This is the story of a woman named Seema who grew up in the 1930s, got married in the 1950s and died just before the World entered the new millennium. A woman who was courageous, steely in her determination and way ahead of her times.
She was the eldest child born in an extremely affluent and well-known family of Punjab, India. She had five siblings but being the firstborn of her parents, she was their favourite and her father especially doted on her.
At a time when the education of girls was not given much importance, and therefore most girls took it very lightly, Seema chose not only to pursue her academics seriously, but she decided to excel in them. Her father was quick to spot her inclination and ability towards academics very early on in her life and despite a lot of opposition decided to encourage and support her in every possible way.
When most girls of her age were getting married, she chose to slog away to top her class. The day she cleared her matriculation, was a day on which the entire family rejoiced. Those were not the days when one could get to know the result sitting at home. The result got published in the newspaper which also did not reach all homes. Newspapers were only available on railway stations. Therefore on the day, the result was expected, Seema’s father had someone waiting there to check the result. And when that man spotted Seema ’s roll number in the list, he went running to their house to break the news to the family. Tears streaming down his cheeks the proud father hugged his daughter. She had achieved something that no other person (let alone a girl )in their family had ever managed. Diwali came four months early that year for the family.
From then on there was no looking back for Seema. She went on to finish her graduation and then her post-graduation. By then she was well past the marriageable age of those times, and two of her younger sisters had also got married. Tongues started wagging, and people started talking and making fun of her and her father’s foolhardiness.
They could see only dark clouds as far as her future was concerned. They firmly believed that the family would never be able to find a suitable match for Seema and she would be left on the shelf. But the father-daughter duo took no notice of such people and their predictions.
Then taking even a bigger leap, Seema decided to start teaching in a college. For this, she needed to move to a different city which of course she did. The family, the friends, the well-wishers couldn’t fathom her reason for doing that. They felt that she had done enough by studying so much and there was absolutely no reason for her to start working. And if she was to do such a thing, then there must be something terribly wrong with her. Some people even began casting aspersions on her character, her health. Since the family was well known and she was the only one to have ever taken such a bold step, she had become the talk of the town. There were a lot of girls who were envious of her, but most of them felt that she was being foolish and would end up remaining a spinster.
She was in her mid-twenties by then and not married. Her mother though always supportive of her, now started getting jittery. She was worried that her daughter would never find a suitable match and would end up remaining unmarried.
But of course, that was not to be. It was as though that even the powers that be were in favour of her and supported her. One fine day her father got to know that there was a family in their city looking for a match for their son who had just joined the Civil Services. Since he was very well educated, the boy wanted a girl who could match up to him. This seemed to be a God sent opportunity. The two families met, and the alliance was sealed.
The boy’s mother was not alive, and it was left to one of his sisters and father to discuss everything with Seema’s father. When the sister saw Seema, she was quite taken aback. Thinking that she was like a bookworm, she had expected Seema to be a dowdy, bespectacled and a shy girl. But to her shock and surprise, Seema turned out to be tall, good-looking, extremely smart, confident and not at all shy. The sister was not really comfortable with this. She could see that Seema was her own person and would not be like a traditional, meek daughter in law. And being a woman she could not prevent a certain amount of jealousy creeping in. On the way back home she tried to dissuade her father and brother from going ahead, but her brother was quite clear that Seema was the girl for him. Thus much against the sisters’ wishes, the two got married, and Seema entered her new home with mixed feelings. She knew she wasn’t a conventional bride. She didn’t possess a number of skills which girls of her age were supposed to be having. She couldn’t cook, stitch, knit or keep a house. Yes, she could discuss politics, current affairs but that wasn’t what she would be expected to do.
As she was more of her husband’s choice than anybody else’s, she wasn’t really welcomed very well by her new family. In fact, they and especially her sisters-in-law were quite cold and distant with her. Not one to give up she decided to take up the challenge and try and adjust with her new surroundings. By nature, she was pleasant and cheerful, so she could win over most of the family members other than her three sisters-in-law with whom she couldn’t find anything in common. They were not very educated, were average looking and terribly jealous of her. No matter how hard she tried, they just wouldn’t soften their stance and would always be on the lookout for an opportunity to put her down. And of course, her culinary skills or rather the lack of them gave them ample opportunity to do that.
