I was just a year old when my father passed away in 1964. He was an advocate in Allahabad High Court. With little at our disposal, my mother and grandmother raised us – four siblings of which I was the youngest. My grandmother, who we called ‘daadi’, was a huge source of inspiration and far ahead of her times. She told my mother that if she wants us to be well-fed and well-groomed, the only way forward is to look for a job and earn. In those times, women hardly stepped out to work. With primary education and no experience, my mother was faced with the challenge of starting all over again and doing something to stand on her own feet. While daadi took care of us at home, my mother underwent vocational training and attended a few courses at ITI like stitching, knitting, and embroidery. She aced her courses and after completion, she was hired in the same institution as a trainer. She managed to provide us with good education and decent living despite all our struggles.
At a young age, a marriage proposal came for me through my aunt. Since I was the last one to get married, my mother wanted to make this wedding the most memorable one. She did the best she could – from trying to enquire about my future family, to all preparations for the big day. I got married in 1978 and thought that this was going to be a beautiful chapter of my life but with a new beginning, new challenges were ready to confront me.
My husband were nine siblings. It was a joint family with his parents. While everyone was warm and welcoming, it was my husband who didn’t seem to be happy. At first, he just appeared stubborn. He quarreled with his younger siblings and found a reason to blame them for trivial matters. When I came, the allegations shifted on me. Since we had just begun to interact with each other, I wanted to give the relationship ample time. I wanted to make it a happy home but for some reason or the other, he found a way to fight with me. In 1979, my daughter was born and briefly, it changed him and his attitude. Before I could rejoice in it, he went back to being the same person. When anyone tried to take my side and stand in my support, they were also reprimanded. The accusations continued and now made their way to my family. I wasn’t allowed to meet my mother and siblings. They cried and left without seeing me. I was gradually alienated from people who I loved. Those who around knew the plight. And about those who weren’t allowed to meet me, I didn’t consider it right to make it any more difficult for them by explaining my position.
When I was expecting my second child in 1980, my elder brother-in-law asked me to come and stay with him and his wife in Haridwar. The birth of our son didn’t move my husband. I stayed in Haridwar for a few months and decided to redirect my life towards a good future for my children. My brother-in-law asked me to go back and pursue some professional courses that could get me a job. His wife and he took it upon themselves to take care of my daughter for a year until I completed the courses. I came back to my husband’s home but it became increasingly difficult for me to be at the receiving end of unmindful dialogues and violence. He had started to doubt my intentions and actions. He always feared that I mixed something harmful in his food. Or he would tell everyone that he saw me with someone at the railway station. Nobody believed his baseless accusations yet none of them could guess what was wrong with my him. Nobody knew that it could be rooted in a serious psychological disorder.
I went back to my mother’s home with my infant son. I enrolled myself in a course for librarian work and typewriting among other things. Life came back a full circle in a way - my mother taking care of my children just the way my grandmother had taken care of us. My desperation to work and be self-reliant was such that I was ready to pick up any job to sustain ourselves. I got my daughter back and enrolled in a Masters through distance learning.
After two years of hard work, I finally got a job as a clerk in the Allahabad High Court, the same place where my father would’ve been a Judge had he been alive. But destiny had its own plans. Meanwhile, my husband’s mental health worsened. His paranoia that someone was constantly trying to harm him had grown manifold and he was finally taken for a psychological treatment in two cities. I continued to concentrate on my career and my children got admission in good schools.
In 1993, my mother passed away and around the same time, I was informed that my husband’s condition had improved. He was transferred to Prayagraj and we began living together again. Within two years, the behavior changed again. The kids were growing up and now they could sense the tension in the house. He would shout and sometimes hit them.
One day, he wanted money from my savings account and asked me to sign a cheque. Somehow, my signature didn’t match the original. It wasn’t intentional but it made him so angry that he just picked up his suitcase, packed my jewelry, cash, and clothes, and went to Lucknow to a relative’s place. It wasn’t a new thing for us to see him leave the house in a fit of rage. He always returned.
This time, he didn’t.
When he reached Lucknow, our relative tried convincing him to come back to us. He got up, leaving his bag behind, and walked out of the house never to return. We left no stone unturned in our efforts to find him - police reports, Pandits, and their remedies, newspaper and TV ads. Nothing brought him back to us again. According to the policy of the Government department where he worked, he was ‘declared dead’ after seven years of absence. It took a lot of time for us to come to terms with his unannounced departure. His sudden withdrawal from all his relationships were unbelievable for me.
Year after year, the challenges grew. With every event that unfolded before my eyes, I was certain that I had to be my own anchor for life and help my children overcome the trauma they had witnessed at a young age. It took them time to slowly recover, stabilize emotionally and focus on a future without their father. Today, both of them are happily settled with their families. Just a year ago, we moved into our new house. Now it feels as if all my hard work has finally paid off. In my interactions with young girls and women now, I tell them to make education their priority. It is so important to know how to work, even if one doesn’t have to or doesn’t want to. It is imperative to look beyond the confines of four walls. I have seen generations of strong women- my grandmother, my mother, and those who helped others become self-reliant. I am indebted to them and my life is dedicated to the cause of motivating all to never give up, irrespective of how bad things may appear. If we hold on to hope in the darkest of days and be patient when the going gets tough, there will definitely be a day when life will reward you in its own unique way.