Director, producer and talk show host Karan Johar is all set for a new role as a father. After tons of speculation last evening, Karan Johar finally confirmed this morning that he has now become a father to twins, Yash and Roohi Johar.
Karan, who often spoke about his desire to have children (including a mention in his memoir), finally revealed that his son and daughter were born through surrogacy and stated how, “I feel enormously blessed to be a parent to these pieces of my heart”. He thanked the surrogate and stated how she will always be in his prayers and also mentioned that all his work commitments will take a backseat for now. He named his son after his late father Yash, while his daughter’s name Roohi is an anagram of his mother’s name Hiroo.
Karan’s twins were born last month and he is Bollywood’s second single father after Tusshar Kapoor, who became a father to Laksshya, last June, through surrogacy. And so, on that note, here’s our exclusive story from October 2016 on how single fathers raising children alone face a unique set of challenges.
A majority of the Indian population struggles to recognise the definition of a single father, but in the recent past, two examples leap to people’s minds — actor Tusshar Kapoor and Pune-based software engineer Aditya Tiwari. Kapoor has said in interviews that he always wanted to become a parent, and with his 40th birthday fast approaching, he approached Mumbai-based IVF specialist Firuza Parikh to help him out via surrogacy, while Aditya adopted a baby boy with Down’s Syndrome earlier this year.
Aditya and Avneesh
Twenty-nine-year-old Aditya’s path to fatherhood was more instinctive and impulsive. “I had gone to Jyoti Niwas orphanage [run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity] in Indore to distribute sweets on my father’s birthday,” he says. “There, I saw Avneesh, the only baby who had not been adopted out of six. The nuns told me he was a ‘mental child’. This is the broad term we club special children under. Avneesh has Down’s Syndrome, two holes in his heart, weak eyesight and because of a problem with his knees, may never walk. His chances of adoption within India were slim; they would try a foreign adoption for him, since non-Indians are less discriminative against special children.”
It took Aditya one-and-a-half years to get custody of Avneesh. According to laws set by the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), a single man has to be 30 years old or more to adopt. Aditya was then 27. The law has now been changed, to allow men 25 years or older to adopt. During this period, Avneesh was transferred to different orphanages. Aditya would make 1800-kilometre round-trips from Pune to Indore to Bhopal four to five times a month, to get the authorities to relent. He plugged into a national and international network of parents with Down’s Syndrome children, and educated himself on their needs. Finally, he appealed to politician Maneka Gandhi, who facilitated the adoption, and Avneesh came home on the first day of 2016. He was 20 months old.
In a unique move, Aditya’s employer Barclay’s assisted him with 22 weeks of adoption leave, and Aditya moved to his parents’ home in Indore with Avneesh. Together, they learnt to understand each other, and one of the holes in the baby’s heart healed. He recently also learnt to walk without support. “In Indore, adoption is very uncommon. People wondered whether I was incapable of fathering children, or had this child outside wedlock and was compelled to adopt him. They just don’t understand why I would want to be a single father.”
Aditya got married a month ago to Arpita, and he was very clear that it wasn’t because his child needed a mother. “My parents felt it was their responsibility to see me married, since I am an only child. I told my wife that I didn’t expect her to take care of my son — Avneesh is my responsibility and he doesn’t need anyone but me. It’s not necessary that a child needs a father and a mother. I only requested her to not come in between us or discriminate against him,” he says. They haven’t spoken about whether they will have biological children in the future.
Solo Father by Choice
Elsewhere, a Business Man (BM) in Bengaluru chose the surrogacy route to cement a long-term relationship that could not culminate in marriage. “I was in a seven-year relationship that was coming to an end. We could not be together because of family issues, and decided to have a child together as a symbol of our love. My partner got married and left the country; it was always clear that our son would be raised by me,” says the 42-year-old. The gentleman’s position is unique — he was raised by a single father after his mother passed away when he was two years old. He has lived his own life after his 12th standard, and is used to making his own decisions without interference. “Because of the person I am, my friends’ circle is small and made of like-minded people. No one asks me how or why I became a father.”
His son is now six years old, and is aware of who his mother is. “There are pictures of her all over our house and her name is on his birth certificate. He knows her as mom and not aunty,” he says. His son, so far, has not asked questions about why his mother does not live with them, and his father keeps his mind occupied and diverted from their unique family dynamics. “When he does ask eventually, I’ll wait for the question to settle. It will depend on how well he can absorb my explanation,” he says. He has a stipulated time that he can spend on a gadget or in front of the TV, and it’s compulsory that he goes out to play every day and is learning to play tennis.
Since BM is self-employed, he was able to raise his son in a co-operative ecosystem. Leaves and time off were not a problem, and he has a staff of three people to care for his son while he works. “He comes to work with me on Saturday, and Sunday is our day. Right now, he loves watching movies,” he says. Early socialising was always at friends’ and relatives’ places, so he didn’t have trouble finding a changing room (they are located in feeding rooms and women’s bathrooms in public spaces such as malls, restaurants and movie theatres).
The infant days were harrowing, since his son was always raised on formula milk. “It would be hard for me to burp him. Also, he had a nanny from day one and at one point, I panicked that he would not know who I was and bond more with her since she was the one who fed him and was with him most of the day.” says BM. “However, my aunt told me to relax — a day would come when he would know the difference between nanny and father. And, she was right,” BM no longer has the space for a romantic relationship. “I have my son. My life is full,” he says.
