Political Stories by Volga

Political Stories-7 

Torment (Part-3)

          As the pains became more intense, my mind grew numb There was no room to think about anything else. Somehow I had to push the baby out. That was the focus now. That was what I lived for now, nothing else. Was the brain working at all? Body, mind and brain seemed to be united in purpose. Was this pain? Was this pleasure? Confusion? Prayer? Meditation? Or all of them fused into one? Eternal bliss, obtained when body and mind merge into one through intense focus to achieve a goal – was this how it would feel?

          Was I losing consciousness? Did I exist? Was I all alone? I was all there was in the universe? Nobody, none besides me? Yes, there was.

          The baby cried. The moment I heard his cry, I felt a tingling all over my body. I have created something, finally, I said to myself. I left the confusing experience and emotions be- hind and returned to the normal world. The nurse brought the baby to me. As I gently touched the baby’s cheek, soft as a rose petal, my own body seemed to have become light as a feather. I was amazed at my own body! How much power there was in my body! Now I knew what I was made of. My body did not diminish in this act of creation. It expanded, expanded so much that it seemed to occupy the entire natural world I used my body freely and instructed it to labor towards the task at hand. I was the master of my body. No, not just the master, the sole owner.

          Now I knew the strength, the purpose and the secrets of this body. Of all the experiences of my life so far, this one was the most valuable. Now I had more confidence in myself. I respected my own strength and loved my own body. The joy I felt when my baby suckled at my breast was indescribable. I had created this child, and I was creating the nourishment for it. I was like the farmer who ploughs the land, raises a crop in it and feeds his children with it. My body was incredible!

          Why did women feel ashamed of their bodies? Why did they belittle them? Why were women insulted for being born women?

          I felt very proud of myself as the mother of my two children. Over a period of time, differences began to crop up in our family.

          I used to be quite cheerful in spite of having to juggle housework, office work, and taking care of the children. My husband never liked that.

          He used to be suspicious, constantly inventing new reasons for my happiness, Finally he decided that there was another man in my life whose thoughts kept me feeling happy. My childhood flashed before my eyes. Back then, I had given up running because my father just couldn’t tolerate it. I didn’t run now: but my energy and enthusiasm had not died down. They were still with me and showed up in one form or the Other in what I did. Now my husband was determined to destroy them. He would be irritated whenever I lifted the children up and tossed them in the air and played and laughed with them. Why are you cracking up like that? he would yell at me. He ridiculed me when I told stories to the children and grew irritated when I played with them. “Why do you jump like that with the kids?” he would ask.He would come home looking withered after his four hours of work at the college. Looking at my energy and enthusiasm in spite of all the work I had to do, he would get jealous.And with that jealousy, he decided to destroy my life.He began by rebuking me and brushing me aside when needed something, but later he began to scold and abuse me. Whether I did something or didn’t do something, he was displeased. It became impossible for me to put up with his authoritative behavior. When I was a kid, they told me I couldn’t play with marbles,but they let me play caroms.Now, it was neither this nor that, everything is forbidden. When I was a kid, I had a lot of questions, but knew no answers. I questioned the restrictions imposed on me, but then went on to do something else that caught my interest. Back then I had no idea what my capabilities were. I was sheltered by my parents and had no individuality of my own. Therefore the restrictions stood. I was quite confused then about the world and its ways. But now, I was an individual. I worked and earned and stood on my own two feet. I was not dependent on anyone. Besides, I was a mother now. I gave birth to two children and fed them on my breast milk. Now that I was an awakened individual, there was no question any longer of putting up with the sanctions of my husband. I had some social consciousness now, too. I might not have fully understood why there were these sanctions against women, but I was strongly opposed to the harassment the women suffered. With the strength of my convictions, I rebelled against my husband. We began to argue everyday and slowly our lives turned into nightmares. Now it seemed I had the answer to that question I had when I was a girl: what happens in a marriage? Is this what marriage was? This hell? All that marriage does is kill the joy bubbling from inside you! Turning an individual into a slave, a machine? My husband understood that it was financial independence that empowered me. He started nagging me to give up my job. He loved me so much and he couldn’t bear to see me struggling with so much work – that was the reason he gave at first, but I told him it was no problem for me, that I could manage easily with twice the amount of work. He Was outraged.

