I met you at the coffee bar, 20 years after we last saw each other at the university. Your effervescence was still intact and your loud laughter only shadowed a little by those crease lines running besides your cheeks. We caught up on the lost years in a flash, laughing and giggling at those pictures and the silly poses we once thought were so hep. Then the inevitable happened.
I asked you the question I wasn't supposed to, and the discomfort of your expression, the abrupt pause in the flowing chitter-chatter was just too evident. The meeting ended in a whirl after that and we quickly parted ways, unable to cope with the uncomfortable silence.
And as I hugged you tight one last time before we turned to say goodbye I wanted to whisper in your ear:" It's OK. It's OK that you have been married for 10 years and still do not have a child. It's OK, you wish to follow a different path in life and not conform to the conventional, it's OK to refuse to be defined by the age-old dictum equating womanhood to motherhood, it's OK to be true to yourself and accept what you really want in life and more importantly what you don't."
I also wanted to tell you how much I admire your vision and clarity of thought. Coming from a country that worships motherhood and reserves a large proportion of its respect for women on the basis of their fertility and child-bearing capacity, it takes more than just good thinking or strong beliefs to make such a decision work. It takes courage.
Courage to stand up to social pressure and still hold your head high, to stand by your convictions and not bring an unwanted child into this overpopulated world just for societal acceptance, to validate yourself or find your sense of being. It takes courage to face all those snide, patronising comments about your "selfishness" and "irresponsible" behaviour and still not give in. It takes courage to not forcibly align your beliefs and actions to the prevailing social stance on how women should conduct their lives.
I know you are tired fending off questions and judgments from people who know you (and even from those who don't); I know you have had enough of being the topic of debate at family get-togethers and cousins' marriages or worse still at baby showers.
And I admire your decision to empower yourself, to respect your body and decide for yourself what you want to make it go through (or not).
There is so much talk on the power of individuality and the freedom of expression but still today when a woman expresses this freedom through the choices she makes for her own life and body, it is termed a selfish, almost anti-social act.
And though we are all acutely aware that the rising population is more than we can handle, more than this planet can handle, we still almost by default expect every woman to add to this number. Those who fail to comply are subjected to our speculations and judgments..."Must be some medical problem," or "She is just too career minded," or "She is too irresponsible to be a mother anyway," or "She doesn't want to give up on her freedom," and the usual stink-eye.
But not everyone is rude and unkind. There are the sympathetic know-it-alls as well who will shower you with condescending comments like, "When the time comes, you'll change your mind," or "You like kids, don't you?" or "Kids are not so bad and it's different when you have your own," or "You will do it for your man." Sigh!
A simple "no" is too hard to swallow for a society of educated, supposedly forward-thinking people.
Why is it so difficult to accept that some people are just not made to become parents, some are just good doctors, talented painters, great writers or adventurous travellers. I am sure we need more people in all these categories. You see, we need everything except unwanted babies!
India with about 430 million children has the world's largest child population. Every sixth child in the world, technically, calls India his or her home. Still as a society we conveniently burden every woman with expectations of bearing children claiming it's a tradition too deeply woven in the cultural fabric to be changed.
Why the world would want another unwanted, uncared for child is beyond my comprehension. Wouldn't it be better if we left the choice to the couple involved and instead concentrated on the little angels that we have already been blessed with? Shouldn't we be more concerned about the welfare of the existing children in this country before we ask another woman when she is planning to have a baby?
Dear Sam, stand tall for the choice you have made in your life without being apologetic for it anymore!
A friend, who will always stand by your side