She had to get them out of the hellhole, make them into strong, independent women who would never be in a position like she was….
In 2019 our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month gets bigger and better (find out how here) and also takes the cue from the words of women who inspire with their poetry.
The writing cue for June 2019 is these lines from Indian-born Canadian spoken word and Instagram poet Rupi Kaur, whose poetry is some of the most quoted in recent times. Check out the lines here.
“what is the greatest a woman should learn
that since day one
she’s already had everything she needs within herself
it’s the world that convinced her she did not”
The fourth winner of our June 2019 Muse of the Month contest is Shraddha Niphadkar.
Alamelu- 1947, Karachi
Alamelu was tense. The riots by the Muslims against the Hindus was spreading. She knew it was only a matter of time before it reached their neighbourhood. Her husband, Kasturi, maintained a calm façade at home. “No point in alarming the girls,” he would tell her. But, Alamelu knew better. They had four daughters, and while many of their relatives looked at them with pity for not having sons, Alamelu and Kasturi were proud of their daughters. They were going to raise them as independent women in free India. Except, it seemed like their daughters might be robbed of that chance now.
She had tried to talk to Kasturi about moving but he kept reassuring her that the riots would soon stop and everything would go back to being normal. Kasturi tried to shield her from the horrors, but Alamelu heard about it from her friends. “They are raping Hindu women, gouging out eyeballs, setting Hindus on fire,” they would tell her. Every bit of news struck terror in her heart. When was it going to reach them?
A few weeks later
Alameli was in the kitchen feeding her children lunch when there was a loud banging on the door. Uneasily, she opened the door to find her husband standing there, a frantic look on his face.
“We have no time to waste! Hurry up. Get the girls and whatever you can grab.”
“What is going on?” Alamelu asked terrified.
“I have no time to answer questions Alamelu!” said Kasturi. “I will tell you everything on the way. Just grab whatever you need and we need to go. Now!”
She hurriedly packed a few essentials and they were just about to leave when they heard it. At first, it sounded like thunder. Within a few minutes, she realized though that it was the sound of a mob hell bent on violence.
“Go, run out of the back door!” Kasturi screamed at her. “Take the girls and run to the train station. Ramana is waiting for you there. Board the train with him!”
“But, I am not leaving without you!”
“Alamelu, we have no time. Just go! I will try and make it, but the most important thing is that you all make it out alive. I will stall them.”
Alamelu had tears streaming down her face. But, she knew her husband was right. She ran out of the house with her children, and just as she turned the corner, she saw the angry men enter the house. A sob escaped her as she tried not to imagine what they were doing to her husband. She had to save their kids! It was the least that she could do to make her husband’s sacrifice worth it.
They continued to run, all the way to the railway station. How did they manage to do that, with three of the kids being less than 8 years old, she could never tell. Ramana, their neighbor and her husband’s best friend, had their tickets, and they got on the train to Delhi in the nick of time. The train left the station almost as soon as they got on.
Alamelu stood at the door of the compartment, eyes blinded with tears. She had no idea what the future would hold for them. She only knew that she was a widow, who now had to raise four daughters on her own….
Lakshmi- 1986, Mumbai
Lakshmi had been 7 when they had fled from Karachi, then a part of India and now a part of Pakistan. The second oldest of four, she still retained memories of their father, unlike her two younger sisters. She missed him a lot- when he had been around, life had been easier for them.
Their mother had been more easygoing, and her parents had allowed their daughters many freedoms. However, after coming to Mumbai, where her mother’s side of the family had moved, things had changed. They had lived with relatives, who had expected them to conform to traditional customs. And, one of them had been that girls didn’t need much education. Among all her sisters, Lakshmi was the smartest, the one who had enjoyed school the most. And, ironically, she had been the one to get married first, at the age of 15!
Fortunately, Bala, her husband, who was ten years her senior, was a very kind man, a doting husband and father. Bala and she were determined that their daughter, and only child, Anandhi, would get educated. However, Lakshmi was also aware that they weren’t as well off as her sisters. Bala worked as a clerk for a small firm, and his meagre salary wasn’t sufficient for them to own a house as well as send Anandhi to a convent school. They had to move into her mother, Alamelu’s house, a fact for which she was often jeered at by her sisters. However, they had made that decision because of prioritizing Anandhi’s education over their pride. Anandhi had been born after six years of marriage. Fate hadn’t destined them to have more kids. Lakshmi held her head high though through all these troubles.
Today, Lakshmi was very happy. 25 year-old Anandhi, a teacher by profession, was finally getting married. This alliance hadn’t been easy. Well-educated Anandhi, who was known for her gentle and kind nature, had not been blessed with a fair skin colour. Dark skin unfortunately didn’t help with the arranged marriage process, and Lakshmi had been worried that her accomplished daughter may never be able to find a match. Additionally, they hadn’t been able to afford the high dowry that was the price for a dark bride. Thankfully, they had finally been able to make an alliance with a family that was respectable and didn’t expect a hefty dowry.
