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As soon as everyone gathered for dinner, Saira handed the letter to her father in law. A curious gaze at the letter was accompanied by a startled expression.
A fraught silence ran down her otherwise poised face. She certainly appeared less than her usual perky self.
The clock had struck one past midnight and Saira was still struggling to catch some sleep in the midst of those disconcerting thoughts hovering over her mind.
“Leave your crown in the garage and go fetch milk”, these appalling lines from an article that she had recently read kept recurring, as she pondered over the verdict that had questioned her choices, and in a jiffy, labeled her an inefficient mother who was keen on a career rather than being a full time caretaker of her children.
‘When it could happen to a successful corporate woman like Indira Nooyi, I was an ordinary woman who just aspired to create a small world of accomplishment for her’, contemplated Saira with a deep sigh. She had been visibly upset after her father in law expressed discontent over her decision to go out and work. Being scrutinized and judged for her choice baffled her more than his skepticism.
Saira had perhaps not apprehended it coming her way. The realization was far more explicit now, making her feel distraught. Her own impeccable crown of an ‘empowered woman’, hailing from an educated, elite Muslim family had descended with an unexpected jolt. And the fact that she had a supportive husband and someone who didn’t belong to this typical school of thought, Farhan’s initial compliance to his father’s stance had added to the existing air of despondency.
The next morning too, was devoid of peace. Saira positioned herself in a corner of her room, stock- still and dejected. She could easily be mistaken for her speechless adherence to the bigoted judgment; but somewhere unknowingly, she was bracing herself not to bow down to the age old conditioned response.
Saira beheld a vacant look at her girls who were still asleep. A stream of memories cascaded, of her exacting routine, followed by recollections of her doctor’s words post her delivery and managed to sparkle her wilted soul for a while. It was her moment of relief.
‘We need to award you for being a courageous mother. The way you have braved the aftermath of their birth and didn’t quit even once, is but inspirational. First time mothers even with a hassle free delivery fail to put in that much of effort and patience and often ask me as to when can they stop feeding their babies and resort to much easier means, in their bid to do away with the most tedious part. It’s one of the toughest jobs to cater to premature twins with all the complexities involved in their case. You have done a commendable job indeed’, tears glided down her cheeks as she recalled the praise that had once elevated her subdued spirits. It stood in sharp contrast to her acknowledgement as a dedicated mother by the outside world, vis-à-vis the patriarchal and regressive bent of mind of her own father in law. Saira wondered if she was really empowered to make a choice without being judged by a predetermined yardstick.
Although, Saira wasn’t a rebel she had been a warrior all through, the one who never deserted her sinking ship despite all the possible hurdles. Whether it was her persistent endeavors as a correspondent with a national daily, holding firmly to the decision of a lifelong alliance with Farhan or the unflinching determination for the twins who were born with meek chances of survival; her resilience was distinct.
The day passed by, however the undiscerning subtle command of abandoning her decision pricked Saira every now and then. Farhan had come back from office a little earlier that day. The girls were due for their next vaccination. There was hardly any exchange of words between the two on their way. They returned home and Saira caught up to her usual evening routine of putting the girls to bed. The night though, gave way to her outpourings. Probably, it was difficult for Saira to hold back now.
“It’s been a relentless pregnancy period, excruciating labor, fifty nine days of incessant visits to the hospital nursery, and then battling numerous medical complications, embracing innumerable sleepless nights, juggling between raising a set of premature twins and a pile up of challenging physical and psychological life altering upheavals in the past four and a half years. And after all that, for having made a career choice, when I am reckoned with a statement like,’ I doubt she will be efficiently able to take care of her daughters as she is quite outgoing and career inclined. She should shelve her plans of working and rather focus on the kids. The maids are there to serve as a helping hand. Practically, it’s the mother’s duty after all to take care of her children. For now, career can take a back seat’, it leaves me completely disheartened. Saira exploded, shattering her long withheld stoic demeanor and wobbled across to the door opting for some respite. Farhan was taken aback for a moment.
Gearing up for the emotional combat, he tried to console her.
“Saira I understand your concern. I know you have been nearly through hell and you have put everything else in the backyard after their birth. But I didn’t know dad would behave so conventionally. He is otherwise a lenient man you know and…” Saira interrupted him as she hurled her defiance with a set of some uneasy questions.
