The Sheroes nobody will ever know

I had just reached back home when I overheard our house-help talking to my mom about getting her 18-year-old daughter married.

I was stunned. It wasn’t even a few months ago when she was asking what would be the fees for getting admission into a medical college while her daughter was studying for her 12th grade examination. I had told her that her daughter will have to apply for the NEET exam. I found it funny when she replied, “But Mrs. Pophale (name changed) who lives a block away told me that it’s not compulsory.”

Pophale Aunty works as a nurse in a reputed hospital. I said to our house-help, “Aunty, it’s been years since she completed her nursing. Until few years ago, it was not compulsory to give NEET for getting admission into a nursing college either. Also, medical colleges offer many courses. I would like to believe that she doesn’t know about it. I got my admission into medical college after taking the exam itself.”

When she had left, I asked my mother, “What kind of a person who knows nothing goes out blatantly giving advice?” My mom smirked saying, “This year Mrs. Pophale’s daughter is giving her NEET and has already filled the application form, she herself told me while she met me on my evening walk yesterday. She’s just trying to cut the competition off for her daughter. Her daughter isn’t as studious whereas our house-help’s daughter is comparatively bright!”

What kind of a petty person that, I thought to myself. Later, to nobody’s surprise, Mrs. Pophale’s daughter couldn’t score enough to get a seat and decided to get admission into an engineering college. I never knew what her passion was and if she really wanted an admission there! Isn’t it unfortunate how most women spend their lives not knowing what to do and if they even like what they’re doing? Majority of them just exist, investing their lives into caring for their family only to be taken for granted by most of them and die eventually – often not even their choice.

So why was our help getting her daughter married now?!

Back to present, I couldn’t understand why our house-help was doing that. Albeit, her daughter was getting an admission into a government nursing college a few miles away from our city, she had refused her daughter from taking the seat.

Her reasoning – “I am a single mother. I have to take care of my two daughters. My husband passed away by getting electrocuted while my youngest daughter was just a few months old. I have since been working at multiple houses just so I can pay off both my daughters’ fees. Fortunately, my husband had built us a house to live in but it’s difficult to make ends meet since my husband barely left any savings or insurance policies. My mother-in-law sells vegetables to contribute. My father-in-law left us while my eldest daughter was two. I cannot afford to send my daughter far away. It’s not the expenses that bother me the most, but I cannot manage to rush there to take care of her in case of emergencies. My MIL is sometimes unwell too. At the end of the day, IT’S A MAN’S WORLD and we have none left in our family.”

Before she left, I tried reasoning with her saying, “You yourself have been through great ordeals since the time you have been married. Why on earth do you want your daughter to endure the same fate?”

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“My eldest daughter is barely in the first year of her college. Nobody can guarantee if she would have a well-paying job in near future immediately after she graduates. I don’t want my daughter to scrub utensils at everyone’s house unlike me. My parents got me married off early. I couldn’t even finish my education. I was 20 when I lost my husband but decided not to get married for the second time because I couldn’t trust if other man will be able to raise my daughters as his own. My daughter is comparatively fortunate since the guy has a stable job. The groom’s side of the family agreed that they’ll let her study after marriage. They’re even ready to fund her education. Neither are they asking us for much. I’ll be holding a small ceremony since I cannot afford a big one and they are okay with it.” She responded.

It must have been a very hard decision…

I didn’t buy what she said about the prospective groom and his family, but I understood her concern. Even though I had suggested a few good courses to her daughter, her daughter had chosen B.Sc.

My family strongly disagreed with our house-help’s decision of getting her daughter married this early but there’s hardly anything we could do. My respect for her, though, never flinched an inch. I cannot imagine the level of struggle she must’ve been through yet she made sure that her daughters get the best of everything.

I still wonder why her daughter never decided to take up a part time job to fund her own education but I cannot blame her. Most of us live in a part of society where part time jobs by women are looked down upon by most people. There is no question about it that women should stop caring what others think but an 18 year old is possibly too young to understand that.

Isn’t it pathetic how we live in a society that is ruled by patriarchy?

It isn’t always directly evident; it’s subtle most of the times. Matter of fact is that patriarchy has been a reason why so many women suffer these days directly or indirectly.

