As I Geetanjali, sit down today at the age of sixty and reflect on the years gone by, on my life gone by, I am so sure that I would not want to have lived it any other way. It was a life which had it’s share of ups and downs as most lives have but the ups of the past few years have left me with a huge sense of achievement and contentment. It seems as though in the end I managed to square up everything and like how…
I grew up in the erudite and culturally evolved city of Kolkata, the youngest among three children. I had two elder brothers for whom I was the pampered baby sister. My father was an extremely well known and respected lawyer of the city while my mother was a housewife, a role she played to perfection till the day she died. We were pretty well off so never lacked for anything material in our growing up years. But our upbringing was quite a strict one and we had to abide by a long list of do’s and don’t’s, with probably the don’t’s leaving the do’s much behind. Though not so much as a child, as I grew up I realized that the list of don’ts for me was miles longer than the one for my brothers. And it was my mother who was more particular about all this.
Apart from everything else my parents were also very particular about education. They wanted all their children to excel in academics and if possible acquire a professional degree. Along with that, we were regularly exposed to music, theatre and books to make sure that our education was complete in every respect. Since I was encouraged to read a lot I was aware of the world around me which was all the more reason why some of their discriminatory actions irked me. I would always question all the restrictions which I thought were unfair. I was quite outspoken and would never hesitate to voice my opinion even if that meant getting into an argument with my father, something that no one else dared do. But I was my father’s favourite and most of the times he would let me have my way.
Academically, I was the brightest of the lot and always performed very well, something that my brothers did not really like. Though they loved me a lot, they firmly believed that being males they were a superior race and so had to be better than me in every respect. I could be a close second but never the first. I was aware of their feelings but never paid much heed to them. And it was relatively easy to do that since I always had the unconditional support of my father.
I finished school having topped in most subjects and so was ready for college. As always my father was extremely encouraging and wanted me to go to the best possible one but my brothers and surprisingly even my mother were not really in favour of my joining college. In fact, my mother had started spreading the word amongst our circle to look for a suitable match for me. Many times she would make me accompany her to her get-togethers, making me meet her friends so that I would be noticed and people could work towards suggesting a match for me. I stopped going out with her the day I figured her motive. I was keen to start college and was applying not only in Kolkata but outside also. I wanted to step out and see and experience the world and was quite tired of all the restrictions which were now making me feel very claustrophobic. I wanted to to be free from it all. Therefore without telling anyone, I decided to look for colleges outside Kolkata. I knew that getting away wouldn’t be easy but I was willing to take a chance. As luck would have it I got admission into one of the most prestigious colleges of Delhi and didn’t want to miss the chance. However, I knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy task. So to begin with I decided to convince my father and then break the news to the others. I prepared a full-fledged case wherein I listed all the pros and cons of my intended decision and approached him. He heard me out and after some thought, and a few questions to which I gave satisfactory answers he agreed to let me go. With his approval in the pocket, I broke the news to the others, one fine day while we were all having dinner. As I had expected my mother and brothers were completely against the idea with my mother even going to the extent of painting a dark and dreadful future for me. My brothers not really having ever got such an opportunity themselves tried to convince my father to not give the green signal to me. They felt that it wasn’t very sensible for a girl from a good family to go out of the city to study and expose herself to various dangers. But much to their dismay and my joy, my wish prevailed and I was given the permission to go to the city of Delhi and live my life.
So one fine morning in the month of July I boarded the flight to Delhi with my mother who was to help me settle in the new place. It was a flight out of a city and out of a way of life. I quickly adjusted to the newness of both. I wanted to learn, I wanted to explore and this new life was offering me all that. My new life made me aware of how sheltered and protected I had been thus far in my life. I had never interacted with the opposite sex, other than with members of my family so I didn’t really know how to do that. I couldn’t have a conversation with the boys. I would always be shy and tongue-tied and would be teased mercilessly by all my friends who seemed pretty comfortable in the company of boys. But being a naturally outgoing person, it wasn’t long before I was able to overcome my shyness, my hesitation and become my normal self. I started going out in groups which consisted of both boys and girls but was careful about not telling my family about any of this. My life in Delhi was the complete opposite of my life in Kolkata. From a sheltered, protected existence back home where I had drivers and maids to take care of my needs, here I was completely on my own, jumping in and out of local buses, washing my clothes, fixing my meals and being totally independent, for the first time in my life. Of course, holidays meant getting back to the old way of life but then it was only for a while.
