Don’t worry, mothers are apparently solely responsible for the children

In this whole year of having Yazhini in our lives, the only two nights I have taken off has been when I’ve been totally consumed by a work project with unnecessarily tight deadlines that I stared at the computer so much to get fatter eyeglasses. One of those nights I crashed like a dog. Then I spent two weeks guiltily holding my daughter close to me. 

My partner (a musician) has listened long enough to my confusion about this subject. Every week, he gets invited to jams, meetings, band practice, and parties…all late at night. Despite my moods, I still just let him go 95% of the time. I can’t be a setback to his career. He anyway pitches in and tries his best to take care of Yazhini when he is around. So what am I so riled up about? 

In this whole time, whenever someone gives me work or calls me out, their first worry is, “What about the baby?” For the last three months we’ve got a baby sitter who adores Yazhini. If I say I am going to leave her with the sitter, people ask, “But oh, how can you leave her there for so long?” 

But in this whole time, not has one colleague or friend who has invited the father, especially on late night outs, asked him, “Oh, but what about the baby?” They just silently assume the mother will take care. The mother could be running a fever like tonight or she herself could just have loads of work to do or just not have too much interest in constantly nursing the child. She might be trying to be wean baby off. But, no, people just comfortably assume the responsibility of taking care of children primarily falls on the mother. Society is just soaked to its toes in patriarchy that it leeches in to your sleep. 

I am also encouraged to assume this and settle with reality. Sigh! And for Yazhini, I will wipe off the trouble from my soppy face and continue with my responsibilities. Because a mother’s career and sanity is to just be there for her child. F*** you. 

I refuse to tell my child that I sacrificed parts of my life for her. Neither parent’s career or sanity must be jeopardised for a kid. That is one of the most cruel things to do a child. I dread the day Yazhini will anger us an adult and we will retort, “Oh, but look at what we gave up for you.”

I will party alone with a cheese sandwich to this conundrum. 

Can we talk about sexuality ? 

Last week was about long conversations on sexuality, sex, porn, and ‘private parts’. Such wealth of conversations is a rarity. 

This was triggered by Memories of a Machine a beautiful Malayalam fictional monologue, in which an adult recollects how she began exploring her sexuality as a child. I urge you to take ten minutes to watch the film and then continue reading. 

As the credits ran I kept repeating under my breath: “Finally someone said it.”

At school we had our first discussion about our bodies and sexual abuse when we were in seventh standard. Though the forum avoided thoughts on same sex relationships or gender-determination, there was only so much that could be taboo. A lot had already transpired in my life, barring puberty, with little or no talk. Halfway through the discussion a classmate asked, “But, what if I like it when I have watched something sexy on TV? I sometimes switch to such channels when my parents are not around.” I joined the mob at sniggering at this girl until our teacher shut us up for trying to ridicule someone for opening up. So I immediately bit my tongue and apologised. Then I added to the discussion, “I know adults are not supposed to touch us like that. I know it’s sick and some of it is abuse and that you are supposed to say no. But it was very hard to say no, because I didn’t know what to do when I liked something or it felt funny and good in a weird sort of way. And what to do if other children touch you?” My teacher then told me that this confusion of whether something is good or not and the secrecy that goes along with these things is precisely why we should protect ourselves until someone comes along when we are older to have an intelligible conversation about sex and then if we consent we can explore. Bless that teacher. She helped me survive a lot of abuse before and after. 

Memories of a Machine has been bombarded with a lot of criticism, especially from Kerala. A state where Premam was such a big hit. Did someone miss who Nivin Pauly finally ended up with in the film? Okay! They were adults when they finally got married, but even then… Sigh! All my stupid touristy notions of Kerala crumble as I read the comments section in YouTube. 

The critiques say that the film normalises paedophilia. However, what this film does is to force open a dialogue on a child’s body and sexual experiences. Eras have gone by without talking about this. Too many will suppress a nod when asked if they experimented with cousins, classmates and friends. This film normalises a child’s curiousity and physical feelings. It does not justify any adult’s intention to violate a child physically or emotionally. 

