everyone deserves happiness

This post is written for the initiative to create awareness about violence against women. You can read more posts by other writers at their blog Violence against Women 2011

11 years ago, on this day, Teja and I were in court signing a register. Dhanno was 7. After we had finished the business with the magistrate, Dhanno cried and cried. The magistrate had forgotten to take her signature, wasn’t she going to be married to us as well? A friend ran in and got her a yellowing, legal looking paper and got her to sign on it. “The magistrate forgot to take your sign, Dhanno”, he said. She was happy.

A month later, at the small wedding ceremony we had at Teja’s house, there she is again in all the photos, between the two of us, as the pooja is completed, looking solemn and involved.

13 years ago, when she was 5, she announced to Teja’s mother on our first visit to Teja’s home, that she would never ‘allow’ Teja and me to marry. I was already married to her Daddy.

12 years ago, when she was 6, she saw ‘Kuchch Kuchch Hota Hain’ and she realized that relationships can change over the years. And she was willing to accept Teja as more than a friend into our lives.

19 years ago, even before she was born, while she was in the womb, she was witness to many fights between her Daddy and me. Once he even pushed me when I was pregnant.

Later, after she was born, for 4 years, she saw several things that she ought not to have seen in the tiny one room house that we lived in at the time. We were blessed with a large neighboring family who often took her away and left us to it.

I do not want to describe the pattern of violence in my first marriage, which was common enough. The soup was too hot, I was rude to his friends, I smelled bad, I read rubbish books.

But what was not common was that not only were we educated, but we were the rebels, the artistes of society, the ones who thought we were different, we were not tied to the normal social conventions. But that did not stop us from being hypocritical about our marriage.

I had been rebelling from my family, the small town I had grown up in, since I was 15. Why then did I stay in an abusive, violent marriage for 8 years? I walked out once, and went back to a situation which became worse because it became all the more unpredictable. The periods of calm at home and the total degeneration into distress fluctuated so much that they left me even more exhausted than the daily violence I had become used to.

There were friends, there was family, and there was silence. The conversations revolved around how he could be cured of excessive drinking, how he could be cured of his other habits, how he could get work. But not many people asked me, “What are you doing here? Why are you a part of this?” Even if they did, I was not listening.

My silence was an effort to preserve the little dignity I had left, and pride, and a realization that I had made my own bed.

I felt helpless, even though I was the one who had been running the family since day 1.

I felt responsible for this man, who was intelligent, but had so lost his way.

Then one day I looked at my daughter and thought, “I don’t want her to grow up with this blue-print of marriage, I don’t want her to grow up with me like this as her role model.”

I realized that my first responsibility was towards her, and not towards her father.

It took a while even after that to untangle the mess, to walk away. But that thought saw me through the decisions I had made.

Dhanno kept me from holding grudges or bitterness in my heart. Whatever happened to me, I did not want her growing up with cynicism, with detachment. I also thought that I had wasted enough years on a bad marriage, why waste more in regretting it?

Teja made it possible for both her and me to believe that life could go on, life did not come to a standstill because something did not turn out quite right.

Though I kept out the bitterness of my heart, those 9 years did take a toll on me physically, I put on weight, I lost a lot of my hair, it greyed rapidly. I lost many years of productive work. I had been a big fan of new experiences, but I realized that some experiences are too expensive.

My marriage with Teja made me realize just what a normal, healthy, happy marriage is like. It still surprises me that I could have mistaken my unhappiness to be a normal state of being.

Most women who suffer violence silently, either believe they are helpless or believe they are responsible. They are unable to realize that the violence is not about them, but only about the other person. They look for solutions to the situation, believing that they will be able to change something, somehow. They do not comprehend that it is not them, but the other person who has to sort out his or her life.

Even after the worst fight, I would worry about whether my husband had eaten. For years I believed that we would be able to see the situation through. Today, he is married again and has two children. I don’t know whether he drinks anymore, or what his relationship with his wife is like. And guess what, I do not care. When I realize I do not care, I wonder at how much I did care, how much I was willing to put up with because I believed that my caring mattered and how little time it took for all of us to move on, at how insignificant that caring really was, in the larger scheme of things.

For years after I had left my first husband, Teja would come back from a late night shoot, and in my sleep, I would shudder, expecting the lurch of a drunken shadow, the stink of a drunken breath, a blow. For years after I had left her father, Dhanno would watch Teja and me fight, silent, afraid, unsure of where it would end.

I know that a part of Dhanno is forever scarred by what she saw and heard as a child. But I also know that both Teja and I have worked hard to give her a happy, normal, day-to-day life. I hope that the love and security we provide overrides the scars.

All these years, I found it easier to write about Hindi films, than about what we had been through. More than anything, I wanted to protect Dhanno. I believe that as adults we make choices to live our lives in certain ways, sometimes those choices prove to be wrong, sometimes we have to pay for those choices. But the children who are born of these choices, have a right to live a life unencumbered by our grief.

