Goodbye, Justice Seth

Within a week I’ve felt the loss of two people I loved and admired in very different ways. Vinod Khanna. And Justice Leila Seth. I found it hard to post immediately after each loss because it hit really hard.
I interviewed Justice Seth shortly after Jyoti Singh died, while she was on the Justice Verma committee. After we spoke about the rape and the law for the story, we also chatted about much else that didn’t make it to my piece.
One of the things she said about parenting, is something that ever after, guided me. She spoke about how her son Vikram spent 7 years typing away in a little room above the garage, writing his first book. (Reminder of what goes into a great book for those who think anyone can write one!) And how neighbours and well-wishers wondered rudely and aloud, how they could ‘allow’ their son to fritter his life away so. And would he ever make a decent living as a writer? Tsk tsk. What a waste of a child, coming from two such successful parents.
Her point? That we need to stop projecting our fears on to our kids, along with our aspirations. Even the most evolved parents say very proudly – I told my child, be a sweeper if you want, but be the best bloody sweeper. Err – why? Why best? What is the best?
The one that earns the most? Why not the happiest? (This was in context to her son’s sexuality.)
She went on to say that we also worry needlessly about our children needing to be successful in conventional terms, to maintain the lifestyle we’ve raised them in. We assume that it is a guarantor of happiness to earn more than your parents, and marry traditionally, into the safety of your own community. That it is our own fears that we need to let go of, and trust them if they choose to be unsuccessful but happy sweepers.
As long as you ensure that you equip them to accept the consequences of their choices, whatever those might be. They might never own a four wheeler or a flat in the suburbs (conventional markers of success), but if they’re happy on a cycle meant for two with a partner of their choice, then it’s your own fear and ego that you need to deal with. Not theirs.
I also got her to sign a copy of her book  We, the Children of India, for the kids (you can check out the review on our ever dependable Saffron Tree). If you don’t already own one for your babies, this is a good reminder to pick it up. RIP Justice Leila Seth. A few hours with you shaped me in so many ways. I don’t know if they will make more like you.

Chaddi solidarity

Thought long and hard before writing this one and finally said, what the heck, let’s overshare as usual.
I noticed over the last few days that the ten year old daughter had begun to wear shorts under a short-ish dress. She’s outgrown it, but it’s a thin, cool, comfortable cotton slip – perfect for these awful summers.
I wondered if it was an attack of modesty and asked her about it. It seems her 12 year old brother had been teasing her about the dress flying up and her undies being on show. I let it pass without interfering in the sibling relationship, until I realised she was wearing it everyday, and that it could no longer be dismissed as a joke or a sibling thing.
My son is being raised by a mother who thinks hijabs and veils, and the policing of women’s bodies and chastity culture are the devil’s own idea (smash the patriarchy, yo!), so this is just unacceptable.
A casual chat with him and I realised he didn’t actually have a real issue, and wasn’t playing protective, patriarchal elder brother. He’s actually more of a feminist than his sister. He was simply playing annoying sibling. Very pleased to have found something to annoy his sister about.
It wasn’t his attitude I was worried about, it was hers. I didn’t want her to lose the safe space of home, covering up even when there was just family around. Choosing modesty over comfort.
So I did the only thing I could. I took off my jeans, and sat down by her side. Just. Chaddi solidarity, sistah. The son gaped. The daughter began to giggle.
I swim with them, so they’re used to seeing me in swimwear, which is much less clothing than the tee shirt and undies I was in. It wasn’t the sight of undies that was supposed to horrify him. It was the reminder that mama is also a girl, and she feels hot too, and has every right to be comfortable in her own home without anyone commenting on it, even as a joke.
The maid who realised what was happening, was in splits. The daughter smiled widely, and took off her shorts. And the son conceded that it was unfair to tease someone and make them self conscious, specially in a world where women are constantly being told to cover up to make others feel comfortable. That it might be a joke in this case, but in the real world, society and men, force women to cover up.
In case you feel strongly about how traumatised he might be, I’ll send you my bank account number. You can donate some money towards his therapy at a later stage.