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I was a topper but married a man who was uneducated. I had to follow his strange rules that restricted my freedom, but when cancer happened, I said enough!
Today, I am a Senior Curriculum Developer for the app Chimple Learning. We reach out to those who do not have access to schools and educate them in basic literacy and numeracy.
This may sound very simple. Not a big deal when compared to women who have been to space, ruled the MNC’s or changed the history of nations. What’s the big deal about working and getting paid every month? But the challenges of the past make me treasure this.
My education was in a convent. I was a topper and had high hopes of becoming a scientist, especially in astrophysics. I was a math genius. Seeing the pious nuns who I admired a lot, I never developed the craze for money. Finance was not on my agenda for happiness, success, or freedom.
Strangely, being a high scorer in exams worked as a catalyst for my marriage. My mother was worried I might end up as a mad scientist without a family, and she did not want that tragic ending for her daughter.
So somehow I got married without completing my PUC to a guy who had never even entered college. Additionally, there were few promises I had made and conditions that I had to agree to:
Today, I wonder what happened? It never actually appeared that way when my mom presented the proposal to me back then. It was an alluring proposal from a handsome guy working in Dubai, but because he was uneducated, he felt his wife should not be highly educated as well. Also, it seemed that since he loved his wife deeply, he was very concerned about other men looking at her.
My wish to work after marriage was not respected. Why should a woman work when her husband can provide and take care of her? Only greedy men sent their wives to earn money. In my defence, my mom had high diplomatic skills. Once, someone said, “She can easily sell a set of combs to a bald man”. I loved and trusted her. She believed what she was saying as well.
So from a girl who was a math genius, who helped her fellow students in studies, and taught math and science to her elder sister (who was three years my senior), I ended up a housewife criticized for not cooking well and not keeping the house clean. I had thrown away a bright career path I could carve for myself, just like that.
Thus began the circus of being pious, praying, wearing clothes I felt so uncomfortable in, pleasing my husband by following irrational rules set by him, and being respectful to those who were disrespectful to me just because they were older than me.
It also included my struggle to learn coastal fish cooking and living in a village environment with which I was not familiar. It did not take me long to regret what I had done, but again the diplomacy of my mom worked the magic of keeping me there.
My husband worked in the gulf, so he was with me only for a few months, after which he would leave for his job. He never took the financial responsibility nor any other though he bought things from the gulf whenever he came from there like clothes, chocolates, and a few things of his choice.
I slowly lost control over not just my freedom but my life itself. My son was born, and I realized I needed a stable source of financial flow than what my husband was sending. I started with tuitions, stitching, and many other odd jobs. Yet, I continued. I started acting out my life rather than living it.
I was pretending to be a person I was not. There were a lot of differences and fights in our life. Then my daughter was born. She was diagnosed as a special child. Nothing much changed except the proportions of my problems, including the financial needs for her diagnosis, physiotherapy, and others.
My son had to start school as well. I had to struggle and at times remind my husband, again and again, to send money for our expenditures. I had lost complete control over what was happening to me.
Then cancer happened. I was the third person in my family to be diagnosed with cancer. In 1992 my dad was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and in 1994 my elder sister was diagnosed with breast cancer.
When 1996 I was diagnosed, my sister was already in her last stages of cancer. My husband came down to be with me for my surgery and chemo, saw me undergo drastic changes with total radical mastectomy, hair loss, and went back to the gulf.
He also witnessed my sister lose her battle with cancer. My mom also went through cancer and lost her life to it. I could not do much to support her financially. I am grateful to him for ignoring my financial needs for two more years because it was only then I fought and snatched back my life not just from cancer but from everything I had given up for it.
It was a tough climb from there. I started stitching clothes and soft toys, because getting a job with a bald head, a special child, and fighting cancer at the same time was not easy. My ego did not allow me to beg my husband for help.
I had done that earlier, but cancer changed me. I decided to study once again. I first got my diploma in counselling skills. I ignored the rules and started working. Slowly the income started flowing, and in a few years, I was doing well.
I remember this saying– ‘Fool Me Once, Shame On you. Fool Me Twice, Shame On Me’. The first time I made a wrong choice, I was left with a few reasons to feel I was not a fool, but when the second time I did it, I had no excuse.
I was a fool to fall for the promises and move to my husband’s native village, giving up everything I started once again. I wanted to give my marriage a second chance.
Life is not a Bollywood movie where people reform on getting a chance. Things slowly slid back to the same old life. I was often threatened by the withdrawal of monthly finances if I broke any of those stupid rules set by my husband. It was not just a threat, he did it very often.
It took a lot of courage for me to take the bold step to study once again. I started taking tuitions there. It was difficult to manage with it alone. I started counselling and teaching in a local school. Slowly seeing my skills and talent, my son started prodding me to do something with my life.
Of course, I was not allowed to do it, but I took the risk. Even if my husband was not going to send money or support me in any way, I was going to do it. A lot of pressure came from my family as well. I was considered a ‘villain’ breaking the promise I made when I married.
One of the biggest blessings for me was the computer. It helped me work online as a content creator and blogger. It gave me a steady income to feel secure. I could take care of my children, work, manage home and have my bank account ticking, all at the same time.
I did my graduation and post-graduation with great support from both my children. We had great challenges at times, but we never gave up. I took up a full-time job and never quit after that irrespective of the promises, pleas, or threats that were made. I was not going to be fooled once again.
“ Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better” – Albert Camus. I wanted my full freedom back, so I sought a divorce. From the man who threatened me. In all this, my husband took a U-turn now, having no issues with my working, earning, talking to anyone I wanted, dressing the way I found comfortable, etc. He fought to stop the divorce from happening. I am still pursuing it, but not sure when it will come through.
I am grateful for cancer for giving me the courage to claim back my life. I am also grateful to my husband for those two years post-cancer when I had to feel desperate and start making/selling soft toys to vendors for money.
But more than anything, I am grateful to my son who at a very young age gave me the push to get back my life. My parents may have given me birth, but he is the person who gave me my life.
Getting back my freedom and my life!
Those who have not been where I was, will never realize what value I have for my freedom now. I have great respect for my job, and I work very hard to give my best to whichever institution I work for.
It is not just the salary credited to the account every month, but also my dignity and freedom. Work is not about being rich for me, it is about living my life on my terms.
My salary is not just money, it is my dignity and freedom. Here’s to the financial independence of women.
“May we know them
May we be them
May we raise them”
Image source: Still from English Vinglish
In traditional Indian society, women are often only “allowed” to study or work outside of home. Their freedom is “given” to them by someone else – a parent, a husband, a brother, a son – usually the men of the home. Even outside the domestic arena, women are “given” freedom to do certain things in society, they are “permitted” to be out in public only under certain conditions. At the workplace, women are expected to “behave”, “look”, and conduct themselves in ways that are not demanded of their male counterparts.
For Independence Day 2021, we’re publishing your personal stories in which you have “taken” your freedom from under such restrictions, without waiting for anyone to “allow” them. Stories of standing up to oppression, whether in the home, or outside it. #MyFreedomMyWay
I am Farida Rizwan, 55, Counselor and Psychotherapist working as Senior Curriculum Developer with Chimple Learning. I am ardent blogger @www.chaptersfrommylife.com and share my life experiences of surviving breast cancer 3rd stage for read more...
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