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The Unanswered Prayer

May 14, 2010

People travel across countries; prayers travel across worlds. Both travels are driven by a desire for change, yet sometimes these travels can become a showcase of our fixity, as experienced last weekend.

The weekend dinner with H & Pav at their place was awesome. So were Pummy & Simmy, the couple I got to meet at the dinner. We had a good time, in the manner Punjabis are generally wont to – good food, good conversations, unrestrained laughter. However, things took a turn when Pummy & Simmy left after dinner – (Simmy was carrying, the baby was expected in a couple of weeks, and Simmy needed to rest) – and Pav turned towards us: “Simmy is sooo depressed”.

We wondered aloud why.

“Pummy’s parents are coming here (to the US) from Punjab for Simmy’s delivery next month,” Pav explained. “They are all jazzed up because they are expecting a grandson. But that will not be the case because Pummy & Simmy are actually having a daughter. And you know how it is in our culture. They already have one daughter, no son, and now to have a second daughter is putting them under lot of pressure.”

Uh oh. This conversation was not going to be a happy one – the piece of stone in Dal Maharani.

“Pummy’s parents have already told everyone in India that “asseeN taN saddey pothey naal kheddan challey haaN.” They even purchased some baby-boy clothes for the occasion. Simmy has been worried sick about how they will react when they come here next month and find out that it is not a boy but a girl. She doesn’t know how to handle the situation next month or how things will pan out with them after the delivery.”

Pummy & Simmy seemed to have intentionally given their parents the impression that they were expecting a son. The idea must have been to make the pregnancy period less stressful for Simmy, and they hoped that once they had their daughter, their parents would ‘come to terms’ with the situation and get over their earlier desire for a son.

This is sad.

Pummy & Simmy are a well-educated Sikh couple, living away from Punjab and in the US, and to see their parents’ screwed up expectations making the pregnancy period stressful rather than celebratory tells a tale about the state of affairs in our society. Clearly, Pummy & Simmy are not alone. A multitude of articles on the internet (and even several times more the comments below those articles) seem to suggest that these expectations transcend boundaries of education, class and even countries. Indian diaspora in the West, though educated and doing well, has still not rid itself of the mold in the cultural baggage it lugged along. In an earlier post, I had discussed the sorry state of affairs in Brampton, Canada. Things don’t seem to be much different in UK too, as a recent article suggests.

People depressed over giving birth to a girl are a depressing news. However, not everything is so dark and dreary. Meeting some other people has made me a much hopeful person.

Some time back I had gotten to know a Sikh woman who is from India and now works in the US. She does not have a brother and she intends to have her parents live with her after her marriage. To the extent I am aware of, such living arrangements where parents live with their daughter’s family are not common in our community. Another Sikh woman I knew was planning to buy her mother a house before the latter’s retirement coming up in a few years.

It is heartening to see women breaking the stereotypes of what a daughter’s roles and responsibilities ought to be and to see them taking up what was once seen (and is still seen) as sons’ responsibilities. I believe it will be people like the above two who will eventually, by their example, change the current mindsets in the community that view daughters as ‘paraya dhan’ and thereby change the expectations that society has about the roles, responsibilities, rights and privileges of daughters, which will eventually chip away the preference for having sons. I know I know, the causal chain seems to be a long one dotted with too many hopefullies, but I am not going to let that dampen my optimism.

(Courtesy: The Hindu)

Bolstering my optimism is the recent story that has been making the headlines in Punjab. Sandeep Kaur, who hails from Punjab, ranked 138th in this year’s civil services examination. What makes her success remarkable is that given her family’s limited resources (her father works as a peon in a sub-tehsildar’s office), she prepared for the tough exam mainly on her own. She worked with the odds rather than letting the odds work against her. “I am proud to be a peon’s daughter and have always wanted to make my father proud,” said the future IAS officer in her interview to IE. She has given preference to the Punjab cadre, and has voiced her plans to work against female foeticide and for the uplift of girls in the state.  “If you ask me what more than anything has been my cause for joy, it is the fact that I have proven to people that my mother made no mistake by giving me birth and providing me with all the facilities,” she said just before leaving for a gurdwara.

I hope Pummy & Simmy’s parents in Massachusetts are following the news from Punjab about this talented and hard working girl and how she has been winning glory for herself and her family. I hope that some day, sooner than later,  they revisit their erstwhile desire for a grandson, especially the one they had been nurturing these last few months, and heave a sigh of relief for their unanswered prayer.

Or for all I know, perhaps they already have.

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