I was born in a conservative society, which was immersed in its values and traditions. Since our childhood, we were inculcated with discipline and qualities that a girl should always have. A girl was supposed to be an excellent cook and an expert in homemaking. It was accepted for a girl to have male friends but communicating at odd hours raised many an eyebrow.
I was brought up in a house where the girl is considered the honour of the family. We never got permission for night outs or long drives. Not that I regret or complain about it. But that was the way of life for us then, and if we violated any rule, we were immediately considered a disgrace.
The story of my life in a typical middle-class family closely mirrors the story of ‘a frog in the well’ I read in childhood. Until the frog was in a small well, he felt that it was his world. But when he came out of it, he understood that his home is the best, but the world is just so much bigger.
Somewhere people with less exposure feel the same.
While education was considered very important in my family, doing a corporate job was frowned at. I was still expected to be a housewife one day and take care of my household. This formed a major bone of contention between our elders and us, kids of the house.
I always wanted to be a dancer. A dancer with whom Bollywood directors aspire to work with, one who would make stars sway on her fingertips. I wished to be a choreographer. My family loved seeing me dance. But they only encouraged it as a hobby. I never had the guts to communicate my real dreams to them.
I completed my education, did an MBA, learned housework while climbing the ropes of a corporate job. And then, I was finally married.
They say that marriage changes a woman’s life. And apart from the people and the house, it changes her image in the society. Something similar happened to me. I moved to a different city and started living with new people in a new surrounding. My in-law’s house lacked the warmth and care that I enjoyed in my home. The love and respect I got from my family was nowhere to be found. Yes, I was a ‘bahu’. That was to be my only identity for the rest of my life.
The first few days after marriage were all good. I was pampered a lot and got a lot of attention. But it fades away with time, and I was not ignorant of this fact. But what happened in the next three months would come as a surprise to me.
Gradually, I realised that my in-laws treated me differently. I knew how to cook, but my dishes could never satisfy them. Long story short, I became a punching bag for all their resentment. My husband was no exception. I had always heard that everything is good if your husband supports you. I grew up with that feeling of contentment that come what may; I will always have my husband in my team. Unfortunately, even on this front, I failed miserably.
I was ignored, disrespected and insulted by my husband and consequently by his family members. And soon enough, I was in an abusive marriage. I could still not accept that this was happening to me. I had married into a good family through an arranged setup, wasn’t my life supposed to be a fairy tale?
I realised it was not. I changed my ways, controlled my anger and several times put myself down to make things work. I was wrong at numerous occasions they said, and I did try to rectify my mistakes. But I guess they never wanted me to correct myself. They just needed a reason to get rid of me.
After a lot of deliberations, confusions, discussions and arguments, I finally decided to move on. I decided I won’t let anyone attack my self-respect and get away with it so conveniently. I decided I will no longer satisfy his ego and pride at the cost of my self-esteem.
This was a big blow to my family, we were never in such a situation earlier. In a marriage, couples are supposed to tolerate and endure and of course, compromise as much as we can. We could not just walk out of it like this. So, they tried to hush up the situation as much as they could. I was devastated, but I soon realised that this was the time to pursue my long forgotten dream. It was finally time for me to find my calling as a dancer.
You face struggles in every phase of your life. Naturally, I was not spared. I had only passed the first obstacle of the long race that I had decided to win. I had a hard time convincing my family to let me move to Mumbai to pursue my dreams. They were quite reluctant, but eventually, they agreed.
I faced a bout of asthma for the first time since my childhood. I got an attack every time I cried over what had happened to me. I never knew I could cry so much. But those tears made me stronger, more determined to forge ahead and fulfil my dream.
Few months went by in trying to manage myself in this huge city. To come out of depression and to finally get comfortable in my own skin. Which I was never was. I became a new person every day.
Eventually, I picked up the broken pieces and tried to start life afresh. Now, I could stay out till late at night enjoying the breeze on the sea front. Or I could travel alone to another corner of the city. I could stay awake, and binge watch my favourite web series. I could do all those things which I thought was not ‘right’. I learnt the new definition of being right and wrong.
I could buy things for myself, without thinking if my in-laws would like or not. I could eat an ice-cream even if it made me fat. I realised that now I could LIVE. No permission needed and no confinement imposed. No walls and no handcuffs, I could fly like a free bird.
My marriage taught me many life lessons, and it gave me the freedom I always wished for.
Author’s note: This is the story of Laxmi, who is currently working as a choreographer for a TV show by Bajali Telefilms, which is to be aired soon. I met her during a train ride and realized that this is the story of empowerment the world needs to know. She demanded her rights and emerging out of darkness; she is now living a life she never dreamt she could.
She is empowered, not victimised, or oppressed. Living alone has some disadvantages, but Laxmi is living her dreams in the best way possible.