(Names changed to protect identities)
Roshni Raj, my mother, committed suicide when I was 14. She had been married to my father for two decades, and for almost the same amount of time lived in anxiety, panic attacks and depression and had suffered a nervous breakdown. She had the perfect life – a stable marriage, successful husband who was a doting father to me – their only child, a beautiful urban home, so her drift towards mental illness baffled everyone.
Years later on my 18th birthday I opened her locker that had some heirlooms and her diary. Finally I found some answers.
Mummy was someone else when she first met my father in a college fest decades ago, as her cousins and friends told me later – vibrant, confident, dynamic and outgoing. He was the best student of a premium college of Delhi, the pride of his whole extended family and the local heartthrob. No one expected that he would be smitten by a small town girl so easily.
Their friendship had blossomed over letters, then phone calls and finally, when Mummy moved for her Masters to Delhi University, into a full-time proper romance. As soon as Papa obtained his Masters he was absorbed into the family business and after a lot of heartburn from both the families they finally married.
Papa’s traditional family wanted someone from their own caste/community; Mummy’s parents were intimidated by their strict adherence to customs and rituals and were sure that Mummy wouldn’t fit in. Yet blind young love prevailed and they married.
My grandmother was also an educated lady but had given up her own aspirations for the traditional family and often used to tell Papa, especially when she wanted her wishes to be followed or in the face of a conflict/crisis – “I have sacrificed my life for you and the family.”
Later in life I realised that subconsciously Papa’s idea of a perfect wife/daughter-in-law was shaped along this one important word – SACRIFICE. Unknowingly and subtly Papa began to pass on the emotional abuse he had received from his mother all these years to Mummy and sometimes me.
While she received compliments from the world about her appearance/skill, Papa and Grandma would always put her down. Her choices were laughed at by them or simply dismissed completely, whether it was something as significant as choosing to work or something unimportant like the colour of the curtains.
Related reading: Living with criticism from the in-laws
Rarely if Mummy found courage to tell Papa that she felt hurt, he downplayed it as overreaction, so much so that Mummy began to doubt her sanity and it damaged her self-worth and self-confidence completely.
There were no visible scars but those close to her could sense a sea change in her personality. The first bad bout of depression hit her post-partum; I was a girl so Papa’s family wasn’t too pleased and non-cooperative. Mummy was almost left to fend for her and me. Whatever she did was wrong or inappropriate according to Papa’s standards. He began to make all decisions regarding the house and parenting citing Mummy’s poor health and fragile mental condition. Mummy became an alien in her own home.
Anyone from outside saw a loving and caring husband/father who was taking on all the responsibility, but to Mummy it was like a prison where he made the rules and controlled everything and she followed and if she didn’t there were punishments – silent treatment, no intimacy, and no conversations. Over a period of time Mummy lost all sense of trust, safe intimacy and security. She wrote, “I am so suffocated but I can’t leave him…what if he means no harm, what if…”
Related reading: I was so depressed I tried to commit suicide
Some years later, as Mummy lost both her parents in close succession, the grief further aggravated her condition; Papa insisted that her absent-mindedness and illness was proving to be dangerous for me and the house so I was sent to boarding school when I was 10.
By now Mummy believed that everything that was wrong with our lives was her fault – Papa’s infidelity, her mental illness, and my homelessness.
Now I am no longer homeless, happily married, parent to two beautiful children and I now live far away from Papa, as I had always wanted. I lost Mummy to suicide and Papa to life.
For almost a decade after her suicide I fought hard to overcome my own scars of a lost childhood. As a tribute to Mummy I write a blog to help other women in emotional abuse and domestic violence situations using a pseudonym – Hope.