However, what was like a bolt from the blue for her in-laws was Seema ’s decision to resume work just a few days after the wedding. They had all assumed that she would give up the job after getting married, but Seema had no intention of doing that. Having the full support of her husband she resumed work after three weeks of getting married. To do that she had to move back to the city where she had been working before getting married. And this was the 1950s, so tongues started wagging once again and they didn’t know where to stop. People started saying things about her, her family and her obvious inability to get on with her in-laws. Not caring for any of this she stuck to her decision and joined back. And it was left to the two families to face the society which wasn’t easy at all and which especially her in-laws were not prepared to do. But since both husband and wife were in agreement on this, nothing much could be done about it. What’s more, the husband also got transferred to a different city. So for the sake of their respective careers, the couple chose to live in two different parts of the country.
They continued to live separately for a couple of more years by which time the world was sure that all the education had gone to Seema’s head and that her father had ruined her life. She had been unable to live with her husband. But contrary to the general impression, both husband and wife not only got along very well but had gradually fallen in love with each other. They found each other’s company very stimulating and inspiring. Though for the most part, they lived apart they were quite comfortable with this arrangement. And then came their son. Since Seema was living alone, the initial days of pregnancy were very trying, but she had grit, she had courage which made her pull along. It was pretty evident that with the child it would be difficult for her to work and that too in a different city. But then at this point, her mother stepped in and offered to take the baby with her till an alternative could be worked out.
As luck would have it, Seema found a job in the city where her parents lived, and her husband also got posted there. So for the next four years life followed a more or less conventional pattern. She learnt how to cook, and since her parents lived nearby, it was comfortable for her to continue working. But then came their daughter which was when she realised that it would not be fair on her part to expect her mother to take care of two children and so with a heavy heart she decided to quit her job. And having done that, she put her heart and soul into raising her children in the best possible way and supporting her husband in his career.
The next twenty years of her life went by in this way. The years also saw her parents passing away, and though all her siblings were heartbroken when it happened, she was devastated. It was difficult for her to come to terms with the fact that her parents who had supported her through thick and thin were no longer there. But then life had to move on which it did.
By then she had three children. She was an excellent mother, a loving wife and a fantastic homemaker. She followed her husband wherever he was required to go as per his career requirements whether it was in India or abroad. Being an educated woman she was quite an asset to her entire family. Of course, her sisters-in-law always had a bone to pick with her. They always felt small in front of her but smartly camouflaged the inferiority complex.
With time the children finished their education, and then it was time for them to be settled in terms of finding good matches for them. The son liked a girl who lived abroad and wanted to get married to her. Though Seema did not really like her, she let her son have his way. Then her elder daughter also got married. In the meantime, her misgivings about her daughter-in-law proved to be right. The daughter-in-law did not want her husband to have anything to do with his family after the marriage and would pick up fights with him if he tried to be in touch with them or visit them. She was quite a control freak which her husband resented, and so eventually the marriage broke up. It was quite a set back for the family, the son was also quite heartbroken, but then they stuck it out.
Seema remained her strong self throughout the crisis, the divorce and the aftermath. She fully supported her son and stood by him. Life in a way was preparing her for a far greater challenge. Her husband who was now on the verge of retirement after an illustrious career with the Indian government got an offer to work for the British government at a very high position. It was too good an offer to refuse, so the husband accepted it. Since their younger daughter was in the final year of her college, Seema could not move with him. Both mother and daughter were to join him later. And then……the unthinkable happened. Without any sign, without any warning, her husband, her soulmate of thirty-five years passed away. It was so sudden, so unimaginable that the whole family was stunned. Seema was beside herself with grief. She didn’t know what had hit her. She felt cheated and desolate.
But the fighter in her was not going to give up. Once again she decided to rise to the challenge which life had thrown at her. She and her daughter went to London to settle her husband’s affairs, his finances and job-related formalities. She was remarkably calm and composed in front of everyone, but when she was alone, her tears would start flowing. It was as though they also knew when to control themselves.
Her primary concern at that point was to protect the future of her younger daughter who was still studying. There was pressure from every quarter to find a match for her and be done with the responsibility. But Seema was made of sterner stuff. She had never allowed anyone to interfere in her own life, so where was the question of her letting them do it now. She dug in her heels and encouraged her daughter to strive towards becoming an economically independent woman. Fortunately for her, her daughter also had her grit and determination, and so she set off on the path chosen by her mother.
