It’s been a long time since I wrote a blog post. This is in part because I have been busy producing a human.
My son is now two and a half months old, all chubby thighs and chirrups and occasional sunbeamy smiles. He laughs in his sleep sometimes, too, a little “heh-heh-heh” I can hear when we’re driving in the car. He’s a dreamboat, and I couldn’t be happier.
But one thing this baby has helped me to see about India with new, somewhat terrifying clarity: this country is obsessed with boys.
A sign festooned with manacles appears in Indian doctors’ offices: “Determination of sex is not done at this clinic.” Sex-selective abortion is such a huge problem, with somewhere around 900-950 girls born for every 1000 boys, that in 1994 a law passed outlawing gender screening.
But sex selective abortion—and worse, infanticide—is only the nastiest manifestation of a widespread cultural preference for boys, which revealed itself time and time again during my pregnancy.
Raising a girl, the saying goes, is “like watering your neighbor’s garden.”
The sweet, officious lab tech I saw for regular blood tests would wish me well on his way out the door. His valediction? “God will bless you with a boy!” When (after the third time he said this) I said I found it offensive, he just blinked at me, confused. Who wouldn’t want that blessing?
The diminutive nurse checking my vitals at our tony South Bombay doctor’s office asked me in broken English if we wanted a boy (baba) or a girl (baby). When I said we would be happy with either, she paused, standing in front of the aforementioned sign with its chains and dire warnings. She patted my swollen belly as if patting the head of a particularly stupid child: “Well, I want you to have baba.”
A friend and I laughed about it, because our dismay didn’t accomplish much. “Haven’t you noticed,” she said, pointing to her breasts, “I’m a girl? Maybe, uh, I’d be just as happy with a girl?!”
But no one expected me to be just as happy with a girl. Somehow having a son was a measure of my mettle, a sign of my cleverness and resolve.
And when I did produce a son, what a good girl I was! After he was born, there were congratulations all around for the miracle between my baby’s tiny legs. Strangers would stop us and ask: “Baba hai ki baby hai?”
“He’s a little boy.”
“Baba! Very good.” They’d turn to me. “Nice. Well done.”
And these views are not confined to the uneducated or ignorant. My mother describes a former colleague of hers, an Indian art historian of some renown, who grizzled about his daughter insisting on only producing girls.
When someone told him that, in fact, it was the father’s sperm that determined a child’s gender, he said, “That’s just an old wive’s tale.”