I was oblivious to the Punjab I was born in and I’m not talking of the terrorism that was threatening to smother it, I’m talking about a greater epidemic that still shakes the foundation of Punjab; the curse of being born a girl. Poor papa, in the eyes of my Punjab he had another stroke of bad luck when eight years later my sister followed. My mother wasn’t bothered, she came from an extremely modern and educated family that had learnt the hard way that both genders can be equally annoying and the only actual difference lies in the family jewels and in the brain of the society you live in; but papa, he came from a conservative Punjab-based Jat Sikh family* that truly only recognized their sons as family and daughters as accessories, you could collect as many as you could marry off or till you had a son. He was one of ‘those’ sons, loved to death by his mother and was his father’s pride. Surprisingly my Bhua was equally loved and maybe that is what altered my fathers DNA just a teeny bit but made a giant difference in my life.
So, in 1985, the year I was born, whispers carried the news that “They’ve had a daughter.”, ample sympathy was showered.
““Next time you’ll definitely have a boy.” and my parents were mocked as if the sex of the child was decided by the sheer desperation of the parents and if that were the case then too, I’m pretty sure, it would’ve still been a girl.”
I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be born to them till one-day one aunty sauntered over to my father while he stood with both his daughters and made the statement, “why don’t you have another child? Maybe it’ll be a boy this time?” to which he smoothly answered, “I don’t mind having another child if I’m absolutely certain that it’ll be a girl!” That is the attitude he brought us up with, we were his pride and joy. He did for us, what other parents did for their ‘sons’, he gave us the best education, the best lifestyle but most of all he gave us respect. Every opinion, every complaint and every tear was addressed.
So it didn’t come as a surprise when many years later after I had finished college, a long lost friend of his asked him about his children to which he replied, “ I have two daughters.” “And son?” and his reply was, “rises from the east everyday”. He didn’t even feel that the question deserved a straightforward answer and was best delivered with his sharp wit.
When I received my masters, he proudly announced to the entire extended family and his plethora of friends that I was now the most educated person in the many generations of the Bhaika family and when Rhea received hers, he said my children are the most educated now.
His pride is contagious and that’s what keeps us going. People strive to do better in the face of adversity and we strive to do better because even in the face of adversity, our father never let the general sentiment of the Punjab we were born in reach us. We were and we are his greatest achievements (and he has many), we’re not less than anyone and definitely not less because of our gender.
I don’t think I have ever thanked my father. I don’t want to thank him for bringing me up like a ‘son’; that very line will be offensive to him, but I want to thank him for bringing us up like our presence completed our family. I want to thank him for recognizing all our achievements, no matter how small. I want to thank him for respecting our opinions and our beliefs. I want to thank him for teaching me the importance of ‘me’. Lastly, I want to thank him for giving us the best of him; at 61, he’s unmatchable.
We love you.
* According to Census 2011, the sex ratio of Bathinda district still stands at an abysmal 886, amongst the lowest in the country.