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.
She was always a shy little thing. It didn’t help that her family played favorites. Thinking back today, she realizes things are not always that straightforward when you live in a joint family. Who knows, maybe her parents were making sure they don’t ignore her cousins and inadvertently landed up ignoring her. Human beings do so many things without even realizing who they hurt in the process. Sometimes the damage done to a child’s psyche is irreparable. And there, in that perceived ignorance, Yashoda’s story begins.
No matter how our childhood was, or how people around us treated us, we all grow up. Childhood doesn’t get put on hold because it’s not a good one. Good or bad, we all have to grow up, dragging that baggage of a bad childhood or skipping to adulthood with that positive spring that a well-formed childhood brings with it.
Yashoda too grew up, quieter and shyer with inner doubts and reservations and above all, a feeling of being unloved by her family.
She had a long commute from her university and back, and most days she either nodded off to catch up with some much-needed sleep or looked out the window at the day to day busy life of a bustling city, some sad sights, some funny, but all interesting and captivating.
Everyone has that one moment in life when fate knocks at your door and firmly places itself in your path. Sometimes it makes you take a turn for the better, sometimes for the worse. Inevitably, those are the moments we all make a choice, and its not until much later those choices play out into an entire lifetime of experiences, all starting from that one point in time, that one choice.
That moment in life came for Yashoda, when the skies opened and it was pouring rain. While she and her friend waited at her bus stop. Soon enough, a young boy one year their junior came and stood at their bus stop as well. Yashoda’s friend beckoned him to join her under the umbrella and Yashoda stood half-amused, half-angry that the offer wasn’t made to her. It was much later that her friend told her she was beckoning to Yashoda and not the boy. How fate does step in!
The three of them soon became fast friends and that dreary long bus commute became a fun-filled time of the day for Yashoda. In her late teens by then, he became her first love and she, his. Bus rides turned to the time of the day the two love birds shared their fondness for each other, in words, in glances, in plans made, dropped and made again. She mistook his obsession and possessiveness for love, and why not? Doesn’t every Hindi movie tell you it is perfectly ok for a boy to stalk you, utter threats of rape and molestation in the most romantic way while the heroine looks at him with each of these human rights violation statements as if he is the best thing that happened since sliced bread.
They would meet and visit each other along with a whole bunch of friends at each others’ houses. So while both set of parents knew them, but had no idea that things had progressed beyond a friendly level.
But parents are perceptive and see more than we give them credit for. Eventually her parents suspected the truth they were hiding, and started to subtly arrange meetings with prospective grooms, trying to get her interested in someone of their own community, someone they felt they knew and could trust. But Yashoda outsmarted them at every attempt. The telephone directory became her friend. She would look up each prospective groom in the book, call them up and tell them to refuse to marry her, even provide a solid reason why. A different one each time.
It all came to a head when one of the grooms felt it nothing short of his duty to report this to the matchmaker who informed Yashoda’s worried parents that all the refusals to date which had them worried about their daughter’s future were a result of their daughter’s own interference and refusal to marry.
It was time to come clean, and Yashoda and the boy expressed their love for each other to both families. Neither family was too happy about this turn of events. While Yashoda’s family were not impressed by the boy himself, or his parents, the boy’s family were not very impressed with his choice either.
But who can stop the inexorable tides of fate? After much controversy, drama and emotion, the two married.
While Yashoda was from Punjab, the boy was from Gujarat. His family followed a way of life that does not permit hurting any living beings, not even a fly.
The lifestyle, cuisine and day to day machinery of a house always differs from home to home, and when there is a culture shift also thrown into the mix, that makes it all the more challenging. But Yashoda took it all in her stride and tried to adjust to everything.
She was used to the hearty, spicy food of Punjab. While her new family ate food which was almost always sweetened with palm sugar at the end, a trademark of many Gujarati preparations. Worse, her mother-in-law would guard each recipe with her very life, never letting Yashoda do more than fringe work, subminally never letting her into their lifestyle, their heart or their family.
But she lived on, a stranger amid them and tried to cheer up as much as she could. One by one, her moments of happiness and freedom were taken away from her.