But I also understand what is causing this widespread negative feedback to this film. Many people are just shit scared. It is already hard enough to keep your child safe. It is already awkward enough to talk about body hair growth. The majority of people lack the provisions to have conversations around the body and sexuality even with other adults. Sex related talk and thoughts, even though we know this is not true, is assumed the domain of the bedroom and a reason to procreate or keep the husband on a leash. There are people who lack the language to talk about their bodies even for health reasons. For instance, I spent hours at the hospital trying to deliver a baby, while two nurses staring down at my vagina refused to call it that. They just kept referring to it as ‘down there’. 

So is it too soon for this country to handle such a film? Are we incapacitated to dialogue or just plainly reluctant? I think no time is so soon. It is the right time because a filmmaker made this possible. 

 But how to talk about this film? Shall we just get cranky and harass the filmmaker and actor for giving us hard things to do? How dare they urge us to think of our children as beings with natural urges? Aren’t kids just supposed to be focused on getting top grades in classes? The sarcasm in my words might fly over your paranoid head if you are one of the parents or just one of those deeply concerned public that wants to harass the makers of this film. Well…we can only try to open the grounds for you and hope for the best. 

Rewatch this. Please talk about it at home, work and the tea kadai. Force yourself to have uncomfortable conversations. They will cease to be uncomfortable soon. If talking with children is too hard, begin with asking your parents, friends or your partner. 

In the first two weeks of our relationship, Muthu and I hardly spoke about anything other than our sexual adventures since childhood. If we hadn’t, I couldn’t have felt the least bit comfortable letting him describe to me how my vagina had changed post delivery. 

Please for the health of your children and yourselves, stop repressing your thoughts and questions about sexuality and pleasure. Stop being shit scared. It’s alright. 

Here’s just a few more videos you can use for information and perspective (unfortunately none in regional languages! See, the obvious necessity for a film like Memories of a Machine):

Children don’t need to payback

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The number of times I have heard parents justify their hypocrisy with, “What have you done for us after all we have done for you?” And the way they expect this pressure to push their children to excel, earn, save and secure the parents’ retirement! Finally, someone replied to it. (From I am Ryan Henly’s Facebook Page)

Are those two people your parents only because they are married?

 

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With Yazhini and our awesome ob-gyn Anshu Bansal

 

We write this to those friends who responded so to the news of our baby, Yazhini, “OMG! When did you get married?” and to those friends who quietly assumed that we are married.

NEWSFLASH: Yazhini’s parents (Muthumoorthy and Me) are not married.

What does making a baby have anything to do with marriage? Marriage is, after all, a social contract. And weddings, the face of marriage, are displays of social status. This is why the interpretation changes with religion, government and culture. One can decide whether they want to get married or not. This has nothing to do with creating themselves a family. Sadly, most people find this hard to believe.

 

Sex, similarly, is also a choice. Consensual sex is an erotic and biological act, which has to surpass many societal judgements about body-image and body-joining to become enjoyable. In case you didn’t know, there are people who engage in premarital sex, extra-marital sex, swinging sex, orgies, non-monogamous sex, queer sex, masturbation, geriatric sex, and even no sex at all. There are all kinds in our beautiful species. Married people are not the only ones doing it.

Basic biology teaches us that sex (sometimes protected and most of the times unprotected) can result in a pregnancy. Feminism 101 teaches us that a woman can before, during and thereon choose what is done with her own body.

 

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After the fourth pregnancy test turned positive pink, I made it clear to Muthu with a strange and silent stare, ‘This baby is going to happen. You can be as involved as you want to be.’ This is a line that could confuse even the very feminist boyfriend, because life plans will be changing. We had a short argument and decided together to learn how to do this day by day. Before that, we had to tell our parents!

My parents are cool, okay. But, pregnancy is always a bomb of a news. We asked a family friend for some advice and she wanted to cushion the fall. She said that the man must first ask for the girl’s hand and then reveal the news of the baby. We did so and parents were so happy. Maybe, it was their drop out, job-skipping, kind-of-artist girl baby finally settling down in life that overjoyed them or also the prospect of a grandchild. They did have their worries about this choice of mine, but they kept their disapproval to themselves and spread joy.

Both of us never wanted to get married, but we decided it wasn’t a very bad idea if it could  allow us a peaceful pregnancy with both the families support. However, what we faced was long days of drama on how live-in-relationships imported from Western cultures cause such unwanted mess, on whether we should simply register or have a ceremony, but how could we have a ceremony with my baby bump, then should I just anyway get an abortion and avoid stressing out others, and were we just throwing our lives to the dogs. Meanwhile, I was growing bigger, gassier and sprouting my own species of mood swings.