When I look back now I realize that all this freedom had ended up going to my head and I had gone completely berserk. It was as though I wanted to make up for all the lost time by doing everything that I hadn’t done before. I wanted to party, visit places, make friends and have a good time.As was perhaps bound to happen this new way of life had a life long repercussion. At one of the parties where I had gone with my friends, I chanced upon this dashing young boy, my senior in college who was the cynosure of all eyes and I fell for him hook, line and sinker.
Now I wasn’t exactly beautiful for Sanjay to notice me but I had decided that he was the one for me and so I made it a point to try and be around him all the time even if that meant missing a class. I was completely besotted and would follow him all around the campus. Now he was a catch, no doubt but he did have quite a reputation also as far as girls were concerned. My close friends knew all this so they did try to discourage me but I wasn’t listening. Coming from a strict and conservative environment this taste of freedom was intoxicating, to say the least. Soon my undying devotion paid off and Sanjay began to notice me and what’s more even talk to me. I was transported to the seventh heaven and knew not how to contain my joy. I wanted to be around Sanjay all the time. He was majorly into university politics and was always busy with meetings, rallies and protests. He needed supporters for all this and I was always ready to be there for him with my friends whenever needed. Everything else in my life had taken a back seat and my love had become my life, so much so that in that year I did not even go home during the summer break. I stayed back to be with Sanjay.
My family, particularly my mother sensed this change and decided to come to Delhi to see me. I wasn’t very comfortable with the idea but I couldn’t say anything without raising suspicion so I let things be. For a few days I could hide everything from her but one day while I was at a friend’s place, Sanjay barged into my room asking for me. Maybe it was his tone or it was my reaction but my mother put two and two together and figured what was going on. She was furious. She immediately called up my father and after giving him a piece of her mind about his decision to let me move to Delhi summoned him to Delhi to resolve matters. My father rushed to be with us and needless to say, was very upset with me because not only had I broken his trust but I had also got diverted from the reason for my moving to Delhi. I got a firing from both my parents. My mother wanted me to pack my bags and head back with them, college or no college. I for obvious reasons was not in agreement so we had a huge argument. My father got caught between the two of us. On the one hand, he agreed with my mother but a part of him also wanted me to get my degree since I had already spent a year in the college. Somehow I was able to convince him to let me stay and though I had to make a number of promises to my parents I once again got my way and stayed back. And of course, once my parents went back I went back to my life which revolved around Sanjay and Sanjay.
It wasn’t long before I was in my final year of college and had to decide about my next course of action. I was clear about one thing and that was that I was not going to leave Sanjay no matter what and for that I wasn’t going to leave the city. So I needed to either study further or get a job. Sanjay also didn’t want me to leave. Now that I reflect upon it, it is quite clear that Sanjay wasn’t really in love with me or anything, he just liked having me around him. I had made myself pretty indispensable to him by being constantly around him. Since we both had the same subjects I could do things like copy notes for him, get books for him. Then since he was active in college politics I would fix up his meetings, accompany him wherever he went, take care of his food, his clothes and handle people when he couldn’t. So basically I was like an executive assistant and pretty useful at that.