She worked in a stockbroker’s office during her early days of marriage, they deemed this not a suitable job for a woman and forced her to quit.
She found some gainful employment as a teacher. This too was not allowed to last too long.
She was not allowed to meet her parents or family too often thus furthering the isolation they were slowly putting her into.
She was not even permitted to go out to a dinner or a movie with her husband or meet their common set of friends for any social engagements.
Three years passed by, Yashoda turning more and more into a recluse while less and less of herself remained.
It was the fasting time of the year for their community. Although his family still hadn’t made her a part of the family, they fully expected her to fast with him. For those who are not used to fasting, this can be pretty daunting as some of the fasting involves just warm water for an extended period of time. Yashoda had spent a few years with them now so was slowly getting used to this.
But this year was different. She fell sick and faint and went to the doctor, assuming that the fast had finally been too much for her to take. The doctor surprised her by asking her to take a pregnancy test.
Becoming a mother should be such a beautiful and wonder-filled time for any woman. The wonder of that tiny being growing inside you, that pride of having a child of your own soon to play and bring up and adore for life. So many emotions go through a woman during this time, and if she is lucky, all positive.
Yashoda was visiting her mother after seeing the doctor and hearing that the result of the pregnancy test was positive. Although she was not in a happy place in life and they had not planned for a pregnancy in this disturbed marital situation, she felt full of positive hope that the child would bring that into their marriage and who knows? She might finally become a full member of her husband’s family.
The phone call from her husband rudely snatched away all the positive spirit from her life. He told her in no uncertain terms that he felt he was too young to take on this additional responsibility, his financial situation wasn’t good and every other pathetic excuse in the book he could find. He told her to terminate the pregnancy and only then return home.
But she was confident, in this one thing, her mother-in-law would be with her. She was a woman after all, and a sincere follower of the principles of her culture. Yashoda felt confident her mother-in-law would not agree to a forced termination. After all this was a child, her’s son’s child!
But monsters exist among humans, no matter what the religion or culture they belong to. And while it doesn’t condone an entire race of people, Yashoda’s mother-in-law was surely a sad excuse for the peaceful culture she represented. She added a whole list of pathetic excuses to what her son had already said and refused to support the pregnancy.
Yashoda was left at a crossroad no woman should be at. Isolated for years, she had no financial independence. Unloved for years, she had no support system around her that she could see. Taunted for years, she did not want to be a burden on her parents, or bring a child into the world that will be hated and taunted and isolated too, just as she was.
And so she did what he wanted. The pain, the burden, the guilt of that decision haunts her to this day. She spends night after sleepless night thinking about how old her child would be today, how would he or she look? What would they sound like if they spoke? How would their eyes be? Many such thoughts torment her daily.
Meanwhile, the monsters who put her in this untenable position have moved on. While Yashoda and the boy filed for divorce, soon enough he found another girl to isolate, taunt and torture, had children too. And probably forgot about the heinous sin committed when he and his mother asked Yashoda to kill one of their own flesh and blood.
But Yashoda is true to the name I have chosen to give her for her story. While she will carry the scars of what she went through for the rest of her life, she hasn’t been obsessing over it either.
She went on to studying and qualifying for a pre-school teacher’s diploma, became a Montessori-certified teacher. She spends her weekends volunteering with various NGOs.Not surprisingly every NGO she supported and volunteered for did good work for the development, nourishment and care of children. Her way of atoning for the sin she was forced to commit all those years ago. Although this writer feels the sin and the atonement are completely misplaced, and Yashoda has nothing to atone for.
She works hard, sometimes at more than one job and managed to save enough for herself to invest in a house to call her own.
She also recognized that she had been through hell and back and through multiple Vipassana sessions found herself, found her identity, found her inner peace. She knows it is an ongoing process and she is a lifetime practitioner.
Her parents and her extended joint family support her and respect her immensely. Her cousins are all her pillars of strength. Some days it is all she can do to stop herself from ending it all, one moment away from acting on her thoughts of suicide. But she knows she cannot do that to her brood of nieces and nephews who love and adore their maasi (aunt).
And so she channels all her unrequited maternal love outwards. She is truly Yashoda, mother to all the children she comes across.