My conversation with her made me feel even worse. I didn’t know what to do. She told me that since it had only been six months since I had got married, I should not give up so soon. Also, she warned me that since Sanjay’s family was a very influential one, it would not be easy for me to even leave him. He and his family could make life difficult for me and my family. To my rational mind, this sounded illogical and unbelievable but then by now I was quite aware of the ground reality. I had seen a number of suspicious looking men around my father-in-law and they seemed to follow him where ever he went. They made me feel quite uncomfortable and I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. So I decided to just cope up for as long as I could. I wanted to see to what extent I could do that. But the next few months made it pretty obvious that no amount of adjustment or compromise could ever give me a status of equality in the house. If I protested too much even to my husband he would not hesitate to raise his hand on me with absolutely no shame or regret.
Meanwhile, my parents were beginning to get some idea about my situation and about the fact that my life had not turned out the way I had thought it would. I was no longer the chirpy, vivacious person I used to be. I hadn’t visited them after getting married and if they called I was very formal and restricted in my conversation and quite subdued too. On one of his visits to Delhi when my father came to see me, he came without informing anyone which was a big surprise for me and for everyone else too. I was overjoyed to see him. But my in-laws and my husband were not and told him very clearly that in future if someone wanted to see me they had to inform beforehand. Also when he asked them to send me to Kolkata, my mother-in-law flatly refused and told him that a married woman’s place was in her husband’s house and only if there was an emergency did she need to visit her parents. My father didn’t say anything to her but hugged me before leaving and whispered in my ears that I did not need to fear anything or anyone and could walk out if I wanted to.
This comforted me greatly but I wasn’t going to give up so easily. I wanted to sit down with my husband and try and make him understand my point of view. I also felt that I could speak to my sister-in-law and try and find a way out. My husband, of course, was not even willing to listen. My sister-in-law listened but had no solution to offer. She told me that in their kind of families that was how life was led. She sympathized with me but told me that I would have to toe the line or else I would only suffer. She also warned me that in case I harboured any hopes about leaving, it would be next to impossible for me to do that. She told me that because of my father-in-law’s position they would not let me leave Sanjay which I still found hard to believe. I belonged to a progressive, forward-thinking family which I knew would not let me suffer and would support every decision of mine even if that meant taking on my in-laws.
Seeing no light in sight in my in-laws house,I decided to have a frank discussion with my father since I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of sharing much with my mother or brothers. I called my father from Ranjana’s house and asked him to think of something whereby I could at least visit my family. He came up with an idea and decided to call my father-in-law. He told him that since they were on the verge of fixing my brother’s wedding I was required to be in Kolkata to finalize the match. My father-in-law agreed to let me go for a week. I couldn’t believe that I had been allowed to get out of the house and that too for a week!!. I started counting the days and the day I was to leave, there was a spring in my step, shine in my eyes. The thought of being able to get out of this prison was so liberating, so uplifting. I knew that my visit was going to be a short one but at least I was being able to go. I reached home and what a welcome I got!! My parents, my brothers were overjoyed to see me. It was the first time after my marriage that I was visiting them and it had been a year and a half since I had got married. Though I had not shared most of what had been happening in my life they all had a fair idea of what I was going through.
For the next two days, all that we did was talk about how I could be rescued from the situation. And all credit to them that not once did they get angry with me or remind me of how they had warned me about the family and how I had been so stupidly stubborn about it. Other than my mother everyone else was convinced that I had to leave Sanjay no matter what. They were aware of how difficult it would be to get me out of their clutches but they were determined to do that. My mother was still a little unsure because she was worried about what people would say but her objections were completely overruled. The question was how was this to be managed.
Of course, the response of my family was a great morale booster for me. I knew that I wasn’t alone and they were there to support me which was greatly relieving. But soon my time of freedom was almost over and my family could see that I didn’t want to go back. So my father called up my father-in-law once again and requested him to let me stay for a few more days as my mother was unwell. He agreed and so I managed to extend my stay. Amidst all this what hurt and disappointed me the most was that not once did Sanjay feel the need to call me or get in touch me. Was this who I had fallen in love with? We hadn’t even been married for that long. It was only when I called did he speak to me and even then the conversation was always very brief and stilted. Not once did he ask me to come back. It was as if he couldn’t care less. This behaviour made my family become even more convinced about the rationality of my decision to leave him. My father being a lawyer started thinking of ways of getting me out. He consulted a few of his trusted lawyer friends also and they were on the verge of filing a case when tragedy struck.
