Meeta Raghuraman is a pharmacist by qualification, an educational homepreneur and a mother to daughter, Pooja. She reflects on her experiences as a mom of an only child, how her priorities have changed with time and how her daughter has taken a path less trodden. Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of the writer.
I was an ambitious student, with my sights set on the farthest horizons. I was a gold medallist in school, a first ranker throughout, and I graduated as a pharmacist. I secured a plum job in a pharmaceutical company thereafter, where my corporate ambitions were fuelled further. I got married early, and became pregnant with Pooja within a few months. I continued working until I had my baby, holding on to my work until the very last minute.
I don’t quite know what washed over me when I became a mother. Pooja was a premature baby, and she needed more attention than otherwise. When the time came for me to return to work, I couldn’t bring myself to leave her at home. My career ambitions were eclipsed by this beautiful new being in my arms, and I quit my job.
By the time Pooja was five months old, I had started reconsidering my options in the corporate world, and I clinched a job at Procter & Gamble after 4 extensive rounds of interview. P&G had a crèche facility where I could keep Pooja during work hours, and they provided transportation to ferry us from home to office and back again. But because Pooja was still so young, and because her health had only recently stabilised, I decided to park my career. Motherhood became a priority for me; where I had once harboured dreams of climbing the corporate ladder. Yet, I never regretted my decision, and I don’t even now. I’ve always believed in taking one thing at a time, and giving my best to whatever I’m doing. This way seemed best.
Growing up, I was an only child. My mother and mother-in-law didn’t have siblings either. And so, the prospect of having only one child never seemed extraordinary to me. My parents gave me a wholesome upbringing, and while I was never spoilt or overindulged, I never had to compete for anything. Many of my friends experienced rivalry with their siblings at home, and while I’m sure it was a passing phase, it was something I never went through. My parents made sure that I didn’t overstep a line as an only child. I was assigned chores in the house, I was taught to cook. And I’ve raised Pooja the same way. Many of my female students consider cooking below their calibre, considering it an activity of generations past. The truth is, cooking is a basic skill for survival, and everybody must be equipped to feed themselves to a certain degree. It doesn’t matter what your gender is.
Sometimes, my husband jokes that we did such a good job raising one child, that perhaps we should have had more. But I don’t regret having had only one. To be honest, it never occurred to me that I should expand my family by another child. Since I didn’t have siblings, I was happy to have just one, myself. I don’t think of singletons any differently to children with siblings. I think they learn to share, care and love just as much. People often perceive singletons to be spoilt, but I think children need to be brought up with a sacrosanct set of values regardless of whether they have siblings or not. As parents, we need to know where to draw the line. I was never lonely as a child without siblings, and I don’t think Pooja was either.
The world is full of gender stereotypes. When Pooja was younger, my husband, Raghu, was particular that she should learn a form of self- defence. Pooja was less sure. She was a shy, timid child, and wary at this less-than-exciting proposition. Raghu was persistent, and Pooja eventually agreed. She took up kickboxing, and karate. Today, she holds a black belt. Raghu is also a motorcycle enthusiast, a trait he has gladly passed on to Pooja. Pooja would take her Bullet to college, her dupatta billowing behind her and a black helmet topped firmly on her head.
Pooja knew she didn’t want to take the beaten path. She didn’t want to give the joint entrance exam for engineering that would lead her to a typical software job. And so, after her BSc., having worked in DRDO as a research scientist for a while, she applied for an MS in Applied Mathematics in Paris. She was the only Indian in the world to secure a full scholarship for the course. While in Paris, she saved money from her stipend and travelled to 27 countries across Europe. Ever since she was a little girl, she had always dreamt of conquering Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece. And though she was bruised and battered by the time she finally descended, conquer it, she did. Solo, and without any protective equipment. When she told me, I was flabbergasted; in awe and relief.
After her Master’s in France, Pooja returned to India, and spent two years working, first at Indian Institute of Science, and then at the National Brain Research Centre, Delhi. During her stint at the latter, she was recognised for her work by a Spanish collaborator, who invited her to pursue her PhD with them in Spain.
Pooja and I share a mutual love for food and travel, and I spent two months travelling with her across eight European countries a few years ago. There are so many similarities between the two of us, and I discover more as the years go by. Pooja is living the current chapter of her life in Spain, and enjoying every minute of it. Who knows where life will lead her next? I hope her horizons never end.