“A woman should do this, a woman should do that, a woman should dress in a certain way so that she doesn’t provoke men, a woman shouldn’t be going out late at night, a woman should follow these rituals, a married woman should wear these, a widow shouldn’t be doing this, a young girl shouldn’t be doing this…”

Who made these rules? Why has society normalized them? Did a book come flying down from the sky that had these rules written in them?

We are a part of society yet if one of us chooses to speak up against others, we’ll have a thousand people to bash us and shame us. It isn’t surprising when men are the ones doing it; it’s the women who do that bothers me the most. Ironic how a pointing finger is always directed towards a woman no matter whose mistake it is!

Next day was like any other day. I was coming back home after work when I spotted Shobha at a traffic signal. Shobha was my childhood friend. She becoming my friend is also an interesting story in itself. Back when I was in school, I used to visit my Nanna’s place during my summer vacations. Shobha was the daughter of my Nanna’s house-help. Her mother used to come with her every morning and drop her off at Nanna’s house and we used to spend our time playing until her mother used to finish cleaning at everyone’s house in the locality and take her back to their house. Shobha wasn’t like most of my other friends who seldom loved playing sports, video games, or board games. She was really fond of reading. Everyday she used to read a book out loud to me. My grandpa had ample of books in his library. If she used to finish a book, she used to read the newspaper and even explain to me a few things if I couldn’t understand them. My cousin used to find that really boring so we used to play board games or games like cricket for a few hours for her sake and resume reading later. Spending time with Shobha was really inspiring because she used to talk about great women including freedom fighters like Rani Laxmibai, Sarojini Naidu, and the women who made it big like Kalpana Chawla. We were barely in 10 yet she used to talk about how bold women like Phoolan Devi and Mayavati paved their way into politics which even today is mostly dominated by men despite of all the odds. Spending time with Shobha was a time never wasted. I always learned new things.

One day, Shobha’s mom was not well and she insisted Nanna to let her scrub the utensils. Nanna was old, it was a joint family and all my aunts and uncle used to leave for work so she allowed that day. My cousin and I decided to help Sobha so she could finish early and we could resume playing soon. My Nanna asked us not to saying, “You kids are here for summer holidays and here you are scrubbing utensils instead of enjoying your time.” We insisted that it was okay and that we needed to spend time with our friend. My hands had started paining later. It was the first time I discovered how hard these women work everyday and developed a huge respect for them since. Shobha used to live with her parents, two older sisters, an older brother, a younger brother, and a younger sister. Her younger sister who was just like her used to join us sometimes. All of them used to study in a government school but decided to drop out later except Shobha and her youngest sister. Since I was in 8th grade, I had almost stopped visiting Nanna because I got busy with my academics. However, I enquired about Shobha to Nanna frequently. A few years later I just got to know that her youngest sister got married. I presumed she must’ve been married too. I was absolutely delighted to see Shobha for it had been over a decade since we last saw each other.

I called her out loud. She took a while to remember who I was but her excitement was evident, the moment she remembered me. She hopped on my scooter and we left for a nearby café.

“You look impressive wearing that apron! So your dream finally came true!” she exclaimed as we sat down. I blushed.

“That reminds me; I never asked you about your ambition. What are you doing these days?” I was excited.

“Well, I work as a teacher now at the school across the traffic signal. Life has been great except my younger sister is getting divorced now. She and her two kids are staying with us now.” She replied.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear about your sister! You chose just the right job, though. As a kid, you were always inspiring to me. I’m sure you’re continuing your legacy of inspiring everyone now. Where are you living these days by the way? You didn’t even invite me to your wedding. I was 17 when I first started using social media. You were nowhere to be found. Even your mom stopped working at Nanna’s house later; I had no idea about your whereabouts. Hope you are doing well in your life.” I couldn’t stop talking.

“Yes my mom stopped working. I provide for our family now. Everyone else has moved out and started a family except for my youngest sister. She has finally decided to end her abusive marriage even though nobody except me in my family is supporting her decision.” She replied trying to calm me down.

“I’m really happy she stood for herself. She’s young; she has her whole life ahead of her. Nobody has the right to mistreat anyone. Unhappy marriages shouldn’t sustain because they take a toll on the whole family.” I went on.

