I tried my best to slink my way into a room of a few unfamiliar faces. An old gentleman quietly enquired about my presence. Before I could put together the words to introduce myself, an uncle magnanimously staked claim upon me, “Beti hai, hamari. Very smart, very hardworking.” I flinched. Visibly. Something snapped within me and I wanted to protest. But I also wanted to believe that my mother had taught me better. And the world needed to know that.
I left the room soon after. Excusing myself politely, under the pretext of an errand. But I was angry. I was agitated at my uncle’s claim. Agitated at his audacity suggesting that he had raised me. Agitated that there was little I could have said or done.
It’s easy to take pride in me and my accomplishments when I’m on the other side of my twenties and someone else has done all the legwork. Today, it’s easy to show me off to the extended family, the acquaintances and prospective family and focus only on my strengths. But where was his love for me when I was questioned as to why I menstruate every month? Where were his paternal instincts when I had to fight for an education? Where was his affection when I was being berated for being a daughter and not a son (and not like I had a choice there)?
I wasn’t quite prepared to grant him a parental status in my life just yet. I just didn’t think he had earned it.
The actual parents, on the other hand, have never staked claim on me or put me and my accomplishments on such a display. They reprimand me often, sometimes in the presence of other people. But they are fairly private about their possessiveness, praise and compliments. Love for them has never been about wearing it on their sleeves or making a blatant display of their emotions.
It is always in the smaller, subtler things – standing up for me; encouraging me, from behind the scenes; letting me falter and learn from my share of the mistakes. It is in the heating and reheating of food on a bad hormone day; letting me scream my head off to rid myself of the day’s frustrations; telling me off each time I misbehave, because no one else will care enough to do so. As they say, “Love is also running one’s finger over glass-laced kite string.”
It’s been a few months since the uncle acknowledged me as a daughter. But I still can’t get myself to look at him and not flinch. When we meet, we exchange the perfunctory pleasantries, smile awkwardly at each other for a bit and then I pretend to heed to a fabricated errand or a non-existent text message.