The One And Only

for the first eight years of my life I was the only child. I was spoilt rotten and got all of my parents’ attention in all ways imaginable. But then came this little bundle of `joy’ one day that stole my parents from me. I felt neglected; I began flunking at school and generally felt miserable. Though I gradually accepted this new person, I still wondered what it would have been like if I had stayed my parents’ one and only.Till about twenty years ago it was seldom a case of choosing to have just one child. An only child was considered a bit of an oddity; often shy, over-protected and socially withdrawn. Now, when having children in one’s thirties or even forties is almost the norm, a “new” only child has emerged.
Indeed, today’s only child benefits from the knowledge that it is the product of a positive pa-rental choice. Parents of single children no longer have to worry about their child being lonely or at a social disadvantage; mobility and the re-sources to support an active social life have put an end to that.
Says Marya, 35, an only child and mother of an only child, “I’ve never missed out on anything. My parents did not want another child because they felt that they did not have the temperament for another one. I feel that I don’t either. It’s not like I had siblings and someone took them away. Being an only child was simply my reality, I knew nothing else. I had friends, I interacted with adults. Like any other kid, I’m sure I got bored and my parents probably had to work a little harder to provide for my entertainment, but loneliness wasn’t a pervasive feeling”.
Ahmad, 45, is often asked if being an only child made him a spoilt brat, he says “How does one an¬swer that? I didn’t have to share things at home, mainly because there was no one to share them with. I had friends, I went to school, I went to camp, so I think I learnt some basic social skills. Did my parents over-indulge me? I think it de¬pends more on your philosophy than theirs. To some people I had more than enough, to others, I suppose I was deprived. Did I have opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if I had had siblings? You bet! I had some wonderful opportunities by virtue of being an only child as my parents’ efforts and
resources simply didn’t have to be divided. There’s nothing wrong or bad about that”.
Many couples are increasingly concerned about providing a good education. Some are keen to give their child a private education or, at least, private tuition in certain subjects. If this means that they can only afford to have one child, then so be it. Says Marium, 31, “Me and my husband plan to keep it at one, keeping in view the current reces¬sion. We want our child to be well equipped to face a rather difficult and competitive world. All this costs money and we don’t have a lot.”
Parents of a single child have more time to focus on the general aspects of child development and learning issues and can give their child that individual attention that makes such a difference. Studies have proven that an only child often does better in life for the same reasons that first-born do. First-born have their parents’ individual attention for those important first few years and there benefit from greater stimulation. As a result first-born are often high achievers in later life. In the case of the only child, this individual attention is available throughout childhood and can put them in a very strong position in later adult life.
There was a time when having a single child had something of a stigma attached to it. People often assumed that parents had a fertility problem and that no one could be `so selfish’ as to stop at one. That attitude is gradually disappearing, though parents opting to limit their family to one still face disapproval.
Says Rabia, 35, “Elderly ladies of the family of-ten single me out regarding my decision to keep my son an only child, asking me what I would do if he died or developed some health problems. My husband is a business man, he travels a lot and I can’t see myself raising another child alone. It’s a lot of work. People should respect my decision.”
Often parents have no problem sustaining a good relationship and enjoying life when they have only one child to cope with. It is when a sec¬ond baby appears in a couple of years’ time that difficulties can surface. A mother of a single child doesn’t have to deal with being pregnant and look¬ing after a toddler at the same time. Sleepless nights are certainly less of a problem if you only have one child, in fact, the entire logistics and or¬ganisation of having more than one child can over¬whelm a couple’s personal relationship.
Trying to sustain an uninterrupted career path is another reason to opt for a single child. According to Naveed and Zehra, both in their 30s, “We are both professionals and as our careers become more and more demanding we will have greater time constraints. With a single child it will be rela¬tively easier to adjust our time schedules. Having another child would only complicate matters as tic would have to start all over again.”
An only child today is completely different from those of just a few decades ago. Not only are they far more numerous, they are happier in dividuals who are well-balanced and more socially adept

