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Woman Within

Updated: Jun 25, 2020


| This is the 364th story of Our Life Logs |


I was born in 1976 in New Delhi, the capital city of India. My father, a labor union leader who was tangled up in domestic politics, married at the young age of 17. But how could he not? Though my mother lived in a nearby village and was illiterate, she was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen. They say that my father had seen her bringing back water from a well in her village and had instantly fallen in love with her. But time fades and so does beauty, which inevitably led to a strained marriage between two completely ideologically polar people.

While one would expect the youngest daughter to be the most cherished child, I struggled to find solid footing in a household that was inescapably plagued by a love for sons. Our capital was still experiencing some cultural confusion, coming to terms with its colonial past and rejection of the “west,” seeing it as disposing our culture. As if illiteracy and misogyny were a better bargain.

The struggle didn’t begin with being born as a girl. I have always been, and always will be, proud of being born a woman. To me, being a woman has always meant being a creator, and in my eyes, this is the closest position one can have to God. But, unfortunately, this is a view cultivated only within my generation.

My mother held the complete opposite view, you see. To her, my brothers were her most prized possessions. Being born into a very middle-class family meant we didn’t have the luxuries of watching television or going to the cinema in the weekend. But somehow, being male entitled my brothers to the luxurious meals of bread, milk, and eggs, while I was not always as fortunate. The only new dress I got each year was at Diwali, an Indian festival, and even a chocolate was a delicacy to be enjoyed only when a visitor was around. I was often punished for the most natural of things that were considered “unusual” for a girl. Got hurt in the street? A slap. Playing out so late? Another one. These were things my brothers could get away with.

When I first menstruated, I had been completely unaware of what had happened to me. Confusion filled up my 12-year-old mind. Nausea overtook my stomach and I couldn’t help but feel the urge to vomit. This was an unsettling feeling for me, something I could perhaps only expect to find an answer from the only other female in my house. But that only brought me more despair. I was met by nothing but repulsion. Each time I got my period, I had that familiar nauseous feeling from being accused of being illegitimately pregnant. Do you see the irony? 

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My older brothers grew up and grew apart from me. As children, we had played with each other, had the same friends, and covered each other’s lies. But suddenly I became more of the woman of the family and less of their sister, putting me up for possession. Any man who wandered near me was instantly shut down by the scary looks or threats my older brothers delivered their direction. I missed a lot of “normal” teenage experiences. I never enjoyed the flutter of meeting a boy after school or secretly getting a love letter. Because, as the woman of the house, the whole family’s honor rested in my hands—any wrong associations with my character would leave an ugly black splatter on the family name.

When you’re constantly made to feel like your character is worthy of scrutiny and doubt simply because the neighborhood boy has a crush on you, it can be an alienating experience.

I couldn’t turn a deaf ear to the constant judgment which had become routine, but I began to push myself further from my family and focus more on myself. I topped my graduating class and earned a seat at Delhi’s most reputable English literature university. I’ll never forget the day my father proudly distributed sweets at his office for his daughter’s celebration.

Just as quickly as my way out came, it was taken away. My older brothers somehow managed to sow seeds of doubt into my mother’s mind—a western education? What good is that? Isn’t a community college better with a vocational course? That way she’ll work too. Young girls at university are no good, all they do is smoke, party, become “wild” with the boys and completely throw away their future.

And just like that, I was working a 9 to 5 secretarial job at the age of 19, while struggling to study and keep up with my classes at the community college. Life was difficult, yet nobody would sympathize. Perhaps my father, who had been educated, could’ve understood but he showed no sign of it. Hadn’t he just been so overjoyed at my result?

You can educate people but not acculturate them. The inherent doubt against the female personality was etched so deep into their skin. My brothers’ verdict dictated my life. The most painful thing was the fact that despite being a woman, my mother made no effort to at least give me the opportunities she had lost. Somehow, I was to inherit her traumas.

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One night when my family was in the process of moving houses, I’d had a longer shift of work that evening and was to come home a little later. Remember, this was a time of mediocrity and I had no cell phone or any way to communicate with my family. Despite my eldest brother and I working in the same building, he never drove me home and I was forced to take the bus where girls like myself were mishandled daily.

