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.