In the meanwhile, her son decided to get married for the second time and once again with a girl she was not too keen on. And once again she had to give in. And uncanny though it may seem but once again her instincts proved to be correct. Her daughter-in-law coming from a different social background was quite an unpleasant person. She was controlling, ill-tempered and not at all willing to get along with the other family members except for her husband who was anyways smitten by her. She wanted everything to be her way whether it was the food, the upkeep of the house or the people they interacted with. She tried to control everything. And if things did not go her way, then she was capable of screaming, shouting, calling the cops… just about anything. Seema was quite horrified and shocked by her behaviour and tried talking to her but to no avail. The daughter-in-law felt that her word had to reign supreme. Seema herself being a strong person was not going to cow down to any pressure. So, as a result, the environment at home became quite unpleasant. It was as though her son and daughter-in-law though living in the same house had nothing to do with anyone else. They behaved as if they were living in a guest house, where they could use everything without shelling anything out of their pockeys, without contributing to the upkeep of the house or anything. Looking after the house, it’s repair and maintenance, the groceries, everything was Seema’s responsibility, and if anything ever fell short, the daughter in law would bring the house down while the son would be just a mute spectator.
Not only was it burdensome for Seema, it was also not fair. Many times she tried speaking to her son about it, but he was unable to do much. Not only was there unwillingness to take on any extra burden, but he also could not lift a finger without his wife’s permission. Then came their children and still, nothing changed. Because of the environment at home, it was difficult for her to find a match for her daughter.
But then destiny played its role, and she managed to find a nice boy for her daughter and was able to marry her off. Of course, the wedding and its preparation were not without drama. Her son and his wife were only interested in the money that was being spent and had no interest in anything else. It was Seema and her daughters who had to run from pillar to post to arrange everything, the finances, the shopping, the arrangements, the invites, the looking after of the guests, everything was their headache. But again moving on with the grit, the determination and the positivity which was so her, Seema managed everything. She ignored her son and his complaining and carried on.
With the daughter getting married, in a way, Seema had finally managed to finish off her responsibilities. She was content in that way, but life with her son and his family showed no signs of any improvement. It was becoming worse. With age catching up it was getting difficult for her to do a lot of things. Of course, her daughters were there, and they were always available for her. But the fact was that she did not live with them, she lived with her son who was completely under his wife’s thumb. To take a break from all this, at times she would go and stay with the daughters, where she would have a wonderful time with them and their children. In fact, the daughters’ children brought a lot of happiness into her life. They would sit with her, listen to her stories and even take help from her in their studies whenever their mothers were busy. The bond she had with them was very special and precious. Even with the daughters, she was like a guide, a confidante who would advise, suggest whenever the need arose.
But when she came back, she had to bear the brunt of her daughter-in-law’s tongue. The daughter-in-law wanted that she should either break off all ties with her daughters and be at her beck and call or she should move out and start living with one of them. Seema didn’t want to do either. The house in which they lived, the cars which they drove and everything in that house belonged to her, and she could not see a reason to give it all up. So she hung on but the situation saddened her, and most of all her son ’s indifferent attitude not only angered her but greatly disappointed her. His inability to stand up to his wife had made him break all ties with his sisters and with the mother too. But she was helpless in this regard. No matter how hard she tried, he was not prepared to listen to her or do anything against his wife.
What was worse was the fact that even her grandchildren whom she doted upon, adopted the indifferent and intolerant attitude of their parents. They would barely look at her and even when their aunts visited they mostly stayed away like their parents. Yes…..there was one topic which greatly interested her son and his wife,and that was Seema’s will. He always wanted to know in whose favour it would be and what he would get out of it. But Seema never let him on. She was very clear that the will would be her decision and the contents of it would remain unknown to the entire family till the time she was alive.
Life continued in a similar vein for the next five years by when Seema had become quite old and suffered from quite a few age related ailments, though there wasn’t anything majorly wrong with her. She had her set of friends, her books, her music and her daughters, their children which made her world complete. But then her son was missing. She wanted him to be with her, for her but that was not to be…
And then one morning at the crack of dawn when a new day was waiting to make its appearance, Seema decided to bid farewell to this world… And just like that…she was gone…. That was the end of Seema’s story.
Could the story of Seema have been different? Could she have lived it differently?