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‘Yes, I am going ahead and filing a divorce.’ Renuka didi's stamina and energy level had almost diminished to the size of an apple seed. She waited anxiously for a reply.
The point here is, a divorce or a separation is not the be-all and end-all and definitely need not be an end. It can be the start of yet another reasonable, tenable and sustainable future.
I heard my phone ring close to midnight and was a bit alarmed, ‘I am going to take a giant step, a big decision’ – in almost a whisper, uttered Renuka Didi over the phone. ‘Yes, I am going ahead and filing a divorce.’ Her stamina and energy level almost diminished to the size of an apple seed. This wish of hers was followed by a big respite. We just kept quiet. Her troubled mind waited anxiously for a reply.
Subsequent to this announcement what followed was self-doubt. Renuka just could not imagine what her life ahead would be – “can I manage everything now?” Never have she thought about her divorce and remaining ‘single’ in her mid- 40s, she seemed flabbergasted. She lacked confidence about not only managing her finance but also doubted her competency. On hearing nothing from the other end, I said ‘Chak De Renuka Didi. We all are with you.’
I could hear her chuckling to herself like a small child. This announcement by Didi was yet another breakthrough! We were all discussing the probabilities of ending a 20 -year long marriage, which involved a sweet girl child, Shruti, 16 years of age. It was Shruti who had kept the relationship alive for so many years. Finally, the time was ripe to cut off the marital chord once and for all.
With a Masters in Bio-Technology; a skilled terrace gardener with great interest in organic products; good at several handicrafts; a person who taught me mathematics when I obtained low grades in my exams; a voracious reader and a good short story writer with a very open mind- Renuka Didi was branded as ‘unpud’ – illiterate spouse and a mom who played with her husband’s earnings.
A woman who once enjoyed driving her TVS Scooty with full confidence and fearlessness now got jitters at the thought of driving. Her husband undermined her positive traits and denied the facts and hurt her feelings to a great extent. These things led to gaslighting in their relationship. At this point, her enemies were diffidence and low esteem. Yes, she doubted her capabilities.
All this reminded me of a paradox. In a quintessential patriarchal Indian household, it is women who manage the entire household affairs and carry on the lineage of the family. They perform multifarious roles. Yes, they are doctors in sickness; courteous hosts during the family gatherings; teachers to their children; and last but not least master chefs almost daily and many more. Despite the various roles adorned by them, there are several accomplished women out there who are perceived as worthless.
Planning the various sessions of meals –breakfast, lunch, dinner; managing finance and playing second fiddle to men folk at home becomes a mundane routine for any woman. But it is really sad that this routine offers nothing worth mentioning. There is hardly any free time, and hobbies become non-existent. The often-asked question is – how many women are able to pursue their interests post-marriage? Well, the answer is probably ‘just a few’!
Renuka Didi’s experience reminded me of a book I read, in which the protagonist, Maya, a soft woman, who happens to be a wonderful caregiver and an ‘ideal’ mother transforms into a revengeful woman. The transformation takes place because of circumstances and finally, she puts her husband behind bars for the violence perpetuated towards her. Her act of transformation is justified as it is fulfilling not only for herself but also for her two children and also for other members of her home.
However, the ending typically showcased an unusual female trail –From being a victim who was tortured to being an aggressor who wished to blossom. Chopping off the relationship cords, in the case of this protagonist was concerned with the well-being and those around her. Transforming herself from a powerless nurturer to that of being a self-supporting defender, she started leading on her own terms and conditions. Yes, this was a power hidden in her about which she was totally unaware of.
Several women are the Renuka didis and Mayas that live around us continuing to doubt themselves without knowing their innate capacity and capabilities. It is not only the abused women who tend to contemplate the offensive relationship with intense agony. The same is true for all human beings who experience abusive relationships. But rarely do we realise that the scars continue to stay, yet we move ahead successfully, and often prosper beyond imagination!
I happened to come across a book on separation ‘Getting Past Your Breakup: How to Turn a Devastating Loss into the Best Thing That Ever Happened to You’ by Susan J Elliot. Reading the reviews of the book, I could understand that I was not the only one in this situation. It made me feel stronger. It is no doubt a lonely journey but several others in our society would give a hearing and perhaps offer support as well.
