Someone wrote to me last week and asked me what “My Daughters’ Mum" (the name of my column in Lounge) means. It means that I am the mother of my daughters. It means that being the mother of my daughters changes the way in which I think, feel and act and I write about these changes. There is something very powerful and insightful going on in this space. This is important. For everyone.

In 2016, our children asked us many new questions.

“Mamma, what does the gender fluid mean?"

I knew enough to understand the term for myself but to answer them accurately, we googled for a definition. On Urban Dictionary, we found these words: “Gender Fluid is a gender identity best described as a dynamic mix of boy and girl. A person who is gender fluid may always feel like a mix of the two traditional genders, but may feel more boy some days, and more girl other days."

My daughters and I looked at each other. The meaning sounded so familiar—isn’t that all of us on one day or another?

“Alex is gender fluid," I am informed. “In Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase And The Gods Of Asgard series." I feel envious of Riordan. Who is this person who I have never read, who is influencing my children? Welcome to parenthood. Relax.

“Mamma, what is homosexual?" Another day, another question, inspired by another set of Riordan books.

“A man who loves a man or a woman who loves another woman," I said.

“Oh, like gay and lesbian?"

“Yes," I said.

“So many words for the same thing," said the adolescent. “Nico and Will are so sweet, Mamma," she informs me as she returns to her room.

“Mamma, do homosexuals deserve to die?" she asked me later, shaking her head in a no already.

“No, beta," I said calmly, asking her a counter question with just the expression on my face. “Where did you hear this from?"

“Never mind, Mamma," she rolled her eyes.

“Mamma, can the whole world end one day?"

“No, beta," was my first response, seeking to reassure. “Yes, actually it can," was my second response.

“Aliens will come…?" asked the youngest of our three children.

“No, I don’t think it will be aliens. Humans are more likely to manage this all by themselves. Or it could be a natural calamity."

“But it cannot happen while I am alive," she says. Thankfully, I recognize her desire to feel hopeful in time.

“No," I agree with her. “It won’t happen in your lifetime."

“Then it won’t happen in yours either. Because I am the youngest in the family." She has done the math and applied logic. End of topic for now.

They want to talk about death. “Mamma, I don’t think death is such a bad thing," the 11-year-old muses. “The person who is dead doesn’t feel anything any more, don’t you think?"

“Mamma, what is demonetization? Why is everyone so agitated?"

“Mamma, why are you crying?"

“Mamma, if Donald Trump is so bad, then how can a whole country have voted for him?"

My first born, Sahar, has been asking me to write something for her for a few weeks now. She wants to read about love and heroism. She took me to see a Walt Disney animation film called Moana. Later she asked me if I would write about it.

Moana is a girl on a Pacific island who is being groomed to become the leader of her tribe by her father, who is the chief. Her father sets limits for her, telling her never to go into the deep of the ocean, because the ocean will defeat her. Her grandmother contradicts the father and tells Moana that they are born to be voyagers.

“The ocean has a relationship with you," she tells Moana. “Recognize that while the great unknown can be a threatening place, there are also forces within and outside of you whose purpose is to protect you."

Moana is still a little girl when she sets out into the deep of the ocean to fight fear and conquer demons on behalf of her people. Her bravery and trust revives the life force of her island and its people, who were otherwise on the edge of doom.

We wouldn’t need hope if there wasn’t despair all around us. We seek reassurance because it is the fuel we run on.

I wondered at my daughter’s need for the story of Moana. She is going to 14 next year. She has no use for pessimism and fatigue. I realized she was offering the story of Moana to me too. She was insisting on it.

“Mamma, you are Moana. I am Moana."

You know that you belong somewhere when you can influence your family, society, country and people. When you can challenge, change and heal.

Our middle daughter, Aliza, is the quietest of the three sisters. Her superpower is startling adults with her one-line observations. She is the nerdy one among the three and has been following the news closely all year.

My brother asked her for her opinion on Taimur, the name Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor have chosen for their new-born son.

“I have a cousin called Taimur who lives in America," she told him. “I like him."

“No, but, Taimur was a ruthless invader," he said to her. “Would you name someone Hitler, for example? Do you think it is appropriate?"

“Hitler is a surname, right?" she said. “What was Hitler’s first name?" she asked him.

“Adolf," he said, and retreated. We are defined not just by what we believe, but by what we have stopped believing. It is those gaps that identify us more now.

Our children are insisting on defending the existence of a common, shared world. Their choice of popular music, literature, stories, games and films reiterates the same. They do not identify with pettiness and hatred on their own.

I typed these lines and wondered if I sounded naïve. Aliza is reading this over my shoulder and I ask her for her opinion. “People say that children are natural bullies and can be very cruel," I say to her.

“How can anyone talk like this? No one can be that stupid," she reassures me.

Children believe in themselves, she demonstrates. “Don’t be cynical, Mamma."

Our youngest child is named Naseem. She is my this-is-what-I-was-born-to-do baby.

After Naseem was born, I sent a text message to my husband, Afzal, from the labour ward in the hospital.

“She has her father’s eyes."

“I hope she has her mother’s brains," he texted back.

He was fasting that morning. Naseem was born in the month of Ramzaan in 2008.

She already had a name when she was born. She is named after Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s national award-winning 1995 film, Naseem.

The film ends with a conversation between a grandfather played by the Kaifi Azmi and his granddaughter, played by Mayuri Kango, in her debut role. They are on the terrace of their home in Mumbai. The Babri Masjid has been demolished by a mob in Ayodhya and riots have broken out on the streets of Mumbai. The grandfather is dying. He was a young man when he had decided to stay on in Agra when India and Pakistan had been partitioned in 1947. His idea of India has been shattered now and he will not survive it.

“Why did you name me Naseem?" asks the granddaughter.

“Naseem means cool breeze of morning," he says. “However dark and long the night maybe, the morning breeze heals."

In an interview about the film, Mirza says, “I made it to regain my faith, to retain my sanity."

I will name my daughter Naseem, I thought to myself when I saw the film. I returned to the theatre and saw this film again. I had not met Afzal yet.

Apparently, Naseem is a very old-fashioned name. Many of our friends and the children’s cousins tried to dissuade me from giving this name to a sweet little baby.

“It’s a name that suits cranky old aunts," said Haider over the phone. My friend, Faiz, sent me a list of modern names for girls that included Alia, Aida, Alma, Noor and Rabia. “Choose a name that is easy to travel with," he suggested gently.

Then Ravi visited and said rather bluntly, “Naseem? Now everyone will get to know."

“What do you mean?" I asked him.

“Everyone will know she is a Muslim from her name," he spelt it out for me.

I had no clue what he meant till Naseem grew up to become the child I am always calling out to in public spaces. Her older sisters are calm, curious and quiet and she flits around checking everything out as if she is an all-weather, all-day breeze that must touch everything and everyone around her.

“Naseem, naseem, naseem," I hear myself say, as I follow the path she clears for all of us.

Let some things stay messy. Fashions, biases and trends will pass. Do not sanitize your words, names and conversations. Read what your children are reading, watch what they are watching, play the games they are hooked on. Listen to their jokes and answer their questions. I’ll see you soon next year.

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