Today, I write for myself. I write because I do not know better. I write because if I don’t, then I might just pull the cord of the noose around my neck and close my eyes until they pop out on their own. Or I just might hit my head hard with something so heavy that the skull beneath breaks into pieces, smashing along with it, and obliterating, even the faintest trace of all the memories that had dwelled there until now.
Today I write in pain, in shame, in defiance and in grief so profound that I know not when my heart would stop. Should that be the case, the unfinished narrative would then have a reason of being abandoned so.
What is more painful than having the people you called your own telling you that you mean nothing to them as you are not successful? And what is more shameful than to see them weighing your success and failure with the amount of money you have? Why is money so important that it makes people blind and they refuse to see what you actually are for them? What makes money so alluring that people utter unpardonable lies only to prove their point that all that matters to them is money? Why is money everything that matters, so much so that they do not mind sacrificing a life if that could make them a little richer?
Today I have been told that I am an utter failure and I have no idea what success is because of two main reasons- I do not have money, and I am not yet married.
I am a 27 year old unmarried woman who hails from a small town in India. My society thinks that I am better off dead if I am not married yet or do not earn lots of money to hush them all. My narcissist mother has taken it upon herself to take everything that was left to us by our deceased father and now she treats us like dirt. I have two siblings who are in their teens and they too are subjects of her selfish motives.
My father was an honest man, and he too did not have a lot of money. We do not have a house of our own, we never had a car. My father drove his scooter to work every day and hired an auto when he had to take the whole family together to visit someone or eat outside. He never took us anywhere for vacations. He never bought any jewelry for me that he could give to me at the time of my marriage. He never told us that that the greatest thing in life was to earn lots of money, have a big house or a fancy car. He never told us that the government job he had, where he continued to serve for 33 years of his life, paid him too less for him to afford a decent education for me and my brothers. He never took, or encouraged anybody else to take, a bribe of any sort on top his salary even when the times were tough, even when the ends failed to meet.
But he did tell me that travelling was a good thing and that I should travel and see the world when I could afford it with my own income. He did tell me that to feed a hungry person whenever I could afford to would not make me any less rich. He also told me not to judge people based on what they wore outside, but on what they carried inside in their minds and hearts. He helped people without expectations, without prejudice and without any ulterior motive. He received a gold medal from the government for the worth of his service a few years before he breathed his last 5 years ago.
Today I have been asked to hang that medal on my dad’s neck.
I wish I could, but how do I do that?
My father raised me to believe in the power of honesty and integrity. He taught me the value of education and what it meant for a person to be aware of his/her surroundings. He told me since childhood that helping others is the best way to help oneself, and it has nothing to do with how much money you earn in life.
It was with his encouragement that I moved out of my city and went to a better one to pursue my higher education from a better college. It was with his teachings imbibed in me that I chose to continue my studies even after he was gone and I found myself in a position where I had to work too. I refused to take the same government job that my father had worked at for two reasons- I wanted to complete my higher education and make myself worthy of being able to fulfill my aspirations, and I wanted my mother to receive the pension that we would be given every month. My narcissist mother has never worked in her lifetime as she is not educated enough for a job, and hence has no idea about what it takes to toil relentlessly to make a living. All she did her whole life was to lament the fact that she does not have a house of her own.
I went back to the city where I attended college and immediately took up the first job that I got my hands on. Being a student of literature and having similar ambitions, it did not serve me well to work in the industry of banking, finance and telecommunications. But I worked hard, earned my bread and traveled whenever I could. I met many people, learnt new things and experienced many feelings that I would have never gotten to feel if I had remained at that one place that society deemed fit for me.
And with all the toiling and learning for more than two years, I came to realize that life is only worth living when you get to do that which your heart desires. I quit my regular job and started my career as a freelance writer. I worked around 14-16 hours a day, seven days a week, trying to find work that would pay enough, if at all. On an average I wrote around 8k-10k words per day on a pay as low as mere 10 paisa ($0.014) per word. I also wrote without pay for those who needed me to assist them with something but were honest enough to let me know that they would not be able to afford a fee. I continued to write even when, one after the other, many of the clients went missing without paying me for my work. I continued to live the life of a writer even though I was nothing better than a pauper who sometimes could not afford even a single meal for the day and slept with a hungry stomach, or at best on a cup of tea. But never once did I feel that I was doing the wrong thing by wading through the troubled times of my life with just one hope in my heart- I was living the life that my dad had raised me to live; one that was full of struggle, but was blessed with the contentment of having a purpose in life and serving that well. I thought I was doing the right thing.
While I was doing all of this, my brothers were continually being subjected to ill treatment and nurturing that they could not even identity as wrong owing to their young age. My narcissist mother made sure that she bought them enough gifts so as to be known as a good mother. My siblings’ performance in school started to deteriorate and everyone blamed them for not ‘studying well enough’. My youngest one started to develop personality traits that were most unbecoming to his usual jovial self. I was not told about any of this lest I urge my mother to take better care of them. It was only when the elder child gave his exams and the results of it were declared that I got to know how bad the situation was. The kid that had once won a scholarship in a national level science fest had now merely secured 35% marks and had lost all interest in studies. He also told me how my mother congratulated him by saying that she was proud that he had passed the exam when so many others had failed. It also indicated that with such low grades, he would have no chance to appear for an entrance in any of the good engineering colleges that he so wanted to go to, thereby saving her the money that she would have to pay then.
She had already bought a piece of land with all the money that she received from the government after my dad’s demise and now she hoped and dreamed of building a house of her own all day. It did not matter to her that one of her sons would not be able to study in any good college and the other one would not be able to get his eye operated on time. Nothing mattered to her more than the house. And I thought that she was the one who was crazy. I left my job and the city where I worked at and came back home to stay until the next examinations were due. I wanted to be at home this time when my brothers appeared for their board exams. I wanted to tutor them personally and help them with all the upcoming formalities for registration and admissions in colleges for higher studies.
But today I am ashamed of myself, of being what I am.
I had nothing to say to them when they told me that I was an utter failure. I could not utter a word when they told me that to educate my brothers was not my responsibility but that of my mother’s who does not even have the faintest idea of what they are capable of, both academically and otherwise.
When all the women, who came upon my mother’s calling to ‘deal with the situation’ that I had created by asking her to think about my brother’s future before building a house, called me a failure, as I cannot freelance anymore due to pathetic internet connectivity in this godforsaken town, I had no answer for them. They said as I did not earn anymore I should be declared a failure. They said I should leave my brothers alone and go away wherever I wished to, or just die. They said that I, like my father, am good for nothing.
And that is when it hurt the most. When I had money, I had bought them gifts. Today I can’t afford to do so anymore, and I am being asked to leave. Why is money always the answer to all questions and accusations? Why is there no value of the innumerous times when my father gave up his comforts to attend to their needs, as did I, when we were called upon? Why is it that their sons and daughters who were once asked to be like me are now being told that I am not even worthy of being spoken to?
How much money would I need to win their love back? How much do I owe them for all that they have given to me?
What is the cost of a life? What is the selling price of aspirations, dreams, ambitions and knowledge? For how much can I sell my honesty and where do I do that?
These are the questions that I will have in my heart until I find an answer.
These are the thoughts that I will go to bed with tonight, hoping to never see the sun again.