A Daughter, Nirasha
Up high in the hills of Himachal Pradesh, North India, away from the comforts of the city, the cold bites and life is hard. Especially harder if you have few means and eight mouths to feed. Even more so, if all eight are daughters.
Prem Singh, a farmer in Himachal Pradesh, carries a heavy load. Eight beautiful, strong daughters fill his home, yet he pines for a boy. A boy child, to carry his name on. To support him in old age. To be his rock, the way a daughter simply cannot. A boy to permanently silence those quiet whispers and pitying looks shot from concerned relatives and neighbours.
The two eldest daughters are married. The third and fourth have been adopted temporarily by a local school teacher, to help them pursue their studies. Then comes the fifth. The breaking point for the father. Five girls born to a poor farmer? They named her ‘Nirasha’. Years of hoping for a boy child but it didn’t seem to be written in their stars. Nirasha was followed by three more girls. Suddenly, no other name seemed more apt or appropriate.
The mother looks away. She is woman whose thoughts aren’t freely her own. She too lived once as a daughter. She knows no other life and raises her own girls the way she was. A woman conditioned by society to loathe her own kind. She loves them and yet she wishes they were never born. A boy child would have been better. How can a poor family possibly feed so many girls, educate them, and finally pay for their marriage? Thinking about the future is simply too painful.
Nirasha is a wonderful, bright child. She spends her days studying, helping around the house, and working with her father in the farm. Her olive-green eyes study you carefully and yet, look away as soon as you catch her gaze. She is shy and prefers to listen when you speak, but rarely replies. She is alien to a world where women can express themselves and can take a stand in society. Her world is enveloped with solitude, silence, and the sound of the cold winter winds.
Prem Singh loves Nirasha. Deep inside, he treasures all his daughters. Yet, he grudging states that he must be practical. He doesn’t know for how much longer he can afford Nirasha’s education. There are the three younger ones to think of. They may not share her name, but they do perhaps her fate. Prem Singh is ultimately a man of simple means. The home is simple and warm but keeping sufficient food on the table is a daily worry. But he knows that his daughters are understanding. The elder ones make sure that their younger sisters eat first. There is sufficient love.
Nirasha loves the quiet of the mountain. She takes off on her own, when she gets the chance to. Sitting in the open fields and watching the sun set, it is easy to forget herself for a while. Friends are a luxury; her sisters are her best company. They wait for the summers so they can run in the meadows, sit among the flowers, and leave their worries far behind. Winters can be more trying.
It isn’t Prem Singh’s fault. He is born and brought up in a society that places the female form in extremes. I refuse to say country, for contrary to what most believe, India is not the only misogynist country the world. The issue is a global one and we are simply passive victims of influence. We allow ourselves to be conditioned by objectification in the media.
But what about young Nirasha?
As you watch her go about her daily routine in the farm, things look normal. Yet there is a certain weight on her shoulders, a droop in her stance. She feels her father’s pain. Ask her how she feels about her name and she shrugs it off. She’s used to the sound of it. Changing a name doesn’t change one’s destiny. She’s stuck in the middle, in the middle of disappointments. Is this one village girl’s problem? Or is it a reflection of what is happening in society at large?
Prem Singh plans to change her name. He hopes to get Nirasha married in a year or two and doesn’t wish that she starts her new live with bitter memories. He cares deeply about her. He says softly that he grew up surrounded by strong women – his mother, his grandmother, and many sisters. To him, women are the strength of the family. His mother worked in the field and in the kitchen. She was awake before all and slept only when all were warmly tucked in. She often went without a meal and slept with one less blanket.
For Prem Singh, love and life are in his wife and daughters. Each of them show their care in different ways and comfort each other on many cold, difficult nights. His home and hearth are exactly what he needs – comforting. In his heart, he feels truly blessed.
Content written by:- Joanna D’souza