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A moment of quiet contemplation
I sat in my most comfortable chair reading the Gita for the 100th time. And like every other time, it started a long thought process. Thoughts of choices, duty and the way lives turn out! This time, I looked inward at my own life…
I only remember the shape of the difficult times. What I’m left with from then is a sense of quiet achievement, vindication for having stuck to my beliefs.
Some people have told me that I had a difficult life, but I wonder…
My life changes…
“Lakshmi, go wash up. It’s time for dinner and your father will be home soon,” my mother said from the kitchen.
Reluctantly I left the book I was reading and went in.
This is a day that I cannot forget. Father came home and told me that he’d arranged my marriage.
“But what will happen to my studies…” I stammered.
My mother made an impatient gesture at me – the one that meant, “Don’t be impertinent.”
My studies were cut short after PUC, and I got married. I was one of the very few girls of that generation who even studied that far. I was also not one of the youngest to get married. But I was determined that my marriage would not end my education. I wanted to get out of the home and achieve something.
I continued to read everything I got my hands on and kept improving my knowledge. That got me into trouble many times, but I continued to persevere. Knowledge gave me courage and strength.
The real battle begins
“Parvati, have you finished writing your economics essay? I asked my daughter. Your 9th standard is very important.”
“Leave her be, Lakshmiamma,” her father growled at me. “What she needs to learn is how to make dinner for her family. You keep putting these foolish ideas into her head.”
Her education was a constant source of battle in our home. The rest of my family blindly accepted this convention – boys would be the ones to study and earn a living. All the girls had to learn was their domestic duty.
I knew for a fact that my husband was wrong about this because there was no logic to it. I enjoyed learning and studying and so did my daughter. Why should we deny her a chance at what makes her happy?
“It’s bad enough that you don’t do your duty by your family,” he continued.
When we got married, I was given to understand that my place was in the kitchen, keeping home for my family.
It was not a shock, in fact it was completely “normal”. I had seen this all around – my mother, aunts, cousins, neighbours. They had no time or interest for intellectual pursuits because they were trapped in their duties to their family.
But I knew how to work smart and fast. Cooking was not one my favourite things, but it came to me easily and I had time left for my interests – reading, gardening, pondering questions of life and philosophy – pursuits that are not considered womanly. Ones that meant I was reaching too high.
I had learnt to ignore the objections. I knew what I wanted for my children was right. My two sons were encouraged to study and I wanted the same for my daughter.
Education is power, and my daughter will be a powerful woman. My disappointment at not being able to do more with my life gave me courage to push for the best for my daughter. I never let her enter the kitchen. Being successful in her career was her only goal. She would be one of the first women doctors or lawyers in the country. But I could have never foreseen how much this belief would change my life.
I drew strength from an ancestor of mine to stay on the path I had chosen. A path that I believed in from the bottom of my heart.
The early 1500s
A migration: Nacharamma’s story
I had a role model –Nacharamma – a very strong woman whose real potential was known when she stood up and took charge. She made waves in her time, in the early 1500s, and is till highly respected for her wisdom and courage in our community.
According to some versions, Nacharamma was a very learned and wise woman. Some of the men in the community felt threatened by her. They wanted to teach her a lesson – so they oiled her sari so that it would slip off her body – making her the laughing stock of the gathering. When this happened, a red mist of anger came over her and she cursed the entire village.
“This place will be forever cursed. Everyone who lives here will be childless. Your crops will wither and the land dry up.”
The power of her words was apparent to everyone there. The gathering was shaken. They begged her to take it back, but a curse once uttered can’t be undone.
But they continued to beg her to do something. Realising that she had let her anger get the better of her, she hunted for a solution. After giving it some thought, she proposed a revolutionary plan – they would leave the cursed village and look for another place to settle down.
This woman must have had nearly magical powers – she convinced thousands of families to give up their homes, farms and livelihood and follow her into unknown lands. After marching for thousands of kilometers, they settled down in small towns around Mysore and started planting roots again.
This is a legend that I have thought of for a long time. Because of her, the status of women improved greatly in our small community. She was my role model because she showed me that a woman can achieve anything once she puts her mind to it.
Calm reigned in the house, but my children and I paid a price to get it. My husband and I had been fighting, arguing and yelling at each other for the last 3 years. It had become unbearable. The reason for these arguments? I wanted to educate my daughter. She had completed her BA in Economics and now I wanted her to study Law. She’s a very bright girl. And I had great hopes for her.
Her father had a very different idea. “We do not send our unmarried girls to some strange town to study. What will people say?”
What will people say? What does that mean? She is going there to study, not commit atrocities.
“No one will want to marry her,” he screamed. “Is this what you’re achieving for her?”
Nothing I said would convince him that this was the best thing for our daughter. The fact that she would be her own woman, fight for justice for those who needed it, give other women support and courage to achieve their goals – none of could undo the social pressure.
He left us. Left me with two children to feed, clothe and educate. Maybe he thought I would go running to him, begging him to come back. I almost did – in those moments of panic when I realised he had not stormed off in a fit of anger that would pass. Well-meaning relatives tried to patch things up – but there was no question of a compromise – from either of us. Soon, the rest of the family also shunned us.
Those were difficult days… Doubts plagued me. Had I been selfish? Did I push my children into a bad situation because of my ambition? Was I a bad mother?
But there was no going back – I had to continue on the path that I had chosen. I had never been extremely religious and now, I gave up on rituals. I fell back on personal prayer.
My older son was working by this time and he helped us for a few years. Somehow we made ends meet. There were many days I went hungry. I had to constantly negotiate with the landlord and the shopkeepers to convince them to wait for their money. But I always paid them, never took anything for nothing, and strangely got their respect in time.
I used my knowledge of Mathematics, Science and English and took classes for all the neighbourhood children. Daily classes during school days and summer classes during vacation time. Soon, their mothers started coming to me for guidance and encouragement.
Presenting my daughter, the lawyer
I didn’t dwell on the past for too long. I didn’t have the time. Both my children needed my support. We were finally in a better place – emotionally, mentally and financially.
My youngest son had joined an engineering college.
Today was my daughter’s first day at work as a lawyer. I have been in a daze of amazement all day. It finally sank in – we did it!
She came back home and told me about her day. It was a very proud moment. And it was all worth it.
She practiced for a few years, but felt that her calling was teaching. She encouraged many young women who were interested in joining the profession. I could not have asked for more. She was making a difference in a way that truly mattered.
How I made a difference
Today, when I tell my granddaughters about my life, it seems like a romantic story to them. They tell me I was a feminist. Perhaps I was. They are smart girls who have their parents’ support to study and achieve what they want. There are still restrictions, of course.
They tell me that they want to be independent. That they won’t accept boundaries that society forces on them. I give them my blessing and hope for the best for them.
Maybe I have made a difference after all. A small difference that passes through to all my great grandchildren and on…