HANNAH13 mins 423 13 mins 423
They christened her Hannah*. In Hebrew, the name Hannah means grace or graceful and also has the meanings of kindness and being personable. She was all this and more. Born into a close-knit bubbly family, Hannah’s childhood was filled with laughter, fun and music, lots of music, mostly gospel. Her maternal uncle was a very talented composer and musician. “As the youngest and only girl in my generation of cousins, most weekends were spent with the extended family of aunts and uncles, filled with singing and laughter over communal meals”, Hannah chirps.
Her parents belonged to the conservative Nadar community where pride and respect were sacrosanct and Christian values, the norm. “My parents were employed in Central and State Government positions that ensured benefits like pension, medical care and the best of everything for me and my two siblings”, Hannah adds. Hannah’s mother’s office was close-by which ensured that she could cook and there were plenty of hot, home-cooked lunches at home with her children daily.
As is customary in many homes even today, Hannah’s pet name was Sally (the importance of that moniker she would realize much later in life).
Hannah studied in a well-known convent school. After her graduation in Commerce from Lourdes College, Hannah was thinking of pursuing her Masters in Commerce, on a part-time basis. However both her close school friends were fixated on doing an MBA from a premier management institution that had just opened its doors a year ago in Tirunelveli, her home-town. “I had no intention of joining any such programme but just to humour and support them in their arduous preparation, I picked up BARONS the oft trusted guidebook by many to crack the dreaded aptitude tests the following day,” Hannah adds with a wry smile.
The plan was to attempt the entrance test, follow it up with lunch and a movie with her friends.
At the exam centre however, one of the invigilators was a good looking senior student at the Institute, and Hannah was breathless with the tingling promise of an exciting MBA program. She did her best and was honestly dumbfounded when she found out that only she had cracked the test and was invited to join the institute. The irony was not lost on her. Her friends were heartbroken. It was to be the first of many such life changing occurrences for Hannah. Leaving home, first time in a hostel, much derided hostel food, flattering attention of guys and consequent decent proposals. The bubble was intact.
Hannah recollects, “As soon as I graduated I was ready to start my career as a Management Trainee in a leading public sector company. My parents however, wanted to be absolved of their responsibility of having a daughter of marriageable age and started a whirlwind hunt for ‘a suitable boy’!” Professor Sharma, the Director of the Institute lamented that Hannah was the only student in her batch who had not taken up a job after successfully completing her MBA. Her parents turned suddenly and unapologetically deaf.
While the rest of her classmates were Management Trainees, Hannah’s parents managed to rein in a groom from a successful business family in a nearby city. True to tradition, the groom ”came, saw and conquered”, Hannah says wryly. “The chosen groom from a successful business family in Chidambaram. He was from my own community. "Pride, sanity and honour is intact", was my family’s first response after the wedding was over. Courtship was hurried.The two were engaged the next day and married 4 months later. The bride entered her matrimonial home with a heart full of happiness and a head full of dreams.
Hannah’s eyes are now lost in a scene from the past as she continues, “The confetti had hardly settled when during my honeymoon I found out that my husband Herbert had brought along two of his friends who would drink into the night”. Back in her new home in Chidambaram, when she relayed this to his dismissive parents (the parents-in-laws were themselves living apart), a furious Herbert slapped her. Utterly shocked, Hannah was ready to leave him but Herbert begged her to stay and promised he would never repeat this cowardly act again. But promises are meant to be broken!
Hannah adds, ” I came to realize that my husband was not only a mama’s boy but also a coward who raised his hand against me at the slightest pretext”. It triggered a long dalliance with physical abuse at the hands of her short-tempered husband.
Soon Hannah discovered she was pregnant and her first baby boy brought new meaning and joy to her life. Two years later she had a beautiful daughter and bringing up the two children became her sole purpose in life. She buried her misery in the joy and laughter of her kids and tried to live her life normally.