My father had told me to meet him at the bus stop beside our house so that we could travel to the new house together. It was a dodgy area at night time with minimal lighting, but I felt safe knowing my dad was coming. But then he never showed. That was the first alarm. It was our custom to meet here right when I got off work.

Bearing some courage, I got into an Indian rickshaw to ride home. “This road is dangerous at night, child. Don’t travel here alone,” the driver of the rickshaw reminded me. But at this point, I didn’t care. I was determined to get home somehow.

That night I reached our building and saw an empty house. Save for a few scrap pieces of furniture, the house had been completely stripped. My neighbors told me my parents had left. Without me, they’d moved houses entirely.

I took off. This was too much for me to even imagine—had they wanted to get rid of me so desperately that they left me completely stranded alone late at night without any way to communicate with them? I ran away and tried figuring out a rental place for the night. Giving up, I ended up at a cousin’s house who talked some sense into me to return. Although by then, at age 19, I’d completely lost faith in “home.” My family’s house just wasn’t the same to me anymore.

Every second in that household began to feel like suffocation. I couldn’t speak or think for myself without somehow getting blaring red labels slapped onto me. All I could think of was leaving, but I was stuck in a loop of not having the means to do so. I slummed through each monotonous day, forcing off prying eyes and hands at work, in the municipal buses, on the streets. Still, I was determined to make something better of myself and my life, but I had realized that I couldn’t be in this environment to achieve that.

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A year or two later, I met the man who I would eventually marry and grow old with. I’d been 20 when he’d come to our house with his uncle, a distant friend of my family, for a visit. We quickly began chatting, which turned into meeting up more and more.

A self-made hard-working man, he was attracted to everything about me that my family had rejected. I’m too young to settle now, I remember telling myself. I told him the truth, that I wanted to continue working and not end up 21 and pregnant without any ambition. “Do what you want,” he said. My confidence, my absolute upfront attitude, my unwillingness to settle for anything less than I deserved—he accepted and respected all of that, and he’s been a pillar ever since. I mean, he grew up in a household with five sisters and a gem of a mother, so his respect for women was undeniable.

When he became my husband in 1998, I became part of my own loving family. A few years later, when we found out I was pregnant for the first time in with a baby girl, we were the happiest pair alive. The moving black-and-white pixels of the ultrasound screen lovingly nudged me as a new chance at life grew within me. I’d always hoped to have a girl to give her the opportunities and understanding that had been absent in my life. And my husband who came from a not-so-well-off background couldn’t wait to give our daughter the chances at life and literacy many women he knew had lacked. I promised myself I’d give her a life I’d so desperately wanted, and most importantly, I’d be her friend, someone she could count on.

And shortly thereafter, my husband and I gave life to another powerful daughter. Sometimes, I sit and wonder at their fierce beauty, each with their own spirit to bring the change I wanted to see. In helping them grow, I resolved to become stronger on my own. I knew that to come to terms with myself, I had to let go of the vengeance and anger that had been clawing at me for all these years.

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A woman has no house. When she’s at her parents’ house, they have an urge to marry her away. When she reaches her husband’s house, she needs to adopt their behaviors and way of life. The only real house a woman has is her body. It can house a child, can birth and create life, can carry her through everything. I cherish my house, and the positivity I bring forth so my daughters can become the women I always dreamed of being. I suffered so they could thrive.


This is the story of Pooja Tawar

Pooja currently lives in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in a city she now calls home. Moving away from her family gave her a new chance of accepting and forgiving what she had previously viewed as unimaginable. Growing up around sexism, she swore to give her daughters a better life free to be their own saviors and live their dreams. She works with rescue shelters across the U.A.E. and attends adoption days and helps re-home the abandoned. After her father’s death in 2001, she reconciled with her mother and they are close friends now. She currently finds love and support from her very doting husband and daughters, and spends her days reading. She is living her ideal life taking care of four furry babies—two senior dogs, a stubborn Shih-tzu who is somehow always up for a snotty snuggle, and an adopted stray cat. As you can see, she has a lot of love to share.

Pooja and her daughter, Shanai.
Pooja and her daughter, Shanai.


This story first touched our hearts on June 3, 2019.

| Writer: Shanai Tanwar | Editor: Colleen Walker |

To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)
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