October 27, 2021 (21 years later)
Starting this letter by copying your style (like you start every letter by some classic verses). Philip Larkin wrote a poem, “Born Yesterday”, for his daughter and we shall start this letter with that poem, for you.
I have wished you something
None of the others would:
Not the usual stuff
About being beautiful,
Or running off a spring
Of innocence and love —
They will all wish you that,
And should it prove possible,
Well, you’re a lucky girl.
But if it shouldn’t, then
May you be ordinary;
Have, like other women,
An average of talents:
Not ugly, not good-looking,
To pull you off your balance,
That, unworkable itself,
Stops all the rest from working.
In fact, may you be dull —
If that is what a skilled,
Catching of happiness is called.
As we age, we want to tell you everything that we’ve always wanted to, although all that cannot be compiled in just one letter but we’ve learnt a lot from your letter writing and how you manage to compile letters out of long, long stories. So, we will manage, too.
It’s hard to believe that you’ve turned 21 today, because it still feels like you were born yesterday. You always ask us if you being a second daughter born to us has made us unhappy in any way. Well, you gave us so much happiness that it was more than what we expected. We underwent a metamorphosis or an extreme makeover. Yes, we redundantly use unnecessary synonyms when emotional.
We still recall your image at 8 of eating apples and wrapping them in napkins to take to school. We still remember your first short story about three bear brothers that you’d penned when you were 12. Both of us recall your obsession with changing clothes and we can bet that the times you would change dresses in a single day was never less than three. You always had more clothes than the other family members collectively did, and you always considered repeating a set of clothing a bad habit and, in fact, a sin. It was customary for you to create havoc on this subject every other day. From having a dozen of those flared dresses to floral dungarees to salwar suits, you were never content with what you had and you always said, “mye ne palwei”, and used to become so overly dramatic at our refusal that we were left with no choice than to add more clothes to your closet, which was a cardboard box, as you didn’t like to keep your clothes in a cupboard — again, dramatic.
Anyway, you still have a lot of clothes and you’ll never have enough of them and you’ll never stop complaining. You were always a mischievous child (we can’t even express that degree of mischief) and of course a very talkative one, one who would never stop. That hasn’t changed even after 21 years and we’ve found happiness in your “bakwas” now. You better know how lonely and sad we feel when you’re not around us, when you’re not talking, and when you’re not behaving like a 5-year-old kid. We recall your toddling years when you would accompany Amu to her school and make her do the impossible, like forcing her to leave you with the army men, who used to be on roadside duty, and forcing her to buy her something from every shopkeeper in the market, even if it wasn’t of your need. We still remember the 2005 earthquake when everything had fallen apart and even after seeing your then house dusted to earth that day, despite crying so much that you attracted a huge crowd by your wails and screams, because you had lost your kitchen set in that earthquake and you wanted that back, home didn’t matter. That incident is unforgettable. And that’s when you proved that you were a synonym to “drama”.
As you grew up, every weekend we had to visit your school to justify your mischievous behaviour. You let us down a million times, you hurt us deeply, and at those moments we couldn’t even express how we felt because of you. We tackled everything, from your disobedience to your recurring panic attacks and to your desire to stay away from us. We tackled everything because we were the parents and we understood what you were going through and that it was a stage of your life where you were unable to make choices between right and wrong. We know how sad and low you’ve made us feel but more than that we now know how much of repentance you have in your heart for all those moments. And we know that you feel apologetic for every single time when you’ve made us cry and this realisation is more important and beloved to us than those moments of pain and sorrows that you gave us earlier in your life.
You’re our pride now and everything you do makes us happy now. This happiness is much more than that sadness which is forgotten and forgiven now. From helping us write leave applications to our offices to correcting our spelling to celebrating our little moments of joy, you’ve been our star – in your childhood, in your teenage, and now in your adulthood. We hope and we both desire that this star keeps shining for us until we breathe our last and even if all other stars stop shining for us, we hope we never lose this one.
We’ve never been far from you for a much longer time, but you’ll soon go to your college and you’ll be very far from us and for so many months or maybe years, and although we won’t express our longing for you during this time, we want you to know that staying away from you will be one of the major challenges that we’ve faced in our married life. Because, we are used to you now, we are used to seeing you in different attires every day, we are used to hearing you talk sense and nonsense all the time, we are used to your dramas and to your screams. It’s not going to be easy but we’re happy seeing your independence, because only you know how much we believe in you, and how far we expect you to go. We shall never be surprised to know about your achievements, because we expect you to achieve the heights that are beyond human imagination and that people consider impossible. We believe in you, Drama Queen, and this belief is the strongest of all.
We both know how much you love classic poetry and how desperately you wanted to study it and we know you read Yeats a lot. So, you must have read the following lines too, which Yeats wrote to his daughter and we’re writing the same for you.
May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never finds a friend.
May she become a flourishing hidden tree
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
And have no business but dispensing round
Their magnanimities of sound,
Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
O may she live like some green laurel
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.
We are overwhelmed by your efforts to make us happy, even though most of the time you might think we’re acting fatherly and motherly to you in a toxic way, but trust us, we aren’t. We have a million more things to say, to talk about your plot twists and excellent compelling characters, a million more prayers to make for you and a million more moments to discuss, but you don’t deserve this much newspaper space yet. You need to work more and more for that.
May you find your best and may you go to sleep every night believing there’s always tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.
Happy 21st Birthday
Baba and Amu
(How do we love thee? Let us count the ways)
—The writer is a bachelor’s student at Aligarh Muslim University and birthday wishes can be sent to [email protected]