My parents brought me up really well. I thought so, but finally I realized it was nothing like that. All was part of a plan. It was all about them and nothing about me. A female in our culture is just an entity to care for and give away after two decades of care. Add four more years in my case. The journey may vary, but destination is same. The frustration may vary but pain is same. The love may vary but enmeshment is same. While you wonder what enmeshment is, I’ll make it easy for you. It is emotional blackmail with dark manipulation coupled with conning of desires. It is what my parents did to me. And nobody knows, it may be happening to you. The thing about enmeshment is that it’s rosy and colorful but the price is misery, low self-esteem and lots of self-pity.
I lived in Ambala. And lived there long enough to know about every shop that sells gol-gappas. Although we lived in sector, our village was just in the sub-district. About 20 kilometers. Visits kept on happening, not too often but often enough to set me back in regret. Every time my aunt came home, I felt sorry for myself. “Get married Soumya, your youth which is now supporting you will later become a piece of mockery for society”, she said once again. That time, it was my 24th birthday. I felt I was just a kid, but she didn’t. She was married at the age of 16 and had her son at 17. I’m wasting my life in learning and should raise a new human being. She felt like that. I was on a journey in getting to know my deep desires and pursuing them. When I was still raising myself, how would I devote myself to a husband, in-laws and my kids? When I was still learning about relationships, how I would devote myself to a man I knew nothing about. Except for his income, property and social status. My aunt felt that only those are the things that mattered. Rest comes with commitment and bond within a marriage. It felt more like bondage to me.
I was blessed with good parents. I felt like that until that day. They raised me into who I am. I devote everything I am good at to their upbringing and nurture. Beginning from my name, Soumya, they wanted me to be unique. I went to Vidya Devi Jindal School. It is in Hisar. One of the most reputed schools in north India for girls. I was really good in connecting with females but secretly longed for the companionship of men. My mother loved it when I scored the highest marks. My father appreciated my extra-curricular activities, especially debating. He always came to see my debates. People with well established and successfully running businesses have a lot of time to devote to their family. He was one of those. He always clapped. In fact, he was the person who initiated clapping whenever I finished. My mother cooked delicious food for me when I used to come home during holidays. And I always agreed to her request of learning something new every time during my holidays. Little did I knew, it was all a contract. And the more I obliged, the more debt ridden I was getting. My parents knew about it, but I was kept behind the doors of innocence. And the doors had barriers of gifts, compliments,
praises and emotions. I could have opened the door, but emotions were hard to push through. I couldn’t. Now I realized I was being played.
I know how to cook food. Thai, Mexican, Mughlai. I’m a professional at making mock tails. Yeah, there are courses that teach that. I know how to stitch women’s dresses. From salwar kameez to sophisticated business attire. I know it all. And you may be surprised to know, the blouse I’ll be wearing for my marriage, will be stitched by me. I’ve had this dream since childhood. Whenever the marriage may be, the blouse will be stitched by me, for sure. Some years ago, one particular evening I was practicing hupa hula in the larger than large balcony of our home. The big colorful ring that is moved around in a circular fashion around the waist. That’s what hupa hula is. At the age of 20, it was unacceptable for my father to see me do that. Even my mother supported him. My grandfather too. I thought if my grandmother was alive, even she would have felt the same. I was asked not to repeat this act. The fact that hurt them all was that I was wearing a sleeveless top which showed my bra strap and the most part of my thighs was visible in my short knickers. I was barefoot and with ponytails. My painted toes and finger nails added to their anger. My well maintained body and tout waist compounded to it. It was a perfect recipe for slut shaming by my family. I complied with their demand and went to my room. I cried. A lot. My eyes lost all their moisture through tears, the reason was not because I was forced to leave my practice. But because I overheard the loud conversation between them. It was typical for someone from our caste. I won’t name it, but it’s what Haryana is famous for. You know it. That’s the culture I belong to.
It has been many years to that incident. I have not forgotten it, neither have my parents. But we don’t talk about it and pretend that it never happened. Lack of inclusion doesn’t mean exclusion. Worse was going to happen that day. I didn’t know that my aunt had planted a seed of my misery in my family’s heads. And since then I was stuck with anxiety. My aunt was leaving. All had gone out to pay parting regards. Bye bye. And I was asked to wait in the lobby for a conversation. It was important, I couldn’t leave. I knew it was about my marriage.
“You have done what you wanted. Now it’s time for you to do what we want for you”, my father said this. And I couldn’t say anything.
A conversation similar to this took place when I had finished my school. I refused to take admission in college and pursue higher education. My mother didn’t talk to me for two days. My father supported me despite the disagreement he had with his parents. My grandmother was alive at that time and could not see me wearing lipstick and mascara. Not before marriage. Thank God she is no more. I have always been a creative person. I have created many things out of ordinary things lying at my home. Since the age of seven. They include paper bags, newspaper sticks’ pen stand, wind chime, structures made of ice cream sticks, paper craft and coaster made of wool wrapped on cardboard. And much more. I wanted to be in creative and artistic field. But this aspiration of mine broke my mother’s heart. Her only daughter wanted to do this informal work. She couldn’t bear this. And the fact that I was my
school topper from humanities, shattered her dream of watching me become an officer. Specifically, IAS officer. I could have complied at that time, but I had a choice. And I actually had, but it had a price. That price I was paying now by agreeing to the marriage that was being forced upon me. At that time I had my father’s support and I asked him to give me five years to devote to my life. I was 18, fresh out of school. Ready to be in the world. Follow my dream of being an artist. He gave me time but it had underlying terms and conditions. Unknown to me, but known to all my family.