“I have decided never to get married, by the way.” She interrupted me as if she remembered something.

I was awestruck! “Wow! That’s indeed a great decision. I’m really happy your parents supported you in this. We live in a society where daughters are married off after a certain age.”

“They didn’t.” she started laughing. “They gave up on me eventually. My sisters were never really ambitious anyway. They never had plans on studying further. The moment they turned 18, my parents got them married off. None of them is really happy in their married lives. All of their marriages are abusive. My eldest sister’s husband even assaults her physically after getting drunk. It’s after looking at them that I realized, marriage wasn’t going to do me any good. The moment I passed my 10th, I took up menial part-time jobs at clothing stores while studying. That is how I funded my education. I was fortunate, we had a roof over our heads so living was never an issue. My father, as you know was an alcoholic and hardly earned enough but my older brother turned out to be responsible. He started working seriously and provided for the whole family. He even got my youngest sister married and bore all the expenses of her wedding. You know how our society functions. No man we met wanted to split the wedding expenses. Moreover, they were asking for a dowry. We couldn’t afford dowry but we somehow managed the wedding. It is because of this type of mentality, I decided never to get married. We are different from men physiologically, how does that give them the right to impose all the restrictions, rituals, and rules on us? We are humans too. We contribute to the family too. I don’t want to pay today only to get abused and tortured by the same man tomorrow. I told these things to my parents and they gave in. Now they have even stopped asking me if I will ever get married. Our relatives and neighbors look down on me. They gossip about me saying that she definitely must be having an affair outside or she must’ve lost the only person she loved and that is why she is not getting married. Some even spread things like she must be impotent. Why have people presumed that a woman’s life is incomplete without getting married? I pay no heed to anybody now. I feel absolutely liberated. I love my job. I earn well enough to support my aging parents. I have an insurance policy and PF too, just in case. I also give tuitions to kids in my free time. I am saving that extra income because I wish to build a house of my own. I will have a separate room as a library inside my house where I will keep all my books and it will be open for all the kids, especially underprivileged girls who are willing to read them. You remember how I used to read your grandpa’s books? I used to love spending time at your house because that’s the only place I could sit in silence and read without the fear of having to go somewhere or being disturbed. Those were the days! I think I am talking too much.” She sighed.

“No, not at all. It’s been over a decade and a half since we last talked but your words are still the same, deep, thought-provoking, and inspiring, my friend. Talking to you isn’t just a conversation; it’s an emotion. You are on the right track. I am really proud of you. Girl, somebody should write a book on you! In fact, you can write about yourself. We’ll look into publishing it later. I bet your journey will turn out to be an inspiration for many including me.” I replied.

“I am just a speck in this society. I am sure there are many women out there like me who have struggled more than me and achieved more than me. I have a lot on my mind which I am yet to achieve. Maybe after completing my bucket list, I could think about it.” She responded with a smile.

“Why don’t you come over? Mom must be home, she will be very happy to see you.” I said as I gulped my last sip of coffee.

“Some other day maybe. I thought you would be married since you are the eldest in your family but I also knew that I would’ve heard from your Nanna about it. Now I have to rush back home. I told you about my tuitions, right?” she replied coming back to present after our little trip of nostalgia. “I had heard that you had left the state for your higher education. I thought you would start working there itself.” She said with a smile.

“Guess fate wanted old friends to get back in touch,” I said as we exchanged numbers. “I saw you were walking. I’ll drop you home.” I said hurriedly knowing she must be late for her tuitions.

“On one condition, the bill is on me.” She was messing with me. We started laughing.

I came back home after dropping her and realized how fulfilling the day was! Women can change the world for good once they get educated and independent. It’s a pity that most of us are being deprived of that freedom under the name of culture and societal norms. Everyday we hear about women being killed and abused. We also witness people talk about women empowerment. Little do we acknowledge the stories of women getting empowered and standing up firmly against the established toxic system. No doubt male chauvinists and patriarchs will try their best to break the feminist moment, it’s small changes like these that will change the world for good and one day we will be able to say that equality has finally been established!

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About the Author

Aishwarya A

Cardiac Perfusionist by profession Strongly opinionated. Love to make people laugh Giving my share in making this world a better place for everyone. read more...

5 Posts | 1,795 Views

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