I was in an abusive marriage. There, I said it. I finally call it what it is because I was in denial for years until I got the courage to break free.
I was married in 1995, in a typical arranged marriage setup. You know what that's like- a common relative puts you in touch with the "respectable family with a well-settled son", followed by your parents' review that "he is educated and even looks good, there is no reason to reject him". And before I knew it, I was staring down at a yellow thread with three knots at the back of my neck.
My husband and I set up our marital home in Bangalore. I didn't know how to react when I saw alcohol in the house. Okay, so we're not as conservative as our parents were, and maybe I could live with a man who likes to celebrate his newly-wedded bliss. But it stops being so blissful after fifty consecutive days of "celebration". He had a drinking problem. That much was evident.
Being new to that world, I struggled to understand his behaviour and mood swings, but I tried to adjust to the new life. Within a year, his drinking escalated and so did his verbal abuses and emotional taunts. When you hear it enough, you can't stop telling yourself that you're the one who's useless.
Then, he hit me for the first time. And I was in that point of the domestic abuse script where I had learned to say, "Maybe it was my fault."
Looking back, I realize I should have walked out then. But I didn't. I got terrorized into silence and submission. And the more submissive I was, the more I got hit and abused. Over the next couple of years, I went through every imaginable type of domestic violence there is. I lived in sheer terror, and dreaded every minute of the time he would be around. When he left for office I would breathe a sigh of relief, and that sense of relief would slowly vanish around the time he was expected back from work.
Weekends were days from hell. I would go on for days without food or water because I was being beaten or terrorized. I was caught in something like a house arrest, with nowhere to go and no help at hand. Looking back, I wonder why I suffered in silence and did not walk out. There was a time in my life where I could not forgive myself for saying "No" sooner.
But that was part of his bullying. He would wreak havoc and hit me senseless. And the next morning, he would be completely apologetic, remorseful, and even weep in guilt and promise never to do it again. "This time, it will get better," I would tell myself, but I never always believed it.
I don't know whether I truly believed what he said, or just wanted to believe there was good in him. So I swayed. The good days would persist for a couple of days and then hell would break loose again. And the cycle would continue.
By this time, I was caught in a web of shame and denial. Although I had nothing to be ashamed of, I was not willing to speak about it to anyone or seek help. That was a huge error on my part.
I continued to spiral down into depression and my body was beaten and bruised beyond imagination by then. I got pregnant and that seemed to give me some hope. I thought the responsibility would lead him to change his ways. In fact, that is what my in-laws told me. Nothing was further from the truth. I was beaten and abused all through pregnancy and it is a wonder I delivered a healthy baby through normal delivery.
Then things got worse. Now my daughter, who was barely months old, was included in the beating and abuse. That is when I got the good sense and courage to walk out. I had no right to subject another human being to that hell, especially my young daughter. When you see a child suffering, it puts things in perspective. Think about it- if your mother saw you suffer, would she live with herself? Believe me, this is not the life that she intends for you to have. So I walked out on my marriage with my child and just the clothes on my back.
I returned to my mother's place. I wallowed in depression for a while until I realised life had to go on, and I had to fend for myself and my daughter. So I set out to find a job and get myself financially independent. That was 20 years ago. It has not been an easy journey.
I dealt with a threatening husband for 10 years until I could finally get a divorce. And during this whole time, I focused on my daughter and my career. Thanks to the unstinting support of my mother and sister, I overcame that dark phase of my life and could get back to living my life.
Recently, my daughter and I celebrated her 21st birthday. I was not much older than her when I was married off. I see the smile on her face and I can't take my eyes off her. My baby? She's going to get the love of the entire world. That's who she is.
Yes, it took something to get out of an abusive marriage. But when you realize that you've made a young, successful woman, and you set her off on the first day of the rest of her incredible life- that's worth it.