          “You should quit this college job, it has made you head. strong,” he ordered me one day, “If I am headstrong, that is my nature. What has that got to do with my job? ] wouldn’t quit even if god comes down and asks me to,” ] responded in no uncertain terms.

          One day he took time off from his work just to be at home at the time that I had to leave for the college and prevent me from leaving. I put up with it that day. The next day I got ready much earlier and left for the college. His ego was hurt. Losing to a woman, that too his own wife, was an unbearable insult. But I refused to cower. Once he realized he couldn’t force me to quit my job, he asked that I give him my paycheck. I said I wouldn’t give a paisa. Up until then I used to put aside a hundred Rupees every month and used the rest of my salary for household expenses, but that day I told him my money would be used only for my expenses, not for the household. How could my earnings be acceptable to him, if he was so averse to my doing a job, I asked. We went through one month like that. Having had to pay for all the household expenses, he had little left for his own frivolity. He demanded that I turn my paycheck over to him the next month. On the furst of the month I came home with my salary, put the money in the almirah, locked it up and clipped the key chain to my sari at the waist. He had reminded me the previous day of harsh consequences if I wouldn’t give him the money. I was working in the backyard when he came to ask for the keys. Why do you need them?” I asked. “I shouldn’t have anything to do with the almirah? Is it yours? Did your father buy it for you?” he said furiously “My father didn’t buy it, true, but I did, with my money,” I said and walked into the house. I opened the almirah, took my purse out, put it in my suitcase and pinned the suitcase key to the chain on my neck with a safety pin. Watching me do that, he flew into a rage and threw the almirah keys at my face. “Will you give the money or not?” “No, I won’t,” I said firmly. That was it. He pounced on me and began to hit me. I kicked him and managed to free myself from his grip and ran into the backyard. Once there, I realized the chain on my neck was gone. I ran back into the house to find him opening my suitcase. I rushed at him, tackled him and managed to grab the key. I was surprised at my own strength! He started calling me names and raised his hand to hit me. I stood up to him. He realized he could not subdue me this way. “Get out of my house,” he screamed. I realized suddenly that I wasn’t averse to that resolution. ‘I will kill you if you don’t get out by the time I come back he said and walked out. I felt tired, but I wasn’t weak. My nerves remained strong. This struggle didn’t discourage me; on the contrary, it gave me new strength. It would now be impossible to live in this house I picked up my children and left for my parents home. I told them in detail what had happened. Even before finished, everybody broke out into loud wails and started calling me names. They recalled how arrogant I had been from childhood, more like a man than a woman, they said, They advised me to rush back to my husband, fall at his feet and beg for forgiveness. If I wasn’t going to do it, they were all willing to do it on my behalf, but they didn’t want me to stay with them even for one night. They rushed me to leave. I couldn’t describe how astonished I was at their behavior and saddened that they saw me only as a woman, not as the child they had given birth to and raised. I grieved wondering how my parents could have become so cruel that they could turn away their daughter who had come to them at night with two little children. But there was no point in grieving; I had to fend for myself. Collecting my two children, I told them I was going back to my house and left. It was ten at night. Where could I go at that time? Going back to my husband was out of the question; I had made that decision already when I had left home. The hope I had that my parents would shelter me for at least a few days was now dashed. A woman should not stay with her parents after marriage That was the belief drilled into them. It was a part of their being now; they could not rise above that. Society tried to instill the same beliefs in me too.

          In the very first poem I had read in the college, the first poem in the first lesson of the Telugu textbook, Kanvadu tells Sakunthala:

etti saadhonlakun buttina yindlanu

bedda kaala muniki tadda tagadu

patula kadana yuniki satulakn dharmuvu

satula keedugadayu batula cuve’

