My name is Shona Sikand, and I am in my mid-fifties now. I live in one of the metros of India with my husband Rajat and three children Rhea, Ragini and Raghav. My husband is a top industrialist of the country and we live in the lap of luxury with more money at our disposal than we would ever need. We live in a fancy house with fancy cars and a fancy lifestyle. So nothing much to complain there.
All my life I have tried to be a good mother, a good wife leaving no stone unturned to do everything possible to be there for my family. As a result, my husband has been able to do phenomenally well in life, touching the zenith in his chosen field. My three children apart from having been brought up very well with the right values have also done extremely well for themselves. And I cannot help feeling proud of the way they have all turned out.
My elder daughter Rhea after having studied in one of the top colleges in the US has come back to join her dad in his business. She is all set to get married to this boy who comes from a similar background as ours. She is going to get married next year in the picturesque locales of Lake Como with of course all the trappings that go with a wedding such as this with no expense spared. And I, true to my role have been busy preparing for it.
My younger daughter is still in college and is also set to go the same way as her sister. Both the girls are way more self-assured and confident than I had ever been when I was their age. It could be because of the environment in which they have grown up or because of my efforts at ensuring that. I was someone (and maybe still am) who could not always express what was on my mind. I would always be hesitant and fearful of expressing my feelings. And because of that, I feel, I let many an opportunity slip by and so I made sure that my daughters would never have to face such situations in their lives. And then, of course, is my son, the one who is supposed to be carrying the family legacy forward because as you guessed it, he is the ’ proverbial heir of the family’, a typically Indian business family syndrome. He is still in school but very much aware of his name, his responsibilities and the expectations from him. In this respect, I feel that there hasn’t been much change between the times in which I grew up and the present. In our kind of setups, boys are still given a lot of importance. We try to portray as though we give an equal amount of importance to the girls but in reality, this is not true. We are still biased towards the boys.
I, my present role notwithstanding am an educated woman but belonging to a business family where the reason why girls were educated was that that would enable them to get good matches. So I was also educated in the best of schools and colleges but was told very clearly at a young age that my role in life was to be that of a facilitator, someone who was getting equipped to be a good wife and an equally good mother. So apart from getting a decent level of education my culinary and housekeeping skills also had to be developed and honed with time. I was also told that as a wife I would be required to facilitate the success of my husband and then of my children. And therefore there was absolutely no need for me to harbour any kind of ambitions of my own of being able to take up a job or something like that. Also in our times very early on in our lives, we were made aware of the world we belonged to, the strata of society we belonged to and as a result, the kind of friends we could have was also kind of predetermined. They had to be similar to us in every respect. But though most of my friends were like me from well-heeled and wealthy backgrounds they were a little different from me. By and large, all of them wanted to get married, have children, take care of their families and lead cushy lives but I didn’t want to do just that. I wanted to work and experience the freedom of being economically independent and being my own person but then I didn’t have a choice. I had to pretty much toe the line. Whenever I saw or read about a woman who had built a career for herself and was independent in every respect I also wanted to be like her, follow her path but then there was no way that I could ever do that. I still remember a conversation that I had had with my mother when I had passed out of college. I had asked her, ” Mummy, I am so well qualified, why can’t I go out to work or at least join Papa in his office.”
I remember the expression on her face as she said, ” Girls from our kind of families do not go outside to work. They are supposed to stay at home and support the family.” I couldn’t understand why couldn’t they support if they worked. But anyway I didn’t have the guts to question her. So much as I would have liked to work, become self- contained, I didn’t get a chance. I had to put all my aspirations aside and just wait to get married.
And then very soon after that, my parents got to know about this well-known family with an only son. It had been too good a match for me, and therefore the family had been approached through a common acquaintance and soon and sure enough I had got engaged to be married to Rajat. I had been just twenty when I got married and since then my life has been pretty much the way my mother had said it would be. I have been a wife, a mother, a facilitator, a caregiver and not necessarily in that order. And even though I was given the opportunity to meet my to-be-husband it wasn’t to give me an option to say No. It was just to tick a box which made our parents seem modern as they had let the children meet each other before getting married.
