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Get going, Girl!

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For every little girl clumsily trying on her daddy’s shoes, there is a desire to win the love of the most important male in her life.

 

Even though I am no sports buff, not by a long shot, I was happy to catch a late night show of Dangal. Mahavir Singh Phogat driving his girls to international stardom from the dusty back of beyond is inspirational story-telling at its best. Together with Pink, Dangal pitches itself solidly on the side of women and makes us believe that change is possible. Even when the girls chafe against the harsh regimen enforced by their driven father, you realise their resistance is partly because they have not had even a glimpse of the glittering future awaiting them.

 

Our culture is rich with images and idealisation of good mothering, but fatherhood is a vague territory at best. Somehow a father is rendered fixed, solid and immutable as a titular head, a dispenser of punishment, an earner of bread. And yet, there are so many kinds of fathers as there are human beings – kind, enigmatic, overpowering, charming, ruthless. For daughters especially, a father is seen as a link to the great world outside – with all its risks, challenges and uncertainties. To negotiate that passageway, she adores and pleases her father, understanding how he is the bridge that spans the home and the world.

 

Whether it is Jawaharlal Nehru grooming the young Indira, or Zulfikar Ali Bhutto initiating Benazir to politics, Venus and Serena Williams triumphing in the tennis court, driven by an ambitious father, there are many instances of male parents mentoring across cultures. And its hard not to miss the status Ivanka Trump enjoys in her father’s business and political life.

 

However, we cannot forget that we are living in times when biologists and feminists are seriously contemplating a future in which the male will be considered obsolete, The roles of men and women are mutating into weird patterns. Marriage does not have its old seal of permanence. The internet has undermined the authority of adults. A young girl growing up today may not find an authority father figure to settle down with at all. For he has morphed into a pliable, politically correct, kitchen-chore sharing man who is far from the superman she wishes he was. Society is engineering androgynous dads who offer a mixed message.

 

” For every little girl clumsily trying on her daddy’s shoes, there is a desire to win the love of the most important male in her life.”

 

There have been many instances of daughters emerging from the shadow of their father’s fame and staking out their own territory. A young German woman translated the first English version of Madame Bovary. She learned Norwegian just to be able to appreciate Ibsen. She went on strike with dock workers, organised Labour Unions and later founded the Socialist League. A writer activist, suffragist and journalist, Eleanor Marx was the worthy daughter of Karl Marx. Yet, in spite of her accomplishments, she committed suicide at the age of 43 when she discovered her husband had a secret young wife. James Joyce was one of the most complex writers of all time. His daughter Lucia never had her life charted out for her. She studied dancing under Isadora Duncan, had an affair with Samuel Beckett and was treated for schizophrenia by Carl Jung. She spent the rest of her life in a mental asylum.

 

I am not aware of how far this unique relationship is explored in Indian literature. British and American literature have some perennials that never fail to charm. Mr. Bennett and his daughter Elizabeth Bennett in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice are unforgettable with their witty banter and mutual respect for each other. Though he is not as nice to the other women in the family, he understands Elizabeth is far from silly. He even respects her decision not to pledge himself to the first man who comes along. One of the greatest father role models is, of course, Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. He personifies bravery and honesty, staking his professional and personal reputation to defend a Black man. In him, every female reader discovers a father to look up to. Cordelia is honest about her love for her father King Lear, but that doesn’t stop an overwhelming welter of feelings before things calm down.

 

Acclaimed photographer Marc Bushelle wanted daughter Lily to learn about the heroines of history. So he and his wife dressed up their five-year-old daughter as Mother Teresa, as a writer and several African, American women who have stormed bastions and made history.

 

Let me end this with an anecdote. The scene is a small, remote mountain town in Afghanistan. A man has four daughters and no sons. He is humiliated every day due to this one fact. And so he takes recourse to a strange custom of bacha posh. One daughter of the family has her hair shorn off, wears male clothes and role-plays as a son. She/he is allowed to go out unchaperoned and contributes to the family income by selling water and salvaging plastic. She hates being a boy at first, and all who know her secret jibe her incessantly. But by and by, she begins to enjoy her freedom from being cooped up at home, wearing the hijab. But cruelly, once she attains puberty, she is forced to revert to her old self as a girl. What ensues is bewilderment, rage and then apathy. But even in the most repressive society, hope is possible. Ziauddin Yousafzai has always encouraged Malala Yousafzai to speak up for women rights. Having never seen his own sisters being able to write their names, he has led daughter Malala along a different path.

 

For every little girl clumsily trying on her daddy’s shoes, there is a desire to win the love of the most important male in her life.

 

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indrani
By Indrani Raimedhi
She is a journalist, a columnist, and an author. She won the Kunjabala Devi Award for Investigative Reporting on women issues in 2004. She is at present Feature Editor with the Assam Tribune daily.

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