Today, July 11 is World Population Day, and so I thought this is as good a time to proclaim, in full possession of my faculties, that I have resolved not to add one more person to the world's 7,327,715, 901. Of course, the population clock would have ticked, the numbers jumped by the time you read this, even by the time I finish writing it.
This decision not to have a child is not an easy one for a woman, anywhere, but perhaps more so in India. We may have made strides in women's empowerment. We may have had a woman prime minister, and women manning our forests and our borders, and venturing into space. Yet, ultimately, the worth of a woman, indeed her reason de entre, is to procreate. And all the better, if she births a man.
Let me dispel some myths and do some plain talking here:
One refrain childfree people often hear is: People who don't have kids are "selfish, shallow and self-absorbed" (Read the book with the same title): Really? One reason I took this path - and there are others; more personal, and not for public consumption - is that I believe it is unselfish. At over 7.2 billion, we have no calling to perpetuate our race. The earth is groaning under our weight. Not only are there too many of us, but most of us have a dirty, greedy footprint. There is no disputing that overpopulation (and ceaseless consumption) is the single biggest cause of the hot soup - I mean global warming and its nasty consequences - we find ourselves in currently.
And any child I - part of the highly consumptive class - bring into this world, is frankly going to be this irresistible, cute little guzzler of water and nappies, food and fuel, vastly disproportionate to her/his diminutive size. As she/he grows, so will the wants - gear and gadgets, beer and burgers, car and bigger cars, home and second homes. She/he is going to consume electricity from Bhutan, coal from Australia, cotton that travels from India to Bangladesh to US, and then back. She/he will wash, wear, cook, create, travel, fly, achieve… All those things which make our hearts swell with pride, but cost the earth dear. There are enough mind-numbing statistics to support this, however this post is not about proving points.
It's widely acknowledged, even if in hushed tones, that not having children may well be the biggest contribution to limit your environmental footprint. The Grist writer Lisa Hymas coins the acronym GINK: Green Inclination No Kids. Telling, though, that the dictionary defines a "gink" as a foolish or contemptible person.
I think too, of the world we bring our kids into. We prefer not to face the inconvenient truth, but there is no escaping the fact that resources crucial to our survival are shrinking, getting dirtier. Water wars are already occurring, they will only get more frequent, murkier. Our food is frankly, filth. I do not want my child gasping for air, her lungs function far below capacity, as is the fate of Delhi's children.
I would want my child to breathe fresh air, eat safe foods, drink clean water, swim in clear springs, marvel at rainbows, revel in lush forests, be humbled by the ocean, watch a tiger…
We are robbing our children, and their children, of nature's endowment and abundance, of wonder and beauty.
We are leaving them a vastly insipid, impoverished world.
A word here for parents, and prospective parents: I am not preaching, I do not claim a high moral ground. You love kids, yearn to nurture them? Do so. Raise them to be happy, sensitive, kind people. In fact, I love (some) of your kids too. I adore my lively little niece, and my shy, and oh-so-bright nephews. I enjoy their company. I love their unwarped view of the world. I delight in the neighbourhood kids who come to meet my dog, delve in my books, and ask me incessant questions.
Each of us have different values, circumstances, desires. I respect your choice. Respect mine, too. This isn't about you. The world, and everyone in it applauds you. Celebrates with you every step of the way: baby showers and goad bharai, birthdays, daughter days, weddings and then, other goad bharais. Parents, grandparents, friends exult in your little bundle(s) of joy. Governments offer tax breaks. Hotels and travel agencies offer special deals (children under 12 free!).
While we were left mumbling excuses for our choice. When you assume we would feel differently if we had our own. That we will change our mind. That we will rue this (selfish) decision, only by then, it will be too late.
There are so many things wrong with that, I do not know where to began.
For one, it's judgmental. Patronising? What makes you think you know me better than me? Have any of us sidled up to you, asking, if you regret having that charming little brat currently shrieking the place down for the newest Barbie?
So, is a family only husband/wife, children? How about parents, siblings, pets, soul sisters, friends?
Not having children is not a selfish, lazy, shallow decision. It does mean that us childfree types have guts to stick to our choice, bucking extreme social and every kind of pressure.
It's a very tough choice to make. Bucking a norm, blessed by God and society, is never easy. And yeah, while one doesn't miss the patter of little feet, there is the occasional pang of easy companionship and love that is the gift of a well-brought-up child.
My only ask here: Think outside your worldview. Change the narrative. The idea might be radical, but why not make it the new normal?
Meanwhile, I brace myself for the trolls and the brickbats.