Hannah says, ”To the world we were a happy and a normal couple but deep inside was a rift that was widening by the day. There was never any real love between us.” Her voice bitter she continues, “If sex could be called love, yes we had a lot of it but emotionally we were poles apart”. She realized her husband had an eye for PYT’s – pretty young things and helplessly watched him flirt. If she protested she was called jealous and a suspicious woman by her husband and his mother. “I did walk-out to my parent’s home a couple of times to begin an end to this relationship but immediately elders in my parents' family would intervene. They would plead and appeal to my emotional side, to think of the children and their future. Reluctantly I would trudge back into my marriage,” says Hannah with a sigh.
There was no one she could talk to or discuss her feelings, not even her mother. Her father had passed away after the birth of her daughter but in his infinite fatherly wisdom had sensed his daughter was unhappy. His words to his wife on his death-bed were – “We made a mistake in Hannah’s marriage”. But it was too late for regrets.
Hannah recalls, “I was never given the love and respect that I craved for as a wife nor consulted in any family matters. My mother-in-law continued to poison her son against his wife because she was afraid that his wife’s love would overcome her mother’s affection.” So Hannah continued to be an outsider in her own home. Her self-esteem was at its lowest, yet she bore all the insults for she was financially dependent on her husband and afraid of facing life alone.
Whilst busy thus with her abusive domestic life, Hannah kept toying with the idea of kick-starting her career. Her friend and neighbour was her confidante. Hannah says, "I would have gone crazy had it not been for her.” Esther operated a small e-commerce data entry service and Hannah would pitch in when Herbert was at work. However, unnerved by their friendship Herbert asked her to help out in his own office, effectively putting a stop to her visits to Esther.
Working in her husband’s office and helping with the general administration revived her latent flair for organizing and trouble shooting. Thirteen years into the marriage, Hannah had a third child, a son and when he was 1 year old, Hannah discovered that her husband was involved with a woman he had met online. “Herbert would hate coming home, find fault with everything and would get very angry when I even touched his cell phone,” Hannah adds. Hannah’s mother sensed something was amiss and warned her.
Hannah was oblivious.
Ironically, the bubble burst when like a proverbial Bollywood pot boiler, she found lipstick marks on the collar of her husband’s white T-shirt after his return from a so-called dealer meet. A little apprehensively she explored the details and her misgivings were laid bare. When confronted, as expected her husband turned livid and defensive. Shocked and humiliated, yet refusing to acquiesce that her bubble had indeed burst, Hannah tried to forgive him but he was totally unrepentant and oblivious.
Trying to keep her sanity and support her children’s needs, Hannah approached her son’s school and confided to the Principal, “I have some issues at home and need a job for my sanity.” All the teachers there knew her and vouched for her. Granted the job, Hannah worked as a pre-school teacher where her little students added meaning and joy to her life. Hannah recalls, “They were so sensitive that they would come up and kiss me and wipe away my daily tears. I used to secretly stash away the small salary I received as pre-school teacher”, adds Hannah “to buy small treats for my children as my husband would not give me anything more than the bare minimum amount needed for household provisions.”Her first and second born were her pillars of support. She calls them ‘her rocks of Gibraltar’. Her work with pre-schoolers was appreciated by everyone. Children loved her and she, them. Slowly she started gaining confidence in her abilities.
Four years later, by a freak of destiny and thanks to a little unsolicited help from her husband’s friend and her constant prayers, Hannah landed a job in Chidambaram Institute of Technology (CIT) a reputed institution, as a Section officer in the Administration Department. She was lost in the 300 acre campus of the University but slowly and steadily rose in the ranks.
“Whenever upset due to escalating problems at home, besides more prayers, I started focusing my attention and energy at work, channeling my thoughts into something productive, thereby becoming increasingly professional,” Hannah says. Promotions followed fast. She gained confidence and self-esteem, and slowly started shedding her complex that she had developed after her marriage. “A poignant moment for me was when I helped recruit 2 of my erstwhile Professors from my Management Institute into CIT in my capacity as Assistant Registrar,” says Hannah with a wan smile. Her irked husband tightened his hold on the finances at home, taking all of her salary and ensuring there was still control. His dalliances however suffered no such restraint.
Always a churchgoer, Hannah was dismayed when Herbert turned out to be completely indifferent. Whenever Hannah used to insist on going to church, Herbert would disagree. She was tested further even as her faith in herself and God's will strengthened. Herbert would come home very late, would snap at her and the kids and would be rude to all,even when her mother came on one of her rare visits.
