I am fully aware that you will not read this. But heck, since when open letters were actually meant for their purported recipients? Also, we journalists here in India working in papers that have no way of reaching the White House have a history of firing off open letters to the American President. You can at least put that down to misplaced exuberance. But how do we justify an open letter to Virat Kohli? I mean he comes across as a person whose reading habits are strictly confined to airport announcement boards and restaurant menu cards. Yet, we wrote one to him. (Sorry, Virat. This is a bit crude, I know. But at least I have the grace to apologise to you openly).
Anyway, dear daughter, this letter is on the occasion of International Women’s Day, which falls this week, and you will be 18 —- the legal age to be classified a woman — later this year. And this week, there has been a lot of talk centering on ‘daughters of India’. As a parent, this has to be the occasion for me to responsibly step up and pass on to you some worldly wisdom that will come handy to you when you face this world all by yourself.
But I also wonder know whether I should be doing that. Because, 1) my wisdom is mostly confined to making pointless jokes. 2) More importantly, we also live in times where when a man advises his son, it is deemed as well-intentioned parental concern. But when the same man passes on something similar to his daughter, voila, it becomes patriarchy. Generally telling one’s daughter to stay safe, in the way things are evolving, is becoming an insensitive thing to say.
But I take courage from the fact that you are a pretty chilled-out person, as was evidenced once when your grandmom said something about your tight-fitting dress, and I tried to intervene lest you felt hurt, but you managed to see the funny side of it, with the memorable line: ‘dad, you know what, a Tamil grandmom’s advice is mostly a case of paatiarchy.’
Away from it, this is the year you will be getting into a college. As of now, I see you want to become, depending upon your mood, a lawyer/engineer/pilot/lead guitarist in a band/life-long watcher of re-runs of Harry Potter movies on HBO etc. This clearly shows that you have an open mind. But this also even more clearly shows that you are basically clueless and confused. Don’t worry; most people of your age are that. If you want further solace, most people of my age too are that. Basically, human race has always been that. It will always be that.
Even if you don’t make up your mind, it doesn’t matter. For, whatever career you opt for, there will come a time in your life when you will feel that that you should not have chosen it, and instead settled for something else. This happens to everyone. It did to me. Before I ended up as a writer, I also toyed with the idea of becoming an advocate/engineer/one drop batsman for the Indian cricket team/Kamal Haasan. And there have been many moments when I hated being a journalist. In those circumstances, I usually pick myself up by — sensitivity always works — making tasteless jokes on advocates/engineers/one drop batsman of the Indian cricket team/Kamal Haasan. But I wouldn’t recommend this technique to everyone. For, no job allows tastelessness as much as journalism does.
I realise this is also the year when you become eligible to vote, and I know you are damn thrilled at the whole prospect of being able to play a responsible part in the political process of the country, even though you and your entire generation’s understanding of politics and administrative set up of this country is actually lesser than Alia Bhatt’s. Still, vote responsibly. When you get your Voters ID card, treasure it. Getting a duplicate one is difficult. Also, understand that your Voter ID card, as the name makes it clear, is the most sovereign document that the RTO accepts to issue you a driver’s licence.
Talking of which, you are equally kicked about getting one and legally getting behind the wheels of a car. I would still think that you are not ready for it. Also, the city is even more not ready for it. Left to myself, I will allow you to drive only if the State ensures some basic safety precautions, like stopping every other traffic whenever you are driving on the road.
Dear daughter, if I have one final piece of advice for you, it has to be this: The world is far more random and absurd than anybody would have you believe. The world is equally far more kind and forgiving than anybody would have you believe.
In the end, get a sense of humour. It can see you through most situations. Except perhaps the Physics and Chemistry examinations, which you have to face this week.
Best wishes for that and for everything else in your life,