Single working women are often seen as outcasts in Indian society, with everybody questioning them and their abilities. However, this woman refused to let herself be brought down by her experiences, using them to fuel her growth and become an inspiring figure for others.
To have your world come crashing down and then rise from the ashes takes time. It took me 17 years to reach a place where I can confidently say I have taken control of my life after my divorce. From housewife, to the divorced daughter of conservative parents, to nationwide educational consultant has been a steep and difficult climb. At 32, I was left on my own to figure life out. At 49, I have no time for a man.
After a messy divorce, I began studying again. Mine is a family of teachers, and I was armed with an Early Child Care and Education Diploma, not enough to set my life. So then I got a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education, an MEd, a Diploma in School Leadership and Management, and an MA (Sociology), and I was ready to take on the world!
I started working in a school for children with special needs. We had an exhibition—a seemingly ordinary event, but a major turning point for me. The head of an eminent chain of schools inaugurated the proceedings. I showed him around, and two weeks later, he called, asking if I’d be interested in heading their upcoming branch at Ahmedabad. I was so surprised—I thought he had the wrong person. Relocating was a big decision, but I decided to do it.
In Ahmedabad, we stayed in a hotel for a month, and set up the first-ever branch of that school in Gujarat. We started in 2007 with just 10 children in the pre-primary wing, and in two years, we had 1,000 children and 50 teachers, spread over three centres. I was a hands-on Principal, looking into teacher management, academics, and everything else. I knew each child by name, his needs, and his parents.
My mentors’ faith and trust boosted my confidence tremendously.
But the bee of female empowerment continued to buzz in my bonnet, mainly because of my own horrifying experiences as a helpless, under-qualified woman.
I took on the mantle of educating and empowering as many young women as I could. Every afternoon after school, I would train the teachers in the subjects they had to appear for exams in – be it child psychology, or special education, or creative arts.
It was amusing to see some husbands feel threatened. Equally amusing was the fact that none of them objected to the fat pay packets their newly unshackled wives were bringing in. There was some name-calling, which I ignored. I remained resolute. I had moved on from being soft to becoming a woman who can take a stand. Whether they were married or single or divorced, I focused on getting my teachers qualified and trained. Emancipation became a top priority.
This transformation changed the way these women interacted at home. They started speaking up, “I’ll come back home and then take care of housework.” One said, “I’ll keep my kid back at school and teach him there.” They opened bank accounts, which the school paid their salaries into. Many didn’t have an account before. Many husbands started supporting their wives by taking care of the children, coming home early, picking up and dropping their wives from school, buying them vehicles, etc. The women were able to present themselves better. Hidden talents came out.
When husbands attended annual functions, and discovered that their wives could earn the respect of 1,500 parents, their estimation of their wives went up.
After nearly 15 years of extremely hard and deeply satisfying work, I took a break from schooling to join hands with the one man who was instrumental in changing my life. He is my mentor, my friend, philosopher, and guide. The credit for my stability, I give him, and him alone. He trusted me! That means a lot to me. I am now a part of his firm, and we work together to set up schools on a project-basis.
I miss taking care of my babies. I’ve missed out on their growing up, sharing their joys, their happiness, and their pain. This pain I carry in my heart. I wanted to tell them so many times, but held myself back for fear of disturbing their peaceful lives. It’s a sacrifice I made, and continue to make. The cost feels heavy on my soul.
But I’m in a happy place now. Distance and separation has given me a better understanding of relationships. I value relationships more than I value money, and I value my family. I take care of my parents, and myself.
(As told by Arti Ohri to Madhuri Maitra, a teacher, writer, and film enthusiast. She writes fiction, non-fiction, micro-poetry, and haiku. She currently teaches Creative Writing and Film Appreciation at Symbiosis International University, Pune, India.)