To Akhila’s father (because he has the right to call his daughter by any name he wants)
I write to you as another father’s daughter, who, if he was alive today, would have advised you as a well-wisher and a loving father, on what to do to get your daughter’s smile back again. And I write to you as a daughter whose father had to face a situation similar to yours, and what he did to keep his daughter so close to his heart, that she could never think of ‘going away’.
He let her go.
No well-wisher in India, or in any part of the world for that matter, would wish the intervention of the law and its courts, in matters related to their loved ones. Even if they feel it is their right to seek lawful redress. Yet it happens every day in our courts – siblings fighting siblings, spouses accusing spouses, relatives charging relatives. It is the bread and butter of the legal system. Yet all will agree, that the most painful to watch is the case of parent vs child. And to add to this pain, if groups and lobbies with their own vested interests get involved, on either side, life outside the court becomes a living hell, since there is no recourse to a private healing. Everybody wants to utilise this pain for their purpose, extracting the most mileage out of the situation, while the public gaze destroys all private peace and reconciliation.
As a young girl ten years ago, probably at the same age as Akhila, I took a similar step as her, based on what my conscience told me was the right thing to do, and what I attribute to my parents, for nurturing a person who was interested in the questions beyond this material world. I consciously accepted a religion, seemingly different from my parents. And the first people whom I wanted to share this were my parents. Simply because it was the most important self-affirming step that I had ever taken in my life, and I wanted them to know how their daughter sees the world and beyond, what she believes to be the truth, and maybe invite them to see the world from her eyes too and share with her this momentous event.
As a parent now, and even then as a daughter, I could understand the uncertainty, fear and perplexity which this brought up for my parents. I wish I could tell them that all I wanted to do was to embrace them tightly while I broke the news, and rock them into an assurance that everything was going to be all right. I couldn’t do so because I was in another country. But when I did meet them face-to-face, and the months that I spent at home with them, this is all that I wanted them to know, again and again – that I was still their daughter, and nothing in this world could ever change that, that my love for them was unconditional, and, that I was not leaving them.
I will not try to paint a rosy picture. It was heart-breaking for them, the pressure of the society was unbearable, and the frightening picture that the media and the world around them had crafted about this new religion was giving them sleepless nights, as they were worried about the physical safety of their daughter. But all I wanted to tell them was that I wanted to become a better person with this step and be able to love and serve my parents in a more deeper and meaningful way, and this was the way which I found to be most suitable for this purpose. There were arguments, silences, tears, embraces, and tears again. Yet it all took place in the comfort and privacy of the home. Never in public, never in front of a TV camera.
At some point they realised that I was serious about my decision, at which they decided, with a very heavy heart, to let me go – to do what I wanted to do, find myself, marry whom I wanted, live a life as I had envisaged. I told them that I am still their daughter and that I am not leaving them. And I did not. My father could not bear to meet me for four years, and I gave him that time to heal himself. But he came back again, on his own, to witness the circle of life complete itself again. As he held his newly born grand-daughter in his hands, the tears washed away the years of separation and the hearts which were aching, but never separated from the distance, were healed.
He passed away five months later, yet left a legacy of love, which my husband and I can never tire of retelling to everyone we meet.
I assure you, with an assurance of a daughter, that Akhila is and will always be your daughter. If you want to see her smile again at you, let her go. Give her and yourself time to heal. Believe in your daughter and the man she has chosen to live her life with, who has stood by her, waiting for her, through this terrible storm. Any other man would have easily closed the chapter and moved on. Firmly close the door to the world outside which is loudly knocking at your door asking you to respond with fear, anxiety, hate, revenge and mistrust. And then see the miracle of love, as she will come back to you, with that beautiful smile that lightens up her face, which I have seen in all the pictures splashed across the media. It is not easy I know, but when has being a parent been easy?
To Hadiya (because that is the name by which she wants the rest of the world to address her),
I wish you all the strength in this world, for expanding your heart beyond its limits, to love your parents unconditionally, in this situation that you find yourself in, and in your life to come. I do not want to advise you anything more since you must be tired of listening to advice from all quarters.
I sincerely hope that you are allowed to read this. I also sincerely hope that the freedom you deserve is given back to you.