When I now look back I am convinced that it wasn’t a chance. How could it be? One day when both my brothers were on their way to work, their car was hit by a lorry and both of them died on the spot. They had been sitting on the back seat and the lorry had rammed into the car from behind. We rushed on hearing the news but by the time we got to the hospital they had already left us. In fact, the younger one hadn’t even made it to the hospital. My parents were devastated, I was in a state of shock and didn’t know what to do. Our relatives and friends came to our rescue. A police case was filed but apparently, the lorry driver could not be found and after a few months, the police just forgot about everything. The case was shelved for lack of evidence. I wonder sometimes if my laws had somehow got wind of my intentions and had engineered this. But I have no evidence to support this conjecture.
For the next few weeks our friends, our relatives took over our lives because we had forgotten how to live. My father looked as if he had aged twenty years, my mother couldn’t stop looking at me with accusing eyes. She believed that it was my association with that family which had brought this misfortune on us. Somewhere I did hold myself responsible for the situation but didn’t know how to make any kind of amends. My in-laws came to be with us but left in two days time with my mother-in-law telling me that I couldn’t stay there forever. Her parting shot to me was that nothing could change the situation and since this wasn’t my home any longer I needed to get back to my real home as soon as possible. What was even more heartbreaking that the so-called love of my life didn’t have one word to say to me. He came, he gave me a formal, forced kind of a hug and then walked away. There was no consoling, no sympathizing, no sharing of the pain with me. And of course like a dutiful son he too repeated his mother’s instructions before leaving. My sister-in-law was the only one who seemed to be having a heart which genuinely cared for me and my parents. She stayed back for a few days but eventually, she too had to leave. But before leaving she told me that I couldn’t leave Sanjay alone for too long. I needed to get back. But how could I leave my parents all alone? They had no one else other than me to take care of them. However, after a few days, my mother who actually never forgave me for my brothers’ deaths told me to leave and go back to my marital home. She told me clearly that she would be able to get on with her life and both she and my father didn’t need me at all. I think somewhere a part of her had died along with her sons and she had resigned herself to face whatever was in store for me as well.
I left after a few days and when I went to say bye to her, she told me never to bother her or my father with my issues. In an extremely unfeeling and cold manner, she also told me to face the consequences of my decision because that had been my choice. I left after bidding farewell to my father who was too grief-stricken to say anything at all. And that was the last time that I ever saw my parents. They lived on for five years after my brothers’ deaths but not once could I go and see them. Whenever I tried getting in touch with my mother she either refused to take my calls or if she did, she quickly disconnected the phone on realizing who it was at the other end. It was as though I too had died along with my brothers. So much so that not even when my children were born did she come and see me or have me visit her.
This turn of events shook me up to the core of my being. I felt completely alone. I had no family, no one to turn to. I felt as though I was at the mercy of my husband and his family. And when I conceived for the first time I didn’t even want the child. I was so distraught that I didn’t want to bring my child into my unhappy world. But my child, my son did come into the world followed by my daughter two years later. The birth of my children did not mean anything to me. I had lost interest in everything. I seemed to have no feelings or emotions left in me. I did what was required of me but my heart wasn’t in anything. I missed my brothers, I missed my parents. I wanted to go and see them but couldn’t because I didn’t know how to face my mother. In the midst of all this one day when I got back home from a temple where I had gone with my mother-in-law, I found the door to my room locked from the inside. I waited for a while thinking that it could be my husband who was inside but when no one opened it even after an hour I got tired of waiting and got very angry too.I started banging on the door. The servants all came running but not to help me open the door but to take me away from there. They persuaded me to go and sit in the living room while they opened the door. On hindsight, I can tell that they knew exactly what the matter was but wanted to keep me away. And when the door opened I saw a young girl coming out and when I went in I found Sanjay on the bed. This should have been a huge blow but somehow it didn’t affect me the way it should have. It was as though I didn’t expect any better from my husband. But for the millionth time, I wished I had not married him. The only consolation was that this time my father-in-law was on my side. He was furious with Sanjay and told him categorically that he had no business to bring another woman to the house. He could do whatever he wanted outside the house but within the four walls of the house, that sort of behaviour was unacceptable.