I was of course in love, so got a lot of happiness doing all this. He wasn’t but needed me all the same. But at that point, I could not understand all this. I announced to my parents that I had no intentions of moving back. This time even my brothers got into the picture and tried hard to make me change my mind but couldn’t succeed. I started working and living in a pg accommodation. This gave me happiness and independence but sleepless nights and stress to my mother. She was an extremely conservative person and wanted me to follow the rules, the customs and get married. I on the other was going the complete unconventional way, living away from home, by myself and then working too. Time and again she would visit me, to check on me and to convince me to marry a boy of her choice but she soon realized that I wasn’t going to listen and Sanjay was going to be a part of my life……
Ultimately she gave up and suggested that I should instead of leading such a life marry Sanjay. I, of course, wanted that more than anything else. She spoke to my father and suggested that the two of them should go and meet Sanjay’s parents and settle everything. But before that, she wanted to have a word with Sanjay. Now though both Sanjay and I had spent a lot of time together, we had never spoken about getting married or anything like that. In fact, I wasn’t even sure about whether he was aware of my feelings for him. But now I had no time to waste. I needed to know what was on his mind before letting my parents visit his. So I decided to meet him and tell him how I felt about him. He was quite taken aback when I did that because he was not expecting this kind of a declaration of undying love from me. He asked me to gave him some time but to my joy and surprise he didn’t waste a lot of time and the very next day proposed to me. It was quite a shock for me as I had not expected a marriage proposal and that too so soon!! But since that was what I wanted eventually, I happily accepted and went back home delighted and excited.
Till today I cannot fully understand why Sanjay decided to marry me although he didn’t love me. Actually, maybe I do understand but still do not want to admit it to myself. It is true that he could have married anyone else given his female fan following and his family connections yet he decided to marry me. I understand now that he had always known that basically, I was a soft person, who had not had a lot of exposure in life and wasn’t street smart at all. I was quite unaware of a lot of ways of the word and so quite an innocent and to top it all I loved him!! He figured and rightly so that I would be an adjusting, accommodating wife who could easily gel in with his orthodox family. And so it wouldn’t be a bad idea at all to marry me. I, of course, believed that my love for him had done the trick. He had seen how much I loved him and so just couldn’t let me go. I was in a dazed, rose-tinted kind of a space where everything was rosy, everything was simple and everything was beautiful. In reality, it wasn’t. Sanjay was the son of a prominent politician of the country who wanted a docile, simple girl for him but at the same time, they wanted someone who belonged to a well-known family and was educated. After all, they did have an image to safeguard!! They had been looking for someone like me but hadn’t been able to find someone and then, lo and behold I had fallen into his lap!! So obviously he couldn’t let me go.
A date was fixed for the parents to meet and they met but the meeting did not turn out the way I, in particular, had wanted it to. My parents along with my brothers had decided to meet them in their house but when they came back they were all very sure that that wasn’t the right family for me. All of them had their reasons which were perfectly valid. My parents felt that the family was too conservative, too orthodox. In fact, my brothers found the whole lot of them to be too regressive in their views. Sanjay’s family consisted of his parents and a sister who was already married. The one thing that struck my family the most was the level of education amongst the women of the house which was appalling as per them. And it wasn’t something that was restricted to the older generation. Sanjay’s sister hadn’t even finished school before getting married and had been married off at the age of eighteen. They found the family and its way of life to be completely opposite from ours. Even though my mother was a tad conservative and traditional in her thinking, it didn’t mean that she didn’t step out of the house to mix with people. In fact my parents had a huge circle of friends who they met regularly. Also, they figured that Sanjay ’s family was all about political gains and connections, a far cry from ours where politics was something we read about only in papers or heard about on the television. The family didn’t seem to have any cultural orientation at all. No one had anything to do with books in that house, they didn’t enjoy going for plays which I loved. And what is more, men and women stepped out together only if there was a reason like a wedding or a religious ceremony. It was all very different, very archaic. My father looked me in the eye and asked me only one question… Would I be able to live like that?? I was naïve, I was stupid enough to think and believe that my Sanjay was not like that. Since he had a number of female friends I thought he was different from his family and more modern in his outlook and since I was to marry him and not his family it would be fine. But in India, you do marry the family, a fact that I overlooked and which was a huge mistake. My brothers met Sanjay separately also and came back with the same conclusion that he wasn’t the right person for me. But I paid no heed as I was madly in love and believed that once we were together everything would fall in place. My family kept pushing me to talk to him and discuss the differences between the two of us but I just don’t know why I didn’t take them seriously. There were various instances which pointed out the glaring differences between us and which should have opened my eyes but they didn’t. I remember that before getting married whenever I visited his house, it was only the women who I met and didn’t even see the men or when my prospective father in law spoke to my parents he didn’t even look at my mother. These were strange things but I did not pay attention to them. My love had completely blinded me and coloured my ability to think rationally.
