Sarita looked proudly at the nameplate outside her posh apartment. It was a safe, friendly, gated community with a view of the garden and swimming pool. It was quite expensive. But she loved it. She wanted a swimming pool. She wanted a clubhouse. She wanted a society that organized a lot of cultural events.
All her life she had saved for her family. Has anyone ever called me Sarita until now, she wondered! It was always Mrs. Saxena, Nisha’s mother or Alok’s mother.
Sarita’s life had been rather ‘regular’. At the age of 21, she had told her mother she wanted to complete a Master’s degree in English literature.
Why?! Women should marry early. Because they have to not only bear their children but also raise their children. You should marry now when you are getting a good match. Otherwise, you will end up alone with nothing to look forward to in old age!
And that’s how she got married. She lived with her in-laws. She had two lovely children, Alok and Nisha. Alok settled in Bangalore. Nisha moved to the United States after marriage. Unfortunately, Sarita lost her husband a few years ago.
But five years ago, when she started living alone, something changed. For the first time in her life, she felt free.
What does a 61-year-old widow have to look forward to in life?
Sarita had discovered new interests.
She had started taking walking seriously. One hour in the morning and one hour in the evening without fail!
She had become an avid reader. Her love for literature had finally found an outlet. She had joined a book club and made friends. She had gone on two all-girls vacations in the past three years!
She had also learnt to use the computer, post on social media, download apps and watch movies online!
All of this had been interrupted briefly that Christmas, when her daughter Nisha visited from the US with her three-month-old son.
“Mummy, I have called an agency. They can provide a full-time maid”, said Nisha.
“But I don’t need a full-time maid Beta! Once you guys leave there is hardly any work here. Kalyani does the dishes and cleaning. That is enough for me!”
“Actually Mumma, Kunal and I have applied for a Master’s programme. We thought it would be great if we complete it together. It is difficult to get admission but we managed. The session starts in July. We thought we would leave Rehan with you. Once the course is over in two years, we will take him back. Anyway, you are living all alone. You will also have something to look forward to.”
It took Sarita time to process what Nisha was saying. Looking after her daughter’s baby for two years. While she lived across the oceans.
“What are you thinking, Mumma?” Nisha asked anxiously as if she had read her mother’s thoughts.
“Beta, Rehan is so young! And you will be so far… How will I manage him all alone? What if there is any emergency?”
“We have relatives and friends in this town! And we will take care of all the expenses.”
“It is not about the money, Nisha! This is all so sudden. The plan was for me and your mother-in-law to take turns to visit you!”
“You know, Mumma, the visa is only for six months. Plus, it would be such a distraction to have a baby around. We would not be able to study! Once studies get over, we can take him back and put him in daycare.”
“Will you not miss him? Not seeing him every day?”
“Of course, I will. But it is a sacrifice Kunal and I are making for our child’s bright future. I had thought you would be happy to have him in your life. People do things for their children all the time, Mummy! Shubha Mausi also watches Dia while Renu Didi goes to work. It is a joy for her. Not a burden! Something to look forward to!”
Sarita looked at the baby sleeping peacefully. He looked just like Alok. In that moment, Nisha and Alok’s childhood flashed before her eyes. Sarita had chased something or the other her entire life. She had done it all – the diapers, the 3 AM feeding, staying up all night, homework, PTAs, school projects, taking care of the children, taking care of in-laws, the multitasking, the balancing act. Yes, she had a lot to look forward to every day. So much that she had no time to look….
“Nisha, raising you and your brother was my responsibility. Raising your son is not. I have done it all for two kids. I am happy to watch him on vacations. But not for two years. I lived my time when I balanced everything. When I managed everything. I cannot do it all over again. I can keep Rehan for a few weeks here till Kunal and you manage to find a suitable daycare there. I like my peace. My time. My space. You should have thought of all this before and discussed it with me instead of expecting me to do it out of joy, or to fill the emptiness of my life.
Because, my dear, my life is not at all empty. I have a lot to look forward to in life. For the first time in life, I am not someone’s wife, mother, or daughter-in-law. I am Sarita. Girls your age also call me Sarita. We talk about books and events. We hang out together. I have friends. I have a life. I have sacrificed a lot for my family. I do love you, Alok, Kunal and Rehan. But for once I would like to love myself also.”
With that Sarita left for a walk. She looked at her Fitbit. Today’s objective is to complete 10,000 steps, she told herself.
Author’s Note: This is the story of a family friend who rebuilt her life after her husband passed away and children moved out. She was asked to have her daughter’s 2-year old son live with her while the child’s parents pursued a Master’s degree. She refused. She continues to live alone and is quite independent.
When women work outside the home, their work inside doesn’t magically go away! Women continue to bear the ‘double burden’ of two jobs – resulting in immense stress as well as lost opportunities. Join Women’s Web & Breakthrough India in our special #Streelink series this month, as women share their stories on the double burden. You can learn more here and share your story.
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