My Daughter is Dark Skinned. I Fear for Her in Fair & Lovely Obsessed India

We have twin daughters – B +ve and O +ve, they are non-identical. It so happens that one of them has a fair complexion and one of them has a dark complexion.

The girl who is dark is getting darker by the day and I fear for her, fear for her self-belief, fear for her confidence, fear for her capacity to stand for what she is / will be, fear for her own self. I fear for her for I know the obsession with Fair & Lovely in India.

The first attention

I have seen this happening. I have seen this happening time and again. And, I know that I will keep seeing this happening time and again.

Be it family members or strangers, not all though, the attention first goes to the girl with a fair complexion. This cannot be an occurrence of chance. Of course, the girl with a dark complexion also gets noticed and gets spoken to, but with a time lag vis-a-vis her sister.

Both the girls are equally active, energetic and talkative. Yet the perceptible difference in getting the first attention from people around. It is something similar to gender stereotypes, intrinsic to us.

Both the girls are unaware of this at their age. I dread the moment when they will understand who is getting noticed and spoken to first.

The story books, toys, TV

My wife and I used to be big fans of Amar Chitra Katha. While reading the mythological stories, one of the daughters raised a query – Why are demons all dark skinned? Why are devas all fair skinned?

My wife and I never liked any dolls and the perception that girls play with dolls. Our daughters have been a gifted number of Barbie and other dolls, all fair. I read that Barbie also happens to be dark, never saw it in real life, though.

The protagonists in Indian TV serials and series are all fair skinned – women, men and children. Additionally, we never know when the advertisement for Fair & Lovely will pop up.

The result – the story books which differentiate between the skin colour, the toys which are not skin colour agnostic and the TV have been banished from our home.

The formal environment

Our daughters do not go to any formal environment of learning – not yet. There are a host of reasons why they do not go. One of the most inconsequential reasons on why they do not go is that one of my daughters has dark skin.

This is an utterly crazy reason and I know it. For, I know that once the girls start going to a formal setting, someone, somewhere, somehow, is going to say that one of the girls is dark – “kali” and I dread this moment.

Even as I write this, it brings tears to my eyes how I am going to face my daughter who has been commented on about her dark skin.

The positive advice

I am in doldrums on how to deal with this myself. So, I was searching on the internet about self-help. I found advice like – place images of beautiful dark-skinned women prominently in one’s home, buy black dolls, for 3 to 6-year-olds: Make frequent remarks, such as “my beautiful baby,” and create stories about beautiful dark children who are smart, kind, etc. (These points are from this site).

On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with any of these suggestions. They are well-meaning. I should actually be doing it myself.

Just that I am not able to. It is my inability to accept that I need to mention/get into a discussion with my daughter who is four and a-half-year-old about her skin colour.

I am a coward

I have never been able to call any family member, friend, acquaintance, stranger who I feel is differentiating between my daughters basis their skin colour.

I am running away from the reality of the need to tell my daughter that she is dark skinned and that she will be biased against.

I am unable to prepare my daughter for the country she is going to face even after knowing that I need to do it.

I hate the society which discriminates and I know that I have been and am a part of the same society.

I do not know how to deal with this. I am failing my daughter.

Indian Mythological Stories for Kids and Hard Lessons

We have faced challenges to find resources to better introduce Indian mythological stories to our twin daughters. I have written about this in introducing Hindu mythology to children.

It occurred to us that Surendrapuri could be a nice option for familiarizing Indian mythological stories to B +ve and O +ve. Surendrapuri terms itself as India’s first mythological theme park. It is a complete spiritual and mythological museum, where one can relive the ancient Indian epics. (Source: Surendrapuri Website).

We visited Surendrapuri on 22nd March 2019. It was a good experience for the girls to see the beautiful sculptures and statues depicting the stories that they love listening about. However, for us, the questions persisted that have been lingering in our minds and became even more puzzling.

Violence

This has been a troubling factor for my wife and me in Indian mythological stories. Invariably, there will be demons and there will be Gods and Goddesses going after these demons and killing them. I understand that the concept of Good wins over Evil has to be explained to children. However, there can be different ways to interpret and present this aspect rather than the gory visual depiction.

Surendrapuri was no different in this aspect. There were a number of statues showing Goddesses holding a skull of the demon in one of their multiple hands. Invariably, the girls would ask about the statue and what the Goddess was holding in one of her hands and the other hands, which would predominantly be an assortment of weapons.

At least for me, it is a complicated affair to explain these portrayals to four and half-year-olds.

