My Dear Aryan,
I am writing this letter to you just before your 2nd birthday. Its June 2020, summer is on the horizon, and the English weather is absolutely marvellous (most of the time, anyway). I love how your birthday is a harbinger of happy things. You are my very own sonshine.
June 2020. Did the date leap out at you? Its the Year of the Coronavirus. We are in the midst of a global pandemic. SARS-CoV-2 has changed our lives beyond recognition. We have been socially distancing under a strict lockdown since March. The government insisted that we ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’. But it was too little too late. More than 40,000 people have died in Britain, 400,000 globally. The world economy is on its knees. Millions have lost their jobs, self-employed people are out of work, and many businesses, both large and small, are teetering on the brink of collapse. I am one of 8.4 million UK employees currently on furlough. The new-but-not-yet-normal world we are emerging onto looks bleak.
The pandemic has wrought a grim toll across the world. We cannot ignore the stats: Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people are dying at a disproportionate rate from Covid. Black people are four times more likely to die from it than any other demographic. And its not just the pandemic taking innocent Black lives. In February, Ahmaud Arbery was shot while out on a run. In March, Breonna Taylor was killed by police who stormed her house without warning. In the weeks leading up to your second birthday, George Floyd was asphyxiated by a police officer – on camera, while pleading, ‘I cant breathe’. That same day, Amy Cooper flexed her white privilege by calling 911 to falsely report on Christian Cooper, an African American man who had asked her to put her dog on a lead as per the Central Park guidelines. Just because she could. These two viral videos have put the corrosive nature of white supremacy under a glaring spotlight. The world is outraged, the world is angry. Protests are taking place all over the world demanding racial justice. Titles like ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’ are out of stock on Amazon as people furiously scramble to build their anti-racist reading list. Its shameful that it took so many deaths to galvanise the world into action. We have to make amends. We have to listen. Learn. Self Educate. Stand in solidarity. Black lives matter. Black voices matter.
It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns before pathogens and protests shook up our world. You were born into an era of rising populism, underpinned by the election of Trump and the 2016 Brexit referendum. We were fighting for mental heath parity and witnessing devastating climate changes that threatened our entire eco-system. Covid has put those worries on pause – for now – but they remain firmly on the horizon, getting worse in the shadows as the world collectively reels from the pandemic’s effects.
I am sorry that this birthday letter is turning out to be a gloomy history lesson. But I hope it helps you to understand the world around you. I want to preserve your innocence and show you the beautiful world. But its important to me to help you appreciate the post pandemic future, so that you can play an active role in rebuilding it. 2020 is a stark reminder that the world we were living in was simply not working. Wealth inequality, institutional racism, climate crisis, irresponsible capitalism – our sins were many and proliferating unchecked.
The corona crisis is far from over. But by the time you read my letter, all this will hopefully become a distant memory. You will be going to school with your friends without having to wash your hands for at least twenty seconds (right now, you aren’t keen on it). You wont have to worry about getting on the tube without wearing a mask or nipping into Tesco without bringing home a deadly virus. We will be making dinner reservations at Dishoom and planning weekend trips to the beach. Once normal, they feel like luxuries right now.
I hope when you read this, maybe in 10 years or so, the world will be a much better place. Kinder, stronger, healed from its 2020 wounds. I hope I am alive to witness that glorious day. I know I am relatively young – my chances to survive Covid are pretty good. On my best days, I am convinced it’s all going to be OK. In this Lives Vs Livelihood battle, we will develop a vaccine, grow herd immunity and go back out in the world to forge a fairer society. On my worst days, I cower in fear, worry about our family scattered all over the world, wondering if today/tomorrow might be the ‘last’ time I see you.
I see you. That’s what you say every time you say Peekaboo. I see you, Mummy! you yell, your little face scrunching up with innocent joy. Your love for us is so pure, its almost jarring in this pandemic stricken world. Your forgiveness puts us adults to shame. You don’t keep score. You wag your finger and tell us off (Naughtaaay Mummy, shortened to Mum when I have exceptionally transgressed) and that’s that.
They call it the Terrible Twos. I hate to admit, they have a point. You are a handful right now, always curious, always fighting for your rights. Toddlerhood is like a constant volcanic eruption – its either hugs and kisses or tantrums and meltdowns. Your Nina and I often look at each other when faced with your rebellions, sometimes laughing secretly through our eyes (lest you are offended), sometimes seeking out the other for some support (what do we do now?). First time parenthood can often leave you feeling completely out of your game. But that’s just one part of the story. Two year old Aryan is terrific too. He loves to dance, wants to ‘help’, and likes to explore his independence. His parents are the centre of his universe. I feel sad thinking how you wont remember any of this. I am excited to see you grow up but I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t make my selfish heart twinge. Which is why I love writing these letters to future you. To help you hold on to the details your young brain cannot.
I want you to remember how your Nina played with you with every fibre of his being. Every single day, come rain or shine. How much you loved playing hide and seek with him, running all over our apartment, hiding behind curtains and couches. And how many, many train sets he bought to feed your obsession despite my vehement dissuasion (in my mind, he was spoiling you!).
When the pandemic crops up in future conversations, as I am sure it will, I want you to remember that we were privileged, Alhamdolillah. We are on two salaries, safe in a nice apartment, with no underlying health conditions. Enforced isolation has allowed us more time at home, for self reflection, for reconnection with nature and each other. With the work-daycare routine on hold, our days have a lot more room for play. We can afford to go on long walks in some really lovely weather, feeding ducks, watching baby geese grow, wowing over pigeons and slurping flake topped ice-cream cones. Two trains odika! – that’s what you love saying when you see the DLR trundling past. From our balcony, we can see them all day, a fond reminder of our pre pandemic world. Sometimes I take you to the station nearby just so that you can watch them up close. We haven’t alighted them since March.
We haven’t done a lot of things since March. We are grateful for our privileges but we are also going a bit stir crazy. The relentless news cycle has wreaked havoc with our mental health. Its been hard baby, but you know what? It would have been impossible without you. You have singlehandedly kept us sane during these unprecedented times. You have kept our limbs moving, and our hearts full. When I hold you in my arms at night, my heart beats extra hard in my chest. The mix of motherly love and mortal fear is intoxicating. In a strange way, this fear is a blessing, a gift. We have never lived life as fully as we do now, as we face our own mortality.
On your second birthday, with the whole world reeling and in pain, all I want is a secure future for you. May you grow up to be kind, respectful, loving, caring and just. May you be aware of your privileges and check them routinely. May you fight for the minoritized, the marginalised and stand firmly against every form of injustice. May you recognise that your dual nationality gives you more at 2 years than mine did in 31. May you remember not to carry guilt, burden or misplaced arrogance but to practice gratitude, awareness and empathy. I want you to live a life pulling others up and opening doors for them, as your privilege requires you to do. And in return, may you find the love and support that you deserve. We have a long way to go to tackle prejudices and discrimination but in ten years, a lot can change. A lot MUST change. This epochal event is giving us a chance to set things right, to create an equal, inclusive and sustainable world. We must make the most of it.
We couldn’t throw you a party on your first birthday. And this pandemic has taken away the chance for a second one too. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because every day we celebrate life. In this extraordinary moment in human history, faced with the biggest crisis in peacetime, we have come to terms with the true meaning of life. We are celebrating the little joys – the unkempt hair, the gifts pouring in from all corners of the world, the indulgent cakes and doughnuts for breakfast, lunch and dinner. On this day, the 9th of June 2020, life is beautiful. And you are the best gift of all.
Happy 2nd, my Darling Aryan.
Choto Ball, Baby John, Blippi, Mickey, Mummy and Nina.