And so despite the disapproval and fear of my parents I went ahead and married the man of my dreams, more of a nightmare, now that I think about it. My dream world came crashing down the moment I stepped into my marital home. Not only was it a completely different setup but it was it was oppressive and claustrophobic. I wonder now how when I had visited the house before marriage I hadn’t been able to notice such things. After getting married I finally realized that in my new home, men and the women lived in separate parts of the house and while men could be seen in the women’s part of the house, the women had to stick to their part. Gone were my days of endless bantering, arguments with my father and brothers at meal times. Here to begin, with men and women never ate together and if at all they did the women barely spoke. The entire setup was stiff, formal and tyrannical. In this new world which I had entered into out of choice was one where women were an inferiority commodity with only a specific purpose. They were supposed to listen, agree and act on what they had been instructed to do. There was no chance of any questioning or having a different point of view at all. In fact women were not required to have a point of view at all. To say that I was shocked would be an understatement. For several days after getting married, I was in this state of disbelief and stupefaction. It was impossible to accept that such kind of people, such kind of families existed in the modern world. I could not fathom how the women could allow themselves to be treated so shabbily. Why couldn’t we voice our opinions, our views and how could men have the privilege of issuing diktats which had to be adhered to by us women at all times. There was absolutely no freedom. I couldn’t step out of the house unless I had a legitimate reason to do so and then also I had to be chaperoned by someone from the family. [ And to think that I used to protest about my mother’s restrictions!!]. Even then the legitimacy of the outing had to be approved of by the head of the family. I tried protesting, complaining but to no avail.
My husband, in sharp contrast to his behaviour before marriage, was like this meek mouse who had no ability to think beyond what his father wanted him to think. In any case, life for him was pretty much the same as before so it made no difference to him. He was a man, a privileged human being so he had all the freedom in the world.And as long as he fell in line with his father’s plans and ambitions there was no problem. And as far as my problems were concerned he had no interest in them. I had to be at his beck and call all the time and that’s it. All my dreams of spending time with him, going out with him, having conversations with him remained just dreams. He did not want to do any of those things with me because he didn’t think that he could or should be doing that. He had never seen men and women interacting as equals in his life so couldn’t really understand where I was coming from or what I was craving for. We were poles apart in everything and had nothing in common. My books, my plays my friends, my movies, all were a thing of the past. Imagine my horror and shock when one day all the books that I had collected over the years were sold as junk on the instructions of my father-in-law who believed that books polluted minds and therefore should not be kept in the house. I still remember the day this happened. I had stepped out for a while with my sister-in-law and when I reached home I saw these two servants mercilessly throwing away my collection and telling the kabaadiwaala to take them away as quickly as possible. I rushed to rescue them but was pulled back by my mother-in-law who warned me to not interfere in the decisions taken by the elders of the family. Seeing my father-in-law sitting in the living room I rushed inside to plead with him to let me keep my books but he just ignored me and continued talking to the person in front of him. My sister-in-law was instructed to take me away. Later on, I was given hell by both my husband and mother-in-law for having taken the liberty of interrupting my father-in-law’s meeting. I couldn’t believe that this was what I had signed up for. I wanted to run away from the oppressive environment but where could I go. I wasn’t yet ready to tell my parents about my situation. I could imagine their reaction. Till the day of my wedding, my mother had kept trying to reason with me to reconsider my decision but I in my usual pig-headed manner had refused to listen to her and now was having to pay the price. But at the same time I could not bear this any longer and desperately needed to talk to someone. So I got in touch with my college friend Ranjana who had been pretty close to me in my college days and knew all about Sanjay and me. I shared everything with her but was quite shocked to know that she wasn’t shocked at all at my predicament. It seemed as though she knew that this was bound to happen. She reminded me of the number of times she too had tried to stop me from having anything to do with Sanjay and maintain a distance from him. She told me that most of my friends had been unable to understand how I could have have been so blinded by my love that I could not see Sanjay for what he actually was.
Want to know more…. Wait for Part 2…