Parents can be such unconscious soothsayers! They always called her Sally at home.
The urban dictionary defines “Sally” as: She is a sexy, strong, courageous, independent woman. A woman that isn't going to stand by and be bullied by anyone nor let you bully someone else in her presence. A woman that is both beautiful on the inside and out. Many may call her a saint. She will have your back in any fight, and so you better have her's too, and if not she will discard you for the coward trash heap you are. She is a dear friend, a shoulder to cry on, an encourager, trustworthy and respectable.
Twenty three years into her marriage, one fateful evening when her husband’s response to her asking for money for household expenses was, “Who are you? Are you my wife or my girlfriend? Why should I give you money?”, the last straw on the camel's back broke. Sally says, “ I applied and received an interview call from Mumbai University. A call which ended with them offering me a position as International Placement Officer in their campus. My salary was a whopping 1.3 Lakhs from my current one of Rs.35,000/- !” Her mother was torn, her (two older ones) children however were wholly supportive and they forced her to take up this God-given break.
On a stormy night, with nothing other than her clothes in a hurriedly packed suitcase and a taxi to transport her sobbing self to Trichy, the nearest airport as her waving children faded from sight, Sally boarded the wrong flight at Trichy Airport. A hurried switch later,a still tearful Sally landed at midnight in Mumbai amidst a sea of unknown faces speaking a language she had yet to fathom -Hindi ! Sally adds “The University had thoughtfully provided a cab ride from the airport and a two-bedroom furnished apartment close to the campus. My first day in my new home, and I felt a tremendous sense of peace. For the first time in many years, I felt free!"
Mumbai University proved to be the silver lining. She slowly settled into her new job and put her heart and soul into it. A‘more-than-used to’ full salary and great colleagues helped Hannah connect with her quest for inner peace. She found it as always in a church close by, whose members embraced her warmly. Her father passed away soon after. She spoke to her children almost daily. Both her older children, (who had by then begun their college pursuits in Bangalore), and her mother started visiting her. “ I missed seeing my youngest child and could only speak to him sporadically over the phone as he was still living with his father. Herbert would not let him visit me,” she adds tremulously. Egged by her older two children, Sally filed for divorce and it came through after two long years and she was granted visiting rights to all her children.
“Looking back even today I wonder at the tipping point and my strength. My steely resolve then however was to gain enough financial independence so as to support my children. That was the only thought that kept spurring me, “ she says with finality.
The pastor in her Church soon became a mentor and friend, taking it upon himself to counsel her and introduce others in the flock to her. Thus Hannah met Peter. A world-weary Bihari, Peter had sought the peace that the little Church promised. Peter had migrated to the US early and had had similar experiences as Hannah in his marriage. A Diplomat with the US Government who worked with their social service wing, Peter used to visit India, and in particular Mumbai several times for one of their many social development programs.
Bruised mentally with a failed marriage and a divorce behind each, Peter and Sally were at first overtly wary. It took 2 years for their defences to become meaningless. Blessed by her children, her emotional mother and a happy Pastor, on Christmas eve, Sally decided to give marriage a second chance.
Soon after Peter was posted to Nigeria and Sally followed him as his wife. Today Peter has retired and he and Sally live in sunny California bringing sunshine into each other’s life. Sally’s 3 children are very happy and settled in their own lives. Sally chirps, ” I have landed a job with the US government in one of their established arms. I have applied for my green card too.” Sally has just returned after attending her daughter’s wedding in Pune, a wedding she helped solemnize and organize. She is in touch with all her children, visiting her daughter in Pune where the daughter has opened her own boutique. Both her sons visited her while she was in Pune. Hannah says” I did meet my ex-husband at our daughter’s wedding and realized that I have indeed moved on.” Her past life is now ‘water under the bridge’ for her. She has healed, is reflective and calm, her new husband’s surname is fittingly ‘Kripakar’, which means compassionate. Her sons have blossomed stronger with their mother’s travails. They are inordinately proud that their mother stood up against the abuse and have become more empathetic individuals while her daughter ensures that her self- respect and dignity also matter.
Hannah sallies forth !