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Firmly in the driver’s seat

Forum Gandhi | Updated on October 09, 2020 Published on October 08, 2020

Ready, steady: Living with a single mother may be difficult, but it teaches you one thing for sure: You will be in charge of your life   -  ISTOCK.COM

Domestic musical chair puts the daughter of a single mother at the wheel of her life

Annie was the name of our black Fiat. As a child, I remember sitting behind my father, who was always in the driver’s seat, while my mother sat next to him and my sister next to me. Later, our beloved Annie was replaced by the kaali peeli Ambassador taxi, with my father sitting next to the driver.

During one such ride in the taxi, my father asked for a detour. The cab stopped outside a shady-looking place. He got off and started walking towards the low-lit establishment. I could see him stop at the counter to order something. Minutes later, a waiter got him an ochre-coloured beverage, which he gulped down and came back and sat inside the cab. Then we went back to a place we called home.

I was in Std VI and my sister in the IX when my father moved out. I remember the first parents-teachers’ meeting after that, where other children sat flanked by their parents. My mother sat by my side; the other side was empty.

That evening, after I came back home, I shed angry tears. “Why do they all have a dad, and I don’t,” I asked my mother furiously. And she told me, very calmly, “I am there, you don’t need him.”

I flunked that year — but my sister and mother got on to handling our lives.

Without a choice or a learning licence, my mother took over the front seat of our lives. Some people have a father for a moment, whereas others have one forever. In my mother, I have a father and a mother for a lifetime.

A recent media report claimed that in India, between March 25 and May 31, 2020, there had been 1,477 complaints of domestic violence reported by women. It also stated that about 86 per cent of such cases are never reported.

Not many women, however, walk out of an abusive marriage. According to the UN Women’s report Progress of the world’s women 2019-2020: Families in a changing world, approximately 13 million single mothers are running homes in India. That comes to 4.5 per cent of all Indian households.

My mother walked out of her marriage; fighting against the taboos of patriarchal society including the usual ‘What will people say?’. She was not educated and had no financial help, but she steered her life and ours. Sometimes, it was smooth; on some occasions, we pressed the accelerator instead of brakes.

In hindsight, this bold decision unleashed many hidden abilities within us and her, which we wouldn’t have otherwise embraced. She shook off several of her ideologies (she had, for instance, once thought she’d get us married young) so that we could live our dreams; in return, we had to follow the rules, such as 10 pm deadlines. We still bicker, but these arguments keep us going and growing.

Now when I look back at 20 years of my life that I spent without our father, I feel, if I had a father, I would have grown up sheltered — and perhaps not realised my strengths. The fact that we lived without him made us financially independent at a very early age.

My sister and I started earning by taking up part-time jobs alongside junior college. While she worked as a data entry operator for a cousin’s business, I made digital copies of hardcover books. We turned into multi-taskers; we learned to live with little and make the best out of it, which made us creative. We learned to understand another person’s issues without being told about it; we learnt to be compassionate. Living with a single mother may be difficult, but it teaches you one thing for sure: You will steer your life by sitting in the front seat of your own car.

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Published on October 08, 2020
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