|HER WORLD||Sunday, March 17, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
Live it up ...without guilt
It was eight in the evening. I asked every member of the family, what they wanted to have for dinner, and I made all the dishes possible. Later everyone was so happy as we all dined together, but I could barely bring myself to eat for I was not sure I would ever eat like this with my wonderful parents and my little brother ever again.
I didn't get a wink that night. I looked at Rinku, my brother, who was sleeping at the far end of the room. So cute he looked. I kept looking at him for hours. I wanted to wake him up and hug him and say, "Rinku, every thing is coming to an end," but I just couldn't. I, nevertheless, got up, sat by him and placed my hand on his forehead. He moved in his sleep and held my hand. When will I ever sit next to him like this and stroke his hair, I wondered wiping the tears with my dupatta. I could hear my father snore in the other room, and the sound of my mother's bangles as she sometimes turned in bed. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead as my attention was drawn to the ticking sound of the clock.
At four, a car horn blew twice. Oh, my God! The decisive moment had arrived. Why do we have to choose between two alternatives? Why can't we have both? But I had made my bold decision knowing full well that my parents wouldn’t give their consent to my marrying a man from a different background and religion. It was unheard of in our traditional family.
The horn rang out again. I kissed Rinku's forehead softly, and slowly slipped out of the house to a totally new world: a world full of promises, full of sunshine, full of love.
Now, looking back two and half decades later, I can tell you, that the new world that I walked into, sacrificing everyone that I loved, was only full of promises, that's all: after a while, there was neither sunshine nor love in it.
I actually met my husband in the final year of my college. I shall not name him, for men like him don't deserve to be named, besides, I hate his name so much now. Well, back in those days, I was famous for being the most level-headed girl. Even as a little child, I was very well behaved and showed maturity far beyond my years. Whenever I heard about some of my friends falling in love with someone, I used to make fun of them and even chide them for being so foolish. How could one be so irrational, I used to often wonder until I myself was swept off my feet by someone.
If you thought that my prince charming was a tall, handsome and well-spoken man, you are wrong. After all these years, I now wonder what did I ever see in that man. He was neither too handsome, nor really tall, nor well spoken, in fact he was ill mannered, rude, wicked, violent and obnoxious. And yet, he managed to make me fall madly in love with him, so much so that I finally took the bold step of leaving my parents— something no girl had until then done in our family.
Within days of our marriage, my paradise began to show signs of decay. At first I did not take much notice of it, but slowly the truth began to dawn upon me. Although my husband had claimed that he was from a business family, and that he owned a company, it turned out that he was actually unemployed. The cars that he used to drive while he courted me were all borrowed. He hadn't payed the rent for months. I ignored all this telling myself that if he told lies it was only because he loved me so much. Besides, money was not so important to me so long as he loved me. But soon love was also to disappear from our lives. He became more and more rude to me, and would often insult me in front of guests and friends for no reason at all, and if I tried to reason with him he would beat me up. What followed was years of mental torture, misery and suffering. I took it all for I had nowhere to go. And I had this faint hope in me that with love and care I would finally manage to salvage our relationship. How misplaced my faith was. The more I loved him, the more irascible and violent he became. He threatened to kill my parents and brother if I conplained to anyone, and in my naivete, I believed his empty threats. Whenever I refused to give in to his whims and fancies, he would blackmail me emotionally : "Well, if you loved me you would do it." And this tactic always worked.
I bottled up all the insults and pain in myself and waited for the birth of my first child, a daughter. I was under the impression that the coming of a child might improve matters, but I was wrong again. Over the years, two more daughters would be born but that hardly made any difference to his behaviour. He neither cared for me nor loved his children. Whenever I asked him to take up a job he would get mad at me. "Shut up! What do you know about jobs anyway? I am going to Canada soon." I once again believed him, and 25 years on, you can still hear him say that his visa to Canada is about to arrive.
What a turn my life had taken, after getting so much love from my family, now I was in the clutches of a heartless man. You might call me a sucker for not having fought back, but what can I do about it, if it is not in my nature to be vengeful. All I wanted was just some love and respect, and I would have forgiven everything he did to me.
