I walked out of the house. I was 26.
I walked out of the house. I was 26. I had a two-month baby in my arms.
I walked out of the house. I was 26. I had a two-month baby in my arms. She was my first- I didn’t know how to manage babies.
I walked out of the house. I was 26. I had a two-month baby in my arms. She was my first- I didn’t know how to manage babies. I had nowhere to go.
Strong headed. Opinionated. Tomboy. Argumentative. Fire in the belly. Knows her mind. These words followed me as I walked the path from childhood to adulthood. More like an arterial road. There were even stronger words and emotions associated with the trauma I gave my parents with my anti-establishment ways. So it did not surprise my parents when I introduced my future husband over a late-night call. Standing in a queue at the public phone with other fidgety humans, we waited for the analog wristwatch, which seemed to crawl.
I had met him just two months before. Did I say just? It had seemed a lifetime back then. Just two months earlier, I had started my work life. He had come with his friends, his green T-shirt brightly supporting his rapturous laughter and hiding the alcohol bottle. I had fallen head over heels and proposed month one. That reminded me that I had decided to discuss the bottle with him. Will he listen? Maybe I should use his friends for that had slipped my mind.
The sounds of shuffling feet and straightening backs pull me back impatiently to my watch. The steel-encased black dial of the watch under the dim street light made it difficult to read the time, annoying me even more. The telephone operator announced 11 pm, and my purse strings loosened, for it was the quarter charge hour when the cost of long-distance calls fell to one-fourth. Precious money! My dear mother picks up the phone on the other end. After some quick pleasantries, not the least driven by the money to be saved on short calls, I say, “Ma, meet your future son-in-law.” I forget I haven’t even told her I had met someone. Forget forgetting; I didn’t even know the correct way of introductions. This was a time marriages like these were termed “Love marriages.” Met for love? Met in Love? Met and Fell in Love? Who is to debate these heavy conundrums? “What! What are you saying?” The quiver of a soft, tender voice doesn’t deter me. “Ma, I met him two months back. Would you like to speak with him?” I thrust the phone into his hands—both unprepared and aghast. Didn’t I say anti-establishment – that’s me?
This was the beginning of a saga as an East Indian tried to set foot in a “North Indian Baniya” household. A community of business people from North India, his living as a large joint family. Not a generalisation, but a family who believed in girls doing their graduation so they could find a good family and the boys getting educated and be able to marry a girl with a good dowry. Dowry- a system where the girls pay the boy’s family money during the marriage. Tussles, debates, No’s, multiple meetings, and walkovers later, we are still nowhere close to getting his family convinced. All my parents said was, “Will they be convinced – for you are educated and working ?” Dowry wasn’t even a word that existed in our dictionary.
The lord intervened – or was it my stubbornness? We get married.
What followed was a dance of the stubborn self against time-warped ideas. The acceptance into the family was hitting a hard knock; the wish for a daughter-in-law who would be homebound came crashing down. For another time is the story of unbalance and the struggle to manage home and heart and keep my identity as a professional and woman…
When I get pregnant, I dream of acceptance and peace—nine months of struggle, and finally, the week dawns. Preparations are on for the birth. Trips to the hospital and doctors keep us on our toes.
“This baby you are carrying is your boss’s child,” I hear this resounding as I enter the house one day, particularly late. My manager had dropped me home, and that had provoked this statement. The shock of the statement; the baby stops moving inside. Hurried admissions, the flurry of doctors, counting contractions that refuse to come, and finally induced labour. Three tense days later, she arrives. Juvenile jaundice, the doctor says. Born a little early, her liver hasn’t developed. I remember the pain as my stitches hurt, waiting outside the unit to feed her. What hurt more was that throwaway line that day that had been delivered callously. Did she mean it? I focus my disturbed mind on the tiny naked body in the stark neonatal unit cot. Yellow artificial light to cure her of jaundice sees her coming home only much later.
I give this homecoming moment the importance it needs. The love that she deserves. I pardon the statement, for I believe it was a moment that should not have been. A moment of frustration that she couldn’t control. Weeks turn into months, and the thinking doesn’t change. It gets different shapes and colours. Sometimes the bright crimson of rage and occasionally cold blur of indifference. My parents break into a thousand pieces.
Another trigger. The bullet, this time, could not be pardoned.
I walk out of the house. I was 26. I had a two-month baby in my arms.
For who else could save me but me? Save is a great word. All I wanted was to preserve my sanity and self-worth. A self that would turn back years later and say that I stood up for myself. There will always be support, but the first step is always, invariably, and repeatedly yours. The first step helps you say, “No, that wasn’t correct.” Then you hear the whisper of an undertone, the inner voice that has been knocking and trying to escape the loud voices that seem entirely rational and logical. The voices that say, it’s all right, let it pass. It is that voice in the corner of the room, trying to slither in the tiny gaps of solid pushback. The voice of reason that gives you the strength to live.
I believe strongly that the first time you let someone walk over you is the last time you let yourself be yourself. The voice of real logic and, in its reality, quietly convoluted, says you have nothing, you are no one, and you have nowhere to go. Accept the situation it screams into the tearing pain at the back of your head.
It is a lonely path. It is not romantic. Neither is it remotely courageous. Foolish at all levels. It, however, allows me to be me. And at the end of the day, when I look into the mirror, I want to see a face that is strong and confident and has been given the light, for that is the image and voice that will be a faithful and intimate ally for all journeys to come.
That evening my husband comes to see us, the baby, and me. Conversations and contemplations- a turmoil that my husband and I walk through. I agree to return, stepping into the house a few days later. No apologies or softness in their stance and tones. But the point has been made. Firmly, I hope.
Fifteen years later, as my mobile phone rings in sunny Singapore, she has called to pour her heart out after a terrible day. I had just returned from India after seeing her and helping her through her cataract surgery. In me, she sees her support- we have made peace.
Happy endings don’t always have to start this way, but sometimes, happy endings need a nudge. Or sometimes even a hammer blow on the starting block.