“No one points a finger at you when you are out for long official trips abroad and for that matter has your becoming a father been an obstacle in the way of your career?
How my stepping out of the house for work, makes me a less caring mother? Does your going out and working makes you a less father? Have you been judged in the similar fashion? Where’s my freedom to choose Farhan”? Why put a giant full stop for me only”?
A spell of quietude halted her reigning self assertion and Farhan had no choice but to lend his ears to Saira’s dissent.
“It was so easy for him to have slotted me into the category of ‘careless mothers’ and decided my role. Does he think that a twenty four hour children centric regime will turn me into a perfect mother and a good homemaker? And if he believes that the ultimate success of a woman lies in a happy household, ask him to do away with his fallacy”.
“Saira, your aggression is not going to help matters. You know, it can be a task to tackle his apprehensions. I agree it all feeds into the stereotype of what constitutes a ‘working woman’ but he is just worried about the children. They are young and need your attention”, Farhan concluded, hoping to calm her raging emotions but Saira stood firm.
“My aggression is not irrelevant”.
“Tell me Farhan, in that case, would you opt to stay at home?” A grave silence followed.
Ceasing her outburst, Saira asserted one last time, “I wasn’t educated to feel guilty and shun my ambition just to make peace with the forced guilt of leaving my young daughters behind for work. They are equally significant for me but why am I being judged alone? You are their father too and not just a co- inhabitant”.
The argument had ended that night; the remnants of the discord however, gripped her psyche for days to come. The friction continued and Saira kept sailing through the sea of her mounting conflicts.
Away from the turmoil brewing inside her, the approaching reunion with her ex colleagues was an opportunity to unwind. Besides the usual stuff, her friends had one query in common for her and Saira had all the vague answers, trying to cover up her feigned expressions as far as possible.
Mitali, her close pal in her earlier place of work had though, managed to sneak into her pretentious efforts. While on their way back she initiated before Saira could reveal her tussle.
“Saira darling, what is bothering you that you need to fake your smile?” Mitali urged her to open up.
“They think it’s the ‘careless mothers’ who leave their children and go out for work. My decision to resume work has not gone down well, especially with the girls’ grandfather. I was amazed how even Farhan was under pressure and without saying it, expected me to abide by his father’s opinion”.
Mitali had already sensed the pain behind her annoyance.
“Saira, you know prejudices run deep in our social fabric. The problem lies certainly with our conditioning. No matter he belongs to an educated working class but still considers you liable to ensure that the home runs with precision, the children are taken care of and blah blah….and if it doesn’t, you are made to feel guilty. This kind of a judgment is often primarily reserved for a woman. Let’s face it, even if we think we are empowered”.
“But don’t be let down by this. You are a brave heart I know. Explore your potential and don’t let others decide your priorities. Go tell him what you want from life”.
Mitali’s stimulation had lifted Saira’s spirits but it took a while before she gathered the courage to eventually have a piece of her freewill, defying the whims & fancies of people around her.
It was afternoon. Saira was waiting for the girls to return home from their school. The bell rang and she swiftly moved towards the door only to find a courier boy with an envelope in hand. She signed the receipt quickly, and as she began to read the letter, a radiant smile elevated her cold face.
Saira had been selected as an assistant editor for a leading newspaper, a job that she had aspired for long. She had been interviewed a month ago but it was the one she had least expected to come by. She was elated and didn’t wish to quash the prestigious offer. Saira readily informed Farhan but the formidable task was still ahead of her.
Sitting in her room, Saira’s eyes were fixed on her appointment letter, mustering the courage to face it once for all. It was imperative for the fearless journo in her to confront him without a dash of distress. If not now, when? The inevitable question kept screaming for an answer.
“My choice of a career is just not restricted to my financial independence. It offers me the much deserved growth owing to my education, experience and effort. You may not view my career indulgence as a mandatory option even though you belong to one of the advanced and educated class, it is important for me to resume work. Please don’t question my credibility as a mother with respect to my choices. Career is not an afterthought for me anymore but my children are my priority as well. I am sure they will be fine in my absence too”.
Saira had finally made the effort to re-script her role and in the process reclaimed her freedom to choose, instead of pleading for it.
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the August 2017 Muse of the Month, but not among the top 5 winners.
Image source: pexels
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