'Would you want to bring kids into a world that could run out of drinking water before they reach adulthood?'
There are many things Indian middle-class parents will avoid discussing with their kids for reasons that are as varied as they are absurd.
How much money they make, why we can't eat meat on certain days of the week, who decided that getting married is the solution to all of life's problems...
"It is what it is," "Why are you so weird?" are some of the stock responses I've got for such queries over the years.
Now, as they settle into retirement (from their jobs and parental duties), the tables have turned.
Now, it's me avoiding their questions like the new strain of COVID-19 because let's face it, rebellion is a rather jaded look on the black sheep of the family when she is pushing 40.
Besides, "I don't need to get married to bear children" ran out of steam when I met my husband.
But I am only human, which means I slip up once in a while.
It usually happens when my parents and I are hanging out, all happy and light-headed with a collective feeling of well-being -- their daughter is thin and married, while she is glad that her parents approve of her life partner and believe that after decades of nagging, she has finally become the person they wanted her to be.
Then comes a moment in that giddiness, when the daughter briefly forgets that the average Indian parental unit is her ally only on paper.
"We don't plan to have kids," I blurt out.
I can't even tell when the topic came up.
An acid trip would be less potent than parental approval.
As the words escape my mouth, I can see the light disappear off my mother's face and I am immediately struck by its resemblance with the setting sun.
Only more dramatic and less life-affirming.
The ensuing guilt is overwhelming.
Snatching candy from a toddler would feel a lot less shitty in comparison.
Her face twitches as she considers the statement and finally speaks up, "We have you, but what will happen when you grow old?"
My mind suddenly comes up with "Hello, state-of-the-art assisted living?" but I make only half-hearted attempts at a rebuttal.
This is a battle I don't wish to fight anymore.
Instead, I trace my steps to the moments that have led to my anti-natalism.
For starters, I am not exactly fond of the gene pool of which I am a product.
I have inherited my eternally-empathetic yet average-heighted-and-stocky father's physical frame, while my good-looking mother has passed on her undiagnosed manic-depressive tendencies to me.
Which is not to say that I have been the model child.
Once in a while, a random memory of me being an asshole to my dad surfaces and I feel so mortified, it makes me want to curl up in a foetal position.
Which is not to say that parents can never be assholes to their kids.
Despite their best efforts, the kids will not be alright and in the best-case scenario, will end up paying half their salaries to therapists, just to be told that their parents have irreparably scarred them.
To make matters worse (or better?), neither mine nor my husband's family tree has produced any zamindars, scholars, bureaucrats, social activists, artists, opinion leaders... not even so much as a local gangster.
At this point, you have to ask if there really is any point in furthering such non-starter lineages?
Let's say your origin story is better than ours (yeah right LOL), allow me to tell you that the DINK (Dual Income No Kids) label you and your partner so subconsciously flail about will be in serious danger -- it's scary just how much a child can hamper your collective and individual processes of self-actualisation.
How could you not resent such a person, no matter how tiny and how oh-my-god-so-cute?
I still remember the time I had to withdraw cash (transferred into my bank account by dad) to pay for one of my four semesters at college.
I remember it like a particularly uncomfortable heartburn -- Rs 45,000, for someone who is not you, someone who has lately been little else than an angsty ingrate.
I realised in that moment just how much it would hurt to part with so much money for someone else.
I love kids too much to be the person who has these feelings for them.
And I hate to think about the innumerable ways my parents could have used the money for themselves.
If you still don't agree with me, I have some buzzwords for you -- Advanced-Stage Fascism, Article 370, CAA, Brexit, Pandemic, Forest Fires, Censorship, Global Warming, Black Lives Matter, Dalit Lives Matter, All Lives Matter...
Simply put, would you want to bring kids into a world that could run out of drinking water before they reach adulthood?
Didn't think so.
Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com