Colours of Courage: Single mum battles societal stereotypes to raise her daughter with dignity
Here is a story of a single mother who battled societal stereotypes to raise her daughter with dignity.
In 2018, Thejaswi Nayak, lost her husband and it made her a widow at the tender age of 23. With a 3-month-old fetus in her womb, she decided to challenge patriarchy with love and compassion. An experience brings up a tumult of bittersweet thoughts and emotions for most people is that of becoming a parent after the death of a parent.
“My childhood was great until I was 15. I lost my father. But my mom was a strong working woman and she was financially independent. She brought me up alone and was able to support me with education. She played a major role in making me what I am today,” Thejaswi explains.
She fondly recalls a memory of when she was in fifth standard and she went to ask her dad about a Physics equation. The man who was at the time, Head of the Physics Department at Mangalore University obliged in offering her every solution. “I had no clue about the amount of research he used to do behind every concept. He explained the equation in a very simple manner. Later on, I got to know that if you teach something to a child, you are a brilliant teacher and I think he really was one. That is something I will never forget and keep it forever long in my life.” She says, not in grief that he is no more, but feeling thankful that he once was.
With a strong educational background, Thejaswi majored in Electronics and Communication as a graduate and now works with a Bangalore-based organization. But it was at her previous workplace that she bumped into the love of her life and the two bonded over tech. Their marriage was an inter-cultural affair between the two families and religions - Bengalis and Mangaloreans. “I thought it was a fairy tale wedding but it wasn’t. I never thought inter- cultural weddings would have so much clash of beliefs and rituals. When you are marrying someone from a different culture, you need to respect each other’s culture. It is in place from hundreds of years and you can’t mock someone’s culture just because it’s not yours,” fretted Thejaswi.
All too soon, Thejaswi had felt the chill from her mother-in- law’s cold shoulder. No matter how hard she tried, she revealed that her mother-in- law used to shun her. “His mom used to taunt, ‘Shaadi mei kuch nahi mila.’ On the other hand, in my culture dowry is a big no. We don’t really shower groom with a lot of things,” argues Thejaswi.
After her husband’s unexpected demise in 2018, she was 3 months into her pregnancy and her life changed completely. Although she had support from her mother all this while, she spent the rest of her pregnancy coming out of the trauma and dealing with the patriarchy. “My mother-in-law made comments like ‘she didn’t feed my son’, ‘she didn’t cook for my son’ and ‘the baby in her womb is a kalank,’ because of which my son died’. Today I am able to tell you this with a firm voice, but three years back those comments just stabbed me,” rues Thejaswi.
She explains how life came to a full stop after she lost her husband. She recollects spending moments lost in void. “I did try killing myself. I have a mark on my left wrist. But something came up and I stopped myself. My mum was there with me to overcome my thoughts. Looking at her was an inspiration. If she could overcome my dad’s death then even, I had to overcome this.” Thejaswi’s mom helped her overcome the grief of her husband. Thejaswi found comfort and solace in her presence.
In the initial stage of her pregnancy while she was still dealing with her loss, many relatives and the doctor recommended her to terminate the pregnancy, thinking of her future aspects in terms of child rearing and her career. But yet again, giving birth was her sole decision. It was a turning point in her life where she decided to never look back. “I had to go for a regular scan for my baby where they show you the fetus and make you listen to the heartbeat. The thought of another human growing inside me, that moment just changed me as a person, physically and mentally.”
She started seeking therapy which helped her to deal with the grieving, and pre and postpartum stress. “When I lost my husband, it was a double trauma because after my dad, I was looking for a dream man. I was completely shattered. After that moment, my perspective towards life changed. I told myself that I have to live on my own. Nobody can come and rescue me,” stated Thejaswi.
It’s indeed hard to draw the line between what’s helpful and supportive, but in Thejaswi’s case, her co-workers were striking a balance between the two for her. They made sure that even while she was on leave for a couple of months, she didn’t go through any financial strain. She said, “That day when I found out that he was no more, it was somewhere around 12 ‘o’ clock at night. The first person I called was my colleague. He informed his managers and came home with the team. They assisted me with the proceedings, made sure I was okay and helped me gather the courage to break the news to my mum and my in- laws."
In these tough times, one thing that didn’t let Thejaswi down was her financial independence. She stated, “The greatest advice my mom has always given to me is to become financially independent. It’ll always save you from drowning in the worst. Initially, the moment my husband passed away, we had a car’s loan, but luckily his father took care of it. After that I never got any financial assistance. But because I was getting a monthly salary to support me and my daughter, I didn’t have to struggle much financially. I always give a piece of advice to everybody- Don’t quit your job after marriage. Career is different, marriage is different. Both have their own roles to play.”
Thejaswi accepted the challenges and responsibilities of single parenting without self-pity and bitterness. Despite lack of time, she recognized the importance of self-care and attempted to do so through physical, spiritual and emotional means. “Even after giving birth, my mom babysits my daughter and I still go out with friends for half a day or something whenever I get time. One of the main things which healed me was writing my feelings out and music and singing. I would do the things I love that eventually helped me heal.” Thejaswi chose to see positive aspects in stressful situations and felt that she has succeeded despite many doubts.
Amazingly, when asked about her consideration of remarrying, she believes in prioritizing her daughter and her life at the moment, as the pain is still a bit all-consuming for them. Thejaswi has shown interest in choice motherhood without seeking any validation from society.
In India, where patriarchy is quite prevalent, a single mother is treated differently from someone who has a husband. There are many things that single mothers have to hear from the society but strong mothers like Thejaswi manage to function as both parents with the utmost strength and grace. Thejaswi’s success mantra is to never give up. Her message to all the single mothers out there is- “I just want the world to know that I was just a normal girl who was dreaming of her prince charming but reality hit me differently. There will be many challenges in life no matter how much you love a person. Even after that, it’s you and your efforts that’ll make everything work in your life. Both good and bad people will come, both good and bad things will happen, but it’s how you react and how you change things for yourself,” she signs off.