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    NIRUPAMA KOTRU: an Interview

    Bionote: Nirupama Kotru is an officer of the Indian Revenue Service (Income Tax) of the 1992 batch. She carries with her varied experience of over 30 years in different fields of administration as well as taxation. Ms. Kotru has served in the Income Tax Department at Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Pune in various assignments and was involved in setting up of the International Taxation Directorate of the Income Tax Deptt. As Director (E Governance) in the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, she administered the gold award-winning MCA21 corporate filing system. She was also instrumental in setting up the Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs at Manesar.

    As Director (Films) in the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, she looked after the administration of media units such as NFDC, Films Division, National Film Archive and the Directorate of Film Festivals, training institutes such as FTII and all policy matters relating to films, including censorship. She spearheaded India’s best-ever participation in prestigious film festivals such as Cannes and Berlin from 2012 to 2014, and also organised the renowned International Film Festival of Goa for 3 years. Until recently she was posted as Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Culture, Govt of India, where she nurtured and strengthened prestigious national academies such as Sahitya Akademi, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Sangeet Natak Akademi and Lalit Kala Akademi, as well as world class institutes like National School of Drama and Kalakshetra Foundation.

    Her interests include writing short stories and poems. She has written more than 30 articles, mostly on cinema, with some on parenting and other topics, for online versions of leading magazines and newspapers  such as Outlook, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, Scroll and Quint. Her piece on mining heritage, called The Lost city of Zawar, was published in the print version of the annual issue of ‘The Week’ magazine, in December, 2021. She is currently working on an anthology of Hindi cinema of the 1970s which is likely to be published soon. She is also a singer, having released an album of ‘nirgun bhajans’ called Upasana in 2012.

     

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    This interview by Sourabhi Dutta Roy is featured in the book,

    “ANONYMOUS WAS A WOMAN”:

    an anthology of poems, short stories and interviews available worldwide via Amazon. 

    Here is the India link.

    ***

     

    TMYS: Please tell us one (or more) incident/s from your growing up years which shaped your understanding of gender and the expectations that come with it? Tell Me Your Story!

    NK:

    I was born and brought up in Delhi, with a few early years in the city of Tehzeeb (culture), Lucknow. I attended one of the best co-educational schools of Delhi-DPS, Mathura Road. It was a healthy atmosphere and I thrived there, I was something of a free spirit and a tomboy. I was appointed Head Girl of senior school which I consider my greatest achievement, considering that I beat all top contenders including boys and girls, in a very tough, four-part selection process. My best friends in school were boys and to date we have stayed in touch. Hook–ups in our school were few and far between. Hence issues of gender identity never bothered me in school. The most shocking incident in school for me was when one fine day in class 9, a friend got married, and dropped out of school a year later. Our young minds couldn’t comprehend why a young girl would willingly throw away her life like that.

    When I started college in Delhi University (North Campus), I was initially quite bewildered. This may upset a lot of people, but I realised very soon that my college, St. Stephen’s, was like an Old Boys’ Club. For me, coming from a protective environment like DPS where every boy was a friend first, it took some time to get used to the idea of being objectified. Maybe the average age of an UnderGrad student is to blame - everyone is young at that age, with hormones raging, desperate to impress the opposite sex. I remember how I envied some school friends who went to women’s colleges - Miranda House and LSR. They seemed much more confident than me. The pressure to dress up well got to me. My grades went down. From being a topper in school, I came down to being an above-average student; an important factor was that my subject was taught poorly (Economics) by some Professors, with an emphasis on completing the syllabus.

    Entering the world of Jawaharlal Nehru University for my Masters degree was the second culture shock I got after school, this time a very pleasant one. You see, JNU in those days (late 80s and early 90s), was a safe haven not just for women but for all underprivileged and/or repressed sections of society. JNU empowered all of us. It was a “liberal” arts university in the best sense of the term. Everyone treated everyone with respect. Academics dominated our conversations; learning was a pleasure in that healthy environment. Maybe the fact that most of us were graduates and slightly more mature, helped. I felt liberated and started doing really well in academics once again. My beloved Professors helped me put St. Stephen’s experience behind me. I even qualified for and received the UGC Junior Research Fellowship (it felt great to start earning at that young age!) and I did one and a half years of M. Phil studies. JNU is where I got my voice back and where I entered the civil services form. And entering the Civil services (I am one of the youngest in my batch) empowered me further. I got a tremendous boost of confidence during my Foundational Course in Mussoorie where ‘esprit de corps’ was the motto. I made friends for life from various services - IAS, IPS, IRS and others. I am proud of the fact that most of my batchmates find me easy to talk to, because I treat everyone as an equal, regardless of their gender, background or status.