          This was the first rule I learnt in college. The very first moral tale. I would not put up with such morals and rules, and today, I did have the strength and determination to oppose them. So I decided to ignore these beliefs and divorce my husband and live as a free person. It was this yearning for a free life that brought me that night to the home of a friend. She was also a lecturer in the college where I worked. She gave me shelter that fateful night, listened attentively to my story and sympathized with me. She supported the decision I had made. I took a couple of days off work. Staying with my friend, I managed to find a small apartment in the same neighborhood. In about ten days I bought everything I needed for the apartment. A month passed by; but neither my husband nor my parents cared to enquire about me. My friend Bharathi visited my parents and tried to tell them about my side of the story. “In our view she exists as long as she lives with her husband. If she chooses to live outside the norms, we will think that our daughter is dead, grieve for our loss and move on,” they said. I was told that my mother had cried and that my father had scolded her. When Bharathi told me about this, I wasn’t really surprised or hurt. I didn’t expect any better from them. It was just fine with me as long as they did not interfere with my life. My children were going to school. My elder boy was in first grade and the younger one in the nursery. I left them ar school on my way to the college and picked them up on my way home. Our lives were peaceful; nobody there to order me around or impose rules on me. I enjoyed my time playing with my children. My neighbors were probably surprised wondering how a woman could leave her husband and live carefree and happy. One day I went to the school to pick up my kids, but they were nowhere to be found. The teacher-in-charge said that their father had come at noon and picked them up. My heartsank. I felt drained of all my energy. My legs trembled and I felt dizzy. An intense fear gripped me. Grief rose up in- side me in waves. What do I do now? How do I get mychildren back? I wondered. I couldn’t think and I stood there incapacitated. I had never been in this state before. In the past whenever I was put down for being a woman, I was angry but found the strength to fight back. But now, I was gripped with fear. Pulling myself together, I went to his place. The front door was closed and he came to the door when I knocked on it. “Where are the children,” I asked? He said they were in the house, they would remain with him, they were his and that I had no rights as far as the children were concerned. I don’t remember how I got back to my apartment that day.

          The children are his? I have no right to my children, not unless I remain his wife, he says. The children I shared my blood with-The children I breathed life into- The children who moved in my stomach with my support-The children who tore me to emerge into this world- He says they are not mine. Once, when I had asked him to take care of our then days-old infant for a short while and laid him in his lap, he cried, “Chi, chi, it is dirty, take it away.” But today he claims they are his children. As they grabbed my breasts and eagerly suckled, I felt immensely proud that I could satiate their hunger. But he says they are not my kids. Whenever they cried of hunger, he was irritated that they were disturbing his sleep. But today he claims they are his children.

          During winter months I stayed awake at night to change their diapers so their tender thighs wouldn’t become irritated in urine-soaked clothes. But he says they are not my kids.

          He would pick them up into his arms upon my nagging, but loathingly lay them in the cradle when they urinated. But today he claims they are his children. know every inch of their bodies.

          I can blissfully spend hours upon hours just watching the children sleep I know how big the soft spots were on their heads when they were born and how they filled day by day.

          How the hair falls on their foreheads-How big the birthmark is under the ear-How depressed their stomachs are when they are hungry-How their eyes look just before they come down with some illness- How their fingernails slope down- How many lines there are in the soles of their feet and how they look- know everything, yet he says they are not my children. I know that the most beautiful sight in this world is the smile on the lips of my sleeping children. Yet, he says they are not my children, that I have no rights to them.

          I don’t want any rights. They don’t need to grow up with my family name.

          I have no property they can inherit.

          I have no desire that they bring a good name to my clan.

          What do I want?

          I want to scrub them down and bathe them clean when they come home tired and dirty after playing outside.

          I want to hand them balls of food and satiate their hunger.

          I want to hold their little hands and help them learn to write the alphabet.

          I want to put them to bed reading stories.

          I want to play with them.

          When they grow wings and fly away, I want to watch them in amazement and pleasure. thought I could do all of this. I though all these things would happen in time just as easily as my body had stretched and I became a mother. But now it looks like these things will happen only if I play his wife whether I like to be his wife or not. I am a mother only if I stay as his wife, otherwise, not. I should forget that I am the one who gave them birth. I don’t have any rights.

          I don’t remember how that night passed. I couldn’t help crying thinking about the children. They had never been away from me even for a single day. The younger one wouldn’t sleep anywhere but in my bed. Did he feed them today? Maybe he hit them, irritated by their questions, and they went to bed crying. What if they cry for their mother at night? What if they have a bad dream and wake up scared? My head ached with these thoughts. I could not live without seeing my children. I should somehow get them back. He wouldn’t give them to me on his own; he took them away from me to take revenge on me. Having found no other way, he was trying to control me using our children, using my love for the children as a weapon against me.

