Two parents face off on the topic of piercing a baby’s ears.
Illustration: Miki Sato
"Yes, I would pierce my baby's ears"
Aparita Bhandari, mom of two
“I want a earring?” As my two-year-old daughter Mallika’s vocabulary increases, I have to steel myself against constant questions and demands for “More ice cream?” or “Wear party shoes?” — all articulated with a wide-eyed look, quick nod of the head and her pipsqueak voice. This particular one, however, made me melt.
If I’d had my way, her ears would have been pierced already. In the South Asian tradition, girls start very young, with simple designs — plain gold studs or, my favourite, baalis (little hoops sometimes attached with tiny bells). It’s part of our culture of adornment, along with bangles, anklets and bindis — all topped off with a dot of kohl to ward off the evil eye.
None of the parents I know, irrespective of their cultural background, have questioned me on this topic. And we often discuss gender issues. It’s only come up when I notice other daughters’ pierced ears and ask their mothers when they got it done. In fact, the only real debate I have had is with my husband, who is also South Asian. He calls it “torture” and “forcing your decision on her.” The discussion always ends with his logic: When Mallika is older and asks for it, she can get it done.
I have a hazy memory of getting my ears pierced in a New Delhi market. I was slightly older than Mallika. My nani (grandma), mausi (maternal aunt) and mum were crowded in a small jeweller’s shop. Anticipating the pain, I bribed a sympathy gift, a bottle of nail polish, out of them, and clutched it tightly as the jeweller pushed a sharpened wire through my earlobes. I wailed, but was soon showing off my gold baalis. Over the years, I have rummaged through my mother’s jewellery box, trying out her collection of earrings. Now, Mallika tugs my ears to examine mine. Then there’s that refrain again — “Mallika earring?”
When she was nine months old, I visited India to introduce Mallika to my family. One of my aunts pressed a small jewellery box in my hands. A pair of glinting gold baalis sat nestled inside. I carefully tucked them away, with all the traditional Indian clothes I have bought, waiting for Mallika to grow up a little. I think it’s time to take them out now.
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