Now Dhanno is 18, she is very curious about my life, my relationships, what I was like when I was her age. Often when she asks me questions, I well up with tears. I do not know what to tell her without casting a shadow on her.

A week ago, while looking for some papers she needed for her passport application, she found a few letters I had written to her father’s family when I was filing for divorce. She  emailed me, “You are so strong. I can’t believe you have so much spirit left in you after all this. No wonder T loves you so much. … I cried a bit. Okay a lot. Head is hurting now. As usual. …  After reading all this I want to announce it to everyone and show them how special you are. And how lucky I am. … I love you, Mummy.”

She enables me to write this today. She makes me want to tell everyone, women, men, whatever your family circumstances, emotional, social, economic status –

Be responsible, but first to yourself, and to the children you gave birth to. The children do not deserve to live in a house rent by screaming and fighting, and reverberating with blows. They do not need to feel the sick nausea of watching their parents making temporary truces.

This post is to wish the three of us a happy marriage anniversary. To Teja, for showing me that love does not need to be pain. To Dhanno, who continues to teach me new lessons every day. To myself, who refuses to penalize myself for a wrong choice I may have made.

The truth is none of us need be victims. We can each one of us make a choice on how we want to live. And believe me, a happy life is the best one.


  1. “I realized that my first responsibility was towards her, and not towards her father.”

    That’s the thought that helped us too. That this family thing is bigger than us and perhaps it’s bigger than our marriage from this perspective. Our marriage can take our fighting but perhaps the family thing can’t.

    Thank you for this post, more than I can put in words.

  2. There will be some woman out there reading this and even if she thought she was absolutely isolated in her abusive situation, she will suddenly feel a little less alone, a little more hopeful. You are awesome. That is all. Hugs!

  3. Hope the three of you are having a wonderful anniversary – though you’re away from home.
    Soul-baring, as only you could do so heartbreakingly – not one word out of place, so precisely expressed. When I recite my thank yous for a wonderful life tonight to whatever Force is out there, I will remember the three of you.

  4. You are awesome Banno, and you have raised an awesome daughter with the help of the lovely man you truly deserve to be with in an equal partnership🙂 Lots of love to you, and thanks for this courageous post. It’s beautiful, and so are you.

  5. Banno, you write with such power and integrity of the three of you, and the way forward you have always found which has made you all happy. It makes me want to hug Dhanno and say: Thank You. For being the way forward.
    Happy anniversary, all three of you🙂

  6. I bow my head to you in respect and in admiration, Banno. I am commenting for the first time and I had to after reading your courageous post. I can see why your daughter is so proud to have you as her mom!

  7. A very touching and inspiring piece. I know what you are talking about.
    ‘But not many people asked me, “What are you doing here? Why are you a part of this?” Even if they did, I was not listening.’ Yes.

    • Thank you, early bird. It’s amazing how we blind and deafen ourselves to anything outside our situation. Often we create our own traps.

  8. I thought I had grown cynical and nothing could shock me anymore, but my eyes are wet after reading this. I am so glad that you were strong, that you were able to put it behind you. Dhanno is right to be proud of you, and you of her.

  9. Banno, I have said this before, I will say it again, I have admired you since the time I visited Dala and she introduced me to you, holding your baby, at the door of your hostel room. We walked in and I saw the chalk painting on the wall made by teja. I was moved. I had not seen your work as yet, but your aura, of a mother, deep at work on her diploma film, totally connected with both, the work and the baby, made a huge impact on me.
    I had a sense of what you were going through when you would visit our hostel, but what always shone through was your amazing connection with your child, your calm, your way with words and images.
    I have been an admirer for a long time.
    Thanks for writing this.

  10. Thankyou, Banno. A brave act, writing this, no doubt. I feel like thumping you on the back. Am proud of you. Let me quickly share my story too. My parents were divorced when I was eight. I loved my father, the villain, as much as I loved my mother, the hero. I wished my father was dead, because it hurt so much to love someone and not be able to meet him. So I wrote letters to him. All my letters had the same beginning. My Baba, I miss you a lot…I never posted these letters, for I didn’t even have his address. But guess what? I met someone on the paper. Someone who let me write. Whatever I felt like. And a writer was born.😉 love, Manju

  11. Banno, I had absolutely no idea. What an amazing, gripping story. What an example you have set for your daughter. Thank you so much for sharing it. I seem to be led to your blog in strange, mysterious ways. I know so many women who need to read this. Thank you again and again.



  12. I read you often but had never commented. Toady I thought it would be unfair if I go away without expressing my admiration and respect for the strong woman that you are. You already have the best but wish you happiness in life always.

