Shooting from the heart

Ipsita Banerjee, Lawyer & Writer

Girl With Balloons Jumping Outdoor

Photo Source: BigStockPhoto

Last month saw my husband and I vacationing in Goa with only the older daughter in tow. The other one took off for a IAYP camping and trekking trip in Himachal Pradesh.

We knew about the trip for a while. My younger daughter, who is 16, was over the moon with joy at the thought that she would spend ten days with only her friends for company. Yes, there was a lot of excitement and she could not wait for 22nd May 2016 to arrive! A week before her departure she dragged us to the newly opened Decathlon store in Howrah to buy a long list of stuff, right from a water bottle (which never returned from the camping trip) to hiking shoes and t’shirts and what not. Yes, the excitement had been building for a while.

Part of the deal was that the girls were not allowed to carry any cell-phones or tabs, they were not to be contacted save in dire emergency etc. Of course their group leader who is a school student herself, created a Whattsapp group for the parents of all 75 girls who were going on this trip. Yes, that’s a huge number of mums and some dads and an extremely sweet and well meaning gesture from the child who sat and actually added all the parents in so that the parents could communicate with each other.

So even before the trip began, the worried mummies began talking about their little darlings and asking questions about the trip, most of which would have been answered had they bothered to read the notice. I sighed and muted the group.

The day before the trip the daughter in question developed a fever. I was worried because I knew it would break her heart if she had to be left out because of it. But the teachers accompanying the group were very sporting and promised to look after the child, assuring me that it was not at all uncommon for such a thing to happen. Call us evil or callous parents, we allowed the child to go.

Till here I am okay. What happened thereafter was not. The mothers went berserk. The comments, right from the time the little darlings were dropped off at the airport till their return flight landed were relentless. Specially from a section of mothers who barraged the camp instructor with so many phone calls that they were actually asked not to call so often. Then there was this lot who were missing their ‘babies’ as they had never been away from their ‘babies’ for even 24 hours before. And the others who would constantly ask where they were and how far they had reached knowing full well that most of what was being said was speculative and leading to panic stricken reactions from other moms who thought otherwise. Oh it was chaos. And on some levels, amusing.

Needless to say I kept quiet on the group throughout. I even turned off the data while roaming in Goa. I admit I smsed the teacher once each morning for three days for an update on the fever and stopped the day I heard the fever was gone. You see, I believe that everyone needs some timeout. Far from the influence, concern and interference of not only parents and/or well-wishers but also from technology. And there they were, in capable hands, away on a school trip. It was time to let them have fun.

Don’t get me wrong. I also completely understand the concern of the other mothers, their fears, their need to know where the child is and what she is doing. I completely understand.

Which is why I find it somewhat ironic that parents will fret about a ten day school organised trip which the daughter is taking with friends but not think twice about sending her off to an arranged marriage to spend the rest of her life in.

Barely had we turned 18 in school than a host of my friends began getting married. Oh the families knew each other, he was such a good catch, the fathers were partners in business and blah blah blah, the excuses were manifold. A lot of these marriages have survived to this day (it IS awkward when my school friends have college going -and older-kids) but a lot have not. Abusive husbands, abusive in-laws, extra-marital affairs, adjustment issues, interfering mothers etc . The list is no different than any other in today’s day and age.

So why am I writing this? Because people, I found out I live in a shell. I used to think that nowadays with more education and awareness among families, young girls study longer and are not married off when she’s barely a teenager. But a friend recently enlightened me otherwise. “No way,” she told me. In fact, in a lot of households, with the rising number of divorces and opinionated and independent women nowadays, it’s thought that it’s better to marry them off young so they can be molded to “fit In”! Oh horrors. “And then, even if they do become the independent types, it’s the husband’s look-out whether he will put up with such behavior.”

WOW. I thought. Seriously? I do not know if even one parent on that Whatsapp group feels or thinks that way. I hope not. I seriously hope they all are parents that will allow their daughters to study, to dream, to live, to soar, to stand on their own feet before even thinking of arranging their marriages. And if not, I have only one thing to say:

Pause.

Rewind back to May 2016 when that little hand left yours to have fun with her friends for (only) ten days and you fretted with a group of near strangers.

Before you let that hand go forever into a strange household where she may not have any friends, please, think. Let her live her life her way, let her taste freedom before you frog march her into domesticity. Please. Think. Won’t you stand up for her?

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