I have always wanted a daughter whom I could dress in different colours and designs from head to toe, and I was only too happy to indulge myself when my daughter was born. Even before she was born, I started making little dresses for her, and I continued to do so these last five years, though the frequency reduced as the time needed to make a dress increased. I happily dressed her in all sorts of clothes, including her brother’s old jeans and shorts. Wearing her brother’s old clothes actually made her happy, and she used to ask if she was looking like him when he was her age.
Just before her fifth birthday, I was quite taken aback one day when she refused to wear a beautiful kurta that used to belong to her brother. When I asked why, she said that she doesn’t want to look like a boy, so she doesn’t want any “boy” clothes. She said this every time I wanted her to wear anything that she considered to be boy clothes, including her own jeans, shorts and capris. She only wanted frocks and skirts, and that too, only the frilly ones. Even straight cut dresses were not “girl” enough for her. I was frustrated and angry, but she has quite a personality, and nobody can make her do something that she doesn’t want to do. When I argued that I wear jeans, she simply told me that nevertheless, she didn’t want them. She is very fond of retro Hindi songs, and showed her Zeenat Aman in bell bottoms, which have returned as palazzos. She told me that yes, those were palazzos indeed, much like the ones I wear. “So, you can wear yours too, right?” She shook her head and said that she didn’t like them much, she preferred skirts and dresses like Elsa and Anna. I gave up.
She hates to comb her hair, and I often return home to find her considerably long hair in a mess. But she insists on growing her hair long, just like Anna and Elsa. She loves make up, and begs me to allow her to use coloured lip balm, if not lipstick. She adores her brother and tries to emulate him when they are playing together, but left to herself, she spends hours with her dolls. She loves to play teacher, and every afternoon she lines up all the dolls – whether human or animal, on the balcony as her students. She teaches them, feeds them, takes them to the toilet, and talks to them constantly. If you ask her, she says, that she wants to be a teacher for little children when she grows up. One day she was happily telling me how she had played cricket with her brother and his friend, and had bowled them both out. I asked her whether she has considered being a cricketer when she grows up, just to see how she would react. She promptly told me that only boys play cricket when they grow up. I tried telling her that women play cricket too, but she refused to believe me, as on TV, she has only seen men playing cricket. I showed her women’s cricket videos, and she said, “But see, they are also looking like men! I don’t want to be like them, I want to be a princess.”
The tragedy lies in the fact that I have not made her grow up on the Disney Princesses. When she watches TV, it’s with her brother, who avoids the princesses any way. They love Harry Potter, but while he wants to be Harry, she is happy to be Hermione. He likes Chhota Bheem, and she likes Chhutki. Sometimes I look at her and wonder, whether she is imbibing the social biases and I should be more proactive in inculcating a sense of equality of the sexes in her. After some thought, I have decided to let her be. After all, I played with dolls and wore frocks and was brought up like a typical girl, and I even went to an all-girls school. But that didn’t stop me from forming my own ideas about the world and fighting for the equality of men and women. Let her enjoy her dolls now, there will be ample time to ensure that she doesn’t grow up into one herself.