          He must be thinking that I had no other choice but to come live with him for the sake of the children. He must be congratulating himself that he found the right method to subdue me.

          But it wouldn’t work; I will somehow get my children, I told myself.

          That night there was no one to console me as I cried heart. broken. It was a long night, so long that even the daybreak seemed hesitant to end it. I went to the school before eight. Not having eaten the previous night, nor slept, I felt tired and weak. Would the children come? Would he send them to school? Was he that foolish? What if he came with the children? I would have to hide somewhere until he left and then take the children home.

          He had already told the teacher not to allow me take the children. Even so, I would beg her, fall on her feet or do whatever it took to get the children. But would the children be coming to school? My head was numb. I felt dizzy. I pulled all my energy together to stand there and watch for the children.

          One by one, the school children trickled in. Pretty soon the compound was filled with them, but my children were nowhere to be found. It was ten. All the children went into their classrooms. My children had yet to come. I waited till ten thirty and gave up all hopes of their coming to school for the day. I went back home, having no energy to go to the college. I tried very hard to think positively, and suppressed the grief welling up inside me.

          The task before me was huge. It could not be accomplished if I despaired and became weak.

          Somehow I would get my children back. It would take a lot of energy and courage. Crying wouldn’t do it. Crying would only weaken my resolve and ruin my strength.

          How can I raise my children with a weak body and mind? I have to be strong at least for their sake. My mind has to be sharper and body stronger. That is the only way I am going to accomplish my goal. That whole day I told myself in so many ways to be courageous. I went to see Bharathi in the evening.

          Bharathi and I thought about the situation and decided that filing for divorce and custody of children was the only option open to me. She decided to consult with a lawyer that she had known. Bharathi’s husband, who had overheard our conversation, cautioned: “I am afraid he might have the rights to the children. You should think carefully before going to court because if you lose there, it could get a lot worse for you. Finding a compromise with him might be better.”

          I was overwhelmed by anger and sadness. How come everybody talks like this? How did he get the rights? How come the mother who has given birth to the children and raised them has no rights? I hesitated to argue with Bharathi’s husband because I did not know him well enough, but I couldn’t hide my emotions.

          Looking at me, he said with more conviction: “Look, you are upset by the very thought of losing your children. Bharathi, I think you should go alone and talk to the lawyer. If there is any hope of getting the custody of the children, then, only then, it makes sense to go to court. Otherwise we will think of a compromise.”

          “Compromise is out of the question,” I said, firmly.

          He was surprised. “Not even for the sake of the children?”

          “Please, let us first talk to the lawyer,” Bharathi intervened.

          Bharathi paid a visit to the lawyer and told him everything about the case. Looking at the expression on her face when she returned, I could tell that the visit hadn’t gone well. But she said he wanted to see me. This was my last hope. Could the law be this unjust? Whatever the husband says goes? What would I do if that was the case? The lawyer said I had no rights.

          “I have no rights to my children?” With my last hope dashed, anger and frustration bubbled up from within me.

          “Till they are five years old, they are your children. After that, the father has the sole rights, not you.”

          “But I am the one who gave birth to them?”

          “Even so.” The lawyer smiled at my naiveté. But I didn’t let that discourage me. “Till this day, it was I who cared for them.”

          “Nonetheless, they are his children.”


          “He will not take care of them. They will be left with some “That makes no difference.”

          “They couldn’t live without me. They will die pining for me.”

          “Doesn’t matter. He has the rights.” The lawyer’s answers were as stubborn as my questions.

          I could no longer control the emotions I held in check all these days. “How does he get the rights? Who gave him the rights? What crime did I commit that I don’t have the rights?

          What good deeds did he do that he is rewarded with the rights?”

          “Look, there is no point in getting excited about this. Let me explain. Don’t interrupt me, and try to understand. I know how you feel, but the law doesn’t understand your pain. Imagine you have a field, a piece of farmland and you leased it to somebody. The tenant will plant when he pleases and harvest the crop at his will. You have to think carefully before you lease the land because once you lease it, the harvest is all his. All rights to it are his.” “Do you know what you are saying?” “Of course, I do. You are in pain, which is why you don’t understand. A woman is just a field?” 

          “A field! Not a human being? Don’t I have a body like men?