This incident gave me a reason to move out of the room I shared with my husband and start living in a separate room with my children. Surprisingly not one member of the house objected to this action of mine. In fact, my mother-in-law told me that I could do whatever I wanted as long as word about my actions did not get to the outside world. In the midst of all this one day, Ranjana visited me. While she had all the sympathy in the world for me, she told me that though I was unfortunate in a lot of ways I could not keep wallowing in self-pity for the rest of my life and certainly not at the expense of my children. She made me understand that I was being extremely unfair to the children by not giving them my time and attention. She told me that I had no business to neglect them and in fact, she was of the opinion me that I should impart some of my own values to the children rather than letting them get influenced by the environment in the house. This piece of advice somehow made sense to me and forgetting everything else I started to focus on my children. I decided to put my heart and soul into their upbringing and make sure that they got a good one.
Though we were living in the same house I had absolutely no interaction with Sanjay. He, on his part couldn’t look beyond his women and his set of cronies who were just like him. He couldn’t care for me or the children. My in-laws, on the other hand, did care for their grandchildren particularly for their grandson for obvious reasons. Once I had decided to focus on my children I wanted to keep them as far away as possible from the regressive environment at home. I managed to convince my father-in-law to let me send them to a boarding school sighting reasons of security and better education for them. My father-in-law had by now risen to become a Minister in the government and so security had become a major issue for us. Since he wanted his grandson, the future of his family to be safe under all circumstances he agreed to my suggestion. We chose a school that was in the hills where we could visit them regularly and so off they went.
Once the children left, I was at a loose end and didn’t know what to do with myself. On my father-in-law’s suggestion, I decided to look after the woman’s wing of his party and so started spending a lot of time at the party office. In the meanwhile one after the other, my parents decided to leave this world. First, it was my father about whose death for obvious reasons my mother didn’t inform me. But one of her friends did and as a result, I managed to get a glance of my beloved father when they were taking him away. Not having any reason to live, my mother followed him three months later. This time I being the only surviving member of the family had to be there to perform the last rites. When I entered the house after her cremation, I realized that now I was truly an orphan. It broke my heart to dispose off their house, their belongings but I had no choice. Having dealt with all formalities I headed back and immersed myself in my work. I had no time for anything else and only took a break when my children were around or I had to go and visit them.
Life moved on, and before I knew my children had grown up and it was time for them to join college. Maybe it was the genes or whatever but my son though a shade better than his father had turned out to be pretty much like him. He was brash, he was abrasive, he was crude. All my attempts at making him different had failed. Having finished school, he didn’t want to study further and just wanted to while away his time. The only difference was that he wanted to follow his grand father’s footsteps and join politics. This desire made him join college so that he could be at par with the new age political aspirants. In this, he was encouraged and pushed by his grandfather. The father in any case by now had become a gone case having ruined his health with his excessive drinking and womanizing. But sadly in spite of my attempts my son was a total male chauvinist who had absolutely no respect or regard for women not even for those in his family.
My daughter, on the other hand, was my replica. She was academically very bright, outgoing and full of beans. She was ambitious and wanted to build a career in the area of finance. But what she didn’t realize was that she belonged to a family where women and their desires or ambitions had no value. They were supposed to be subservient to men and assist them in whatever they wanted to do. They could not have an existence of their own. She realized this harsh truth when while still in school she expressed a desire to pursue her further studies in the US. When she mentioned it to me I kept quiet knowing fully well that that was something that could never happen. And when she mentioned it in front of the family, the horrified expressions on their faces made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. I wanted to laugh at their shocked expressions. It was unbelievable for them to hear that not only a woman of their family wanted to study but she wanted to study abroad. It was too much for them to digest and I wanted to cry at my daughter’s naivety who could think that her family would let her do that. As expected her idea was shot down by the entire family. The only concession was that my father-in-law agreed to let her study in India.
