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I was married off young and the reigns of my life were now transferred to my husband and in laws. They drove it strongly into my head that it was my foremost duty to abide by them and serve them.
I sat at the coffee shop sipping my latte, when I overheard the conversation between the two women sitting on the table beside me.
“That scarf you are wearing is so pretty, where did you get that?” the first woman asked the second one. “This is from Kaki’s Curio Corner – I’ll show you all the other stuff I bought as well, they are gorgeous. I will show you their web page, you will be floored by the collection!” exclaimed the second woman.
Their conversation brought a smile on my face. Jyotsana Kaki was finally getting her due, or should I say, becoming the rage. I felt so happy for her and the elation doubled, knowing I had an important contribution in her journey to stardom.
Sorry, I forgot to introduce myself, I am Roshni, I work as an editor with a popular lifestyle magazine. It was through my magazine that Kaki’s talent got displayed to a wider audience beyond her home town. But my relationship with Kaki was a very old one, in fact if I had to say it the way she would, she had seen me growing up from a young girl to what I am today.
Kaki’s family and mine were neighbours years ago. I spent childhood and most of my teenage years in the same neighbourhood.
My first memories linked to Kaki are that of relishing the yummy papads and parathas she made. Till date I haven’t found anybody who makes them as tasty as she does. She was equally good with the needle and thread, in fact my favourite dresses as a little girl were ones embroidered by her. I had managed to preserve one over the years and tried replicating the same for my daughter at an upscale boutique in town, but the results weren’t half as pleasing as what Kaki had created. The whole neighbourhood told her she had magic in her hands. But she was very friendly and a humble person despite the immense talent she possessed.
It was only as I grew up a little and became more observant did I realise that she considered herself a very ordinary person with nothing special to show. It was her family and more specifically her husband who had made her believe that she was only doing what was expected of her.
Kaki’s daughter Meethi and I were of the same age and went to the same school, but that’s where our similarities ended.
Meethi was a very reserved girl, who kept to herself. She was good at academics and often helped me with subjects I had problems in. But she hardly spoke beyond what she was asked and followed every instruction given to her without any questioning. I often observed that except for her mother nobody at home treated her lovingly, but she never questioned the harshness bestowed on her.
She was in the seventh grade, when her brother Arun was born. His birth was celebrated in the house with a lot of pomp and grandeur. But Kaki was not to be seen during the celebrations and Meethi wore an anxious look on her face and seemed to be in no mood of enjoying anything.
Later that night I heard my parents talking, “What sort of a man is Jyotsna’s husband, his wife is fighting for her life and here he is celebrating. Does the desire for a son make a person so inhuman? The doctors had warned her against continuing with this pregnancy as she was not in the right state of health, but they paid no heed to anybody. They have such a smart and sweet daughter, then why this insane urge for a son. I am hoping fervently that Jyotsna recovers for the sake of her daughter” my mother said with tears in her eyes. “I agree, it’s shameful how her husband has behaved, but I wouldn’t blame Jyotsna ji, maybe she thought this was the only way she could garner some respect and love for her daughter and herself in the house. Its painful to see how they are treated. All that concern’s Prakash is his social standing and power and that he needs an heir to take it forward.” my father spoke in response.
That day I was left in shock, for I had seen closely for the first-time what cruelty and gender bias really meant. Kaki recovered in a few months, thanks to her will power and the prayers of many like my mother, whose lives she had touched in some way.
A few years after that I finished school and moved to a different city to pursue my higher education and sometime after that my parents also moved from the city due to their professional commitments. Though in the initial years our families stayed in touch, over time with our busy everyday schedules taking over our life we lost touch.
So, it came as a surprise when I received a phone call from Meethi three years back. She sounded very different from the subdued Meethi I knew. She spoke with confidence and self-assuredness. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, she asked me if I could help her in promoting the business she and her mother had set up. I was keen on helping her and it was around the same time that we had started a new section which featured budding entrepreneurs. I thought Meethi and Kaki fit perfectly for this month’s feature in the section. Though I could have sent any of my junior colleagues to cover their story, the pull of nostalgia compelled me to do it on my own.