    I started writing pieces in the cinema on a request I received out of the blue from a film critic and writer friend in 2015, after my stint as Director (Films) in I&B Ministry got over, and I have never looked back. Have written more than 30 articles mostly on cinema but also other topics like parenting. I find writing liberating and I suggest all women try it once. I also love to sing; singing is another activity that liberates women. I learnt dancing for a while as well. Dancing and singing are like meditation for me - I find I can detach myself from the world around and feel at peace. Let me give you two examples – being alone in a recording studio with no one else but only my own voice for company felt surreal. When you are practising (Argentinian) Tango, you have to drown all the voices around you and focus only on yourself and your partner, because you need to support each other fully. Else one of you can fall and injure both badly. I also write poetry occasionally (in Hindi and English). I have written some short stories which I may publish next year. All these hobbies keep me sane.

     

    TMYS: Having served the Indian Civil Services in various capacities, how do you look back at your experience as a woman officer in bureaucratic corridors? What are the stories of heart-warming cooperation and those of difficult barriers?

    NK:

    The Civil services can be an excellent choice of career for women. Most promotions are seniority and experience-based which means you don’t have to fight for these. If you do your job sincerely, you will get promoted. Having said that, I have to admit that when it comes to choice of postings, I always found that men have had a huge advantage because of their networking skills, especially after office hours. For women like me (and some men, I guess), it is “mullah ki daud masjid tak” (home to office and back home), Monday to Friday. I turn down all dinner invitations unless absolutely essential. Moreover, I like to spend the weekend with my family and friends. If that means losing out on some so-called “plum postings”, so be it. I have never regretted living my life by my principles. Luckily my husband and I share identical values which have bonded us for over thirty years.

    Gender sensitivity is rather poor in my line of work, and I am sure the corporate sector is no better (in fact I see a lot of lip service and window dressing there). People treat gender sensitivity training as a joke. I see this is a malaise that cuts across sectors. I have handled several cases of sexual harassment at the workplace under the POSH Act of 2013, in some cases as the Chairperson of the Internal Complaints Committee. I find that having more women in senior positions makes the whole atmosphere safe for women at all levels. Women working with me know my doors are always open to them if they need help.

    I am witnessing a very healthy trend over the last few years - I have a lot of female colleagues in the ministries of Coal and Mines, which were hitherto considered male bastions. I have witnessed and actively encouraged participation of women engineers in mining. Such a welcome trend! I spoke about this at last year’s InterGovernmental Forum on Mining held under the aegis of UNCTAD in UN HQ Geneva, where I was invited as a “woman leader in mining.” I also wrote1 about women miners in heritage mines of Zawar which married my current area of interest (mining) with my passion (culture).

     

    TMYS: How do you look at the government-citizen relationship? For any ambitious or well-meaning change to sweep a nation, should it have a policy enforcement or should it be initiated at an individual level? Since we as a country are used to the tradition of armchair criticism, how do you look at it as someone who represents the government and is also a woman citizen with expectations and disappointments of her own?

    NK:

    I think it is up to citizens to actively participate in policy making. I came out of my parent Department (Income Tax) in 2009 on Central deputation, and have worked in several Ministries since, all of which have put up draft Bills/reports/rules etc. on their websites from time to time for stakeholder suggestions, with very poor response. I find that most people prefer to complain once the Government makes a policy, rather than taking the trouble to read the draft Bill, rules etc carefully and giving suggestions.

    But social media is changing things rapidly. Citizens have a lot more access to policy makers. Unlike most of my colleagues, I have been active on social media since 2009/2010, because I like interacting with people who share my interests - like films, music, art and culture. Sometimes my presence can be problematic, when people’s expectations become unrealistic and they start complaining to me about things that do not pertain to my area of work. I try to be patient and guide them to the right person. I have received some excellent suggestions related to my work as well on social media, especially related to culture ,and I am really glad I acted upon them.

     

    TMYS: Bell Hooks had said, "It is obvious that many women have appropriated feminism to serve their own ends, especially those white women who have been at the forefront of the movement." Would you agree to this statement - that the original purpose of 'sisterhood' is lost in modern day feminism? And how does racial segregation affect the feminist spirit?