Representation of women in Indian mythological stories

Either a woman will be a Goddess hunting down demons or it will be Goddess Lakshmi sitting at the feet of Lord Vishnu. There is nowhere in between for the women in Indian mythological stories.

Girls know about the childhood stories of Rama and Krishna. However, apart from her birth, there are no stories available for Sita. Similarly, after Krishna leaves Vrindavan, Radha gets left out from the narrative. All the Goddesses – Kali, Durga, Saraswati, Lakshmi have no childhood stories and they directly enter the story as adults. The same goes for Draupadi, apart from her birth story.

Girls wanted to know more about the female characters at Surendrapuri. It was not possible as Surendrapuri, of course, made no changes to the age-old narrative of Indian mythological stories.

Girls get introduced to gender stereotypes in the Indian context as an add-on to Indian mythological stories. Their initiation to this impression continued at Surendrapuri.

Mahabharata

We skipped the entire portion at Surendrapuri for Mahabharata. I agree that Mahabharata has lots of application in our practical life but I am unable to decide on the age to introduce it to our daughters.

Right from the birth of Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidur to birth of Kauravas and Pandavas to Duryodhana trying to poison Bhima even as kids, I am not able to understand how to introduce it to children. For that matter, even the story of Ekalavya.

Surendrapuri presents all the events of Mahabharata, but we were not up to the mark to do justice to it.

The flowing Ganga, Bakasura, Aghasura

This was one aspect of experiential mythology that got the imagination of O +ve and B +ve going full steam at Surendrapuri.

They have put clean water in a closed space to depict Ganga originating from Kailas. The girls had a grand time splashing in the water pool and they understood the concept of Ganga.

Similarly, Surendrapuri has walk-in sculptures of Bakasura, Aghasura, the Snake Kingdom of Vasuki and few others. This was nice to experience first-hand for the girls. It is clear that whenever the girls have a sensorial experience with their own selves, they tend to remember for a long time.

The missing personal bond / connect with the Gods and Goddesses

For whatever reason, the Indian Gods and Goddesses are not allowed to mingle freely with their worshippers, leave aside taking a snap with their deities. Surendrapuri is no exception in this regard.

I felt that along with larger than life sculptures and statues of Gods and Goddesses if Surendrapuri could have some statues with whom the children could have their snaps and touch them, it would have been a memory of extended time for them.

Sum Up

Surendrapuri, as a concept, has been nicely executed. It is a worthwhile experience to see the stories in a visual form of sculptures and statues.

Surendrapuri did not answer our conceptual doubts, some of them mentioned above, about introducing Indian mythological stories to our daughters.

The search continues for another account of Indian mythological stories.

5 Steps Guide to Parenting Without Rewards And Punishments

I have written about our belief in parenting without rewards and punishments. This post is about how we translate the belief to day-to-day behaviour and routine. Here, I have listed down the 5 steps that we follow to walk our talk.

If / Then conditional sentences

Rewards and punishments will invariably have conditions attached. IF you do / do not do, THEN you will get / will not get. Even without thinking about rewards and punishments, if / then sentences are ingrained into our minds. After all, we are the so-called rational human beings.

I have taken a simple rule to avoid the If / Then combination in my conversation with my daughters. I do end up using conditionality in my statements even now, though I do feel that the usage has reduced drastically.

Self-behaviour as an example

This is one aspect that I kept dithering about even though the consequences were very much visible. I, as a parent, would want a well-behaved, well-mannered child; just that I refuse to be a well-behaved, well-mannered adult.

My wife, my parents, my in-laws kept pointing out to me that my daughters were adept at learning undesired things from me. Even then, I would not stop.

When I could not hide myself from the proof, I had to admit that I was in the wrong. It was evident that no amount of rewards and punishments would have deterred my daughters from the behaviour that their father was himself practising.

I understand that rewards and punishments are no supplement for self-behaviour to set an example for my daughters. (Bad habits die hard; I am trying harder to get rid of them). Parental anxiety is better dealt with by parents without involving the children.

Be patient. What is there to hurry for? Explain.

I have come to understand that both the girls are amenable to what they are told to, provided they are given a rational/logical explanation. I do not remember how and when it started, but it has been a recurrent phenomenon that the girls are not listening, they are up to their own doing, however, they are explained the what we are trying to do, why we are trying to do, how we are trying to do and bingo, they agree.

It does sound and looks silly that what would a three or a four-year-old understand about logic? Believe me, they do. It is beyond logic also to an extent. I suppose, the girls understand somewhere that their views are being respected and they are getting answered to.

The practical outcome is that we are invariably late for whatever / wherever. Though, now I start off early to ensure that we are on time. We get looked as non-stop chatterbox. I cannot help it.