Nobody treats a woman as a person. I have been objectified. A lot. From my butts to my eye lashes, I’ve been stared at almost everything my body shows. But the fact that I’ve been stripped of my dreams is more painful than all those years I’ve experienced looking at men lust for me as an object for bodily pleasure. My own father said to me, “You are our blood, we have raised you, and we have fed you. You owe us everything you have. If it were not us, you wouldn’t have been in this world. We didn’t have another child because we wanted to devote our time towards you. And now you don’t want to marry? You wanted five years. I said nothing. Now we want to see you as a bride and we will hear nothing. This conversation is over”. I couldn’t say anything. When kings move, pawns just bow down. I did the same.
In my five years of learning, I did a lot. I was already good at drawing. My paintings were selected for a gallery exhibition. I’m well renowned among artists, even to this day. Especially for my oil paintings. That was what got me some money. I created my website for teaching people art and craft. The surprising thing is that I got requests from Delhi. Workaholic people in big cities crave for connection to themselves. Artists don’t. Maybe that’s why they wanted to give it a shot. I moved to Delhi. Away from my parents and stayed there for more than two years. My parents faced a lot of criticism for sending their only daughter to Delhi. If it were for study, they would have sent me to Ireland, but for my dreams, not even to Delhi. But they said nothing to me. They just added this to that secret contract. My character was questioned and I was ordered to come back. I had my freedom of being with fellow people of my age and priorities. I had my adventure and experience in relationships, business, adventure, food and being myself. But I had to get home. And that is when the incident of hupa hula happened. It was as if all my family members were waiting for me to do something to call me out on.
Besides that, I started a reading group in Ambala upon my return. Since then, I’ve self published two digital books that are available on kindle. My income comes to my bank account. Not in the one that my father opened for me, but in my own account. I had experienced freedom, independence, boundaries and that day, I felt enmeshed. Sitting on the sofa, I sobbed. Alone. Then I felt to myself that I had not realized my full potential. Not then. And I was sure my future husband wouldn’t let me realize it. He was the owner of a big rice company which was a household in Haryana. Even now it is. His father owned more mills than what I could count on the fingers of my hands. Very affluent family. Although they refused to take divorce, but I doubt they would be satisfied. Just as my parents had a contract, even they would have one. By not giving them dowry, I would definitely owe them something.
And god forbid, if my husband expected my body to be pure on wedding night, I would be subjected to shame for not being chaste.
This cycle of love disguised as demand had to end. It won’t on its own so I had to end it. No matter what the consequences are, I’ll take my choice and chance to be me. I said to myself. I didn’t pack any bags. I needed nothing. All I took was my phone. I wore my shoes. Took a water bottle and undid the hupa hula ring and kept the pieces in my hand. That very day, I left my home. I jumped from the balcony onto my father’s Jaguar XJ. Staying fit got me a practical benefit. It was so easy. I had my reading group running, books published and paintings being sold. What did I need more? The conditional and dark love of my parents? No, I chose myself over their respect in society. Respect that they had already lost for themselves in their daughter’s eyes. My heart may beat because of them, but I owe nobody anything. Even my credit card had got no debt. That’s what I call real independence. Not debt-free credit card, but a life without any hidden contracts. That’s what I mean. Even to this date, I give my parents credit for whatever good they did to me. But I feel nothing bad and no shame in saying that they cheated on me. They forced their hidden desires onto me. They enmeshed me. The most important day of a woman’s life is her marriage. And I was in charge for that and not them. “I will make a hole in the sky and even dig a tunnel through hell, but I’ll never leave my choice of choosing my own life”, I said to myself as I was heading towards my car. And even to this day, I mean it. I felt a different kind of confidence as I drove my car away from my home. The feeling I got when I was first in my school, won debates, sold my first painting, won in creative writing and what not, that is not what I felt at that particular moment. It was more like the burden of doing something for my parents was lifted from my shoulders. The knot of uncertainty about my family’s secret demands was undone. I was free. At that moment I pushed through the doors to unveil my dreams. The emotions that were holding me back were totally shattered when I decided to live in my own reality.
I left Ambala. Being clear, I left Haryana. I’ve never ever looked back. Not even for once. Neither my parents contacted me, nor did I. I didn’t change my number, but blocked all those who told me that they genuinely cared for me. The block list still has 37 of those numbers. They used to be my blood relatives. Now they are not.
I still paint. And those paintings are still being sold. People who love art visit my exhibitions. I have written dozen more books since then. That includes my life story. My autobiography. I wrote it with my name and launched it publicly in Ambala. Out of nostalgia, not validation. My parents never turned up. Whose parents don’t know that their only child is a best-selling writer in the whole country? I bet my parents knew, but they didn’t turn up. They used to care for me. But the moment I decided not to comply with their hidden agreements, they stopped caring. Love comes at a cost. Instead of paying that cost, I rejected their love. They will resent me till death. I feel they deserve it.
Today, I am going to get married. At 33 years of age. I have stitched my wedding blouse and also my husband’s wedding dress by my very own hands. My husband is not very rich, but we know each other
long enough and deeply enough that we’ll give our kids unconditional love. No agreement, no contract, no enmeshment. Unconditional love. This would have never been possible without my experience with my own parents. I thank you mom and dad, but please don’t expect me to call you for my marriage. I owe you nothing. No dues, no regrets. Nothing.
The love of parents is unconditional. I was told. Honestly, even unconditional love has a condition. I faced that.
This story is one of the stories from the book “If I could live once again, just once” authored by –