Updated: Jun 23, 2020
| This is the 509th story of Our Life Logs |
I came into the world on December 26, 1987. My parents waited anxiously for my birth as I was their first child. They loved me like no other and dotted over me, but our poverty compromised our household. Sadly, my parents couldn’t afford to keep me with them in the city, so they sent me to live with my uncle in Singarapet Village in Tamil Nadu, India, when I was just two years old.
My exile was not completely stripped of happiness, however. I forged strong friendships with my cousins and became a good student in school. In fact, my teachers were shocked by my progress because the common belief was that poor children weren’t smart.
I stayed in the village for six years until my parents took me back. But, it wasn’t because they were better off. I just had two younger siblings they needed me to look after. I had no say in the matter. Moving back home also meant I became another statistic. I never got to finish my education.
And so, I returned home to care for my siblings while my parents worked themselves to the bone; my teenage years were spent making lunch and washing clothes instead of solving math problems and writing papers.
When I turned 18, my parents began searching for a husband for me, as it is tradition in poor families to marry off your daughters to lessen your burden. Unfortunately, almost all of the so-called “suitable” grooms expected a huge dowry that we could not afford. That is…except for one. He was my knight in shining armor, Sethu, who did not care about a dowry. My parents held very conservative Hindu beliefs, so they did raise a brow to his Christian views and his career as a mason. All in all, money problems ensured that caste and religion took a backseat to get me married off at a good age. And so, it was decided that we would have a simple wedding ceremony with only close friends and relatives.
I saw my knight, my Sethu, for the first time on the day of our wedding in June 2007. To me, this selfless decision to marry me, regardless of his profit, meant that Sethu had a kind heart. I only hoped that Sethu would love and respect me for who I was. As he removed my veil, I looked at him with anxiety and anticipation. Together, we were going to start a new life.
Life as a married woman started on a good note, and with each passing day, our love grew deeper and stronger. We often pictured our future together—where we would go and what we would see—and we did so with wide eyes and big hearts. Of course, I should have known that bliss was too good to be true. The seeds of destruction had already been planted and were yet to bloom.
My husband loved me dearly, but he drank quite a bit more than he should have. He was never a mean drunk, but his habits flagged my concerns. Still, a good Indian wife is supposed to take her husband’s flaws in stride. So, I reminded myself as to why I should be grateful. His habits may not have been healthy, but at least he did not beat me up when drunk like some other couples I saw in our neighborhood.
As the seasons passed, nature surprised me with motherhood. My daughter Keertana, was born on December 15, 2008. Life was total bliss for a couple of years. However, things soon started to crumble. Sethu began struggling with his health. He started falling sick often—more days than healthy. I feared it was from the alcohol, but I didn’t dare say so.
And then, on a day like any other, the ground collapsed beneath our feet.
Sethu came home from work with a sour feeling. As usual after a hard day’s work, he drank to take the edge off. As usual, I made him dinner to go with it. He ate and fell asleep.
In the middle of the night, he woke up with his clothes soaked in sweat. He started vomiting with traces of blood in the mix. I had seen this reaction all too often, but the fear in his eyes begged danger, so I took him to the hospital. The doctor gave him the routine medicines and told us not to worry and his condition was “normal,” but I left the hospital with tears in my eyes. Despite the doctor’s words, I had a feeling that what had happened wasn’t normal. I feared that we had turned onto a one-way street with no going back and that nothing would ever be normal again.
After that day, Sethu started falling ill even more often than before. For weeks on end, he would have to skip work. With our income already being meager, this was a difficult blow. We tried visiting various clinics and new doctors, hoping to find something to help him, but nothing was working. We spent thousands of rupees on his treatment, and yet, the doctors couldn’t diagnose his illness.
As we struggled to pay medical bills and buy food, I took up domestic jobs and started pawning off things like my jewelry to raise a bit of money to help us survive. It got so bad that we had to move to a smaller house as we could not afford the rent anymore. Some days, we had no money for food.
