Where do we come from? When we die where do we go? And when it comes down to it who are we really? Eternal questions
I think people take far too much credit for who they are and what they become. After all there are so many people and circumstances that are beyond our control that shape us. It's crazy, but when you think about it, you are, whom you are because of happenstance that started with the accident of your birth. What if your parents had been different, who would you be then? What if your grandparents and been different, what then? The chain of cause and effect that created the particular chain of events can ne traced back eons to the beginning of time and maybe even before that.
My story too has its origins in that of my parents. Even though the dramatics only started a good sixteen years after I was born but the stage for it already had been set around the time my parents got married.
My parents, as with so many other people in India where introduced to each other by their parents. I don't think either of them were really ready for marriage, nor was it something that they would have ideally wanted for themselves at the time but what you wanted really didn't count for much some 25 years ago in India. In large pockets of the country it still doesn't.
Family is an integral part of the society here. It is basis of everything, economics, business and even politics. The wants and the desires of the individual come after those of the family. That has always been the norm. Indeed, the only reason my parents even agreed to meet each other even was because they knew it would make their respective families happy.
My mothers', mother or my Nani had a heart condition. She was dying and her dearest wish was to see her daughter well married and settled. If you ask me her daughter's future was well in the way of being secure already. My mother had trained to be a surgeon, a very skilled one at that. She had excelled at school and college and if left to her own devices would have no doubt become one of the foremost cardiac surgeons in the country.
My Nani, was unconvinced by this line of reasoning. Security for a woman could only be found in marriage. Recently, the family had had to flee Kashmir because of the problems of militant insurgency. From living in a palatial house in the Sri Nagar, the Capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir they were forced to live in a small three bed room apartment in the sweltering heat of Delhi. Overnight their personal wealth had diminished to a fraction of its initial size. Still they were among the fortunate few. So many Hindus fleeing the Muslim militants in the Kashmir valley had become dispossessed refugees. This I think made it even more important for my mother's family to see her safely married off into a good family. The times were grim.
My father's, father was born a Kashmiri, but had never once lived in the Valley. Having made a fortune running jute mills for rich Marwari business men in Calcutta West Bengal it wasn't money problems that troubled him but the burden of having a young unmarried daughter. My father's younger sister was a constant source of worry for my paternal grandfather. She was overweight and for some reason he was finding it increasingly difficult to find her a suitable husband. Considering that my aunt had only studied home science at college, aside from getting married she had no other real prospects. As such my grandfather was getting desperate and my mother's uncle had promised to find his daughter a suitable Kashmiri husband if he agreed to wed his son to my mother.
Thus, the two unwilling young people meet each other in café in Delhi. Six months later they were married. I have always wondered how they felt when they saw each other in that café for the first time. I have often asked them as well, and as you can probably guess I have never gotten a straight answer. My father says that the found my mother stunning but arrogant. My mother only said that she thought that my father was decent but a little on the chubby side. I might never unravel the mystery of what happened in the café that day but I do know this, my parents love each other deeply now.
The early years of their marriage were not easy. My mother was never able to get along with my father's family and considering that for the first year they all lived under the same roof you can imagine how difficult her life would have been. Having lead a very protected and charmed life until that point, my mother all of a sudden had to contend with unbridled hostility for the first time in her life. My father's family found her too modern, she was educated articulated and opinionated, a far cry from the docile daughter-in law that they had envisioned. To make matters worse her uncle had been unable to deliver on his promise.
In this saga though the person I feel most badly for his my father, who was constantly torn between his wife and his parents. Eventually, their unjust treatment of my mother, lead to a huge rift between my father and his family. My parents moved out of the house and started together from scratch on their own. You have to appreciate the irony of the situation. The marriage that my father had agreed to only to please his parents, lead to them finally disowning him. I don't think my father has every stopped feeling cheated and betrayed.
Even though they had to struggle for several years my parents managed to land on their feet. They had two daughters. They were happy. After my father turned 38, his luck turned for the better and he started to majorly ascend the career ladder. As my father went from success to success, my mother had to give up more and more of her own dreams in order to bear the burdens of a growing family. Finally she was forced to give up her practise altogether.
When we where born I think my parents and my mother in particular, promised themselves that their children would never have to make the sacrifices they were forced to make. Their daughters would be free to work and travel and study as much as they wanted. They would be free from the restrictions imposed by close minds of Indian society. They worked hard and saved every penny so that they could provide us with every opportunity that had been denied to them.
Looking back on it all now I feel that considering that they started right at the bottom my parents have managed to come a long way in the last 25 years. They've managed to build a stable and beautiful home for my sister and I, and they've made sure that we have never wanted for anything. I like to believe that my mother is very happy where she is today but I think the whole initial experience with marriage and her in laws left her very embittered. I know this for a fact that she acutely feels the loss of career.
Sometimes I look at some of my friends and the marriage pressure that they face now and think I am one of the luckiest people in the world and at other times I feel envious. You see in the glorious future that my parents had planned from with the Ivy League education and the six-figure salary there was no room, nor time nor space for love.
Love according to my mother was foolishness. It did not exist outside marriage or without a blood relationship. It was a waste of time, a distraction. Growing up I remember looking at all the couples around in me school and agreeing with her. The couples seem to change pairs more than people changed clothes and all, my friends who had girlfriends or boyfriends, seem to do was whine and complain about them.
I felt superior to the people around me. Unlike these fools I had dreams. I had plans. I was going places. Or so I thought …