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

Have you ever counted how many times you peer into the mirror everyday? According to a survey carried out in the UK, the national average for women is 34 times a day, which works out to every half an hour in a 16 hour day. However, this obsession with one’s looks is no longer reserved for the fairer sex. Men are not far behind as the same survey reveals that men peek at the mirror 27 times a day.
After all, the way you look does reflect your confidence. You’ll find yourself walking with a slight spring in your step and with your head held an inch higher if you’ve had your hair straightened or your face polished. Our looks al-so play an important role in how people perceive us.
“Imagine this situation: you walk into a bank. There are four counters. Your eyes flick over all four people. Believe me, you `will’ find yourself gravitating towards the one who is physically more pleasant to look at,” says 35-year old Rana with a smirk.
“When people come to my company for a job, the first aspect we are supposed to pay attention to while scrutinising them is their appearance. Someone who is naturally beautiful or strikingly attractive is definitely given priority as compared to an average looking person or a person with a physical flaw,” says Rehan who heads the Human Resource Department of a multinational company.
But there is a sea of people out there, who are not blessed with an hour glass body or flawless skin; who struggle with hair fall and bald spots, acne and obesity. But that doesn’t make them lock themselves up in their rooms and declare self exile. That doesn’t mean that they don’t make a success of their lives.
Forty-year-old Zehra, who has recently been promoted to a managerial post at a pharmaceutical company, is far from a size zero. “My obesity has been something I’ve had to learn to live with ever since I entered my teens. I suffer from a hormonal imbalance and despite a lot of medicines, I’ve always been labelled `fat’. I have faced prejudice at work but I’ve learned to take it all in my stride. Today, I’ve proved my mettle, I’m proudly independent and suc¬cessful.”
Zehra admits that it’s important to look presentable but surely what people do and achieve is more important than how they look, she claims. “It’s important not to jump to conclusions about people or judge a book by its
cover. In my personal experience, peo¬ple who pay excessive attention to their looks are those who are actually compensating
the absence of a skill or making up for a charac¬ter flaw. ”
It’s good to pay attention to your appearance, but if thinking about the way you look takes over your life, that’s when it becomes obsessive. Some people’s behaviour crosses the lines of acceptability and may manifest itself into the form of a phobia or disor¬der. They even have a name for it: the Body Dysmorphic Disorder, often dubbed `imagined ugliness.’ People suffering from this condition believe they are so unattractive and unacceptable to others that they even avoid social interaction for fear of being ridiculed.
This obsession with one’s looks is worse than ever in this day and age, when the media bombards us with im
ages of size zero women and a plethora of fairness creams (for both sexes) hit the market shelves, promising milk-white skin, along with instant proposals. Cosmetic companies have managed to equate perfect looks with love, success and a perfect life in our minds: and we take them at their word and spend unimaginable amounts of cash on their products .
This obsession with looks is also fuelled by the marriage market which thrives on girls who fit the criterion, i.e. tall, fair and slim. “I saw my sister suffer rejection time and again because she was too short. People acted as if her height was a deformity,” shares 28-year-old Shehnaz. “My mother would always nag her to wear two-inch heels wherever she went. Naturally I became obsessed by my height too.” Today, Shahnaz and her sister are both mar¬ried to the men of their choice. “My husband’s love and attention has brought me out of this fixation over my ap¬pearance. Being accepted for who you are is an unparal¬leled security which no fairness cream or laser treatment can provide,” is her advice to all young girls.
Twenty-five-year-old Zeenat has just bagged a B. Ed degree, topped her class and earns an enviable salary as an A’ levels teacher at a reputed school. There is, how-ever, one blemish on the canvas of her seemingly fruit¬ful existence. Her skin colour. Maybe in some part of the world her skin would be termed bronze but here she has always been labelled `kaali’ (black).
Zeenat, however, is nonchalant about her physical appearance. “As a child it was difficult in school to come to terms with the fact that people judged me by the colour of my skin. I’ve shed many tears over why my teachers and peers overlooked me. But not any more. I’ve vowed not to let my life revolve around my looks. God has blessed me with a quick mind and I’ve realised all my dreams,” she confides in me serenely. As an afterthought, she adds, “After all, in the words of Khalil Gibran: Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart!”

Secrets in the attic

I always noticed that my mum used to go up-stairs in the attic and spend hours there, and when she returned she had a glee on her face with some pretty clothes in her hands. Sometimes she took something there and re-turned empty-handed.
It was a mystery for for me and my twin sister for we were never allowed to go there and my mum possessed the only key of the attic. Once she had gone on a business trip with dad and was not expected to get back till very late at night. So I thought it was the best time to get to the most prohibited place of the house. There were three of us at home — me, my twin sister and an old maid who used to doze off most of the time while sit¬ting. We had nothing much to do and felt pretty bored.
“Let’s go to the attic,” I suggested. “That’s a great idea!” exclaimed my sister.
We looked at our maid who was snoring with her head leaning against the wall, then we sneaked upstairs. As we reached the first landing, my sister said in a shaky voice, “Let’s go back, I don’t think it’s much fun.”
“Don’t be such a coward!” I said. “Do you think there are ghosts up here? If so, let me tell you one thing, there is no such thing as ghosts! Understand?”
It was very dark there and the steps leading to the attic were narrow. The on¬ly source of light was a small ventilator in the wall from
where a bit of light was coming inside. Reaching the door-step of the attic, I saw that the han¬dle was a very an¬tique one, like the one that was com¬monly used to open a draw-bridge of a castle.
“Let’s try to open it,” I said with excitement and pulled the knob. A small door, hardly enough to let in a grownup person, opened. Inside, it was as dark as a cave. I turned my torch on. An old rusty trunk, big enough to fit a body in it, was lying in one corner of the room. “Could it be a treasure?” I thought, “Or the dead body of an unfaithful servant or a business rival of my father?”
“Let’s go back,” whispered my sister. Coming back to my senses I went on, “Don’t be a chicken, mum and dad will never let us know this secret. It’s a golden chance.” I persua¬ded her to stay on as I didn’t have the courage to investi¬gate the place on my own. Reluctantly she stepped forward and felt better when we found a light switch and turned on the bulb. Slowly, we struggled together to open the lid.
Golden, red, shock¬ing pink, emerald green, silver, blue… inside the trunk were many beautiful dres¬ses of my mom which she must have got for her wedding, along
with precious jewel¬lery. My mother must have kept them with love and care, and she must be filling the trunk with more and more precious things.
As she had a lot of interest in dresses and jewellery, my sister was in no mood to leave them lying upstairs.
She started trying them on one af¬ter the other. I came back downstairs, satisfied to have solved the mystery of the locked attic door, and sat down to watch sports on the TV