The need to get married started sounding stupid to us. Who were we trying to make happy when the baby and us were pushed in to such distress? Pregnancy, by itself, is difficult. So, we endlessly postponed the marriage and gave vague answers to those family members who tirelessly inquired us.

 

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The Family at the Valakaapu

 

Around the ninth month, we agreed to my aunt’s request of a valakaapu (a traditional baby shower). She said it would be an auspicious event for the baby. We know jack-shit about auspicious cos-pee-shee-yus things. But, I did tell Muthu that celebrating the coming of the baby would do us good after so much tension. I was insanely scared if the baby would be fine and if I could actually survive the ordeal, and felt a few good vibes and pampering would do my pregnant soul good. Muthu warned me that it must not involve any rituals. We made it clear to everyone again and again that it would be a celebration and a house-warming ceremony. But, there were some societal demands. Some were smartly subverted (men and women drew moustaches and beards with sandhanam on me, and my sister embraced Freud and garlanded me instead of Muthu). Some chances were missed (apparently, I could have dressed goth, because pregnant women get to dress anyway they want). This was followed by a vegetarian ela saapaadu that everyone enjoyed, but most friends gave me a disappointed look, “We expected biryani and beer from you.” Left to me, I would have arranged such a feast. But, my grandmother was the chief guest.

She came with her own demands. She gifted me a karugamani maalai (mangalsutra worn by some Muslim sects and certain North Indian Hindu sects) and asked me to wear it. I should have said no, but you don’t say no to gifts. I wear it when I meet her and she knows this. She also informed us that she will tell all her friends that we had registered our marriage, because she finds it very hard to explain our choices to them. Again, I should have said, ‘No, Paati.’ I was, like, even if I say no, you are anyway going to go ahead and say so, and I also don’t really hang out with your friends and maybe this shouldn’t matter. Until…

Last month, we went to Muthu’s parents house at Peravurani for a wedding. Everyone there also believed this fantasy register marriage; parentheses with the belief that I am a Brahmin city girl. I must write about this latter part later. Muthu tried telling one of his grandmothers that we are not married and was immediately reprimanded by a sister who lives there as she did not want to receive the clout for it.

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Yazhini and the saree-clad me ready to rock Muthu’s cousin’s wedding outside her grandparents house in Peravurani

Sad part is that your discomfort with us not being married in the current social situation is understandable. How would you explain it to yourself or others? So yeah, most of our families lie to themselves and others that we are married. Once in a while, they sigh that how nice it would have been to have a wedding and do all of this with so much peace.

Ever since we returned to Chennai, Muthu has been asking me to write this and tell the world that we are not married. In fact, he has been asking me to write down our entire story beginning from one random November night that we met for the first time in our lives. Umm.. but I am a well-seasoned procrastinator. I write this now, because I am actually supposed to be editing something else.

We are never going to get married. Hell, we don’t even think we will be monogamous. Now, how is Yazhini going to deal with this and what societal pressures will she experience because of our choices? I suppose, she is going to learn that she can make her own choices.

When I was a little child, I used to tease my father that I would just for the sake of it rebel against them and have an awesome garish ritualistic wedding. He would try to reason with me and I would insist with my silly arguments. He just patiently let me come to my own senses about it. Today, sometimes he is confused about my choice, but somewhere trusts me or in liberty to let me be myself. (Now, we are arguing about homeschooling vs schooling. This too, I shall write about later.)

 

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Throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood, we anyway go through a variety of identity crises. This is good. There is no point in trying to protect your child from all the possibilities out there thinking that it is going to confuse her or cause her societal pressures. It is more important to be there when she is confused and explore that territory with that same confusion. Read with her, travel with her, question the world with her, sit with her and tell her to go ahead, take her time and make her own choice. I just got to make sure that she can handle a crisis. There is no point in avoiding crisis or simply waiting for the rest of the world to become an accepting and peaceful place. That is not going to happen until we first make our choices and continuously challenge status-quo. Indirectly, this is what my parents gifted me, though they sometimes interpret it as failing to protect me.