The shrill sound of her ringtone jolted her from sleep. Slowly, she fumbled with the switches and glanced at the time.
“Who is calling me at this unmanly hour ?”Lost in her jumbled thoughts, Richa searched for the ringing mobile phone.
A look at the screen confused her even more. She had never saved his number, but could never forget the last four digits of Ajay’s mobile. A chill ran down her spine. They had parted their ways 10 years back. Even though Ajay had been courteous and decent always, but she could never forget the years she had spent with him, thanks to his family.
“Why was he calling today?” She gathered courage and answered the call.
“Hello Richa ! Ajay this side. I know it must be night there, but it’s a matter of life and death. Aai is serious. She wants to see you and Diya one last time.”
15 years ago, A new bride Richa had entered Sharma household with hopes of a happy married life. Little had Richa known that she had placed her foot inside a Lion’s den. A bubbly full of life Richa had been the darling of her Papa. A university topper always, she had completed MD in pediatrics from a prestigious medical college. She had even got selected for further specialisation in Neonatology. Fearing that a highly educated girl doesn’t get good grooms, her parents had manipulated her into getting married as soon as she gave MD exams. Ajay was a surgeon in the same medical college and they both had been fond of each other. Life seemed to be set, that’s what she thought.
Within the few days of marriage, Richa realised that her priority to complete her studies was of no concern to anyone. Whether she had a heavy night duty, or an extremely tiring emergency, a presentation or even an exam the rules for her were clear. She had to wake up early, take a bath and cook meal for the entire joint family before she left for work. Once she had entered kitchen without taking a bath. Ajay’s grandmother had accused her of spoiling the sanctity of kitchen. The grandma hadn’t eaten food the entire day, till a pandit had been called to perform a puja.
Ajay’s night duty or emergency meant that he would be allowed to rest and sleep. He would be treated like a king. Richa’s duty meant nothing to them. No one ever bothered to ask if she had eaten or had she even slept? Richa was the free maid whose responsibility was to cook and clean, no matter how hard her shifts were.
Another time, she had slept on the same bed as Ajay during her menstrual period. Her MIL had replaced the entire bedding and accused her of being ill mannered, uncultured and uneducated.
They had wanted a heir to the family as soon as Ajay and Richa got married. Richa had been very frank with Ajay and conveyed that she would finish her studies first. Though Ajay had agreed, but in front of his mom he never opened his mouth or defended her. The entire family would keep a watch on if she bled that month.
Sometime after the first year, her sister in law had found out that she had been taking pills to prevent pregnancy and all the hell had broken loose. Even though she stopped taking pills after that, she couldn’t get pregnant for another three years. This started an endless visits to Infertility specialists. Multiple cycles of IUI ( Intrauterine Insemination ) and later IVF ( Invitro Fertilization ) which failed left her depressed, lifeless and lonely.
Till the time Diya blessed her womb she would be tortured daily for being barren. Though Ajay supported her in private, he never came to her rescue in public.
It is said a Woman can bear everything but not a word against her children. When little Diya arrived, Richa was already suffering from depression. Postpartum stress and abandonment even from her husband for bearing a girl child broke her further. She hadn’t fallen in love with that little girl the moment she had held her in her arms. It seemed another burden. She was not able to give even a drop of milk to the little baby who wailed hungrily.
The elders in Ajay’s family had suggested to let the girl die. ” Let her cry hungry. Soon, she will die.” This had been the turning point in Richa’s life. What kind of woman she was ? Could she let her own child die ? She was a doctor, a paediatrician. She couldn’t let her own child die. Wasn’t she the one who toiled in hospitals to save so many children ?
Soon after, she had filed in Divorce. She did not want to raise her daughter in this part of the world, where they prayed to a Kanjak, but voilated her once she grew up.
Richa had moved to US with a toddler Diya and never looked back.
“Richa, are you on the line ? ” Ajay’s voice brought her back to present. “I am sorry Richa. I never had the courage to stand against Aai. Please come and see her once. She has suffered a lot in the last few years. Karma they say. Please come and forgive us.”
She didn’t know if she could forget ever. Forgiveness was not hers to give. Still she packed the bags and early morning, Richa and Diya drove to airport to catch flight to India.
Every woman goes through two major life changing events. How she is treated at these interchanges of life, leaves her with memories bitter or sweet that determines the type of woman she will be. Some become strong like Richa, however some succumb to the same cycle and the trauma in generations continue.
The first event is the marriage, when she leaves her maternal home to adapt to a new family, a new culture, new habits and in fact a new life. These new beginnings are not easy for many especially in India. She is expected to forget overnight her parents, siblings, cousins and friends. Each family even in the same culture has different traditions. Yet, from day one she is expected to be know it all. The support which is needed at this step is missing in most of the families. The moment the girl becomes the bride she is supposed to have learnt the art of housekeeping, cooking, managing finances, relatives and so forth.
The next event is the “childbirth”. The pressure to bear a family heir, the comparison between other kids or even elders in the family, breast feeding leave many a females at the verge of depression. There are already hormones raging havoc inside her, and all these other factors push a female towards post partum depression. India is one country with a very high rate of post partum depression.
Motherhood does not come in easy. Unlike what is shown in movies, you don’t fall in love with the little being the moment you hold her in your arms. The perils of a long labour, pain in the incision of a caesarean section, the apprehension over breastfeeding are just a few internal factors which are enough to throw you off the track. Combined with that the taunting on the size, gender, colour of the baby are enough to push you to depression in that precarious state.
In India, we pray to Durga Ma. Navratri, Durga puja there are so many festivals in each part of the country. The same girl we get as kanjak and whose blessings we seek, becomes impure once she starts menstruating. She’s denied entry into temples, can’t pray, can’t cook and as per many cultures has to sleep in a separate room.
The irony of all this is that it’s not the opposite gender whom we blame, but so many other females who support such notions. Wouldn’t a new bride feel more at home, if her own tribe aka her MIL, SIL help her adjust. Of course, you can’t clap with a single hand. The bride or the mother in question needs to grasp that with open arms.
A new mother needs love and understanding more during that time due to her fragile physical and mental state. Wouldn’t the world be a better place, if we gave her just love when it is needed most.
I too have gone through many ups and downs post marriage and post pregnancy and I know many other females, close friends who have been in similar situations. Sometimes it’s just an ear or a helping hand.Come let’s be that chain where we can be that support. Let each one of us be the woman who supports the other, may be just a smile to someone who has had a hard day. Or just a patient listener to someone whose heart is full. Believe me the world needs more of such people who are just there to hold the hand, or walk besides without judging the other one. More women are pulled down not by the opposite gender but from those within.
This Women’s Day let us pledge our support to each other. Because inside each woman is always that little girl who is always sugar, spice and all things nice.