Ah, where do I start.
My family is a small web of four deeply interconnected but fiercely independent human beings.
We are definitely and defiantly different. Bravely unconventional and nontraditional. Continuously charting our own course. Always pushing the boundaries of society. Able to withstand the winds of resistance, change, and separation—all solely thanks to a safety net intricately woven by our connection to and seldomly wavering support of each other.
The story would have to begin with my father rebelliously leaving home at the age of 16 to sail the world. Unabashedly abandoning his parents’ dream of their son becoming an engineer, he set off to explore; his explorations resulted in life-altering and memorable (but also often challenging and personality-molding) experiences. His capacity for risk-taking permeated all of our lives and seeped deep into who we have all become and continue to be.
At the same time, my mother (being the youngest daughter of a celebrated general in the Indian army) had moved to yet another city, another school, another phase in her ever-changing life. This constant change had given rise to an everlasting sense of self-reliance that was of perfect use when it came to single-handedly raising two girls while my father was at sea.
From the very start, my father let my mother do as she pleased. I’m not sure she would have had it any other way, but this was something relatively novel against a backdrop of India in the 80s, which, as you’d expect, was deeply rooted in patriarchal traditions, with women carrying a colossal weight of societal expectations (it sometimes pains me to see how much of this remains the same today).
Extremely close to her family and running a successful business with her sisters, when my father finally landed a shore job in Hong Kong, my mother chose to continue living in India. It was unthinkable for most of that generation (or perhaps even ours now), and unbeknownst to us, we thus started a lifelong journey of each of us living in our own parts of this vast, beautiful world exploring whatever it was that we wanted to.
We also faced a never-ending undercurrent of secret condemnation from self-appointed gatekeepers of Indian family tradition. It is always amazing to witness how people have such strong opinions of how you choose to live your life when it doesn’t conform with the neatly laid rules of society. You end up offending the very constructs that constrict people and this, of course, does not sit well with them. How can you break free when they remain to be bound; their survival is dependent on the constant validation of the invisible boundaries holding them in…and often holding them back.
Being in close proximity—under one roof, in one city—is of utmost importance to most families, and looking at us, many assumed that there was, perhaps, something missing—maybe in the love, commitment, or devotion that we shared for each other? Through that lens, there were probably times when we all questioned it as well. After all, there were few families who, by choice, were constantly welcoming and bidding farewell to each other (even when, after having done it hundreds of time, it never got easier).
Despite all the distance, however, I now see the strength in my family and my parents’ courageous defiance and insistence to live their lives exactly the way they wanted to. It’s something they could not have done, to then gift to us in turn, if they didn’t relinquish control on each others’ lives or if they constrained each others’ dreams by the other’s desires. It’s something they could not have done if they cared even an ounce more about what the great and mighty “people” thought of them.
Their decisions have allowed us to create something so strong and so solid that we, each of us, can wander off (or stay behind), being and feeling completely free to do exactly as we want, without anything, and more importantly anyone, holding us back. But more importantly, we can each venture far and wide not only geographically but also in every other realm of our lives—physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually—confident in the powerfully supportive base we have to fall back on. A safe and secure circle of unbreakable bonds that give each of us the confidence to live the lives we want, or at least test the depths of water in various places and situations. Without the need for proximity restraining us, we remain free to explore with the assurance that we have each other’s backs no matter what, no matter where.
And at the end of the day, we owe it to my father. While women must continue to fight for their rights and freedoms, men can still make a difference and be of benefit. So as my gender continues in its quest for equality, I can only hope more men join in, even if it’s just in the quiet support and freedom extended, just like my father did.