Open UP: #124

Vidya Sury - Devi73[13].jpg
Every once in a while we come across someone who stands so tall, strong and energetic that they just lift up your spirit and make everything look possible. If angels were true, these people would be no less.  Devi is one such person I had the pleasure of knowing on a first person account. Her story blew me away. This being the week we celebrate International Women’s Day, I wanted to share her story here in the #OpenUp column. Brace yourself as Devi tells us her story – of pain, grit, harshness, fighting spirit, hard work, determination, compassion and celebrating life. Over to Devi…

I sit in my armchair, with my cup of coffee peace.

As I lazily watch the little sparrow hop across our yard, pecking at the scattered grain as if in a hurry to get its share before the pigeons descended, I marvel at the miracle that is my life.

Filled with serenity, I see my two-year-old daughter run towards me, laughing. I set my cup down and open my arms to her, careful to keep the hot liquid out of her way. As she settles down comfortably in my lap, I lay back and allow my mind to wander into the recent past.

Sometime in the late 50’s

I was just married and the new daughter-in-law in their household. I was only 13. I cooked, cleaned, washed and helped with the family business, making and packing pickles. Each member of the family – there were six of them besides the constant stream of guests – rolled out orders as if it was their birthright and treated me like a servant.

They did not think twice about abusing me. I bore the physical and emotional abuse. I tried hard to please them. Had I not promised my father that I would do my best to make my in-laws happy? I kept my promise, little knowing the price I would pay.

I was afraid of the man who was my husband. He was nothing like I had imagined. I knew what marriage meant, but had no idea what was expected of me. I need not have worried about that, though. He treated me like dirt. The only concession he made was to allow me to cook and clean for him, launder his clothes, and wait on him. Oh, he also raped me when he felt like it.

Then one day, his mother suggested he took me out. I dressed in a pretty sari and accompanied him to the movie theater. He showed me where to sit and disappeared. Ten minutes later, just as I began to panic, he returned with another woman. Throughout the movie they were absorbed in themselves. When it ended, the woman went her way. We returned home. I served him dinner. Then I cried myself to sleep in the corner of the room, yearning for my Father’s kindness, my Mother’s love and the laughter that had abandoned me.

I was not allowed to write to my family or keep in touch with them. I couldn’t understand it. What had happened to the friendly people who had visited us before the wedding?

Life went on. And things got worse. I juggled avoiding being molested by my brother in law. Only my younger sister in law was kind. My father in law was tolerable, so long as I helped in his pickle business. He had no voice in the house anyway. My mother in law made sure I was tired. When I was not deep in housework, she sent me off to fetch coal from the railway station for fuel, or to the market to buy vegetables for the week. Those bags were really heavy and it was a long walk.

Was this how life was going to be? What about my dreams of studying?

One day merged into the other.

Sometime in the early 60’s

I was now 17 and barely surviving. Being raped was now routine. But being kicked and having cigarette butts stubbed on my thighs hurt. A lot. I had no friends – I was not allowed to talk to the neighbors. Then one day, a visitor to the house mentioned that she never saw me going out with my husband. My husband laughed. Somehow I knew that did not bode well for me. He asked me to be ready that evening to go visiting. When we reached our destination, a woman invited us in. They chatted for a few minutes while I watched, quietly. Then, they got up and walked into the bedroom. He beckoned to me. Curious, I went in. They asked me to sit in the corner in a chair as they moved towards the bed. I then realized what was about to happen.

We returned home. He was triumphant. I felt humiliated. For the first time, I confronted him. In response, he beat me, raped me and kicked me to the corner of the room.

The next morning I tried to tell my mother-in-law what had happened. Like her son, she just laughed. I got busy. I must have dozed with something on the tava (griddle) when I was startled awake to see my mother in law grinning and holding my hand down on the hot surface.
Another phase began in my life, when I discovered I was pregnant. I was thrilled, yet afraid. What world would I bring my child into? What life would I give her? The days passed. The Gods were kind to me. My baby survived in spite of the abuse from her father. Just two months before she was born, he decided to go abroad to pursue higher studies.

My life changed when my daughter arrived. Finally I was going to visit my Mother for a few months. I recovered my health. Then, sadly, it was time to go back.

Motherhood unveils a woman’s true strength. I was protective of my baby. Nobody cared about her. I often considered running away with her.

And then one day it happened. A blessing in disguise. We got news that my husband was now married to another woman. My mother in law planned to get rid of us. She admitted me in a hospital for the mentally ill. I managed to escape with the doctor’s help. I came back home to see my daughter sitting on the doorstep, looking hungry. I grabbed her, holding her close, my tears mingling with hers. Filled with fury I pounded on the front door. My mother in law opened the door and I gave her a piece of my mind. She shoved me out, slamming the door.

Stunned, I slumped on the doorstep. A movement caught my eye. It was my father in law, beckoning to me. Gathering my daughter, I followed him. He apologized and advised me to go back home to my Mother’s. He put us on a train with a small packet of biscuits.

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Today -1965

I watch my daughter, breathing peacefully as my heart swells with love. I feel the now-familiar tug of gratitude. I am no longer haunted by constant fear. I feel safer than I ever felt before.

At 20, I finally believe I have a future.

I am filled with a sense of hope, a promise of rebirth.

I rise again, healing.

I am born again.

Stolen with permission from Vidya Sury.

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