Updated: Mar 10, 2021
To my favourite little brother.
I hope you have been feeding yourself well. I don't just mean the food for your tummy. Life at seven must be so full of new things - new adventures, new friends, new tastes and sights and sounds and smells. My dear boy, you are growing up in a world that will subconsciously put you first. I hope you know that I wished that for you before we even knew you would be you - a boy and an heir. I may have had the family's youth while they raised me, but you have the privilege of second chances. The society of men in India exists, but that is a letter for another time. There is a point to this letter and I'm getting to it. Please, give your sister some time to revel in the brightness of your youthful innocence. And as your sister, I am so excited for you to learn about humanity and make yourself a part of the sturdy, virus-like, magnificent mess we are. We are an interesting species. Some of us are compassionate and clever, while others are just sentient naartjies who pick on the less powerful, and it is this unequal world that Amma is raising you in.
I decided to write to you because I care about your upbringing more deeply than I care about changing someone else's and their ideas for the world. Although I wrote to the Obamas, Vandana Shiva, Shashi Tharoor, I realised that they are people who are already using their skills to continue contributing to humanity in the ways they can. They are also all adults who know the things I am about to tell you. This is a letter for when you are a little bit older, and I hope that when you read it you remember that Akka is not about to give you a written lecture about some grown-up thing. This letter is to help you remember what both of us have been raised with: the importance of communication, and accountability.
Let's start with accountability. This is a big word and it gets thrown around a lot, usually around world leaders, terrorists, teenagers in rebellion, and in marriages (not that this one concerns you just yet). Somehow it manages to evade us. You. Me. The common people. While many of us know what it means, and how others should be held to it, we forget that we as individuals are accountable too. Of course, this doesn't mean that you and I are 100% responsible for an outbreak of nuclear war, or an oil spill that threatens to wipe out marine life. What I am talking about it is our part as individuals to hold ourselves to a higher standard than what is expected of us, rise to those standards, and make room for others who want to join us. Remember what Amma always told us, "the little things add up." From remembering to take a shopping bag when you buy groceries to buying fewer toys to reduce your waste, you have engaged as an active participant on the planet. You are showing that you care enough about your impacts on the environment around you to take the time to think ahead and do things differently.
The idea of accountability should not be hoisted onto people only to make them feel guilty but should be a part of everyday thinking so that we are more responsible for, mindful about, and fully present in our lives. When you hold yourself accountable for your reactions to what life throws at you, you stop assigning complete blame onto others (who may or may not be more accountable) and become someone who can take the next step. Again, this is something Amma taught us: communication. Remember all those times when she asked us to "use our words" to explain our side of the story when we cried without end? Exactly. She gave us a formula to solve problems in our lives. She asked us to talk about it. She asked us to share with her all our childish troubles and thoughts about how unfair people at school were being, and when we did we felt better because now we had understood the problem, and we had her help to fix it. We were not alone.
And that's the point. Although we may be alone in holding ourselves up to a certain standard of accountability about a problem, we don't have to be alone when the time comes to fix it. And remember, we are not Barack Obama who worked hard to become a president and be held accountable for an entire country, but we have the potential to be a Malala Yousafzai or a Greta Thunberg. Active citizens who are aware of the privilege of living a healthy, fulfilling life with nothing to stop them from doing, being, and getting more. The idea here is not to compare you to someone, but rather to share the radical brilliance of their stand for healing people and the planet. Through their standards of accountability and their communication of these standards, they have made the world listen. Their actions show us the possibilities of living an examined life: to get help to fix a problem.
I'm going to throw in a third big word. Sorry not sorry, baby boy. This one is the most important: human rights. It is the ground, the foundation, and the very structure the modern society has built itself on. It is inherent. This means we get them because we are born human. Remember when Amma tells us that if we live together the responsibility of looking after the house is on all of us because we all live in it? Exactly. That is the way we should be treating human rights. With accountability and communication. You and I are privileged enough to know what rights are, exercise them, and ask that they continue so that we may continue living with dignity, security, and access to basic resources. This is not a privilege many in our country have, and we have a voice to communicate this to hold ourselves and those in power accountable. Darling boy, it begins with us. It begins with you and me and Amma and Nana.
I hope you remember these words and add more as you define what is important for your life, and the lives of those around you because isolation - as much as we crave it sometimes - is not a part of a healthy human life.
With all my love and blessings, always,