You may not *need* a man – but what if you *want* one?


Over and over, women are being asked to choose careers and not ‘choose men’. To pursue careers and not ‘pursue men’. In effect, society is telling women that they must not ask for, want or need to be loved by a person of the opposite sex. 

It is strange indeed, to urge a human being to deny their very human need of love and companionship and physical intimacy, and replace it with a career instead. It is stranger to think that the need for achievement is a replacement of the need for love and belonging. 

In the picture below, which carries a small excerpt from my book The Reluctant Mother, I have mentioned the Pyramid of Needs given by American psychologist Abraham Maslow. The other picture shows the actual Pyramid or Heirarchy of Needs as described by him. The need for love and belonging is *separate* from the need for achievement. And the need for love and belonging comes lower down in the pyramid, making it more basic than the need for achievement. And yet, *both* these needs are UNDENIABLE parts of human existence, and one cannot be a replacement for the other. 

The need for love, affection and belonging is so basic that it is among the first needs of the infant- to be loved and cared for. The need for achievement and independence starts making itself felt at a young age, when the child wants to do things by himself/herself, to feel a sense of accomplishment.  Adult needs are but an extension of these childhood needs. 

Love gets expanded to include sexual fulfilment after puberty, but no matter how much modern life may try to separate sex and love, in the end most people want to have a stable intimate relationship with someone they *love*. That is what we all *ideally* want- regardless of whether we are men or women. We don’t want an endless string of casual relationships all our life. In the end, most of us want a person with whom we can feel comfortable and safe and loved. 

Traditional society kept forcing women to choose love over achievement, thereby denying that the need for achievement is a HUMAN need – not a male need. Men, however, did not have to sacrifice dreams to have love- they could have it all. 

Modern society now, is telling women to choose achievement over love- but men are not being told to pursue careers instead of pursuing women- they are pursuing both. Men still get to have it all. 

So how has modernity changed anything for women? It has merely replaced one lopsided ideology with another. It has merely replaced one form of sacrifice with another. It changes nothing. It still allows men to have it all and keeps asking women to choose ONE. 

Yes, it is absolutely essential to teach girls that their *survival* does not depend upon a man. That their *self-esteem* does not depend upon a man. That their *self-worth* does not depend upon a man. But don’t tell a girl that if she wants a man to love her and cherish her, she is ‘oppressed’ and ‘backward.’ It is a very *human* need to want love. 

And this also brings us to the very core of the issue- why are so many women rejecting the idea of love in the first place? Why are so many women disillusioned with love? 

Because men have not been taught to be *WORTHY* of a woman’s love. Men have not been told that they need to *earn* a woman’s love. 

When a man is physically or emotionally abusive, society shrugs and says ‘men will be men.’ When a man cheats on his partner, society shrugs and says ‘men will be men.’ When a man is controlling and dominating towards his partner, or when a man is irresponsible and does not carry out his share of responsibilities, it’s the same – men will be men. Whatever terrible things men do in their relationships, they are excused with the help of a sweeping generalisation – men will be men. 

In effect what we are telling women is that the very *definition* of a man is someone who is abusive, unfaithful, cruel, heartless and controlling. Or irresponsible and uncaring.  

Why, for heaven’s sake, would a woman want such a creature in her life? If women are then being asked to not want men, it is essentially a call to not keep an abusive, unfaithful, controlling – or irresponsible- person in their lives. 

As long as we keep condoning unpardonable behaviour by men, as long as we keep saying ‘men will be men’, we are contributing to a society in which relationship structures will be devalued and dismantled. 

What we *need* is to change the definition of what it means to be a Man.

When Masculinity gets identified as kindness, gentleness, compassion, love and shouldering equal responsibility, when a man being soft-hearted, polite and respectful towards a woman gets defined as the pinnacle of manliness, when a man sharing home responsibilities and parenting responsibilities equally is not considered an anomaly, when we can see a man deeply and faithfully in love and say that *this* is what it means to be a man, only then we will be able to create a culture in which *both* men and women can rise to the stage of self- actualization- in which *both* men and women can have their needs fulfilled- and nobody has to sacrifice their need for love to fulfil their need for achievement- nor will anybody have to sacrifice their need for achievement to fulfil their need for love. 

In an *ideal* world, choosing a man and choosing a career would not be two contradictory options for women. That is the kind of world I want to see. 

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What would you write to your child if it was the last thing you wrote?


I wrote this letter atop the upper berth of a carriage in the Prayagraj Express, en route to Delhi from Allahabad. I was about to fall asleep on my train berth. I felt cold and drew my blanket over my head, and then idly wondered if I might suffocate and be found dead by morning. Passed away peacefully in my sleep. 

That sounds like a nice way to die, peacefully in one’s sleep. Inside a blanket. On a nice little train berth, pleasantly air conditioned, rocking gently to and fro like a cradle, snuggled inside a soft sky blue blanket.