          Flesh and blood like men? Don’t I have a mind? Don’t I have hopes and desires? Am I not toiling like men? Am I not a human being?” “No. Not really. You are a woman. A woman is a field, that’s all.? We give birth to children who grow up to become men and trample on our rights. Our own children grow up to become men who say we are not even human beings.

          “As long as we obey you and serve you, you call us god-desses, mothers, wives and sisters. The moment we rebel, that’s it, no rights!

          The mothers suddenly become cows.

          The sisters become buffaloes.

          The wives become pigs.

          The goddesses become farmlands.

          We have no rights. We have no rights even on ourselves.

          We can not marry at our will. We can not even refuse to marty at our will. There is nothing we can do. We are com. pletely at your mercy. You control our blood, our desires, our thoughts, and us, everything, all yours. We are women.” Bharathi held my hand in hers to signal restraint, but I was in no mood to care. “Please control yourself. You can not have both freedom and children. Choose which one you want.” Noting the sarcasm in his tone, I looked at him sharply. He pulled back. “I gave you the truth. It is not just you; countless others have suffered like you. You probably heard of Annie Besant. She was first a believer, and married another believer. Then she lost faith in the religion, and she couldn’t get along with her husband. She asked for divorce, but he refused. He went to court and argued that as an atheist she wasn’t qualified to raise children. He won and took the children away. Look, why go through all of this? I can see that you are already hurting. You love your children dearly. Why not find some compromise and spend your life with him?” I remained silent. “We can go to court and file for divorce, but I am not confident you will get custody of the children. He holds a better job than you, has no vices, has the support of his folks and yours. That’s why I doubt you will get custody. If you want to go to court, it should be with this awareness. Even if you get custody now because the children are still young, there is a possibility that he would eventually take them away. Think of all these things carefully before filing a case.” «If I can have them for some time, that is enough for me.

          Let us go to court.” The thought of getting my children even for a short time inspired me.

          You are hurting. I wouldn’t deny that. You are a mother, and I can understand a mother’s pain. How about the fa-ther? Doesn’t he love his children? Isn’t it difficult for him to live without them? Wouldn’t the children be happier if the two of you lived together?”

          “I am not arguing that the father should not be involved, but, shouldn’t the safety of the children be our highest pri-ority? He could take the children and spend time with them whenever he wants. All I am saying is that they need my love until they are grown up, until they can take care of themselves. I never said that the children are my personal property.

          “It is not whether the children are your property. You yourself are the property of your husband. He has the rights to anything his property produces. That is the current law. I am not arguing that it is right, but whatever we do now, has to be based on the current reality. That is why you should give it more thought.?

          We took our time returning home. Bharathi was also highly dispirited.

          How can you live without the children? Maybe you should compromise with him somehow,” she said.

          Compromise – a synonym for cowering to him, for doing whatever he would ask me to do, for staying away from what he would disapprove.

          I will have to surrender my body and soul to him. From my childhood I have been trained for this. Yet, my conscience is not prepared for this. Though I learned to accept defeat in many things from my childhood, today I can’t bring myself to surrender to him. Not even for the sake of my children. My mind and body are rebellious today. Should I have to keep surrendering all through my life? If I live with him, they are my children. If I want them, I must live with him.

          What kind of compulsion is that? Isn’t it ridiculous that my motherhood deprives me of my freedom? What right do these people have to tell me what my relationship should be with the children I gave birth to, what it shouldn’t be, and how long it should last?

          There is nothing I can do but remain a spectator to the societal destruction of a natural bond?

          What is the foundation of all of this? Whatever it is, the mother in me will not rest until it is destroyed. I am a mother. It was my decision to bring a child into this world. I gave my blood for it.

          Protecting that child comes naturally to me; it is my right, not something that needs to be handed to me.

          The very nature that gave me this motherhood, also gave me that right.

          I will fight against any force that tramples on my right no matter how powerful and brutal it is.

          1am prepared to give my blood again to regain my right.

          I will win. There is no question of a compromise.

          Unless I fight this battle, my ability to create life is mean-ingless, futile.

          Maanavi (Udayam), November-December 1987 Even for the best of women, staying in the parents’ home for an extended period of time is ill advised. The right place for women is with their husbands.


(To be Continued-)


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