    NK:

    Feminism means different things to different people. It cannot be denied that we first received the modern concept of feminism from the West, especially America, with pioneers such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem leading the second wave of feminism which travelled across the world. In India we have evolved in a different manner; apparently (since I am not a historian, I cannot claim this to be an indisputable fact) during ancient times women were highly educated and empowered. For instance, one has heard of Gargi, renowned exponent of Vedic literature and philosophy. In mediaeval times there were saints and poetesses like Mirabai of Rajasthan and Lalded of Kashmir; there were also brave queens and princesses like Laxmibai, Ahilyabai and Raziya Sultan. Later, there have been freedom fighters like Sarojini Naidu and educationists like Savitribai Phule and Pandita Ramabai. On the other hand, there were dasis (slaves) and devdasis (temple dancers) who had few human rights, if at all, during ancient and mediaeval times, which means that only women of upper castes and classes had the freedom to educate and empower themselves. In modern times too, it has taken many reformers, many of whom were also associated with the freedom movement, to give equal rights to women, from Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Shri Aurobindo Ghosh to Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar, to name a few.

    So, it can be said that in India have also seen a similar trend as the West - it’s the affluent castes which have benefited from feminism in India as white women did in the West. And we tend to rejoice when one woman breaks the glass ceiling in a particular field, when in reality it is a very long journey to gender equality. Indira Nooyi became the CEO of Pepsi or Nirupama Kotru becoming a Joint Secretary in Govt of India doesn’t mean all Indian women have made it. Having had one woman Prime Minister, two women Presidents, sixteen women Chief Ministers and fourteen percent women Members of Parliament in either House is not enough. We must constantly examine and challenge these definitions and push the boundaries to make feminism an inclusive concept. If I am an upper caste woman who has lived all her life in cities, I must also think about the underprivileged Dalit or Muslim/minority   woman in a village. That would be real sisterhood. And sisterhood must be universal - I should feel the pain not only of my Indian sisters, but also that of my African sisters as well as my sisters in Afghanistan or Iran. Women always bear the brunt of all strife and war. We must recognize that and try to do something about it collectively. We need to go beyond tokenism.

     

    TMYS: In your opinion, what is the role of cinema in driving gender-equality? It would be wonderful if you mention the films of your choice and explain the changes they inspired.

    NK:

    Unfortunately cinema has not played a positive role in driving gender equality; in fact it is the opposite. I would say that creative and cultural industries, by the very nature of work in this field, should encourage more women and they should be paid well. In fact this is a worldwide trend - media and entertainment is one sector which employs at least 25% women if not more, yet there is terrible discrimination and also a lot of exploitation in this sector. I am right now talking about behind-the-scenes exploitation; I haven’t yet touched the depiction of women in the media which is another huge problem area.

     I remember I had helped the National Commission for Women to organise a national seminar on “Gender equality in media” in Delhi in 2015 in which a number of my friends - film actors and directors, TV personalities and others, participated. Believe me, it was really shocking and upsetting to learn during panel discussions about the kind of shifts women have to perform in the television industry - 16 hour long shifts in those days with very poor facilities (for example toilet facilities on these sets). The work is just crazy. Physical health, mental health –  everything suffers. In films, the competition is insane. Women, largely, have very short shelf lives; the moment they suggest that they are getting married or going to have a baby, shit hits the roof and their opportunities suddenly shrink. A married female actor is forced to play secondary roles, she’s no longer considered leading woman material. It’s a terrible trend. I hope it gets reversed and I hope older women get more leading roles in films.

    Now coming to the depiction of women in the two mass media - cinema and television, both have been shockingly regressive. For one, you have television serials which have been championed by Ekta Kapoor and others which seem to encourage a very toxic, patriarchal mindset where women are shown as scheming, plotting creatures. Women being the worst enemies of women, mothers-in-law torturing daughters-in-law or daughters-in-law plotting and conspiring to throw out the old mother-in-law, or women trying to have an affair with a married man. Lots of jealousy, intrigue, fighting and what not. After watching a few episodes of such a serial ,you are likely to come away with the impression that women are rotten, unproductive creatures who love to dress up and wear gaudy makeup when they go to sleep, and wake up in the morning - fully dressed with ornaments to boot. Women are portrayed as burdens to society - either they are so stupid that they keep getting exploited, or they are very mean and evil creatures. There is just no normal depiction of women on television, not in the television serials that have been booming since the late 90s at least.

