Growing up, the concept of boy and girl was quite alien to me. I didn’t even have a conscious distinction between a boy and a girl unless going to the bathroom.
However, I was, what now seems unsavoury as a term, a ‘tomboy’. I played all the sports, was boisterous, noisy and mildly destructive (my mother would call these an understatement), but generally, all the qualities you would appreciate in a little boy, and frown upon, in a little girl.
I was encouraged in all my athleticism and curiosity, I was given Barbies as presents, but never questioned when I performed Dr Frankenstein experiments on them (the legs went into the arm sockets). I was given a kitchen set but never expected to play ghar-ghar (I opened my own restaurant).
Until I hit my teenage years, and puberty hit me, my interests leaned towards the playful side of things, and my awareness as female was almost zero. However, with growing up, came new things like period, clothes and make-up, boyfriends, education, and money (in order of adolescent priorities). Things that were unfamiliar to both— my Dad and I. My mother was the only one who knew what was up and tried her best to guide us through it.
But, you know teenagers, they think parents are so uncool. In fact, I know many 20-something-adults, who even today, have nothing in common with their parents. Back, then, however, hormones had me convinced that my father was as clueless as one could be. So, many an argument was had with me storming out or banging the door and sitting in my room wondering, What the hell did he know about teenage girls, anyway?
Living in Delhi didn’t help much either, with the consciousness of sexuality seeping in, the fear of sexual violence wasn’t far away (the fucked up world we live in). This led to even more clashes on ‘safety’ and ‘propriety’. Carry the pepper spray everywhere you go! That skirt is too short! You said you’d be by 10, it’s almost 11! We were worried.
So, learning curves were sometimes more like rollercoasters, but now, here are the lessons I managed to remember, that I learned from my father.
Be who you want
When I realised that I genuinely enjoyed make-up and clothing and could shop (when inclined) like the best of them, my Dad said mockingly, “I can’t believe my tomboy is a girl.”
I wasn’t sure if it was praise or criticism. I’m not sure if he was in denial of my growing-up, or he just genuinely enjoyed a daughter who was disregarding of femininity. But, he only commented, never directed.
So, I kept doing my own thing. I loved playing sports but always had kajal-lined eyes while doing so. I had loud debates while wearing the prettiest dresses. Now, when he mocks me with comparing my childhood and adulthood with the same line, I always reply, “Because I am a girl.”
Wear what you want
Bless my mother for intervening the very first time ‘clothing’ as an issue came up. Something I was wearing bothered my father, and he made it know, but having being brought up fiercely independent (by him and my mother), had instilled in me the need to question even their authority, and I refused to change.
My mother had mediated, “It’s fine, she looks good. As long as she likes it, there’s no need for you to comment.
Bless my father for realising, as he asked me, “Are you comfortable wearing that?”
“Yes, I am,” I had genuinely never thought of it like that, before.
“Okay,” he said, and that was the last time that conversation was ever had.
Today, I remember that question, and as long as I find it comfortable, the style and cut of the cloth don’t matter.
This was genuinely something my father drilled in my head, “Never rely on anybody else, for your finances.” He always jokes, even today, about making sure that he and Mom will spend every last penny before they go so that my sister and I have to be completely self-reliant.
When I was 15-years-old, everyone around me had a cell phone. I was still relying on the landline that was in the living room, which seriously impinged on my privacy, and I felt left-out because everyone was texting, and I couldn’t. I recall asking him, “If you can afford it, why can’t I have one?”
I recall asking him, “If you can afford it, why can’t I have one?”
“Well, do you really need it?”
“No, but everyone else has one!” I still didn’t get one. That year, a lot of ‘friends’ mocked me for not having a phone. Dad made me wait a whole year before presenting a Nokia 1100 on my 16th birthday. He was travelling, and, the first call I made to, was him to thank him.
In the era of Motorola Pebbles, I was even mocked for having a ‘cheapie’ phone, but as it turned out, I had stopped caring about the whole cell phone as a status symbol and managed to cull out fake-friends.
Education matters, but only if you learn
As a child, my inquisitiveness led to frequent destruction. On my seventh birthday, I was presented with a bicycle. The very first evening, my mother discovered the styrofoam seat completely mutilated. When she asked me why I did it, I told her that I wanted to see what was inside the seat.
“You could have just asked me, you know!” she sighed.
“Yes, but I wanted to find out for myself.” I was let off with a scolding, and the seat was changed, but I was never told not to find out for myself, even I destroyed more things.
As I grew up, my Dad was fond of recalling how he had been a less-than-stellar student for most of his education, and it was only when he really enjoyed what he was studying, that he even bothered trying.
Mom used to chide him for setting a bad example (she was a teacher’s pet), but unfortunately for her, that’s how I turned out, as well. English and humanities were my forte, and those were the only subjects I cared about. Acing those papers, while barely passing my science and mathematics, frustrated my parents, sure, but they never pushed me harder than they had to.
I’m grateful, for even today, I enjoy learning, and never feel like it’s forced ‘studying’.
My opinions are valid
Even as a child, I was asked to make decisions. When buying a new curtain for my room, I was asked to choose the colour or while picking a side table, I was consulted on the design. With age, the little decisions were turned into big ones. Researching on what should be the family car, or house-hunting when we moved to a new city, were all decisions where my input was encouraged.
The world has changed from what it used to be for the women around my Dad, when he was growing up. The roles and aspirations of women have changed. Over the years, he has learned a lot about girls and women. Either during political debates or personal disagreements.
But the fact, that he listens to my opinions even when they challenge his, is the biggest lesson that I’ve learned from him.