Over the years what had happened was that somewhere I had managed to make my father-in-law become a little soft towards me, to begin with, and then towards the other women of the family. He had begun to respect me for my views, my work and for the way I had been of help to him in his work. He had given up on his son a long time ago and considered him only to be a burden and nothing else. Our relationship had reached a point where he relied on me for a number of things and I also could approach him whenever I wanted to unlike before. As a result of his softened stance, my mother-in-law had also changed her stance towards me. My sister-in-law, in any case, had always supported me. So it was quite surprising to see that I had in a way replaced my husband in his family. He was of no consequence to anyone. So although my son was quite similar in his ways to his father he wasn’t given that much of a free rein in life as my husband had been. He was answerable for his actions and could not always get away when he was rude or disrespectful towards women. Much against his wishes he was made to join college though he dropped out after a year while my daughter when it was her turn continued to perform exceedingly well.
They say that your deeds, your actions catch up with you sooner or later. Sanjay’s lifestyle eventually took a toll on his health and he developed a serious health problem. And as a result I became a widow at the age of fifty. Though he had been the son of the house there wasn’t much grieving on his passing away. I couldn’t care less, the father was kind of relieved and the children also were not too affected. The only person who was affected was the mother who now started showering all her attention on my son. She seemed to be seeing Sanjay in him. Her showering of all the love and affection meant nothing other than giving in to all his whims and fancies which obviously suited him but not me. I put my foot down because I didn’t want him to become what his father had become courtesy all the love and affection.
I can never forget the feeling of déjà vu I got when my dear daughter came and confided in me one day that she had fallen in love with a Parsi boy, Imroz and wanted to marry him. I was taken back to my college days when I had been in the same situation. Her revelation put me in a fix. I truly wanted her to be happy and if that happiness lay with that young man I wanted her to grab it. But I also knew that the family of which we were a part would never acquiesce to this. My father-in-law and now my son would never let her be with the man of her dreams. I tried to dissuade her but she had my genes and so wouldn’t listen to me. She was hell-bent on marrying this boy. Seeing her like this I decided to meet the boy. When I met him I was totally impressed by him and other than his religious affiliation had nothing against him. But one more time in my life I didn’t know what to do. While I was figuring a way out of this dilemma, my mother-in-law decided to bid adieu to this world. With her passing, I took over her role with the difference that I had a considerable amount of authority too. And with the grandmother no longer there to pamper him even my son had to depend on me for everything.
I was very clear that I would not let my daughter suffer the way I had. I had decided that if she wanted to work, she would and if she wanted to marry someone of her choice, she would. I would do everything in my power and beyond to ensure that. With all the resources that I had at my disposal, I did a thorough background check on the boy and after getting a nod from my investigators I decided to deal with the matter.
One evening while having tea with my father-in-law I told him about my daughter’s desire to take up a job. Though he wasn’t too happy about her decision he agreed to let her go ahead. On being told about this development my daughter was delighted and couldn’t stop thanking me. I however had one more task on hand. I had to settle the matter of her marriage. I knew that this wouldn’t be easy at all but I had to catch the bull by its horns, so once again I approached my father-in-law. [How life had changed for me! I could actually without any hesitation approach my father-in-law whenever I wanted to!!!] As I had anticipated he was not prepared to even consider the idea of his granddaughter marrying out of caste. I tried very hard but couldn’t succeed. My daughter was, of course, heartbroken but she understood that it would not be easy. But then she wasn’t going to give up. She decided to wait for a few more months and then try again. In the meanwhile, I kept trying to convince my father-in-law about it. I could sense that he was beginning to soften up a little but he was too concerned about his reputation, his image which he believed would take a severe beating if he allowed his granddaughter to take such a bold step. This went on for about two years. By then my son had decided to get married to a girl of his grand father’s choice who belonged to a political family like ours. She wasn’t very educated, was quite timid in her outlook which suited my son. My daughter and I had nothing much in common with her and couldn’t really relate to her. In fact, after seeing her and interacting with her my father-in-law began to see the difference between us and her. But since the alliance had been proposed by him, he couldn’t say much. Unlike my mother-in-law, I tried everything I could to make my daughter-in-law’s life as comfortable as possible. I encouraged her to go out, meet people and even study further.