When I got married both my in-laws had been alive. So therefore as far as my life was concerned there wasn’t much difference between my life in my parent’s house and my marital home. The only difference was that in my parents’ house it had been as though I was being prepared for my life after marriage and after getting married it was like testing of all that I had learnt and of course also about pointing out all my flaws and shortcomings. And so whatever I hadn’t learnt there I had to pick up in my new home. It wasn’t easy but with time I learnt to find happiness in my existence as Mrs. Shona Sikand, the wife of Rajat Sikand. And I let go of my desire to have an identity of my own. Once I did that life became easier and happier and if not in the way I had wanted I did manage to get some independence in my dealings with the world. That is also because I had a lot of money at my disposal which gave me a lot of power.
When I look back I remember the day I walked into my marital home. It was as though in a matter of a couple of hours I had from a girl become a woman, a wife, a daughter-in-law with an unending list of duties and responsibilities. After the euphoria of the first few months, my life was relegated to looking after my husband and his family, supporting my husband in whatever he wished to do, looking after the house and spending all the money that I wanted. To their credit no-one ever questioned me on any money related matter. I could spend all that I wanted but I wasn’t very comfortable doing that because I knew it wasn’t mine. It was my husband’s. But that was only my feeling so not very important though eventually, I managed to learn to live with the fact that I would never have money of my own. It would always be my husband’s.
Very soon after that Rhea was born. Though my in-laws had been looking forward to having a grandson since she was the firstborn they were kind of fine with it. But of course, there was all the pressure in the world for me to conceive again. What I always found strange about their behaviour was that they firmly believed that everything about a child was a woman’s responsibility no matter what. So things like how soon one conceived to the sex of the child to the upbringing, everything fell in the woman’s domain with absolutely nothing in the father’s. The father was like a guest who was supposed to occasionally cuddle the child, spend a few happy moments with the child and that’s it. Any stress, any sorrow or distress in the child’s life was of no concern to him. The only thing was that this guest paid for the child’s upkeep!!!! And if as a consequence the father could never get close to his children nobody really cared about it. It wasn’t so important. Since I had grown up in such an environment, I hated it but I could see that my children also would not have much luck in that area.
My husband always had a super hectic life and things like vacations happened infrequently and even if they did they lacked the warmth, the joie de vivre which I wanted them to have. It was always as though he was doing us a favour by taking us for one. And if work called he could just leave us all there and go. And of course, there was no question of any complaint. We were supposed to understand and support him. And I was to take the lead in that and make the children understand. Therefore many times when Rajat could not join us and the kids had holidays I would ensure that the four of us would go on a vacation so that the children would not miss out on being together. And though initially, we missed him, gradually all of us got used to it. At times I would feel bad for him but even if I tried to tell him to take time out for the family he would give a long explanation of how it was impossible for him to leave his work. So eventually I stopped trying. Somewhere he felt that I could replace him everywhere that he couldn’t be present but then that was obviously not possible.
I continued to give him my support in every possible way and do everything that he wanted me to. So if he wanted me to stay at home I did that if he wanted me to travel with him I did that and if he wanted me to entertain or get entertained I was always ready to do that. There was never any question about my willingness or my inability to do something. For the outside world, it was like a dream-like existence, with all the money and riches in the world but I knew that it wasn’t always so. I knew ( still know) that money cannot always buy everything. Beyond a point, it loses its significance and there is only that much of it that you need. And so sometimes in spite of everything I would get very lonely and would miss Rajat terribly especially when there was an occasion or a moment that I wanted to share with him. Like the time when Ragini stood first in her grade and I had gone all alone to her school for the award ceremony. I recall the way Ragini’s eyes had looked for her dad only to be disappointed when she couldn’t see him. She had to make do with me. Yes, it was the money that he earned that had put her in that school but wouldn’t a life where he could have been there to share all this with us even if the school had not been that great have been happier?? Sometimes I really wondered about that. But most of the times no one else other than me felt that there was something amiss.
For the world, we were one happy family where three generations lived under the same roof. We always portrayed ourselves as being role models for society. It was kind of ironic but I guess in a way it was true too. The fact that we all stayed together meant that we were an integral part of each other’s lives and were therefore there for each other. Yes, it was the women and largely me who kept everyone together but I suppose that’s true of most families. With time I learnt to accept most things in the name of family tradition, duty or whatever else one could call it.
