All my life I have been surrounded by powerful women. Women who inspire, motivate and push me to get out of my comfy groove. Ladies who have looked the world in the eye and then punched it for good measure. Women who have ignored every commandment in the book and gone onto script their own success stories.
My Mother led by example. When it was considered taboo and even plain foolish (why leave a perfectly respectable husband when you can just have a few quick ones on the sly and continue with the most desirable facade of being
happily married), she choose to do her own thing and hence faced contempt and not-so-silent condemnation by society at large. If she had ditched my dad for a rich man, things might have been different, but of course she had to go and choose a decent man with not much to boast of. C’est la vie.
But then life has a way of giving you a break every once in a way. So turns out, twenty years later, that not only is she happy (touch wood), has an additional child to love and nurture, but has also become highly respectable again (she led a happily, boring life thereafter), mainly because the world moved on, and suddenly, getting a divorce, and reaching for a little bit of the happiness isn’t such a big deal anymore.
Lesson No.1 : Do the right thing. In the end, it all works out.
My Mother-in-law is next on my list. She was a good Sindhi girl from a traditional Sindhi family, who decided that her soul mate was a young Muslim man, from an equally traditional family! They married against all odds, she went on to become her mother-in-law’s favourite in-law and managed to balance the pressures and demands of both families as best as she could. It was made easier by my father-in-law of course, a man much ahead of his time and totally supportive of any role she choose to play.
What also set her apart is that she is a hard-working, go-getting, unapologetic businesswoman, who has worked almost all her life and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her equally hard-working husband, to make a good life for their family. When the little woman’s place was strictly at home and working 10 hour days was unheard of, she slogged away at making every new business work, even if it meant being the only woman at the numerous exhibitions and fairs they needed to participate in, travel by bus to remote little towns in South India to clinch an order or rush back home and rustle up dinner (with the help of her husband) for any of their numerous friends from all over the world, who would drop in knowing they were always welcome. Which is what my in-laws have always (touch wood again) made me feel. Welcome.
Lesson No 2. Don’t let anyone tell you what the ‘right’ job is, especially if you’re a woman. Do what your heart tells you to do – and do it well.
My Sisters (all younger than me) share my journey and help me make sense of this busy, raucous, confusing world. One taught us what the meaning of courage is when she died battling leukemia with all that she had. RIP my beloved girl, you are always remembered with love and immense respect. The others astound me with their maturity and insight, time and again. Their choice of partner’s, their decisions on careers and babies, their plans for their parents and families, make me proud to be part of them.
And so Lesson No.3 is to learn from each other. And build a support system that is rock solid.
My Grandmother was a trooper. She left England, family and friends behind and moved to India with an Indian man who she had met and fell in love with at college. They made the trip over on the Queen Mary and we grew up hearing stories of that fabulous ship. But more importantly, her ability to assimilate so seamlessly into a different culture, religion and people’s made her a figure of legend. She was famous for her cooking – her khatti dal, tomato chutney and kheema were unbeatable. But my grandmother also had many regrets. And life was difficult in this hot, alien and highly bitchy world of the great-Indian-joint family. Yet she never gave up. You’ve made your bed, now lie on it, her mother had told her just before she got on that ship. And by god, that’s what she did.
Lesson No.4 Patience pays. This sounds contradictory to the ‘follow your heart’ theme that’s been running through this post so far, but then so is life. The challenge is to know when to run and when to stay.
And lastly, my maid, Regina. The true woman of the house, who slogs away from 11-7 (touch wood, and this time I really mean it!) with a smile on her face and an overflowing surplus of warmth and affection for all those lucky enough to get in her way. She bore four daughters to a man who slowly changed from a promising and loving young army jawan to a bitter, depressed, wife-beating alcoholic. Yet when he died in his sleep one day, she mourned for him like she really cared; looked after his mother and handicapped sister, as well as her own mother; and continued to support her daughter’s in their education and various vocational trainings that they wanted to pursue. Yet she never brought her problems to work or moped around or tried to extract huge amounts of money from me.
Today all four daughters work: one is a call-center executive; one a sales-assistant in D’dmas, a popular jewellery store; the other two work in women’s beauty parlours and hope to open their own one day. They are all educated and plan to fund their own marriages, when ever they happen, and are right now busy trying to build a house on a small piece of land that they own. Regina continues to work with me and claims my son is actually her’s (he loves his ‘amma’ to bits) and is an integral and beloved part of our family.
Lesson No. 5 is to face every situation with dignity, good grace and as much hope as one can muster. Keep the faith. That’s all one has in the end anyway.
Of course there are many more women who inspire me every day. My friends, ex colleagues, so many of the ‘ordinary’ women I come across in the course of my every-day life.
All of whom have extra-ordinary stories to tell, of love, generosity and kindness, if I but listen.