My daughter meanwhile was waiting for things to turn to her favour. She wanted to marry Imroz but not against her grand father’s wishes. But the grandfather was not relenting. Then one day one of our relatives brought this proposal for her. The boy was from a similar background to ours and my father-in-law was only too happy with the proposal. He knew that by getting her married into that family our political strength would be doubled. When he suggested this to me, I panicked. I knew my daughter would never agree and I didn’t even want her to. Maybe it had to do within his age but somewhere my father-in-law realized that it would be grossly unfair to sacrifice my daughter’s life at the altar of his political ambitions which had actually now become my son’s ambitions. My son now had taken over the political mantle from his grandfather and so was very keen to have his sister married off into a family which could benefit him. I knew I couldn’t let this happen, so once again I approached my father-in -law, this time along with my daughter. I reminded him of all that I had had to undergo because of the life that had been imposed on me. I told him that he owed it to me to save my daughter from a similar fate.
I didn’t know what worked but though he was bound by the word he had given to my daughter’s perspective in-laws he decided to let my daughter have her way. Not wanting to cut a sorry figure in front of the whole world, he suggested something totally incredulous to us. When I heard him making the suggestion, I couldn’t quite believe my ears. I thought that they were playing tricks on me. Had he just suggested that she should elope with Imroz?? Had he lost his mind? My daughter was equally stupefied. He must have seen our expressions because he went on to repeat the idea and said that if she eloped then it would serve the twin purpose of enabling her to marry Imroz while letting him maintain his stance of wanting her to marry the boy he had chosen for her. But he swore us to secrecy and told us not to tell anyone else in the house about his idea. One week of preparation and my daughter ran away from home with the blessings of her grandfather, married the love of her life and then announced it to the media.
What a furore it created!! I still remember the media coverage, the outrage, the reactions of people within our family especially that of my son and daughter-in-law. My father-in-law played the role of the heartbroken but angry patriarch with so much finesse that he could have been awarded the Oscar for it. He raved and ranted, he shed tears for the benefit of the cameras when inwardly he was all smiles. Only I knew the truth and somewhere I think my sister-in-law too suspected his hand in the near perfect elopement. My son was of course beside himself with rage but eventually he had to accept the marriage. I, of course, was the happiest and loved the fact that my daughter had been able to marry the man she wanted to and that my son-in-law loved my daughter so much that he could put up with all the drama.
This one act of my father-in-law made me forgive him for all that he had done to me. He had helped give my daughter the life that she wanted and I could never thank him enough for that. Today my daughter is happy in her world which consists of her husband and two adorable children. My son has also managed to lead a life which Is much better than that of his father’s thanks to me and my daughter-in-law who taking inspiration from my daughter decided to complete her education and also pick up a job. They too have two children.
I am a happy, content sixty-year-old today, the matriarch of an erstwhile male chauvinist family, calling the shots and in total control of my life. I have weathered many storms in my life but today when I think back I realize that had it not been for the storms I may not have become such a strong and courageous person. Yes, I did have the ingredients of being a strong and bold person but then the challenges of my life tried their best to break my spirit. However, I did not allow them t do that. I fought and here I am. I managed to do what the other women of this family couldn’t. And I am satisfied to see that my daughter has managed to lead a life of her choice and do what she wanted. That is a huge achievement for a girl belonging to this family.
Yes my life wasn’t the perfect life, it was unfair, unjust but I do know that it is not about what life gives us, in the end……it is about what we make of what life gives us and I did make the best that I could have…
Vineeta KhannaMay 4, 2019
Very well written. Expressive. Emotive. Detailed. Captivating.
Sangeeta RelanJune 2, 2019
Thank you so much!