Author’s Note: Every one of my women with spunk stories are true stories, narrated to me by the women who went through these challenges in life, and overcame them with sheer grit and determination. Names have been changed to protect their privacy.

In one of my favourite books of all times, “The Thornbirds”, Fiona Cleary says at one point to Father Ralph about pain – “There is something selfish about pain. Only I can feel my pain. No one else can. It’s my pain.”

On similar lines, you may have heard similar stories as the one I am about to narrate time and again. But for her, there is no other story quite like this. As a society we may be immune and vaccinated now towards an apathetic attitude when it comes to a failed marriage. But to the woman who goes through it, that story, that pain, is unique to her. No one can even come close to feeling it, or describing it. That’s why I am humbled by the trust put in me. And I hope I do justice to the woman and her story.

For the purposes of this narration, I will call her Aanchal.

Aanchal was born to a lower middle class family. As the eldest child in the family, she displayed a maturity beyond her years when she began to supplement her father’s meagre income by taking tuitions for smaller children and sell baked goodies to neighbours and friends. All at the ripe young age of sixteen.

But life had more to throw at her. She lost her father at the age of twenty one, and overnight became the sole earning member of the family. With a younger sister and a mother to support, she was perfectly happy carving a career out for herself, while supporting her family and continuing the baked goods sales which was slowly becoming a passion.

But society doesn’t quite leave it there does it? Aanchal’s mother was constantly pressurised by friends and family to get the elder one “settled”. Aanchal never understood that. She was the sole breadwinner of the family, she took care of everyone’s needs and was building a baking business. How much more settled did she need to be? She was perfectly happy going through life single, until she met the person who could be the perfect partner in this journey of life.

But what is a 25-year old single woman to do in a choppy sea filled with judgemental people who have singled her out for one purpose and one purpose only – marriage.

What do you do when your own family and friends circle place you in the centre of an inquisition? How much can you rebel if you do decide to rebel? Eventually, emotional blackmail takes over, a mother’s tears take over, an entire society’s judgement takes over. And a “well-wisher” can use the situation to their advantage to market a loser of a man into the epitome of a human being, and practically bully you into marriage. How many times have we seen this happen? Far too many. But lets not forget, for Aanchal, it was one time too many. That one time that she could have avoided this fate. If even one voice in that sea of voices had supported her. But fairy tales are for books.

And so she was married off to a seemingly well to do and settled person. Full of hope and positive energy, she entered a relationship for life. But was left speechless by the betrayal that she confronted. Her husband was not attracted to her. He was not interested in sharing a bed, much less a life. While sleazy pictures of young women, and sidey messages from girlfriends made his day, the beautiful attractive woman by his side was ignored. She wondered day after day, did he marry me only to ignore me for the rest of my life?

The rest of the extended family were nothing to write home about either. While the mother watched pornography all day, the father wasted away his life on meaningless things, a brother in law who sold her jewellery and tried to feel her up. It was like the house of horrors.

A month went by, two, four. And finally Aanchal decided she will demand the one thing out of this miserable situation that she could hold on to for life, an anchor, a lifeboat. A child.

With courage that she never knew existed within her, she subjected herself to the humiliation of asking her own husband to initiate the act that would reward her with a child.

Some things cannot be explained. Especially miracle babies who are born out of an unwilling father. But her prayers were answered and she concieved and gave birth to the joy of her life, a son to love and cherish. Yes, this has to be enough, she told herself.

She immersed herself in three things – bringing up her child, working towards a career, never letting go of her passion and love for baking.

Years have passed since that fateful night. She has remained celibate and never indulged in an affair or a fling to satisfy the woman in her who screams to be recognised and nourished. Everyone has moved on with their life. Son’s practically a man, husband’s a bigger sleazeball than ever. But life for Aanchal is on pause. It’s like a breath that was inhaled but never exhaled. Life hasn’t moved on for her.

She earns enough to provide for herself and her son. But the procedures for a divorce and the costs involved are daunting to say the least. After almost two decades of silence and acceptance, no one expects or wants her to take a step towards happiness or a life. It is a big, big step to take and one that neither society nor family is easily willing to accept or support.

And so she waits, hopes, prays. Like she always has. And every time life throws her one more thing to burn her, she rises from the ashes like a Phoenix. Stronger, surer, and positive. Nothing has tainted her spirit. Nothing will.

Note: If anyone has any suggestions for Aanchal please leave your comments on this blog. It will be a positive encouragement for her to take that crucial first step towards her own happiness and fulfillment.

Illustrated By – Mrs. Lakshmi Kumar