Monish and Esha
Group Captain Monish Chandrashekhar of the Indian Air Force remarried after his divorce, but his daughter and second wife could not form a harmonic relationship. “My daughter could not adjust to a new woman in my life, and I wasn’t able to convince her of the same,” he says. They divorced after three years. Monish and his first wife divorced after ten years of marriage, and he gained custody of their eight-year-old daughter Esha. “I have always been a hands-on father, and we decided she would stay with me,” says the 48-year-old. He enrolled Esha in a boarding school in Ooty, to give her life structure and discipline. He belongs to Bengaluru, and believed he would be able to see her at least four times a year.
“If a man knows how to cook and manage a home, the main part is sorted. It gives the child a sense of stability,” he says. He and Esha cook together — it’s one of their favourite bonding activities. Esha is now 17, and he has had to guide her through teenage rebellion, angst and body changes. “Once she is 18, she is free to do what she wants,” he says. “But, I have talked to her about not wearing things that will draw unwanted attention, in case she is out alone. She goes to a co-ed school and has an open, healthy relationship with boys. The school also took care of grooming her while growing up, but I have been open about asking her if she needs anything and everything as a girl. She’s rebellious and usually on the offensive when someone else is treated unjustly,” he says. The IAF has been very understanding of Monish’s special situation, making allowances for when he needs to take time off to attend to her.
Debanshu & Manswai
Dr Debanshu Bhaduri did not have the benefit of familial or professional support while raising his now 16-year-old daughter Manaswi. A surgical oncologist in Pune, he has been instrumental in setting up the oncology department in many leading hospitals. “However, whenever I brought up needing time off because my daughter was ill, or would come in late, the feeling in the room was that it was my problem that my wife had ‘left’ me. As if she didn’t have a right to a career and financial independence,” says the 47-year-old. “I would be told to take leave and take a pay cut.”
Debanshu is a single parent by arrangement. “My wife had a very difficult pregnancy and took four years off to raise our daughter. Because of medical complications, we knew that Manaswi would be our only child,” he says. When the time came for his wife, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, to get back to work, the options were slim. “She could not abide by the corrupt referral medical system that was prevalent in Pune then. She is also fiercely ambitious, independent and always wanted to have her career,” he says. “So, she explored opportunities abroad, and I took over from where she had left off in the care of our precious child.”
They chose the Arabian Peninsula, because unlike other countries where she would have to undertake a licensing exam, her previous qualifications and experience would not be negated. She has since been living and working as a single Hindu woman in restrictive Islamic countries, often in small towns. “It turned out to be fortuitous that the travel time to India is less. She would come down once a year, and Manaswi would go as often as our finances allowed.”
Manaswi was four years old then, and her mother prepared a handbook of sorts for Debanshu. “It contained handwritten recipes, instructions on how to dress and bathe her. There was a cassette of Marathi nursery rhymes. They were the most challenging six months of my life,” he says. Debanshu rented a floor above his father-in-law’s home and learnt to cook. His day would start at 5 AM, prepare breakfast, dress Manaswi and start a 50-km commute from his home to her school and then on to his work. He would take a break at mid-day to pick her up from school, take her home and then go off to work again. “It used to be harrowing. She was this small, isolated child, sitting in the back seat with her feet far above the floor. With all the cooking, cleaning, work stress and lack of sleep, there were times when I would come home stressed over the relentless pressure. I am ashamed to say that sometimes when Manaswi was a trifle persistent and demanding, I actually hit her. It still gets me in the gut, because she would just look at me with sad eyes and ask, ‘Maajhi aai kuthe geli?’ [Where has my mummy gone?]”
Safety was a constant concern — he had to be on time to pick her up from school, would not hire male staff, would screen female help properly and worry about her walking alone to tuitions at 14. “Something shifted in Manaswi, and she grew up quickly within six months. She became an island, needing no one to entertain her. She would sit with her books or her toys, and was a very obedient child. She gave me no trouble, and I was most grateful to her for letting me sleep through the night,” he says.
A remark from a teacher brought this fact home to Debanshu. “She said Manaswi was very polite, very quiet and very smart. She said ‘I wished she socialised more and was more naughty.’ She would internalise everything, even my scolding,” he says. Manaswi grew into a child painfully aware of her surroundings. She grew into a good listener, took over supervision of the staff at home, instructing them politely on how her father liked things done, and she can accommodate opposing points of view.
“We used to talk twice a day — once at 2.30 PM, when she came from school, and once at 5.30 PM to discuss dinner and entertainment plans. While I first thought I would have to entertain my child when I got home, it became apparent to me that she was entertaining me,” says Debanshu. Until she could go to the bathroom alone, he would cover her face and carry her into the men’s toilet and use the closed booth. “I would explain to her that men were peeing, and they might be embarrassed to see her. A few times, only in India, she would be bullied in the bathroom by adults, who would cut in front of her in the line while she quietly stood there. It would enrage me,” he says. The worst times were when she would fall ill and he had no support system to rely on. He would play doctor at home and work, going without sleep for 72 hours at some points.
As she became a teenager, her mother talked to her in detail about changes in her body, and Debanshu stocked sanitary napkins at home. “I told her to let me know if she needed more and whether she’d like a specific brand. We’ve always talked openly about her body,” he says. The open communication also waylaid fears of boy trouble. “Once there a boy who had a crush on her and decided to come home, thinking she was alone. Unfortunately for him,” laughs Debanshu, “the door was opened by her formidable mother. She has lied a few times and did face peer pressure to ‘utilise’ the empty home, but to my knowledge, has not given in.” The irony is that Debanshu was not fond of children, nor was he used to handling them. Manaswi has just moved to Kuwait to finish her standard XI and XII. When friends are told this, the most common celebratory response is, “So you’re a bachelor now.” This irks Debanshu, firstly because of the objectification — “As if every woman in a man’s life has a restrictive role.” Secondly, it’s a “trivialisation of his primary and deepest relationship”.
This story was first published in October 2016