might say. He is usually the aggressee and never the aggressor, and I still don’t know whether I should ask him to fight back or let go. I don’t know what would make him a real man. But I will always be okay with him crying. After all, vulnerability is a valuable thing. It’s what the world looks for, I am told.

I looked. I got sensitivity with bravado (“Don’t hold my hand, mamma. I want to hold your hand”), free-spiritedness with extreme attachment (“I don’t want to go to school, mamma. I want to be with you”), defiance with understanding, noise with silence, aggression with empathy and “I” with “you”. Re hurts easily, he loves animals to a fault, he gives me a foot massage on my wretched days, he puts my cup of tea away, he brings me my slippers, wherever they are, he bakes me mud cakes. He likes cars and kitchens and I don’t care which way he goes. He is often mistaken for a girl, because of his locks. I am asked why I don’t cut his hair and I just try and fix a beatific look on my face and shrug. The real reason is, his locks remind me that he is still me.

So there you are. He is me. I am him.

I realised we can never be enough woman without the man in us and they can never be enough man without the woman in them.

Yes, it’s important to celebrate our girls and boys. But it’s more important to celebrate our children.

Pic by Rahul De Cunha of Treestock


This piece first appeared in my column in the Eye section of the Indian Express on 29th July, 2012


11 thoughts on “Children of no lesser God

  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly. As a mother of a 15 month old boy, who I must mention is a late teether, slow crawler, even now a reluctant walker not to mention zero conversationalist (barring babble); I am often overwhelmed at the thought of raising him right! I realised on his first birthday, it’s not so much society standards, but my own checklist of what a man should be that I need to achieve! And I am glad to know I am not the only one. So, thank you! 🙂

  2. It is the first time that I have read an article that would attempt to see from a boy’s point of view. We easily come across support for a girl child, given our social situation. The same tone seeps into our homes. I once faced dilemma when my cousin explained that she wants to study further so that her parents don’t feel the absence of a male child. My mother’s words raced through my mind then, “I wish I had a daughter who would help do the chores”. which made me equally sad. I wanted to say this to my cousin, but didn’t. Guess it wouldn’t have gathered as much attention as her ’cause’.

    Celebrating children is the ideal way to put it !

  3. Absolutely spot on!
    And I almost aways rue the fact that we are so protective about our girls, scared about how they can be molested even if they take a step out of the house, not to say being inside and whatnot, we tend to forget our sons are as easily susceptible.
    Totally agree it is ‘children’ that we need to think of, not boys and girls.
    I have one of each, btw 🙂

  4. I’m the grandmother of a one month old little man. I know girls. I prefer girls, having raised one and come from an all girl household myself. I am also a rampant feminist. So I’ll have to watch myself. Already we didn’t send around sweets at the birth because people around here seem only to do it for boys. But we’ll have to watch ourselves from being too stern and gender unfriendly. Of course he’ll be raised to be a gentleman to women of all ages but because we have this notion that boys are born entitled, we must resist the urge to squash any sign of spunk. Your Re seems to be doing all right and his curls are beautiful.

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