  13. wonderful, strong woman.
    So glad you now have the happiness you deserve. Thank you so much for sharing- your story will be a source of strength to someone in need of it

    • Thank you, Chicu. I hope so, that is, that someone, somewhere reads the story, and feels a little bit better about herself.

  14. Just got back from a short holiday this evening and just saw this post. I was hoping you would write about this – I remember your mentioning violence in your first marriage in a comment at The Mad Momma’s, (I think) some years ago. Thank God you had the courage to walk out of that awful situation. All good wishes to the three of you. God bless, huge hugs, and lots of love.

  15. Banno, your daughter’s reaction floored me. I am beyond impressed by the maturity of her 18 years. Pat yourself on the back. I have never met you, but I am SO glad that things turned out well for you.

  16. Hats off to you, dear Banno!
    I don’t know what to say more. You are a not only a talented but a courageous woman, who deserves every moment of happiness in life.

  17. I’m one of those children you ensured Dhanno shouldn’t become, God bless your wisdom. 28 years old, married myself, a rescuer child to my parents’ marriage, brought up with a twisted understanding of what marriage is, I spend half of my waking hours worrying about what new stuff has come up at home and how I must “handle it” over the phone. I like to joke that I’ve brought up my parents more than they brought me up, by which people assume that I’m talking about some cute ribbing about not taking their medication on time or teaching them how to e-mail. Nobody could know that a 12-year old could have gone to school alone on Parents’ day to receive a medal because her parents were too busy fighting, and come home to flaunt it just so the momentary pride will make them stop fighting. Or that a black eye would tell a child everything the silence covered up and would make her extra cheerful to dispel the gloom and panic? Many more such memories come rushing back, but there are other things I need to worry about everyday – Does my parents’ marriage affect my marriage: am I too aggressive when we fight like all couples would and should (so I can’t become my mother and can be treated the way she was) or do I give in too easily and regret it? How does my brother who should really be focusing on his career and dating, coping with the everyday stress at home? What do the new neighbours think of my folks? How much does my husband understand this side of his otherwise-nice in-laws (though at least I don’t have to worry about hiding everything, which can’t be done. Nor do I need to worry about him not accepting this situation for what it is, sparing me more embarrassment, for which I’m eternally thankful)? What if they get separated – yes, I have a parents’ divorce savings fund going on before I have a savings fund for children? What if they don’t get separated – I wished for this all my childhood, yet the effort from all quarters to keep up the charade is clearly not worth the exhaustion anymore?

    It’s so easy to say “Move On” but few will realize that the most difficult thing to do is to stay on, and my mother – for her lack of choices and for a sense of security – stayed on. I can’t ever forget what she has gone through for me, but I can’t help but wonder whether that was the right thing to do. Would I really have accused her of not caring enough for me, if we were alone, less well off but happy elsewhere? The truth is, however, that I cannot ask my mother this question because I will come across as thankless… and I cannot ask my father why he has got us to this point, because the window of decision or debate or compassionate dialogue passed us many years ago.. and this has been my life’s work.

    If anyone in an abusive relationship with children is reading this, I will not ask you to move on.. it will be too funny and hypocritical coming from me.. but I will definitely tell you that you cannot possibly imagine what the little ears by your side are catching on to. Also, please know this: they’re always imagining something far worse than you’re probably facing. If you can’t walk out, be more communicative. Let them know that not everyone will betray their trust. Let them know what this relationship isn’t going to set the tone for their future.

    – Someone who reads often but hardly comments. Someone who still cannot sign with her name.

    • Thank you, X, for sharing your story, for coming by, commenting. It is the hardest thing to ‘move on’, and the truth is, that even when one does move on, there is so much that one carries along.

      I can only hope that the pain you have suffered for no fault of your own, has made you stronger. I am sure that you do cope with the day-to-day problems of your marriage well.

      From what you write here, you are still so caring and sensitive. Kudos to you!

  18. Banno, I cannot say how much this post resonates. Not because I’m in a physically abusive marriage myself; I’m not. I am married to a very kind, very caring man. But there are other things in life that pull you up short, and that’s as bad, or sometimes worse than abuse. Thanks you for sharing. I admire your courage, and wish you, and your family all the best.

  19. This is the first time I am coming to your blog, and I cannot tell you how deeply your post on violence in the marriage moved me. I am amazed at your courage and determination to move on and give your daughter the life she deserves, and wish more women had your kind of determination. Please accept my belated anniversary greetings, and here’s to a wonderful, happy future for all three of you!

  20. Came here from the VAW blog. Belated anniversary wishes to the three of you! You are a very strong, courageous woman. I’m inspired. And if Dhanno has turned out the way she has, I have hope for myself!! I’m a product of the-case-against-marriage kind of marriage, and you have my deepest respects for ensuring your child doesn’t have to endure those scars.

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