    In cinema, and this is a worldwide trend, depiction of women has been shockingly poor. Pathetic creatures with no agency.

    In September 2014, a study  was  conducted  by  Geena  Davis Institute in association with UN Women, Rockefeller Foundation and University of South California, which was called “Gender bias without borders'' - an Investigation of Female characters in Popular films across 11 countries, wherein 10 popular Hindi films were part of the sample. The purpose of the study was to examine the prevalence and nature of female characters in popular films from those countries. One of the key findings of the study was that 30.9% of all speaking characters (in these films) were female, and two samples fell behind: US/UK hybrid films (23.6%) and Indian films (24.9%) showed female characters in less than one quarter of all speaking roles.

    Then there is something called a “Bechdel test”, a measure of the representation of women in films and other fiction. The test asks whether a work features at least two female characters who have a conversation about something other than a man. If you search high and low in Hindi cinema, commercial cinema, that is, very few films pass the Bechdel Test. I recently wrote about Basu Chatterjee’s Rajnigandha (1974), one of my favourite Hindi films. The film starts with Vidya Sinha’s character waking up from a dream which is a metaphor for her identity crisis. The whole film is about her dilemma: she must choose between a safe but dull existence with her fiancé in Delhi with the added comfort of a decent job near him, and going to Bombay to take up a new job offer, where there are possibilities of her re-kindling her romance with her ex-boyfriend from college days. This is one of the few films which I found very refreshing from a woman’s perspective. Obviously this was because the film was based on Manu Bhandari’s book, and Manu Bhandari was a feminist and one of the leading lights of the Nayi Kahani movement in Hindi literature. But how many such films do we have? Very few really. You have to search very hard to find normal working women in commercial Hindi cinema which is dominated by male superstars. Fortunately we have had better role models in parallel cinema, with Shabana Azmi (Arth,1981), Smita Patil (Ardh Satya,1983) Deepti Naval (Rang Birangee,1983), Zarina Wahab (Gharonda,1977) and others portrayed as normal working women. However, most of the leading women in commercial cinema are just gracing the screen, looking pretty and doing little else than supporting the big guy.

    Basically one can safely summarise the situation by realising that women will always be the eye candy in Hindi films. Take the Akshay Kumars and Salman Khans who are now in their late 50s ,they get to act opposite young girls in their early twenties. The women keep getting younger and the men keep reading older. Occasionally, even Rajinikanth who is now 70 plus, will have a 20 something actor as his love interest. It is ridiculous and it portrays the weird kind of mindset we have allowed to thrive in cinema - that it is the male character who must be worshipped. In such films, the female actor plays an idiotic person with no mind of her own - either her father decides everything for her or her brother or her lover. Often the lover slaps her around and gets away with bad behaviour; in films like Raanjhanaa (2013) or Kabir Singh (2019) he can even stalk her and get away with it. As for film lyrics, these  have scraped the bottom of the barrel since the late 90s. I remember I just couldn’t get over some lyrics like the item song “Fevicol se” in Dabbang 2 (2012), which went like this -”Main Hoon Tandoori Murgi Saiyyan, gatka le mujhe alcohol se” (I am a juicy leg piece of chicken, wash me down with some alcohol). Film makers really achieved peak female objectification in these kinds of songs. Things are not going to change in a hurry, I am afraid. One can only hope that more film makers with decent sensibilities help erase such crass depiction of women in cinema from our minds.

     

    TMYS: Right from Jane Eyre's 'madwoman in the attic' to the docile Preeti in Kabir Singh, portrayals of women, crossing time and boundaries, have always been trapped in the literary constructs of what Gertrude Stein called "patriarchal poetry". As the Director of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, what have been your personal learnings about the evolution of female characters in Popular Culture worldwide?