Identify and eliminate the triggers

What would lead to the application of rewards and punishments for children? A parental requirement of desirable/acceptable behaviour from children.

I suppose a child on her own would not indulge in undesirable / unacceptable behaviour. There has to be action from someone / somewhere / somehow that would initiate the friction. It is surely not possible to keep the tab on all the goings around, but the active observation of child’s behaviour can lead to diffusing the situation before it goes out of control. And before the use of rewards and punishments is warranted.

There is not much of rocket science to observe a child’s interactions with her surroundings. A well fed and well-rested child will not throw a temper tantrum needlessly. It is my task as a parent to ensure that the need for the outburst from my daughters is addressed before it goes out of control. Their needs are not much to ask for and can be settled either way without getting into rewards and punishments arena.

The public meltdown will happen

We are dealing with children, remember. No matter, how much I try to nip the trigger in the bud, keep explaining, keep them away from If / Then statements, the girls do have some residual effect of their fathers’ unwarranted behaviour. So, a public meltdown does happen.

It is fine. I just keep telling myself that it is fine. There are hard moments, difficult moments, publicly.

I treat it as a passing phase. I am sure that we will get over and I do not need the bait of rewards and punishments to deal with it.

Conclusion

These five steps have been the beginning for me to walk the talk of parenting without rewards and punishments.

I am realizing more and more action points for me as the girls expand their horizon and I try to keep up, building a long-term relationship with them going beyond the short-term behaviour management.

I tell my daughters that I believe in them.

Parenting Without Rewards And Punishments: A Belief

Parenting our twin daughters has been a hands-on journey for my wife and me. It has never been a case that we started with set thoughts on how we are going to raise our daughters. Each of the daily experiences leaves a mark and we try to apply ourselves about how we could have done better.

It has happened a number of times that without a conscious realization, we start acting in a definitive manner. It is only when we get questioned / when we get the time to think about our own doing that we realize what we are putting into action. One of such aspects of our parenting that I recently realized was a belief of parenting without rewards and punishments.

Why would I believe in parenting without rewards and punishments?

Rewards and punishments are one and the same

Rewards and punishments are of course diametrically opposite. However, for me, one cannot exist without the other. I believe that punishments do not deliver the desired results in a child. If this is the case, I also believe that rewards too will not deliver the desired results in a child.

For me to believe in rewards, I also need to believe in punishments. A perceived positive action needs to be balanced out by a perceived negative action. Else, the dice get loaded in one direction.

I would rather be neutral, for once, in this scenario and avoid both.

Intrinsic motivation of the child

I see my daughters stretching their boundaries and limits on a daily basis. Right from the time they were trying to balance their necks to today when they come up with all kinds of interesting questions.

The children are born curious. They work hard to develop their minds and bodies. They have an innate desire to know and apply themselves.

I believe that offering rewards takes away the natural motivation of the child to do anything for her.

Inherent rewards of the activity itself

Why would a child be offered a reward? I suppose for the desired behaviour. A stand-alone desired behaviour on its own can and will have a satisfying outcome for the child. With an extrinsic reward system, the child can imply that the activity that she is being prodded to do is unpleasant and not worthwhile, and she will never realize the inherent rewards of the activity itself.

Our daughters eat all the vegetables and they have never been rewarded for this. I suppose, they actually like the taste of what they eat and this leads to the repetitive behaviour of eating all the vegetables.

I believe that the activity itself is the main ingredient to savour for the child and not an add-on to a reward.

Understanding the underlying reason

The children may not be as rational, but they are also not as unreasonable. More often than not, there will be a reason for the behaviour of the child – why she would do / why she would not do. If the parent can figure out the reason for the child’s refusal to do the given task, the underlying cause of the behaviour can be addressed directly.

I believe that my daughters have an inborn willingness to do a given task, just that they need to be respected and explained the desired behaviour.

A reward is followed by a reward, is followed by a reward, then what?

A child may be rewarded once. Even if done implicitly, she can comprehend what she has been offered. A child gets trained to expect that she will “get” something whenever she is asked to do.

It is not just about the “good” desirable behaviour, but the bad “undesirable” behaviour also. When the child gets rewarded for stopping the bad behaviour, the child actually gets trained to misbehave to get future rewards.

I believe that reward is like a genie which once out of the bottle is beyond control. Simply put, I do not play with fire.

Conclusion

It has not been smooth sailing for us as parents as put above. There have been moments of weakness and life is far from being perfect. I have made many mistakes and I could have been better in putting into practice our belief of parenting without rewards and punishments.

We are convinced about our belief though. With every lapse, we strengthen our resolve.

