Tag Archives: choices

Lovelocked

11 Mar

January 31, 2013. 5.30 am. Silicon Valley.

The peal of my ringtone pierced the dark, as I groped in my sleep for the ‘phone. “They’re taking him in,” said a familiar voice at the other end. “I’m on my way,” I responded before the line went dead and adrenalin kicked in. Three hours later, I was buckling my seat belt as the aircraft taxied on the runway, ready to begin its transatlantic journey.

January 30, 2013. Time unknown. The Mumbai-Pune Expressway.

He was all of 28 and engaged to be married at the end of the year. His fiance was an ICU nurse at a prominent South Bombay hospital. That is all we know of him, other than the fact that the crash killed him instantly. And in his death, he gave a new lease of life through his organs to no less than five people, my loved one among them.

Present day. Silicon Valley.

It’s been more than two years since the incidents above. I’ve moved homes, switched jobs, acquired another car, waddled through a pregnancy, and now have an infant (yes, we graduated from Senior Newborn last month!) Yet, there has not been a day since January 31, 2013 that I have not blessed and thanked this young man’s soul for his generosity, foresight, and incredible humanity. There has not been a day since January 31, 2013 that I have not pondered on how to pay it forward. Finally, last November, two days before our Liebling made his appearance, I took the plunge.

Ever since I can remember, my hair has been a topic of discussion. Friends and strangers would admire it at social events, Daddy would be upset every time I cut it, guys in college wrote shayaris and poems about it, and you folks were so generous in your compliments even when it wasn’t the point of the post. I suppose I took it for granted, because I’ve always been somewhat indifferent to it, maintaining that it is my mum’s genes and father’s regular oiling–and nothing I did–that are to be credited. I’ve worn it long, short, and every length in-between. It’s been occasionally highlighted, been its natural color and texture for most of its life cycle, and kept generally clean but otherwise not particularly obsessed over. Even now, with a few strands of white in it, I feel no dismay, for it is but the natural progression of things and vanity is not among my many faults. And yet, I can imagine what it must feel like to lose it. To have to go out in public and have people stare because you don’t conform to the norm. To have the choice of whether to grow it long or chop it off taken away from you. And because I can give no other organ while I am alive, and really wanted someone to benefit from it, I decided to give away my hair to Locks of Love.

In May 2014. I was in my first trimester.

In May 2014. I was in my first trimester.

Two days before our son was born, the Boy, somewhat sad but supportive as always, drove me to the salon and my trusted stylist Stefanie took care of things.

In November 2014. Two days before our baby was born. I loved how wavy pregnancy made my otherwise straight hair!

In November 2014. Two days before our baby was born. I loved how wavy pregnancy made my otherwise straight hair!

It was quick, painless, and joyful. Some little one somewhere (or two, since Stefanie said it was a lot of hair) would have a wig of natural hair to make their cancer journey easier. A weight, both literal and metaphorical, had been lifted off my head. And the smile on my Boy’s face as I walked out assured me he approved as well.

Chop chop!

Chop chop!

That was more than 3 months ago. Since then, I’ve enjoyed my shorter, more manageable locks that gently graze my shoulders and keep out of my busy way. I’m grateful for the shorter length, since my baby has taken to grabbing strands with gusto. I may very well be as bald as him soon if this continues. And because childbirth has given me a newfound and immense respect for the human body, I will know better than to take it for granted when it grows back.

The purpose of this post is to share what’s been in my heart and on my mind, and to humbly request you to think about it as well. It is such a miniscule act in the face of that nameless young man’s charity that I would be embarrassed if you praised it. (So don’t!) Do think about being an organ donor. Each of us has the power to bestow life. And in the meantime, if all you have to give is your hair, you can now do it in India as well. Someday, it will age, grey, and fall off anyway. But as long as it’s healthy and on your head, you’ve got a lot more than a child who could do with some.

Have you ever committed to donating an organ? Please share in the comments section and inspire the rest of us.

And pssst! You guys are the first to know: I’m planning to grow it so I can do this again. 🙂

Motherhood Above All?

29 Jul

This piece was first published in this month’s issue of India Currents magazine. Weigh in–I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Amidst all the chatter and marketing gimmicks that make up Mother’s Day celebrations, I came across a quote by Ralph Lauren, which said, “My wife Ricky has accomplished so much in her life, but being a mother has always come first.” In this seemingly simple sentence, a globally-renowned fashion icon and figure of our times placed a giant emphasis on motherhood, simultaneously outranking his spouse’s other accomplishments as a human being. He is hardly alone in this declaration of priorities, with millions of women around the globe asserting it is the most important thing they will ever do.