And as I thought this I wondered what I’d like to do if it were indeed my last night in this human form? 

I’d had a lovely conversation- sans argument- with my better half after a long time! Check. I’d had a tears-of-happiness conversation with my sister in the evening. Check. 

But Little H.

Since he and his cousin little S were asleep together on the berth opposite mine, I hadn’t kissed him or hugged him before sleep as I always did. 

And I suddenly knew what I wanted to do if it was the last thing I did. 

I wanted to write a letter to you, my son. 

I think I’m just projecting myself over here, because I have always yearned to have something written by my father for me to read. I knew he was a man of letters.  Of poetry. Of books and deep thoughts. I wish I could have had something with me that would help me know him better. Who he truly deeply was. His fears, his dreams, his worries, his passions. Every day of my life I keep wishing I knew him more.

But in spite of all my morbid death fantasies, I hope you never have to read this letter as my last to you.

I hope and pray that I stay alive to write you more letters. Because I know what it’s like to have only half of me alive at all times—the other half conjured up only through memory and imagination.

I don’t know who exactly I’m writing this letter to. Grown up H? Teenage H? Little H? 

We can never really know who reads our letters once they’re out there, can we? 

Nevertheless, here’s my letter to you, my son, whenever you get to read it.

Little H, I don’t worry about you, because I see you’re a fine little man already. You’re thoughtful, sensitive, independent. You have the sprouts of universal love in you. You’re truthful and understand the meaning of justice and compassion. 

You’ll grow up to be a fine man. 

I don’t want to tell you who you should be. All I want is for you to be a good human being. What you do with your gifts is up to you.

And you have many gifts:  you love animals and birds and insects and trees and flowers. The natural world excites you endlessly. You love automobiles and machinery – cars, trucks, planes, bikes and their functioning. You love listening to me recite my poetry to my mother although you don’t understand a word of it. You like flipping through my thick books and sometimes make me read from them to you, just because you want to share what Mumma was reading. You have many gifts, dear heart. Life will show you the way and help you discover them as you grow and evolve.  

What I do worry about is that there are too many patriarchal systems around you, woven in inextricable ways that undo all the tapestries of equity and gender justice that I try and weave around you. 

I do know that I would be very unhappy if a son of mine grew up to be a man who does not think of women as his equals, as people who have the same rights as him, and who deserve the same opportunities as him, whatever differences there may be in physiology. Be the man who considers women and men as equals, my son, but also the man who understands the differences between sexes and the struggles emanating from them.

For it is important to stress that equality does not mean similarity.

Two people may be very different in skin colour, hair colour, eye colour, nose shape, mouth shape, body structure and so on, but they’re still entitled to being treated as equals- in opportunity, in law and in life. In humanity. People confuse equality with sameness. But being equal doesn’t mean being the same.

Equality is the right to being treated as equals despite all the diversity and differences that exists among human beings.

I would be very sad if you did not grow up to respect women. If you saw the privilege that you had as a man and felt smug and entitled about it- instead of feeling that this privilege came to you at a cost to someone else, and knowing that the onus was on you to correct this skewed reality. Knowing that the onus was on you to take enabling action, which allows someone else to flourish and thrive along with you.

Know this, my son: being born into privilege means it is a test you inherited, to see how much of that privilege you are willing to relinquish for the sake of equality and justice in society, in the world. This applies not just across genders, but across groups that are traditionally underprivileged- financially, religiously, socially. 

What will matter most is how willing are you to speak out for and support those who are marginalised, whose voices are constantly being stifled and whose presence is constantly being crushed. Nothing would make me happier than seeing you stand up and speak for the oppressed.

When in doubt, always use this mantra—look at the power structure. Where is the centre of power? Who holds the most power? Only then will you begin to understand the lay of the land, only then will you be able to understand who is being oppressed. And if you find yourself in a position of power, remember, power is only given to you to help the maximum number of people you can. That, and that alone, is the correct use of power.

Always remember this: human beings are all fallible. Do not make demi-gods out of them, do not turn your heroes into people you worship. Always be ready to ask questions and be prepared for uncomfortable answers. Humans are always looking for saviours, and from there stems our tendency to put people on pedestals and worship them. Worship no human, my son! Uphold only the principle of humanity above all else. Do not go looking for saviours. People must make efforts to save their own selves. But beyond that, try and save as many others as you can.

Always try to see things from different points of view, even though that perspective may clash with yours. Always try to understand and explore various opposing points of view, and only then make up your mind. And even then, be ready to listen and course-correct.

Happy New Year, little H. May you learn many, many new things this year, and may you grow into a man who is a paragon of knowledge, courage, compassion and fairness. Above all, fairness.

All my love,

Mumma