Little had Lakshmi realized that dowry didn’t have to be only in terms of handing over cash to the groom’s side. The groom’s family expected them to bear all the wedding expenses. Lakshmi and Bala had sold all of their own wedding jewelry to foot the bill. Unfortunately, the groom’s side was extremely upset at the wedding hall. “We have over a thousand people coming. These arrangements are not going to be enough!” Lakshmi felt herself close to tears but she was determined that nothing was going to mar her daughter’s special day.
Lakshmi knew they couldn’t afford to pay the cooks for more food. So, she made the tough decision of telling their side relatives and friends that there won’t be food served for them, as the groom’s side needed to eat. This displeased a lot of people but Lakshmi couldn’t see a way out. She hated to see her husband have to beg in front of the groom and his family to let the wedding go on uninterrupted. Thankfully, the wedding proceeded, but Lakshmi had a sinking feeling in her heart that they may have just handed their only daughter over to a life of misery.
Anandhi- 1995, Mumbai.
34 year-old Anandhi gazed at her newborn second daughter, with a lump in her throat. She was aware that her in-laws were displeased that it was a girl again. Thankfully, this was one of the few times when her husband, Vinod, supported her. The support came with conditions though. “It’s time you quit your job,” Vinod had instructed. “My mother is not a babysitter for our kids. They need their own mother to be at home. It is a father’s job to make money, and a mother’s job to raise the family. So, no more working for you.”
Anandhi hated having to give up her job. She had been quietly lending her mother money for her upkeep. Her father had passed away within a year of her marriage, soon after the birth of her first daughter. Her mother had no savings. Vinod found out about this when she had been pregnant with Tara, her second daughter, and had beaten her up badly. She had been hospitalized and thankfully, Tara had survived. The fear had been planted in her heart though.
Vinod had been raised in a very conservative household with traditional views about marriage and gender roles. Anandhi, who had never seen her parents raise their voices at each other, now often faced her husband and in-laws’ criticisms about her upbringing, her looks, and her parents’ lack of money. And, in the last one year, Vinod had been coming home drunk and had progressed from verbal abuse to physical and sexual abuse. Anandhi kept all this hidden from her mother, not wanting to cause her undue stress.
She was aware that if she threatened divorce, he would take her children away from her by proving that she didn’t make enough money to be able to support a family. Besides, his family was rich and well-connected. She knew she wouldn’t stand a chance in court.
Anandhi resolved that her life now was dedicated to her two daughters- Meera, age 8, and newborn, Tara. She had to get them out of the hellhole, make them into strong, independent women who would never be in a position like she was….
2010- Meera, California
23 year-old Meera opened her bedroom window, hoping to cool down the room. As a graduate student at Stanford, she couldn’t afford to live in an apartment that had an air-conditioner. That meant sweltering temperatures in the summer, and not really being able to get a good night’s sleep. Meera laid her head against the window pane, listening to the crickets outside. In the dead of the night, her loneliness and homesickness hit harder.
The transition to California last year hadn’t been easy. Attending Stanford for neuroscience had been hers, and her mother, Anandhi’s, dream. She felt proud of being able to fulfill her mother’s wish. But, it had come at a cost. Living expenses were steep, which meant having to scrimp and save every penny. The U.S. culture was also very isolating, and Meera still hadn’t gotten used to the absolute silence at night. She met a lot of Indian students, but being far away from the motherland meant that many of them had let the freedom go to their heads. The worst had been her mother’s death due to cancer, within a few months of her having moved to the U.S.. It had broken Meera and nearly sent her back home, except for the knowledge that she had to fulfill what her mother had wanted for her.
Meera knew that there was nothing that she could do to risk her scholarship. She was well aware of what had transpired in her parents’ marriage, and the goal of her life was to become so financially stable that she would be able to take care of her family on her own, if she had to. Her mother and maternal grandmother had literally given their lives so that she could have one free of the shackles that bound women. She wasn’t about to waste that. Failure wasn’t an option.
2029- Ananya, Boston
13 year-old Ananya signed her name at the bottom of her Women’s History Month paper. The prompt had been a poem by the famous poetess, Rupi Kaur:
“what is the greatest lesson a woman should learn
that since day one
she’s already had everything she needs within herself
it’s the world that convinced her she did not.”
Ananya’s mother, Meera, often told her stories about the challenges that the women in her family had overcome, despite significant odds. When Ananya had seen the prompt, she knew that she had to write on these women since they inspired her every day.
Meera came in as she was going to bed, and she showed her the paper. Meera’s eyes filled with tears at the tribute.
“I love you mom,” Ananya whispered.
“And I love you even more, my warrior princess,” Meera whispered back.
In the heavens above, the generations of women who had created them smiled and showered their blessings on them.
Shraddha Niphadkar wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: shutterstock
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