Sitting in my room contemplating on my reading, I closed my eyes, and told myself, “I am not totally responsible for ending this offensive and disparaging relationship.” Tears rolled down gently from my eyes as I sat gazing through the French window at the vast expanse of the sea that roared gently adjacent to my room. Perhaps the tears were less salty than that of the sea but they were extremely excruciating. After a short furore, I escaped from that apartment which was considered our ‘home’ with my previous partner. After 9 years of maltreatment and harassment, and nearly 6-8 attempts of separation, though unsuccessful, at last, I just left without looking back.
Yeah, he did drop me off near the OLA cab, which he had never done before in all those years of my married life. My chest felt heavy and I could feel the shaking of my legs. All of a sudden rain started pouring, as though in unison with my mood. My heart felt lighter after weeping. Accordingly, the rains also stopped and I could see the clear limitless horizon. I keep staring at my right ring finger uneasily and several flashbacks came to my mind. But my typing of this note continues. Yes, it has to … Whether it is 10 or 20, the years are no longer important.
A firm decision is to be made…. yes, the major decision to walk out of this abusive cycle.
Renuka Didi completed the call on an optimistic note- “we will join hands and work together, travel a lot and visit several international tourist destinations, jointly embark on new ventures as sky is the limit and also keep hunting for good men. How does it sound? No one can prevent us from doing what we want now!” We had a hearty laugh. ‘Hinge’ or ‘Grindr’ – asked I and there was yet another outburst of laughter.
The point here is, a divorce or a separation is not the be-all and end-all and definitely need not be an end but it can be the start of yet another reasonable, tenable and sustainable future.
Our ideas regarding sustainability extend from tending to plants to being financially independent to playing badminton to going for a good swim, tending plants, indulging in artistic pursuits, remaining on par with our emotions, believing in the goodness of others, establishing connections with ‘okay’ members of our close-knit community, maintaining relationships and friendships and last but not least travelling all around the world meeting like-minded people. Finally, and most importantly it is breathing pure air full of warmth and freedom.
Now though 20 years into an abusive marriage, from which she had just walked out, Renuka didi still had faith in the goodness of others and was highly hopeful of finding a good partner. Her voice encased from a minute larva to a bubbly butterfly. This butterfly needed to be out and flying happily for many more years to come. Yes, she was a free bird now, aspiring to fly higher and higher.
It’s all over now… and it is really painful. But as unimaginable as it may appear to be when you are in the midst of mental agony, you can definitely move on. Do not for an instant wallow in self–pity, for this breakup is the most appropriate time to change your life once again for a better and happier future. Divorce or separation is just a part of a story and is just a start to a new tomorrow. Like those trees damaged by cyclones, we will definitely once again grow back elegantly with grace!
Image source: Still from Anupama
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Shows like Indian Matchmaking only further the argument that women must adhere to social norms without being allowed to follow their hearts.
When Netflix announced that Indian Matchmaking (2020-present) would be renewed for a second season, many of us hoped for the makers of the show to take all the criticism they faced seriously. That is definitely not the case because the show still continues to celebrate regressive patriarchal values.
Here are a few of the gendered notions that the show propagates.
A mediocre man can give himself a 9.5/10 and call himself ‘the world’s most eligible bachelor’, but an independent and successful woman must be happy with receiving just 60-70% of what she feels she deserves.
Darlings makes some excellent points about domestic violence . For such a movie to not follow through with a resolution that won't be problematic, is disappointing.
I watched Darlings last weekend, staying on top of its release on Netflix. It was a long-awaited respite from the recent flicks. I wanted badly to jump into its praise and will praise it, for something has to be said for the powerhouse performances it is packed with. But I will not be able to in a way that I really had wanted to.
I wanted to say that this is a must-watch on domestic violence that I stand behind and a needed and nuanced social portrayal. But unfortunately, I can’t. For I found Darlings to be deeply problematic when it comes to the portrayal of domestic violence and how that should be dealt with.
Before we rush to the ‘you must be having a problem because a man was hit’ or ‘much worse happens to women’ conclusions, that is not what my issue is. I have seen the praises and criticisms, and the criticisms of criticisms. I know, from having had close associations with non-profits and activists who fight domestic violence not just in India but globally, that much worse happens to women. I have written a book with case studies and statistics on that. Neither do I have any moral qualms around violence getting tackled with violence (that will be another post some day).