    NK:

    Like I said in the reply to my last question I have seen terrible depictions, very regressive depictions, of women in cinema and on television, where really a toxic patriarchy has been encouraged. Women have been suppressed and not even allowed to speak their minds outside work - in fact “thinking” female actors are usually marked as “trouble”. I remember watching an interview of Zeenat Aman who was considered a sex symbol in the 70s, possibly to a foreign channel where she said something like, ”We leading ladies are not supposed to be intelligent; you know people feel threatened by beautiful women who  talk intelligently.” Thankfully things are changing today. If you have  noticed, Zeenat Aman has made a huge comeback on social media, especially Instagram, in the last few months and it is so heart-warming to see not just women but men of different ages responding to her with warmth and finally giving her the respect which was due to her all these years as an artist. So this culture of patriarchy has to be smashed and I’m afraid that female characters have to evolve faster. This evolution will only happen when more women writers write more women characters which are relatable, which are real, which have real jobs with real problems. Women directors are also welcome of course, but the key lies in good writing. I see good roles bring written for intelligent female actors like Taapsee Pannu (Pink, 2016, Thappad, 2020), Anushka Sharma (NH10, 2015, Phillauri, 2017, both of which she produced herself), Alia Bhatt (Highway, 2012, Udhta Punjab, 2015, Raazi, 2017, Gangubai Kathiwadi, 2020), to name a few. These ladies and their films give me a lot of hope that things will change for the better.

     

    TMYS: While talking about your inspiration for 'A Mother's Musings', you have said that a working woman can never really 'have it all'. That she must be prepared to give up on something really precious to her. If this holds, then how would a woman not feel victimised? Or your statement was more generalised meaning we have to sacrifice something to win something? Please share your thoughts.

    NK:

    I think Sheryl Sandburg, then CEO of Facebook had said in her 2013 book Lean in: Women work and the will to lead that all women need to do is to “lean in”, and they will find that they can “have it all”. She shortly resigned from Facebook thereafter, from her position as CEO, apparently to get married and devote more time to her personal life, ironically proving her detractors right. Those who said women can’t conquer the workplace AND have a great personal life, unless they belong to a small, privileged class of women like Sheryl did. Sheryl’s book was said to be a response to Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter which came out in The Atlantic in  2012. ”It’s time to stop fooling ourselves”, Anne-Marie, a woman who left a position of power had said, ”the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, things have to change”.

    But the precursor to Anne-Marie’s proposition had come out 11 years earlier. In January 2001, in partnership with the market research company Harris Interactive and the National Parenting Association, Sylvia Ann Hewlett had  conducted a nationwide survey in the US, designed to explore the professional and private lives of highly educated, high-earning women. The survey results were featured in her 2004 book, Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children. According to Sylvia it was America's greatest myth that successful executive women could “have it all”. The findings were, in fact, startling. They made it clear that, for many women, the brutal demands of ambitious careers, the asymmetries of male-female relationships, and the difficulties of bearing children late in life, conspire to crowd out the possibility of having children. I lean towards Anne-Marie (and Sylvia Ann Hewlett) in this debate. Women can’t have it all. Something’s gotta give.

    I have recently been watching this Canadian web series called “Workin’ Moms” and I find it so relatable because it's a story of six working women who are struggling with work life- balance and are constantly on a guilt trip. They find their jobs very demanding but also fulfilling; at the same time they are always racked with guilt about not giving their children or husband enough attention. Unfortunately, in my experience, all women, 100 percent working women in India and I am reasonably sure all over the world, have at some point in time been plagued with self-doubt and guilt. It cannot be different for me, because I have children, too. I am a mother, I am a wife, I am a daughter, a niece and an aunt and so on, and I know that I only have so much time in a day to attend to the needs of different people in my life.

    So what do you do? You have to prioritise; after tending to the needs of your family and working hard at your job, you also want some time to yourself. Luckily now the pressure has eased on me, with both my kids being in college. In the past, I have had terrible work pressure at times because of which I got health problems as well. When my children were growing up, it was a huge struggle at times working late, working round the clock, working on holidays and weekends. I also became a workaholic for some time and completely stopped seeing friends outside of work, especially when I was in the Information and Broadcasting (Film) Ministry and also in the Culture Ministry as well, partly because I was extremely passionate about my job.

    Thankfully, I have also had this constant urge to do something for myself for a long time now, and I find that that writing gives me great relief - it’s very cathartic, it gives me succour. I started writing after this sudden transfer which I faced in 2008. I have given a TedX talk on this subject last year in NIIT Allahabad where I wanted to tell women that you know you can find yourself, you can find your identity, and it is very important for us to take care of our emotional needs. You do that only when your basic needs are taken care of, your relationship is rock solid and you respect yourself and admit to yourself that you like your job. When you admit that you like going to work because you find it fulfilling, only then will you find peace. Once you are honest to yourself, things start falling into place. If you want to go on a work trip, you have to tell your spouse and children to adjust. You have to find ways because it is important to you, you have to acknowledge that you are not only doing your job because it’s something you HAVE to do but because it’s something you WANT to do. There is no shame in admitting that, and I have found many female colleagues of mine find work-related travel liberating like I do, because it is a welcome break from mind-numbing routine which takes its toll once in a while on a working woman.