There was one silver lining. In this new neighborhood, we found a trusted and experienced doctor in the area that ran a few more tests to try diagnosing Sethu. After eight months of visiting clinics and doctors, we finally found out why Sethu was getting so sick. His kidneys had been destroyed by his drinking. “Consumption of even a single drop of alcohol will be like committing suicide for him now,” the doctor said. He prescribed some medicine and suggested regular visits.
I worked tirelessly to keep us afloat while properly caring for our daughter, but our expenses kept increasing and Sethu’s medicines were very expensive. My employer knew my situation and gave me a loan, but it still made getting by difficult. The only light at the end of the tunnel was that Sethu seemed to be responding well to the medicine. His improving condition gave me the strength to go on relentlessly. I thought, all my hard work will be rewarded when my knight in shining armor is better.
All it took was one family function. Unable to control himself and provoked by the other men, Sethu took a couple of drinks. When I saw him guzzling down the alcohol, I lost my temper and shouted at him in front of everyone. Then, I dragged him back home as he pleaded for forgiveness. But I didn’t want to forgive him. I was furious. I had worked too hard to see him throw his life away.
Those few drinks worsened his condition. For the next few days, I took care of him around the clock; we never got a chance to make peace with him or talk things out.
Finally, there was nothing more I could do. We had to admit him to the hospital again, but soon we found out his body wasn’t responding to the medicine because both his kidneys had failed. Time was running out, and we were helpless as he deteriorated. My prayers to both Hindu and Christian Gods went unheeded.
Within a few weeks, my knight, my Sethu, was dead. The days were black. The life I had struggled to carry had passed through my fingers like sand. Every morning, noon, and night I wished to die. If not for my daughter, who knows what I would have done? I knew I had to keep fighting through the grief for my daughter’s sake. She too was struggling to move forward. So often, she would wrap her small hands around me tightly and we would cry for hours together. She looked to me for strength, and so, I had to keep going. If not to save my life, it was to save hers.
It did not help that my in-laws turned cold towards me and my daughter. I was accused of killing my husband and their beloved son by choosing the wrong doctor. As restitution, they wanted me to quit my job and be at their mercy.
I looked at my life and the misery that could ensue if I gave in. It was as cruel as slavery. That is when I put my foot down. I refused to let them control me. Now, this might not mean a lot to many people, but it meant everything to me. I had been a woman who had allowed people to call the shots for her all her life. No longer.
With few options left, I moved back to my parent’s house. After all, what other option did I have? My father was now old, and his income limited. So, I had to take care of myself and my six-year-old daughter on my own, but at least we had a good place to stay. I had to repay the loans I had taken, but my employers also showed some mercy and agreed to deduct the money I owed them in small installments from my monthly salary.
As I tell you this story, I’ve been able to move us out of my parent’s home into a small house nearby. My daughter is now in class six and is thriving. My employers continue to be considerate of my financial situation and have even helped me cover my daughter’s tuition and book fees. I have worked very hard to ensure that my daughter completes her studies and I hope she makes me proud one day. I hope that my daughter can learn from my experiences and stand up for herself. My hope is that she will have the life I could not, as well as the courage I have found.
Even still, bringing up a daughter alone is not easy. There are times when I wish I had Sethu’s opinion. Will this school be good for her? Should I buy her a cycle because all her friends have one? But I know he is watching us and is giving me the strength to carry on. I will miss you forever, my knight in shining armor.
This is the story of Susila
Susila, 36, stays with her daughter in Bangalore, India. She manages a respectable life for her and her daughter by working as domestic help. Brought up in a family where men were the decision-makers, she was never given a voice to speak about what she wants. Married at an early age, she never thought life would be a struggle for her. A few months into the marriage, she discovered her husband was an alcoholic. The worst came when her husband’s kidneys failed, and she had to take a lot of loans from her employers for the treatment. Within a few months he passed away, leaving behind Susila with her young daughter and a lot of loans to be repaid. She is a hard-working woman who works tirelessly to repay the loans and to ensure that her daughter is educated to lead a better life.
This story first touched our hearts on March 5, 2020.
| Writer: P. Kasturi Rangan | Editor: Colleen Walker |