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It had taken two continents, a regressive family, a forced marriage marred with abuse, a bitter divorce, an illegitimate pregnancy, family disownment, social ostracisation, going back to school, relearning, and a complete personality makeover.
Saira came out of the pool, looking a vision in her red polka-dot bikini as she stepped into her cappuccino-hued bath robe. She headed over to Rob, her boyfriend, and sat right next to him.
‘You are an amazing woman, Saira!’
‘I know……Gracias!’, she smiled, acknowledging the compliment graciously.
Life had certainly not been easy for her. ‘But, what the heck!’, she thought, ‘Whoever said greatness came by easily?’
Talking of greatness, Saira was exactly in that enviable haloed spot of greatness. She was at a great place in her life where she could live life by her own rules. But getting to this spot was certainly not easy at all.
‘I have to go now, Rob! Rupi and Zak will be waiting for me,’ she said before giving him a light peck on the lips and heading out of the lounge.
Rupinder and Zachary were her lifelines. Her most beloved children who had no idea how much solace and strength they gave her by just their sheer presence in her life. Even though they thought otherwise! Rupi and Zak were exactly 12 years apart and it surely had its pros. Rupi was like Zak’s second mother, and Saira could breathe easy when away from home for work assignments.
Saira Kaur was a popular TV anchor in the UK and campaigning actively for women’s rights came naturally to her. It was certainly not a gimmicky bandwagon that she jumped onto on her road to fame. Saira was one of the longest surviving victims of Patriarchy and it took her years to break the shackles of it. It had taken two continents, a regressive family, a forced marriage marred with abuse, a bitter divorce, an illegitimate pregnancy, family disownment, social ostracisation, going back to school, relearning, and a complete personality makeover. As a UN global women’s rights champion today, she fought not just for herself and her children but also for other women and their families.
‘Where’s Zak?’ Saira asked Rupi.
‘He just headed out with his friends for a soccer match.’
‘Oh! I was hoping to take you both out for dinner tonight. But we can still go out on a mom-daughter date if you like.’
‘I would love to, mom!’
‘They grow up so fast,’ Saira thought as she watched Rupi take out the car and stop in front of her. She got into the front seat next to her big little one as Dr. Dre played in the background.
‘Rupi! Can we change the music please? I’m in the mood for some Gurdas Mann.’
‘Mom..No! You´re crazy!’
‘Yes! I am, Madame! My craziness is what brought me here, and you, too. Let’s play Gurdas Mann! You know, Rupi, I never told you much about my childhood days. I think it’s time to let you into my past.’
Rupi changed the music to her mother’s choice and they both went back to another time and place. A place so distant and faraway from where they lived in Sussex not just by miles but also by their core values. Yet, it was where their roots were: a quaint village named Jhanghar, in Fazilka.
A time when Saira Kaur, the modern day role model for women across the globe was an outright reject.
‘Another girl child?’ her grandmother rued her birth, like someone inevitably did for most girls who were born in the tiny village of Jhangar in Fazilka! They were rejected the second that they were born and their fates sealed for life.
Saira knew early on in life — as early as six years old — that she had to escape the norm. She knew that she did not want to end up living the life of her mother, grandmother or any of the women in her village for that matter. Burning coals, making perfect shaped round rotis, massaging her husband’s back, carrying pots of water for miles — this was not going to be her fate. But she never told anyone about it. She vowed silently to break the mould someday.
Childhood was fun and carefree. But this was largely her choice. Saira made the most of her childhood days because she knew that it would not last too long, only until her father found a match and sent her to another family, like it had been and would be for the rest of the girls in her village!
She laughed heartily at the displeasure of her mother, who constantly checked Saira’s conduct. She was given regular sermons on the importance of obedience in a woman’s life. The training started early on, but Saira was unaffected.
She explored her village and enjoyed its beauty to the fullest. She played gilli-danda and cricket with the boys in tightly combed pig tails, breaking a couple of window panes along the way. She also played with cow-dung, marbles, flew kites, ran across acres of corn fields, climbed mango trees and rooftops.
Saira was every rural Indian parent’s nightmare. She got scoldings and beatings but that didn’t stop her craziness. She was branded the crazy one by her grandparents and parents, the crazy child who needed to be normalised like the rest of the girls in the village.