    Fortunately my parents have been a rock solid support, as has been my husband. I think all the wonderful things I have been able to do with my life has been because of the support of my husband and children. Children are very perceptive, they understand and they really appreciate what their parents go through. My children are very close to me; they have seen me work hard and they have also seen me making time for myself, whether it is wanting to meet a friend or watch some play or attend a cultural program. I always used to find fun activities to do with my family but I also tried to be by myself sometimes. I think I have gained the deep respect of my children because of that, and I am very happy about this.

     

    TMYS: Motherhood is a more complex topic, with two dominant paradigms of 'mother' being present— either an angel or a witch. Would you say the angel-witch binary still exists for a mother? If yes, how can we move out of it?

    NK:

    Yes, there is this dominant paradigm of a mother being an angel and if she can’t be an angel, she must be a witch. It is  such a stupid and outdated concept that it needs to be chucked out of the window. I called it the “Devi'' (Goddess) syndrome in my TedX talk; we have to get rid of this Devi syndrome. Women do not have to be goddesses; just be a normal human, just consider yourselves an equal human being with equal rights like a man, and life will become much simpler. My kids have come to realise that their mother can only give them this much time, and they really respect me for it. They would never judge me you know, neither would my husband and that’s all that matters to me. I really don’t give a damn about what the world thinks; if my husband and my children are happy, I am happy.

     

    TMYS: Would you like to tell us about your moments of anonymity when you had to fight for identity and agency? We are asking this because many times men do not understand how unfair they are being and women do not know how to explain without threatening relationships – be it in personal or professional space.

    NK:

    In my writing and in my singing, in my poetry and my prose, I have often expressed my feelings about this. Yes, there are many times I have felt that the men in my lives have tried to suppress me. Some of my bosses tried to drown out my voices, some actually told me to be quiet in a meeting and not open my mouth. It was humiliating at first, but once I understood that by saying this to me they had exposed their own insecurities, I felt much better. I realised it’s not that I’d make a fool of myself if I talked in an important meeting, but I’ll show them in a poor light if I talk because I’m actually smarter and I’m more knowledgeable. Sometimes I wish I had been bolder at a younger age in my life. One grows and one learns with age, and one learns to stand up for oneself.

    In my personal space as well, I think I have successfully managed to communicate to my husband when he is being unfair or when he is judging me from a different lens than he judges himself. He is very understanding and very sensible and has more often than not, immediately understood my point of view. I am very lucky in that sense; I chose a good life partner, thank God.

     

    TMYS: As a mother, how do you expect your son to respond to the concept of gender and its stereotypes?

    NK:

    I’ve been very blessed as a mother. My children are the most sensitive creatures I know and I’m proud of being their mother. My daughter was an excellent role model for my son. Being the first child of course, there was lot of pressure on her. But she just was an ideal child and never troubled as a teenager. We tried to make our children completely independent, for instance we never tutored them on a regular basis or completed their school projects for them. We allowed them space to learn from their mistakes. So my son grew up seeing his older sister struggle and bravely deal with her own problems. Also having a sister around made him sensitive to the fact that women have periods and there is pain and mood swings associated with these times of the month.

    Our son amazed us in Class 10. When he was at a very young age, he founded, along with some friends, this mental health platform called www.recover.org which gave a safe space to young people to talk. I found to my delight that young boys and girls from LGBTQ community, from minorities, from all kinds of repressed classes came onto the platform and started expressing themselves. My son organised several events also for this platform and it is really amazing to see his involvement.

    Both our kids have got a liberal arts education. My daughter is now pursuing her Masters+Advanced Grad Studies and my son has picked Urban Studies as his major. Both fields are such that they can make a huge difference to the lives of other people. Our kids are responsible citizens believing in equal rights for all. In fact, I would say I have learnt a lot from my children; they are the ones who first taught me that there were other pronouns than He/She/Him/Her. I’m always learning from them.

     

    ***

    This interview by Sourabhi Dutta Roy is featured in the book,

    “ANONYMOUS WAS A WOMAN”:

    an anthology of poems, short stories and interviews available worldwide via Amazon. 

    Here is the India link.

    ***

     

     

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