There were other ugly aspects of his life that finally shattered whatever little faith I had left in love. After returning home late, he would often get phone calls, and from the conversation it was clear to me that the person on the other end was definitely not a male. Soon he started bringing women home. I ended up doing all the cooking while he was having a time of his life. When it happened for the first time, it was as if someone had thrust a knife into my heart. I went into a state of shock and it took me months to get over it. Had it been an isolated incident, I might have forgotten and forgiven, but that was not the case. Besides I was afraid for my parents. But when I couldn't take it any longer, I finally confronted him. He slapped me hard and silenced me by uttering an unprintable expletive.
Realising that there was no point in trying to reason with this unreasonable man, I began to ignore his behaviour until I reached a point that it didn't matter to me any more. But although he was becoming worse with the advancing years, I couldn't bring myself to hate him. During his long absences that could last for weeks, I felt relieved for a few days, but soon I would begin to miss him so badly hoping that on his return he would be the same person I fell in love with in college. It was not to be and years began to whiz past as I carried on with my loveless life. I must confess here that, one man did come in my life. He was all my husband was not. I met him at an art exhibition, and soon a wonderful relationship developed. But it did not flower as I felt so guilty for even harbouring the thought of loving another man. It was very painful, but I had to end it, and the kind man understood my problem and withdrew while I went back to my miserable existence.
One day my husband returned home and asked me to get ready. I knew better not to ask him any questions. When I was ready, he gave me that rare smile. I thought he was taking me out to dinner. "Could I take the children too?'
"No, just you and me."
As he was cutting through the dense city traffic in his borrowed car, I looked at him. My heart softened and I had this strong urge to hold his hand, but I couldn't bring myself to doing it. It was almost dark when the car stopped. As I looked out, I realised that it was not a restaurant but a women's hostel. He got out of the car and motioned me to follow him. Not quite sure about what was happening I acquiesced. As we reached the reception, a girl walked up to him and smiled. I didn't like the girl nor her dirty smile. Then the girl told the hostel warden, "I am going out with them.'
In a moment, I realised what was happening. Hostel wardens do not allow girls to leave the hostel alone after dark, but they give permission to go out with families. I quaked in anger and wanted to run away from the place, instead I found myself getting pushed into the front seat of the car. Half an hour later, the car went off the road and stopped near a cluster of trees. My husband got out, slammed the door saying, "Wait here." He then joined the girl who was sitting on the back seat. I sat there in silence. I don't have the heart to recount what went on in the car behind my back. When I couldn't take it any more, I screamed: "I am leaving," I shouted in protest.
"Just shut up and stay put, bitch," thundered my husband.
"I have had enough." Then I don't know how, but for the first time in my life, I gathered courage to answer him back.. Although I was quaking hysterically, I looked straight in his eye and said. "Listen you amoral beast, I am leaving and I hope I never set eyes on you ever again in my life." Fighting back tears I then cursed him, "May you die like a dog in the streets." Then I banged the door and left. As I walked all alone in the street that night crying hysterically, some kind soul spotted me and dropped me home.
What I have just narrated is just a fraction of what I endured, for there are abonimable things that he said and did to me that decency forbids me from mentioning them here.
Weeks passed into months, and months into years. Children were growing up, and I found refuge by taking up Vedanta lessons. I learnt to come to terms with life. To enjoy life without actually depending on the external world. It was not easy for me, for I am the kind who needs other people to love and be loved by them. I guess, I am not strong enough to live a self-contained life.
My husband is now totally out of my life, but I keep hearing about him from friends. Well, last week I got the news that he was in jail. He has been in and out of jails for many years now, but why should I care.
Live it up ...without guilt
Where have I gone wrong? Five years ago men complained that I didn’t do enough and I felt guilty. Now they say that I am too energetic, too eager. I feel even more guilty. They say I have spoiled the joy of pursuit and that they feel trapped. They also complain now that I do too much, want too much. Spare me the cards and letters with helpful hints and wise explanations of where I have gone wrong. How many more years and generations, will pass before the assigning of needs and wants finally stops resulting in the woman being the guilty one? How long will it take before we stop thinking of a relationship as a situation in which one person must be the winner and the other the loser?
So I want too much. Well let’s see what do I want? I want to share my life. I want to have a place in someone’s life, and him to have a place in mine. I want stability, cooperation and commitment. Is that too much? What I do not want is to be supported, to be given an identity. So am I supposed to feel guilty for feeling like this? No, I have changed, evolved and grown as a person and I am happy to be like this.