‘Such behaviour does not suit girls, Saira ki Ma! It is expected from boys and men only. What are you training your daughter to become? She will have to go another house one day. You had better keep a hawk’s eye on that girl else we will lose our faces one day or the other,’ her grandmother warned her mother.
Her education was stopped once she attained puberty. Saira was around the age of 16 when she was forcibly married to an NRI man much older to her with fudged birth records. Her husband was 33 years old and quite a catch as per her family’s standards. But Saira quickly realised that living in the very cosmopolitan Sussex in UK made no difference to her life. Her in-laws had a strongly patriarchal mindset. In fact, they were by some degrees worse than the villagers back in her hometown of Jhangar. Her mother-in-law was the classic ‘Monster-in-law’ who called her the choicest of names and the abuse only worsened with the birth of her daughter.
‘You ugly woman! Ever since you entered this house, luck has flown out the window.’
She was faulted for giving birth to a girl child. Just like her mother and the rest of the women in her village in Fazilka. Her husband’s immaculate sperm was not faulted for the gender of the baby. Instead, it was owed to her streak of bad luck. So much for their being educated! Their perspective on these matters, despite living abroad for years together, was unchanged. Her husband was least bothered about her wellbeing and their marriage was tedious and uninteresting. When there was pressure put on to conceive again in the hope of having a male child, Saira realized that it was time to make a decision once for herself and her family. She didn’t want her daughter to grow up in a household where the girl child was not valued and women not respected.
Saira walked out of the marriage after 3 years with nowhere to go except forward. She knew that she could not rely on her parents for support and decided to continue living in Sussex. She went back to school and realised that only education could save her. With baby Rupi in tow, she worked part-time as a maid in various homes before graduating to catering to fund her education fees. And thus, she completed her Masters Degree in Journalism with a lot of persistence and toil.
She also fell in love with an Englishman along the way and bore his child, but he bolted out the door after learning of her pregnancy. But Saira went ahead with the pregnancy and thus Zachary, her son was born. Together, Rupi, Zak and she made one solid family. Saira realized that she had to be a double bread winner to look after her precious family.
It was after Zak’s birth that Saira started sending feelers to various production houses. She called up several offices expressing her desire to work as a primetime anchor. Finally, she got recruited at BBC after several rounds of auditions. Like they say, there was no turning back after that.
‘I have heard it all, Rupi! Rejection found me at birth. I was called ungrateful for walking out of the marriage with your father and bringing disgrace to my family and village. I was called selfish when I went back to school to pursue my education and follow my dreams. I was called a whore when I was dating Zak’s father and for bearing his child. I was called an irresponsible mother, a bad mom for going out of town for work assignments and leaving Zak in your hands.’
‘Mom… I love you the way you are, your crazy self! You are the strongest person I know and the best mom ever.’ Rupi put her hand in Saira’s, reassuring her mother of her love and affection.
‘Rupi, you know, it is my streak of craziness that has saved me from extinction. They called me crazy right from my childhood. Crazy for not being like the rest of the normal girls in the village. Crazy for divorcing your father and pursuing life on my own terms. It makes me proud today. It was my craziness that helped me never see risks as risks. I just went ahead doing what I had to do, even at the cost of being called crazy. I wouldn’t be in these shoes if it weren’t for my craziness. Well, literally too!’ she said, pointing to her Jimmy Choo black stilettoes.
‘Mom! Normal is so overrated anyway! Remember you always told me, “Why fit in, when you were born to stand out?”‘
‘Hahaha! Yes, I’m glad you remember, and I love that Dr. Seuss quote! So cool!’
‘Mom, can we go to Jhangar for a family vacation this year? I want to climb the rooftops and mango trees with you. I’m sure Zak will too after he hears your story. It sounds like so much fun. And I want everyone in Jhangar to see how far you’ve come in life on your own merit.’
‘That sounds like a plan. And what do you know! We’ve reached the restaurant. Let’s hop in and chalk out the plan in more detail over dinner, shall we?’
Author’s note: Please note that this fictional story is in no way trying to glorify divorce or broken homes. It is a story of a woman’s pursuit of happiness despite the grim social circumstances and her crazy courage to break free from its shackles.
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the January 2018 Muse of the Month, but not among the top 5 winners.
Image source: Flickr, for representational purposes only