This is the story of an unremarkable woman. I have not scaled any mountains, nor have I won any wars. But I had my own mountains to scale and my own battles to fight to get to where I am today. I’m an unremarkable woman, but so are 99% of the population. Therefore, I believe my story is as vital in the bigger conversation as anyones. This is the tale of how life beat me down to my knees and taught me important lessons.
I was eleven years old when my father died. I had a tinge of sadness in me, but it was eclipsed by a sense of relief. My father had many vices. He was a drunkard and he smoked cigarettes excessively, which eventually caused his death. His debauched lifestyle was well known among the villagers. He didn’t have a job. He lived off his inheritance and he blew it all. He even sold his brothers’ inheritance and what little gold my mother had, to spend it all on his alcohol addiction. I was scared of my father. He used to send me on errands to bring him packs of cigarettes from a nearby shop. If I bought a different brand than what he smoked, I would be spanked. If I was seen buying cigarettes for him by someone he knew, I would be beaten up. It wasn’t particularly an enjoyable childhood.
I was born in a remote village in South India and grew up there till my father died. I studied in a public school in our village. As is well known, government-run schools in India rank among the worst in terms of quality of education. So when my father asked me if I would like to transfer to a private school after I finished my fifth standard, I was filled with joy. It was probably the only good thing my father had ever done for us. However, that decision had proved to be a burden for him. He could never pay the school fees on time and had to borrow from his brother regularly.
My father sent us to a private English medium school in a neighboring village. The problem with English medium schools in rural India is, even the teachers struggle to put together two sentences in English. So we were taught in our native language, but we had to write exams in English. I had adapted to it quickly, but it would become a problem later in life. When I moved to a bigger and better school in the city, I struggled to assimilate. I didn’t understand a word of what the teachers were saying. I couldn’t answer any questions. I couldn’t talk to the teachers or my fellow students for fear of being mocked. And I was mocked mercilessly by other students when one of the teachers chastised me for not speaking in English. Not only did that make me furious, but also motivated to learn English. And I did. I moved from the back benches to be a topper in the class in two years.
After my father’s demise, my uncle(father’s elder brother) took us under his wings. We moved to a big city and moved in with his family. We were grateful for this help. But we felt suffocated too. The family was all about education and discipline. We were not allowed to go anywhere. My mother was, for all intents and purposes, a maid in that house. But she had to endure this for her children’s future. We stayed in their house for more than a decade and finished our college education. I would be grateful for everything they had done for us, if not for the horrible abuse my sister and I had to suffer at the hands of my uncle. My sister who is younger than me endured the worst of it. I was too young to understand what he was doing. By the time I understood what was happening to me, his gaze shifted to my sister. I was relieved to be let go. However, it took me a long time to comprehend the devastating effect it had on my sister.
I had a job waiting for me in a multinational corporation right out of college. I was happy to move to a bigger city to live alone for the first time in life. I felt like I was out of a prison. I thought this was the beginning of an exciting chapter in my life. However, that was not to be. Within six months of joining my first job, I developed a recurring headache. At first, I ignored it as it didn’t seem to be anything more than a severe headache. But it kept growing and it didn’t stop. I felt a stabbing pain in my skull whenever I touched my scalp. I couldn’t look at a monitor for longer than an hour. But my job demanded that I do. One day I decided to consult a specialist since the pain wasn’t receding at all. Much to my relief, my worst fears didn’t come true. It wasn’t a tumor in my brain. It was just a migraine that I had neglected to treat. My doctor suggested that I do not look at a screen for a couple of months. This, coupled with my frustration borne out of a perennial headache, made me quit my job. But I didn’t tell anyone at home. I knew they wouldn’t react well to the news. I thought I could live off my savings for a short period while I recovered from this migraine. I would find a new job and everything would be all right.
Time to learn my first lesson about money. Time flies, but money evaporates. It didn’t take long for my coffers to dry up. Then I started raking up debts all the while trying to find a new job in a depressed market. I had made a huge mistake. I would cry myself to sleep every night. I didn’t know whom to turn to for help. I didn’t want to seek help because then I would have to admit my mistake and that would be embarrassing. I decided to take up any job that came my way. So I joined a job that didn’t really need my skill-set but would pay my bills. I worked there for as long as I needed to clear my debts. I wasn’t happy with the job. But that’s what I needed to do.
Meanwhile, my mother and my sister were still living with my uncle’s family. My uncle’s harassment became unbearable for my sister and she would plead for my intervention every day. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have the courage to confront him. What would I do after confronting him? So I decided it was time to tell someone about his behavior. His sons, my cousins, were much older than me and they all treated me with affection. I called one of them, explained the situation in detail and asked them for help. He was outraged by his father’s inappropriate behavior. He felt sorry for us. He flew in immediately from a faraway country to sort this out. He confronted his father and made him apologize to us. He made us move out of that house and put us in a new one far from them. He also offered me a job in his own company at a higher pay.
I joined my cousin’s company and moved into our new place. Suddenly, I became the breadwinner of a family. Finally, it felt like I was settling into my life. But I didn’t stop there. I didn’t want to stop there. I acquired new skills while working on that job. Since then, I have moved to two different companies and finally settled into the job that I have and love today. And I have never stopped learning. I earn in six figures now and I’m glad that I am able to support not only my family but those in need as well.
The ride has been rough. There were times I was fatigued. But I had never felt that the struggle was not worth it. I did not respect money. I learnt the value of it the hard way. Then I became possessive about it. I didn’t mind spending money, but I would be upset when someone else spends my money, even my own family. It strained my relationships with those who are dear to me. Then I learnt to let go. Money is important. Money gives you freedom of choice. It gives you peace of mind. But don’t fall in love with it. Money is a dangerous mistress.
My eventual success, if you will, has reinforced my belief that confidence is the paddle that you need to get out of the troubled waters. I was very superstitious when I was young. I used to fast and give offerings to gods in exchange for solving my problems. Now I can say, with the benefit of hindsight, that you need to help yourself before you can ask for someone else’s help. But it’s important that you seek help. Not from gods, but your fellow human beings. I wouldn’t be where I am if not for the people that have helped me every step of the way. I was hesitant to ask for help at times, but there was always someone to lend me a hand. There are good people all around us who are willing to go out of their way to help us. When the time comes, we need to do the same for others.
A true story submitted by an Indian woman
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