We would want to parent our daughters without rewards and punishments.

What are your views about rewards and punishments in parenting?

Little Moments: How do fish learn to swim?

Little moments of life with B +ve and O +ve. Moments that are memories of a lifetime.

How do fish learn to swim?

The girls have a pet at home – fish. The fish stays in a fishbowl; we do not have an aquarium. It is a daily task for the girls to feed the fish. They also spend time, once in a while, looking at the fish for an extended period. Whatever they do/undergo, they extrapolate it to their pet and ask questions related to fish. The favourite question is – How do fish poop?

One day, out of nowhere, B +ve asked a question – How do fish learn to swim? I was completely taken aback. This question never occurred to me. As an adult, I just took for granted that fish swims. I never thought as to how, why, when and where fish learn to swim. I checked the internet and tried explaining to the girls. However, that is a side point.

I get this question even in my sleep – How to fish learn to swim? And, why this question never occurred to me.

How do crayons get their colour?

The girls were colouring in their books. Again, out of nowhere, O +ve came up with this question – How do crayons get their colour? What makes a pink crayon pink, a red crayon red and so on? I was again taken aback.

I checked the packaging of crayons; of course, there was no information. The children are supposed to colour and for sure, they are not expected to ask how crayons get their colours.

Hanuman is God. Why does he pray to another God?

B +ve was speaking about her favourite Ramayana. We knew she was going to drop a question that will leave us scratching our heads. And, she did not disappoint us.

B +ve said – So, Hanuman is a God. We nodded our heads. B +ve said – So, Rama is a God. We nodded our heads. She connected the two data points, and asked – So, both Hanuman and Rama are Gods, then why does Hanuman pray to Rama?

We have told her that we will check and let her know. I am checking on the concept of junior and senior Gods, but not getting any hang of it.

Why the men are not wearing shorts in Ramayana?

The girls were watching Ramayana movie in Telugu. O +ve came up with this question – Why the men are not wearing shorts? On one hand, it is a silly question and at the same time, it is also a deeply profound question.

I suppose nobody around has witnessed the Ramayana era, provided it existed in the first place. How can people assume the dressing in any particular period without any proof/evidence?

It might be considered sacrilegious to even imagine in wildest of dreams that Lord Rama might be wearing shorts or something on similar lines. However, I do feel  O +ve has a valid point for a child not shackled by beliefs and hand-me-down rigid ideas.

My take

I keep questioning myself why the above questions and many others that the girls ask on a daily basis do not occur to me. I suppose it is a disadvantage I face having grown up.

We just want our daughters to keep coming up with questions like this. We do not know as to what leads to their questions / how they come up with it.

I assume their questions are a confirmation that they are still children and their initiation to worldly ways – to accept the things, the way they are; is still some time away.

Visit to Ameenpur Lake: Children’s Day Out

Ameenpur lake is one of the popular destinations of Hyderabad for an outdoor excursion. Having read and heard that Ameenpur attracts a number of migratory birds during winter, we wanted to visit during December and January, but that was not to be.

Finally, we visited Ameenpur lake on 5th March 2019. The manner in which B +ve and O +ve, our four and a half-year-old twin daughters, enjoyed the outing was a sight we will remember for times to come.

The girls enjoyed each and every aspect of nature on offer at Ameenpur. They made themselves comfortable as if they have been to Ameenpur every day of their life.

The Birds

The girls get to see pigeons, occasionally mynahs, eagles from the terrace and hear the sound of koel. This has been their birding activity in the city of the Hyderabad so far, apart from Zoo visits.

We showed the images of common birds of Hyderabad to the girls to acquaint them with some of the birds that we might get to see at Ameenpur.

They immediately identified the Green Bee-Eater as we were going to reach the Ameenpur lake. Once at the lake, we saw Little Grebe, Little Cormorant, Egret, Painted Stork, Rosy Starling and lots of Barn Swallow. The girls were very excited to see the Little Cormorant sitting on the rocks in the lake with the wings open. They waited and waited for the birds to catch fish but the birds did not oblige.

The Rocks

O +ve and B +ve are self-proclaimed rock-climbers. The rocks that they get to climb are 3-4 feet high rocks in Indira Park and other parks. At Ameenpur, they saw the natural rock formation and immediately set out to conquer them.

The rocks were surrounded with dried vegetation and were not designed for climbing. But, the girls would have none of it. We kept ascending and descending the rocks until they were satisfied with their conquest.

The Water

For the girls, the water was the star attraction. At Ameenpur, the place where we visited, we could walk 10-15 feet inside the water and the depth was just about till the knees. It was sandy and with no stones in the water, it was not slippery either.

