It’s time to move past the teach-your-girls syndrome, and have conversations with our sons.


Today as I made my way to the office, I browsed through e-newspapers to find a famous grandfather’s letter to his granddaughters. This reminded me of an earlier letter that a famous father wrote to his equally famous actor daughter Deepika Padukone. That letter had touched my heart because it was something I could relate to: it talked about hard work and family, something I too would teach my children, not just my daughters. It was honest and well-written, perhaps, because it wasn’t meant for an external audience.

We need to have conversations with our sons to understand and guide them. Photo credit: Reuters

That it became public was a matter of chance. But this morning, I read Bollywood actorAmitabh Bachchan‘s letter to his granddaughters with some disappointment. Why? Because the message in the letter was a thought we have heard a million times.

Women don’t have to be told that “the length of your skirt is not a measure of your character”, girls and women have known this for more than half a century now and most girls in India change into a salwar-kameez right after they finished their English-medium schools in skirts. There is far more to a girl’s situation than her decisions, and we have to address the real problem rather than constantly pushing women one way or the other. One is even forced to question the timing of the letter.

Is it to promote the actor’s upcoming film which talks about women’s rights or is it a realisation the actor had while filming the script? Either way, if the letter was intended to be personal, it should have been handed to them and remained just that, personal.

If the intention was to make it public, then perhaps more thought should have been given to the current situation of the large spectrum of women’s issues and to the diversity that comes with India’s varied background. After all, the message that women in India need from someone like Mr Bachchan has to be far stronger in script and support. While Mr Bachchan’s lesson on women empowerment must be appreciated, perhaps it’s time to move past the teach-your-girls syndrome. And I say that from experience.

To me, writing letters to your daughters and granddaughters is passé and what we really need is to write letters to our sons and grandsons. It would be great if Mr Bachchan could also write a letter to his grandson Agastya giving him a detailed list of do’s and don’ts for men and advice on how women should be treated with respect, honour and affection.

We need to have conversations with our sons to understand and guide them. We need to have a conversation with our sons to be able to improve a woman’s status and life in this world. Taking a cue from my own suggestion, I would like to write a letter to my nephew.

A note from a mother-figure to her son-like nephew:

“My dear darling Son, Though this letter is written to you with every intention to be read only by you, but I am taking the liberty of sharing it with the world. And I sincerely hope you will not mind it.

Your Mother, Grandmother, Aunt and I have, through our years, tried very hard to instill in you values (both intentionally and unintentionally) that would make you respect women. That we are women and need to be respected not for our gender but as humans, is not something that needs to be emphasised any longer.

We have tried to bring you up in a gender-equal world, where men and women are equals, however, what we teach and what you will imbibe around will finally make you the man you will come to be. So here is what I have to say, biologically women and men were given different tasks to accomplish. There is absolutely nothing strange about this as these differences exist in other animal species as well.

So there will be curiosity in you initially about a woman’s body, but if it becomes an obsession, I am afraid you would need help. And it’s absolutely okay to visit a psychiatrist and seek help, most people need it but avoid it as it is considered taboo.

Mental balance should be given as much priority as physical imbalances. Because your curiosity should not become a bother for your women friends or women in general, so no staring at women! No woman likes to be stared at, in fact, try it with animals locked in a zoo. They too will walk away or growl. Think for yourself, would you like to be stared at?

Under no circumstances can touching, feeling or pinching be accepted, not in a crowded bus, metro or train, not in the college or the workplace, not even in isolation. Doing this will also land you in jail, and rightly so, stalling your future.

Instead, develop a healthy relationship with girls or women depending on the age you are in. They are just like you, don’t objectify them. You are more likely to have a longer relationship with a woman if you treat her like a human, an equal. Share with her your hopes, your aspirations, your problems, she may come from a different background, but she can surely empathise with you even if she can’t provide you a solution.

Don’t snub her for not understanding your problem, or for not being educated or wise enough: none of us is. You may be smart for some, but certainly not for all. If you’ve had a hard day at work or with your boss and colleagues, that should be no reason to vent your anger on your wife or your girlfriend, your mother or your children or your pet.

They did not cause that pain and passing on the hurt won’t take away the pain. Deal with your perpetrators directly, stand up to those who are wrong. Harming a person less stronger than you, be it a woman or an animal, will not make you a man.

Don’t believe friends or colleagues who tell you that putting down or harming vulnerable people makes you appear tougher. There is no strength in putting down a vulnerable, susceptible individual; it is in standing up for them, standing by them. Strength is also in standing up against injustice, not just what happens to others, but also to yourself.

If anybody does or says anything wrong to you, be it physical, sexual or mental, stand up against it. Strength is also in being wise in a situation. If you are outnumbered there is absolutely no chivalry in standing up. It’s okay to run for cover and then come back better prepared. Never forget that you live in a country that has a working executive and judiciary.

Go by the rules. It’s cool to obey laws and plain stupid to try and break them, bend them or play with them. Stand up for your rights and for the rights of others, but fight a safe battle. Remember, you can only take a cause forward if you are alive and kicking.

No challenge is big enough, no dream the only one to follow. There is always a new horizon that you can create for yourself. If you lose something you considered extremely precious, a relationship with your girlfriend or your career, remember always that there will be other women more compatible, jobs more enjoyable and grades are merely numbers forgotten on report cards tucked away in ancestral homes.

Failure and rejection are the stepping stones to something better. You will be more of a man if you take the blow (not literally) on your face than attack a woman with a knife, or acid or hang yourself from the ceiling fan that helped you get by during those numerous summer afternoons with family and friends. If you ever feel that earning your bread is the biggest job you can ever do, and most of it as a favour to the women around you, then try making that bread for a year in your kitchen.

And before that, try buying the material for the bread, setting up the kitchen and the house, answering those numerous door bells, getting work done by the plumber, the electrician and the househelp simultaneously. Then try kneading the dough and baking the bread and making everything else to eat with it, keeping in mind everybody’s preferences; and then laying the table and cleaning it thereafter.

If you decide to split duties between work and home, remember that your job only demands eight hours a day, but caring for the household requires all day. And if you both decide to take up jobs outside, it would be best to split the responsibilities of housekeeping.

Remember, the idea that women look after the home and men work is archaic. It was a division of labour made by the early human settlers, when men had to go out and hunt because it seemed like a more physically exhausting job. This was many centuries ago! Different people, cultures, religions and species make the world and you must learn to respect these differences and adapt to it.

On the question of religion, let me tell you that no religion will ever ask you to kill, religious scriptures were written many many years ago and are now being interpreted by people in their own ways, to suit their agendas. Interestingly, some of them force their interpretations on others claiming to have read scriptures that they can’t even read or decipher.

Don’t kill in the name of God. God should be strong enough to protect himself and if he can’t then perhaps we can fall back on the big bang theory. And even if the entire world was to destabilise and your community thoroughly wronged, find peaceful ways to strike back. Raping women to avenge your insults won’t ever make you a man.

Don’t let others guide you to form this image of a man: one who stares back at you from the pages of newspapers, bulked up and aided by steroids, or the one who sits in the corner of the street, weak and helpless; he stands near the cigarette shop whistling and catcalling in a group, but begs for forgiveness in the corridors of the jail; he works hard to financially support the family and spend time at home helping with homework and household chores; he cries at the loss of family and friends and helps out people he’s never known; he’s rude and abusive and he’s polite and caring; he’s hurtful and violent and he’s calm and reassuring. He’s that, and better and worse.

So carve and chisel and create the man you would like to be, for he does not exist and only you shall make the man that you want to be.