Like me, there are many women who have dared to loosen, to a certain extent from the shackles and confinements of rigid, cultural and social norms. They have climbed steadily upwards on the ladder of success, achieving positions as high-ranking officials and executives. Some of these women continue to experience emotional stress, guilt and turmoil because of the positions they occupy and what they are—successful, independent and high achievers. Why so? Psychologically, the emotional stress is compounded when the successful women begins to dissect herself into distinct separate identities, i.e. as a wife, mother and a careerist rather than to view herself as a fully-functioning integrated whole. It is when the woman begins to function with in the framework of these definite enclosures of ‘wife’, ‘mother’ and a ‘careerist’ that the occasional pangs of guilt begin to surface in various intensities. For a successful woman executive who has to chair an important meeting in the office and who is also needed to be present at home to attend to her sick child, the guilt and anxiety is effectively reduced only when she realises that she cannot demand a perfect performance from herself in all the roles that she has to perform in her life. She has to base her decisions and the course of action to handle the crises and the need of the present moment, on the basis of priorities, rather than struggle to make a choice between expectations and reality. Indeed, to respond to the call of the moment and to do one’s best is realistic, but to be pressurising oneself to always perform at peak levels is highly stressful.
Therefore, when a woman can learn to view herself as intuitive, caring and creative with her share of weaknesses, she can be relieved from the physical and emotional pressures of being an intelligent executive and a loving wife and a caring mother all at the same time and thereby reducing and eliminating guilt stemming from such situations.
Guilt serves its purposes sometimes. It helps us know when things are amiss in our lives, when we need some work, when we've done wrong, etc. However, women take guilt to a whole new level. Women feel guilty because they can't be super-moms, successful career professionals, glamorous wives, and public servants all at the same time. Instead of noticing the good we do, we let the things we can't do immobilise us until we feel guilty most of the time.
Symptoms of this mindset include:
Feelings of inferiority: ''Other women pull all this off, why can't I?''
Feelings of inadequacy: ''I have no talents, she's just so talented, but I can't do anything.''
Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness: ''Nothing I do really matters, so why try?''
Feelings of martyrdom: ''All I do is wait on everyone else - I never get any time and if I do, I just feel guilty for taking it.''
Do any of these sound like you or maybe like your wife? So what is the solution? Many modern spiritualists and self-help experts say that you must put yourself first. Have a ''me-first'' mentality. This way, they reason, you'll take time to care for yourself and your body, get your needed rest, and have relaxation time, etc. This sounds logical – right? Take care of yourself and you'll have more energy to do all you have to do. But this is so contrary to the average woman's psyche that it rarely works.
Is there a solution? Yes there is! And it plays right into what women naturally want to do— make a difference. Women naturally are inclined to feelings of compassion, warmth and service. When we remember this, and use these gifts, we find the solution to not only living guilt-free, but also a happy, purposeful, and joyous life. I find my happiest moments in life when I'm lost in serving and lifting someone else. But the times I'm dwelling on my own problems and challenges and worrying about me, I'm the most miserable. I bet if you think about it, you'll notice the same thing in your life. The irony of this is that we must ''lose'' ourselves to ''find'' ourselves. I'm not advocating that we become slaves to other people nor doormats or that we neglect our bodies and minds.... quite the contrary.
Here's the logic of the ''serve others'' mentality:
Continually look for opportunities to build and lift others using your unique talents and gifts. I'm not saying to give away your products/services or your employment for free, but look for ways outside of your work to share your talents and gifts. Or even within your work, do your best to go ''above and beyond.''
As you do this and share your talents and abilities generously, they will grow, and your confidence will increase. As you serve, you'll learn to see the good in everyone— including yourself. Your self-respect will return and you will learn to love yourself again. You will find that life will be enriched and given purpose and meaning. You will be happy and find joy on a consistent basis.
When you realise your talents have a direction and can be channelled, you will maintain a certain energy level and health in order to be able to continue to give and serve so you can continue to experience this level of joy.
You'll learn that you're only human and that you can only do what you can do. But you'll be making such a significant difference in the world around you that guilt will be virtually eliminated.