The girls had the time of their lives in the water splashing it all around and on themselves. A Dirty Feet trip also landed at the same place with 13 children and they also joined the fun. Dirty Feet team had some sort of self-designed catamarans on which children could sit and it would keep floating in the water. All the children, including O +ve and B +ve, enjoyed and enjoyed.

I have come to understand that water is one of the best toys for children. This was no different. Looking at the children having fun in the water, a child in every adult comes to life. You can try and test it for yourself.

The Fish

The place where we were at Ameenpur also had 4-5 fishermen catching live fish in their nets. They gave demonstrations to children to throw the net, take it back with the fish, remove the fish carefully from the net and keep it in a crate inside the water so that they are alive till they are sold/packed in cartons.

One of the girls touched the live fish and even tried taking it in her hands. She understood how to hold the fish horizontally behind the gills / under the fins. Her sister said that she will try it, the next time.

The Wind

This is one of the most understated elements of nature that gets missed out staying in a concrete jungle. At Ameenpur, it was 12 o’clock in the afternoon, and nobody had a sweat.

It was a pleasure to watch the curls of girls flying on their faces in the cool breeze.

Conclusion

We spent about 5 hours at Ameenpur and did not realize where the time went by.

It is a pity that the children have to learn about the environment and nature from books and not through live experiential interactions. A visit like one to Ameenpur keeps reaffirming our belief that children are best looked after when left to nature. Just that the opportunities like this come few and far in between.

I am not sure about Ameenpur either, about how long it will be able to survive.

A message to my daughters on Women’s Day

My Dearest Daughters

It is quite possible that even when you grow up, the charade of Women’s Day may still be going around. This message is meant for you to develop the understanding of the men on why they would want to continue this eye-wash. I do not want you to fall for this pretence of Women’s Day and hence this message.

2 days back, it was 8th March and I saw a number of Women’s Day messages. They were regressive and nauseating, to say the least. In the name of respecting and celebrating women, men continue to shackle the women furthermore.

No labels please – Daughter, Sister, Wife, Mother

Men will tell you that women play the role of daughter, sister, wife and mother through her life, ever since she is born. As a reward and recognition for the selfless service and sacrifice made by women for these roles in the family, men will salute you on Women’s Day.

I do not want you to get chained up in these labels. You are an individual and you have your own persona. You are not dependent on the relationship with men in your life to derive your identity.

If men have to respect you, men better learn to revere you for who you are, what you are, how you are, basis YOU as a person.

No adjectives please – Loving, Caring, Giving, Sacrificing, Multitasking and the other SH**

Men know how to sugar-coat a bitter pill for their own advantage. They know that women will anyways find it difficult to come out of the labels forced upon them. To cement it further, men will use the adjectives mentioned above to describe your services for the betterment of mankind, yes – mankind.

Do not fall for this honey-trap. You are free to do what you want. You decide the manner in which you deem fit to contribute to your family and society.

If men have to admire you, men better learn to appreciate you for your positives and also the negatives. You do not have to carry a load of the world on your shoulders.

No jargons please – empowerment, capacity building and the likes

Some men will go beyond the labels and the adjectives mentioned above. They will use the terminology of empowerment of women for the celebration of Women’s Day.

Do not fall for this well articulated rubbish either. You are not to be dependent on the largesse of men to be empowered. You are not to be empowered for a day in the year and then be chained back again.

This world belongs to you as much as the men mouthing this verbiage. Only you can empower your own self.

The cynicism about men

The opportunities for the women since birth – be it in family / education / career choices / employment / life choices continue to get constrained due to their gender. This is provided she gets born in the first place in a country like India with a skewed gender ratio.

Even after carrying the load of the family, women continue to have no say in the final decision-making process. Women get paid lesser as compared to men for the same quality and quantity of work in the professional arena. It is not safe for women to move around in their own city for lack of security and protection.

The Women’s Reservation Bill is a lapsed bill in the Parliament of India. The Rajya Sabha passed the bill on 9 March 2010. However, the Lok Sabha never voted on the bill. The bill lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.

Do men have any moral standing on Women’s Day after their diametrically opposite actions to the cause?

Conclusion

It is said that changes happen incrementally. It is said that men’s outlook towards women is changing for the better and the situation is improving.

Just that, I do not expect the situation to improve any dramatically in next 14 years when you become an adult. Rather no change at all in the omnipresent patriarchy in the Indian society.

Your mother has suffered at the hand of men, for that I am a man myself. I do not want the same fate for you.

If you have to celebrate the Women’s Day, do so for your own self, for your own identity and none of the above. Let men not have a say in it for they do not deserve it.