As told to Tanya Matthews
I was 19 when I got married. It was the 1980s and as was the custom then, I met my husband for the first time at our engagement ceremony. All my friends envied my impending marriage. as I was marrying into a rich family from ‘Bambai’. Hailing from a small town in UP, going to Mumbai was a dream come true. I was ecstatic. I moved into a huge flat in Versova with our joint family, consisting of my in-laws, five of my husband’s sisters and of course, my husband. Then the abuse began.
Cook for ten people, clean the house, clean up after the dog… I lost myself in all the commotion but I never refused any work and went out of my way to help out. I once asked one of my sisters-in-law for a hairdryer for which I was yelled at the whole day (How dare a village girl ask for my hairdryer??! Have you ever seen one before?). My husband stayed silent all throughout.
Then my in-laws started to emotionally abuse me every day… every hour. From abusing my parents to breaking my confidence – telling me I was a burden, I wasn’t good enough, telling me I didn’t have class or sophistication.
My brother-in-law even tried to slap me one day – until my father-in-law finally intervened. All the gifts and money we had received at our marriage were taken away. Even my wedding clothes.
I was baffled that my husband stayed quiet all throughout. He neither had a job nor did he have any other income. We were dependent on my ‘rich’ in-laws. I called my parents, but they told me to ‘work it out’ and avoided me.
My husband started to display odd characteristics. He would randomly start shouting at weird things, he would argue about “Why can’t we place the pressure cooker in the hall instead of the kitchen?” He would fight with all the neighbours and run in the streets shouting and abusing people. I saw his mother administering medicines to him in secret. I then realised why such a big family came to a small town in UP to find a girl to marry their son. I was heavily pregnant by the time I realised this. My husband suffered from severe schizophrenia.
I cried for days and months. I didn’t know what to do. I’d grown to love my husband but I also hated him for lying to me. I couldn’t leave him either. I had nowhere to go.
He was a good man but his sudden bouts of madness made me miserable, always shamed me in front of others. India is not kind to its mentally disabled. My husband was abused and even hit for his illness by people around him.
This was when I turned religious. I started praying and asked God to help me. And while this may sound cliched, each day started getting easier than the one before. Eventually, I lost my fear – fear for my child on the way, fear of my in-laws, fear of my husband’s illness, fear of no financial security. The worst had already happened. It couldn’t get worse. With a 5-month pregnant belly, I interviewed for a teaching job in Bangalore and got it. I took charge of the situation and decided that we would be better on our own. I decided to face the world on my own terms.
With a heavily pregnant belly, a mentally challenged husband and Rs 300, I got in a train to Bangalore… Towards freedom! I had a job in a small private preschool. Managing small children while I had one on the way was quite a challenge but the work built my confidence … It made me feel like I mattered and was important. I was so happy that I was educated because my degrees were my saving grace.
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Our family friends gave us a room in their servants’ quarters. It was small and dingy… But it was home and I was happy. Before I knew it, my baby was born. My husband helped me out a lot when the baby came. It was his biggest virtue. He looked after the baby, cooked, cleaned and managed the house while I worked. It wasn’t the most conventional marriage, but it worked for us. The city was new, the language was different, the weather amazing … It was ideal for a new start. And that’s what we got.
I’ve been married for 32 years now and have two beautiful children – an engineer and a doctor. My husband is much better, though not fully healed. I’ve taught hundreds of children and helped build the future of our country. What more could I ask for? Sometimes I wonder, why did such things happen to me? Why couldn’t I have had a normal life with a loving husband and normal in-laws? But as they say, gold needs to go through fire to shine bright. I’ve learnt that young girls today face trying and difficult challenges. But I would urge them, marry yourself first, get to know yourself, build your intelligence, careers and character. Nobody can exploit a strong and confident girl. I urge all mothers to build their daughters to be independent and strong so that they can help themselves when no one else helps them. Life can be unpredictable, prepare for the worst and hope for the best!