I'm Bruno, and I'm a kettikaran.
Kettikaran is a Tamil masculine word used to describe a male who is successful at achieving something great; in other words, a winner (kettikari for females). For the last few months, this is what a few elders within the Sri Lankan Tamil community have been telling me - that I’m a winner. No, I didn’t receive a scholarship to school; I didn’t score the winning goal to help my team win the league trophy; I didn’t discover a medical breakthrough. So, what did I do to be bathed with such a commemorative label? Well, I fathered a son as my first child.
Who knew, from all of life’s twisted and beaten paths that I’ve taken, all the negative labels and ridicule thrown at me, all I had to do was father a son as my first child to be given the same label as you’d give someone who worked hard to achieve greatness? As great as it may sound every time I was honoured with this title, It had no meaning; it was barren. And then I questioned myself - what if I had fathered a baby girl? What would they say to me then? “Congratulations!” and then proceed with commenting on her cute features? Well, screw this Mickey Mouse way of thinking.
I get that these elders are not calling out anyone with first-born females as failures. But, technically, by calling someone with first-born sons ‘winners’ and not saying anything equally celebrated to someone with first-born daughters, you’re saying exactly that - they are failures. This needs to change. This issue is still very prevalent within the South Asian community, and many others, where it’s historically believed that having a first-born male is better off for the family because he will suitably take care of his parents and siblings and carry the family name, with first-born females silently viewed as a burden. And the added pressure and mental stress from these expectations placed on first-born males is a whole different topic that needs to be addressed.
Some elders may not openly say kettikaran/kettikari to whomever gives birth to a first-born male, or may say it in a tongue-in-cheek way to make it come off as a joke, but the judgement is still there. This futile frame-of-mind habitually gets passed down from each generation and, eventually, makes its way to our children. This false perception bleeds deep into parts of the world where there are still communities aborting female fetuses for these same reasons, and more.
I have two older sisters. So, does this exclude my father from being a kettikaran, or my mother a kettikari? No, they are amazing! They fled the war in Sri Lanka while my mother was 7-months pregnant with me; came to Canada as refugees; worked laborious jobs (some points in time worked two jobs); are now grandparents to 8 super-cool kids; and still working - they are definitely winners.
They’ve raised us pretty well and, most importantly, my older sisters were kick-ass role models. They not only helped and supported me as I was growing up but, to this day, keep the family strong. I still remember times in my childhood where my older sisters had to step in and scare off my bullies. I was a scrawny little twerp then. And then you have my wife, one of two smart and powerful daughters within her family. She is pivotal in creating and maintaining a strong foundation for our new family. But this is just a faint speck of the many stories out there where first-born women in the South Asian community are a dynamic source of power for their family; stories that need to be brought forward and shared so that they can be celebrated.
On the flip-side, I feel that our generation is moving towards changing the primitive way of thinking that a first-born male can take better care of the family than a first-born female. We are not hunters and gatherers anymore, depending on a dominant male to use their physical strengths to catch food and safeguard the family. Women are equally powerful, equally smart, and are very successful educators and business/world leaders.
This one is for all the first-born, last-born, middle-born, and never-got-to-be-born women; for the ones who are holding it down and being as powerful as they could be, and for those who never got the chance. Kettikari!