Millennium Post

Why girls are still a minus

There can be no denying the fact that we Indians are steadily growing as  a grand type. But that we are all gender benders in the negative sense needs no special certificate to validate. No matter how advanced and urbane an impressive percentage of our metropolitan and municipal population have become, many of us still feel that ache at the birth of a girl child as a first-born. Then the gender of the future second offspring becomes anticipatory and prayer-dependent, a prayer that holds fifty-fifty proposition of being fulfilled. What if it is again a girl? Emancipation and gender liberality are forgotten in the corridors of the maternity ward at the apprehension of another girl being born.

Not that all expecting parents fall in this category. There are some parents who are happy with a baby, no matter what the gender is.

Years ago when I congratulated a well educated and well off friend on the birth of his first child, he reciprocated my expression of happiness with rather a grim look and cold, disinterested handshake.

The words he uttered with a sense of acerbic humor was insightful of that newly bred, elite, but traditional mindset.

He asked , ‘Why congratulate me when I have failed?’ with a stress on the word failed - meaning a daughter was born to him. Needless to say, in the jocular lexicon, passing with flying colors would have been if a son had been born to him. That useless  and downbeat humour has always haunted him as I see him being a doting father to his darling daughter who is very well taken care of by all  the members of his family.

I knew a village school teacher decades ago who was allegedly lucky to have passed the test after five failed attempts; in his words the gender humour was with rather an arithmetic connotation. He called his  son a plus sign and  his daughters minus signs. It was obvious that he was calculating the amount he would have to spend on the marriage of his daughters and estimating what his son might bring in dowry in return. The minuses sadly outweighed the lone plus, which was according to him nevertheless a good recuperation.  

He called his son Khristabdha  which  translates as  AD in English. Like AD of the Roman or Gregorian calendar. Wasn’t AD an opposite of BC? Like smiles standing in contrast with tears, and laughter with weeping.  What happiness was to sorrow, and enlightenment to doom, his plus was to his minuses- he would explain to those who would not mind listening to his foolhardy discourse on family arithmetic.

This only plus was supposed to help him to add to the family’s slim assets in marrying off his five minus signs. That was the initial reason of great rejoice when the boy was born.  Khristabdha hated his name; why could not it have been something meaning a scapegoat or something like that?  The good old times in the hills were better.  An old timer  lamented his pathetic thinking, “Dowry is the  unfamiliar tradition of the elite. In our custom, a young man had to give bride money to the father of the bride for marriage. But now our boys won’t listen. They too want bikes and televisions.’

An elderly thinker rose to reflect on what was going wrong in the familial economy of the hill area.

He thoughtfully, but with some sort of compassionate authority, said looking down at the earth, ‘Gods must be judicious now.

If there is a daughter in the family, there should also be a son. The scion can recover what the daughter takes away.’ A few wise elders in the locality never forgot to discuss Khristabdha’s predicament in waiting, who later ran away from home with nothing but the overture of his confused   mind. 

In his father’s family arithmetic, he as a small plus was under bracket with a five minus, some big some small standing guards with it. The result would be that the plus sign was bound to falter in adding any sum.

Gurbir Singh works with the Information and Public Relations Department of Odisha.
The views expressed are his own 
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