The Marvelous Mrs Maisel had rightly admitted the night before her parents were supposed to be coming to watch her show, “Tonight I can talk about sex and men and sexy men and sex with sexy men, but tomorrow, that’s off-limits because my parents don’t know that I am not a virgin. You’d think my two kids might have been a tip-off! I’m amazed that ‘those are my cobbler’s apprentices’ story has held up for so long.”
If there’s anything Indian parenting is known for, it’s infantile concern long after children cease to be infants, or well, children. Or wait, teenagers. Or further (you get my drift). If one is to face the reality, it is truly difficult for a lot of Indian parents to recognise and empower their children as future adults who are meant to coexist independently. Moreover, to a society that is largely dependent on closed-doors and closed-mouths when it comes to all things sex, a fair conversation about their children’s sexual rights is quite a rarity.
Not for Goa-based Malalyam actress, Kani Kusruti’s father, Maitreya, though. Kani’s feminist parents were probably one of the very few people who had chosen to live a life not submissible to the patriarchal status quo of society back in the 1980s when the ties of tradition were far more stringent than they are today. An atheist and a feminist, Kani’s father chose to protect his child not by means of inhibition but by means of equipping her with enough information and trust. On her 18th birthday, when Kani, who is an actor by profession, was leaving for a theatre procession to Maharashtra on a bus, her father surprised her with a heartfelt letter and a bar of chocolate. “We never used to celebrate birthdays, chocolate was mostly enough,” recalls Kani.
When Kani read the letter (originally written in Malayalam), she couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed. When her best friend, Maitreyi from Pune, saw her cry, she asked for an English translation of the letter. “In broken English, I explained the contents of the letter, and she too got so overwhelmed. We hugged each other and cried profusely.”
Seventeen years later, the letter, which Kani has held on to dearly, still keeps empowering her decisions. The letter has also been published in a book and has since been translated into English by her partner, filmmaker Anand Gandhi and her friend, Maitreyi. The letter has otherwise also been translated into Marathi, Hindi, and French.
Maitreya’s letter, which makes promises and requests love and understanding in return, is impeccable in its approach. As a father, he empowers Kani with his support and assures her that it’s alright to exercise her sexual and individual freedom. He reminds her that any kind of violence on her body is not a determiner of her respect in society. Maitreya gives her the courage to be free in mind, body, and soul, and encourages her to aspire for the freedom of others. He warns against hatred and asks her to love profoundly. Sex is an expression of love and freedom, and that’s exactly what he teaches his daughter to make of it. Kani recently won the International Award for Best Second Actress at the Imagine India Film Festival in Madrid for her critically-acclaimed Malayalam feature ‘Biryani’.
Homegrown was fortunate enough to have an English translation of this letter shared with us by Kani. We sincerely hope that Kani’s father’s letter will fill you with as much hope, strength, and belief as it keeps filling Kani with.
“My father’s letter to me on my 18th birthday:
My dear daughter Kani,
Today, you complete 18 years of age.
According to the Indian Constitution, you have become an adult, who has the right to make her decisions with freedom. In this contest, as a person who has played an important role in nurturing you, I offer you some promises and support along with your rights and responsibilities. You will coexist as an independent individual in a society made of various castes, religious beliefs, racial, ethnic, political distinctions, and patriarchal privileges.
The Original Letter, p.1
It’s not easy to get a foothold here. I present this note for you to flip through in those moments of
doubt between right and wrong. Majority of laws and values in this society have been designed in favour of men to control women as second class citizens. To this end, men have been chipping away at women’s sexual rights.
Your sense of freedom is at odds with these male-centric values.
Therefore, I reckon that you may often find yourself on the receiving end of such patriarchal backlash.
I believe my promises will contribute towards building your physical and mental strength to mitigate the impact of those backlashes —
I assert my support for your right to leave home and live apart.
I support your right to have sexual relationships with any person of your choice – male, female or
Against the existing social norms that allow a woman to conceive and deliver a child only under a
man’s support, I back your right to do so on your own terms and choice.
If you get pregnant against your wish, you have all the right to choose to not continue your
I support your right to wear any kind of clothes.
Were you to so desire at some stage of your relationship, I support your right to leave the partner
you may have chosen to be with.
You may fall in love with more than one person at the same time. I understand that such feelings
are natural and therefore, I support your right to do so.
You may not fall in love with anyone, and hence your right to live alone is also supported.
Like any other citizen, you also have the right to smoke and drink.
My absolute support for your right to live doing any artwork you love to do.
I promise to stand by your side in any fight you may out up to achieve these rights in society.
The Original Letter, p.2
Now some requests —
If you ever get raped, only see it as violence and try to gather the resilience to overcome the
trauma caused by it.
I request you to not make smoking a habit because it will cause discomfort and harm to others.
If you want to consume liquor, do it with restraint, but never in hiding as it is a crime.
Never accept any ideology that teaches hatred towards others based on politics, religion, race,
gender, colour, geography, caste or language.
You must try your best not to hurt another person by word, deed, look or emotion while being conscious of the fact that a person’s sheer existence may be a privilege at the cost someone’s
Don’t hate even the person who may have raped you. Even the failure of this endeavour
is a success of life.
We should always fight for the freedom of ourselves and others. Our struggles are not against the
individuals, but against systems and traditions.
I know you are capable of living sensitively. Love profoundly too.
The only true measure of the value of your actions is to confirm if they were taken with love for
The Original Letter, p.3
We, humans, live in this world for a short time. So, I wish you succeed in not losing the radiance
that you have today and always be capable of spreading love and happiness to others.
Your father, who is trying to be not-so-fatherly,
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