I remember when I was about to deliver Ragini and was in terrible pain. I was in agony and wanted Rajat to be around me, holding my hand, offering some comfort, some solace to me but he had to leave me as he had to travel to close a business deal. My mother-in-law was hovering around us and I couldn’t even say anything to him. She on her part made it seem that everything was just fine and he could leave. In any case, according to her, childbirth wasn’t such a big deal and I wasn’t the first woman to have to deal with a difficult situation. I wanted to protest, I wanted to stop him but I couldn’t do anything at all. I had to see him leave me without so much as a glance towards me. Like a fool, I even imagined what if we were never to meet again but of course nothing like that happened and with time even I forgot about it. It was true that I was in the best hospital in the city with the best possible medical attention but that wasn’t the point. I wanted my husband to be there with me but no one seemed to be concerned about it, sadly not even him.
It isn’t as though the two of us have never had any happy moments but they have been few and far between and they always have had the sword of his ’ urgent work ’ hanging upon them. His sudden arrival in the middle of the night to surprise us or the gifts that he would send when he couldn’t be with us to celebrate an occasion did give all of us a lot of happiness
To Rajat’s credit his hard work always paid off and he tasted success in most things that he did in his life. A big turning point for us was when he got the deal for which he had to rush when Ragini was to be born. He had to face a lot of competition but eventually, he got it which was a huge achievement. But getting the deal meant that he had to work at a frantic pace to complete the project, a one of a kind in the country. The project involved the construction of a power plant that would enable almost a hundred villages to get electricity in their homes, a kind of a revolution for them. But that meant that we as a family got to see very little of Rajat. He had to be away from home for long stretches. There were meetings, consultations for which he had to travel a lot and which meant a number of missed vacations, birthdays and anniversaries. He couldn’t be there for any of them and I had to step in to cover up for him and take care of the long and disappointed faces. Somewhere I feel even I had stopped expecting him to be there and had learnt to manage things on my own and when he said he was busy I kind of understood. I remember when my father-in-law had had a heart attack I was the one who had taken charge of the situation. My mother-in-law in spite of her lectures to me on being independent and detached about situations had gone to pieces on seeing him in that helpless state. I had assumed control of everything and had not even thought of informing my husband until much later. It was as though I had conditioned my mind to become hugely self-reliant.
But in the process, I also figured that many times when we feel that our effort is going in noticed or unappreciated it is not actually so. People could be observing us but not really making a big issue about it. I realized this when Rajat ’s project was given an award for having been completed in record time and in his interview to a magazine he gave me credit for his success and acknowledged the fact that it would not have been possible at all without my contribution and in particular mentioned how I had handled my father-in-law’s illness all by myself. His acknowledgement, of course, was like music to my ears. What made it even more special was that in spite of his reticent nature and the culture of the family he had been able to do that.
Now when I look back I do realize that all that handling of situations by myself ended up giving me loads of confidence and the independence that I had craved all my life. With time I became the focal point of my family with each one of them looking towards me for help, support, love and whatever else they wanted. And now I am at a stage where nothing, absolutely nothing can unnerve me or make me feel helpless. I know that I can find a solution to most problems unlike a lot of people around me.
But as our children grew I could see that for them Rajat was just a means to get material things out of. Yes, they basked in his glory, got treated like royalty because of him but all this was taken for granted by them. Since they had never got any emotional support from him they were not very emotionally attached to him. For all their emotional needs, difficult times they would come to me only. So much so that even sharing of the good things in their lives with him was never a priority. In fact, it never even occurred to them to share anything with him. The day my son got appointed as the School Captain, he called me to share the news and though I told him to tell his father about it he refused to saying that he would be too busy to take his call. So while I felt very close to them, I couldn’t help feeling bad for Rajat but I couldn’t blame my children either. I felt it was the result of the choices that he had made in life. The choice had enabled him to attain unparalleled success in his work life but it had been at the cost of his family life, his relationship with his children. But I guess one has to pay the price for every choice that one makes.
On my part, I have tried to ensure that my children never lack for anything in life. And when I say this I don’t mean the material things. They have always had more than what they have needed. My focus all my life has been on giving them a lot of love and affection, on inculcating the right kind of values in them and keeping them grounded no matter what. And today when I see them and see the way they have turned out I can afford to take a lot of pride in the way they have shaped up. Even my son who has been pampered silly by my mother-in-law has turned put to be a fine young man. So I guess it has all turned out well. I may not have become a career woman, the way a lot of women have, I may not have had the independence to do a lot of things the way I would have wanted to but then if not my own I have helped shape the lives and careers and lives of my loved ones. And that to my mind is no mean achievement and something to be immensely proud about.
I can look back and get that feeling of satisfaction about the way I have lived my life and get motivated to continue leading it the same way.