When I arrived at Kaki’s home, I received a warm welcome. They had converted an outer room in their house in to a shop which displayed their wares. I could see beautifully embroidered purses, scarves, bags and dresses. There were also shelves lined with her famous pickles, chutneys and papads. They seemed to be having a steady flow of customers and Kaki and Meethi handled them with the deftness of a professional. Later in the day after I finished collecting enough information for the story, I sat in the dining area of their home relishing the mouth-watering parathas, I could not stop myself from asking Kaki, “What’s the reason behind this massive transformation in you and Meethi?” Meethi who was helping Kaki in the kitchen, turned around to look at me and smiled.
“You know Roshni, your mother would often tell me I am made for bigger things in life and I was wasting away my talent in the drudgery of every day domesticity. I would dismiss her words saying isn’t that what women are meant for. But today I realise your mother was correct, I wish I had taken her seriously then. But you know beta, the domestic environment you dwell in is what shapes your thought process.
I was raised to be subdued person, who was told women are not meant to question things. I was married off young and the reigns of my life were now transferred to my husband and in laws. They drove it strongly into my head that it was my foremost duty to abide by them and serve them. They would keep telling me whatever I did was my duty and there was nothing extraordinary about it. In no time, I internalised it as the truth and passed on the same ideology to my daughter.
Though I struggled and suffered due to my obedience and subservience, I never thought of raising my daughter to be different. Even when she questioned the unfairness, all I told her was it was her destiny as a woman and she had to put up with it. In the same house, I saw my son being lavished with attention and liberties my daughter could not even think of. Meethi was married off within months of completing her graduation. She wanted to study further, but her father would hear none of it and I had never mustered the courage to go against him. After her marriage she got busy with her marital life and I lavished attention on my son Arun. But he did not seem to value the love and attention cherished on him and took it for granted. Though he was not as good as Meethi academically, his father ensured the best of opportunities for him. After completing his MBA, he got a job in a different city and moved there. A couple of years later he got married to his colleague at work. Everything seemed fine and I was happy that both my children were happy with their families. But a year into the wedding we got a rude shock, which left us jolted.
One-night Arun called and told us, his wife Ria had left the house and he was thinking of ending the marriage as it wasn’t working out with her. His father was worried about losing face in society, he said a divorce was unheard of in the family and his son would become a subject of mockery. But those weren’t my concerns, I wanted to save him from pain and heartbreak. I decided to talk to Ria. I did not fully believe Arun when he told me about her being headstrong and conceited. She had come across as a very reasonable girl and I was very sure talking to her would prove to be fruitful.
When I told her to reconsider her decision, saying ‘we as women need to adjust and compromise’, the reply she gave me is what changed my perspective.
She said ‘Aunty, I put in a lot of efforts into this relationship, in return all I expected was a little love, understanding and encouragement from Arun. But he takes my existence for granted, cannot accept the fact that I can have a life of my own or that my dreams, ambitions or achievements matter. In fact, I got this on site offer after a lot of hard work, instead of being happy for me he expects me to give it up. He said, I should be concentrating on him and our home and stop acting selfish. It is visible who is being selfish and anyways why should I go on adjusting and continue being trampled. I am capable of leading my life by myself, I am a capable woman. I sought a companion in my husband not a master.’
This girl’s courage changed something within me. Arun refused to see reason and the inevitable happened. But I decided to put the effort at improving my daughter’s life. She was in a similar plight as me and it didn’t come as a surprise considering I had always discouraged her from speaking up. But she deserved better and that is when I involved her in this business idea. I am delighted as she not only has acquired my talent but has immense business acumen.” I could see the pride in Kaki’s eyes as she spoke the last words.
Their story was published in our next month’s edition and it was picked up by quite a few other publications and even some designer brands and packaged food companies contacted them. The rest as they say is history. Today Kaki and Meethi had opened five more branches across the country, with several others in the pipeline and they had also gone online with their business. The loud beep of my phone brought me back from the reverie, it was a message from Meethi, she had sent photographs of the event where Kaki was felicitated for her contribution towards making ethnic crafts popular.
As I looked at the photographs, I was reminded of the lines my daughter had shown me on Instagram the other day:
“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”
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the June 2019 Muse of the Month.
Image source: a still from the movie Tumhari Sulu
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A dreamer by passion and an Advocate by profession. Mother to an ever energetic and
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