Fair enough. The sheer physical metamorphosis a woman undergoes when producing a child, followed by a transformed-for-life sleep cycle, relentless emotional and mental demands, and a heart permanently bumping around on a leash is enough to make the toughest soldier wimp out. To anyone who goes through it, I have no argument if they believe it is the most crucial role of their life. If that is what they choose to be defined by, more power to them. I, too, believe it will be among the most critical things I do in my years on earth (but not the only one!)

What fascinates me is how—and more specifically, why—entire cultures feed into this belief and generate narratives to support it to the extent of passively punishing those who don’t conform. I struggle with understanding exactly why we as a society—nay, societies across the planet—endorse this prominence of motherhood to the point where any other achievement—whether it be the Nobel prize or Prime Ministership or the rescuing of trafficked children—is deemed relatively less significant. (Case in point, Hilary Clinton recently stating that Grandmother is the most important title she—U.S. Secretary of State and past presidential candidate—will have.)

First, a home truth: Not all mothers are created equal. Their circumstances are not equal. The extent and manner in which they engage in caregiving and nurturing and the rearing of little human beings is far from equal. Yes, there are certain sentiments mothers are definitely more predisposed to than other categories of the human race. Still, speaking of the experience in absolute terms does nobody any favors (except perhaps the slackers who are happy to scurry under the umbrella—and as a therapist for socially disturbed and abused children, I’ve met more than my fair share of those).

Why does society put such absolute emphasis on motherhood? Because of its significance in shaping the future or because it serves a distinct purpose to do so? Would our social structure be threatened if women one day believed other tasks were more important or satisfying? Does the unabashed promotion of mothers as the more important parent serve a social purpose?

It behooves us to consider who society is made of: men and women. Parents and non-parents. Those who value their work (whatever it may be) and others who get by just because they have to do it. Given the ratio of men to women on the planet, it is only natural that mothers do not form a majority of the world’s population. However, by virtue of the nature of their job, every creature has one—as it has a father. But do we hear of fatherhood being the most important job a man will ever do? He has a company to run, that ladder to shimmy up, and no one thinks badly of him for leaving a colicky baby to finalize a deal. Have we as a society decided fatherhood is not Life Position #1 because it doesn’t serve us to do so? Are those global profit margins we’re sneaking a look at? Industries, incomes, and other concepts that fade into the background when the parent in question is female?

As products of social conditioning who may or may not question this narrative, we need to check if we’re merely being pumped up to serve a social purpose—especially if our hearts are not in it. As much as I believe that parenthood—not just motherhood—is a joyous, rewarding experience for many people, equally, it is not for everyone. Unfortunately, the strength of this all-encompassing motherhood narrative does not account for individual differences and choices. It does not count the woman who feels her role as an international development expert is more important. It scoffs at those who would rather follow a map than a trail of diapers. It disallows space for reflection and questioning, for you must be a really selfish person for thinking you could be complete without a person emerging from your body.

In and of itself, this smothering social story is polarizing and inconsiderate of variations in personalities, ambition, and temperament. It allows no debate on whether a person may actually be a better human being without producing one. It gathers all their life’s work—no matter how significant or exceptional—and hangs it in unfavorable balance to human beings who have utilized their uterus. And in doing so, this overarching myth fails us.

In far too many cultures around the world even today, Jane Austen, Frida Kahlo, Noor Inayat Khan, Emily Bronte, Florence Nightingale, Ellen Degeneres, Anne Frank, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor, and Mother Teresa would have questionable social standing for failing to fulfill their proscribed social role. I will repeat: It is not for us to diss motherhood. If a woman believes that is her only destiny, then she deserves (and definitely requires) all the support she can get. Equally, it is not for us to glorify motherhood to such extremes that we look askance at those who prefer another life mission—whether by choice or circumstance. May we find it in us to applaud their work, vision, and contribution to the planet with the same gusto we reserve for the parents of bonny, chubby-cheeked, dimple-elbowed, fat-toed, three-toothed little folk.

I will be a parent in the future. And already, I know the shift in attitude that will occur by those not closest to me. Finally, I will fit the mold. And once satisfied that I’m propped safely on that pedestal, they will walk off into the distance, looking for other matrons to idolize. And from that vantage point, I will throw darts of doubt in their direction, hoping my aim is not amiss.