Focus Statement: I left India because I wanted to pursue my goals but my father was not happy.
For one moment, I felt abandoned. In the very next, I was free.
It was the month of March. Spring had started to set in and days were getting warmer. The birds and bees were back. Spring makes Delhi more beautiful. How? Because the streets smell of freshly blossomed flowers with a crisp breeze touching your face, and the Sun is exactly the way I wish it could stay throughout the year: bright and warm yet not killing with the heat. March has always been an exciting month for me. It is the month I was born in, and by chance, a month always full of events and surprises.
It was one such event in March 2019 that changed my life. I turned 22 on March 2. Not far from that day, on March 7, my father asked me, “So, what are your plans now?”
That was a valid question but asked at the wrong time. I had returned from work. It was 5 in the evening and I had been away since 6 am. I was working as a multimedia reporter for an Indian political magazine. Federal elections were two months away and work was getting crazier day-by-day. I was tired and drained out. I guess my father didn’t understand that.
My father is a lawyer and owns a real-estate business. He is a short, authoritative man. In his early 50s now, he has a receding hairline with brown eyes that have started to sulk in wrinkles.
Reflecting on the patriarchal society, he dislikes hearing ‘no’ as an answer. Nobody can dodge his questions. And he always expects a ‘yes’ with no opinions or suggestions in return. His orders are like decrees for the family.
So, with that tired face and drowsy eyes, I sat on the couch across him in the living room. I noticed his grey hair strands as he lowered the television’s volume with the remote. He was wearing a light blue T-shirt with black knee-length shorts. My father was getting old.
“I have been planning to pursue post-graduation in digital and data journalism,” I replied to him. He could see I have plans.
He glared at me silently while pressing his nose with his left hand. When he is in deep thought, my father presses his nose, pouts, and stares blankly into nothingness. I knew something was coming my way.
He broke the silence and said, “You’re 22 now. You have two years to complete your studies or fulfill your dreams. After that, you’re getting married. Rest, you can accomplish after your marriage.”
I stared at him with eyes wide open.
He continued to assert his order, “…and I think you should quit journalism and become an English teacher. You will have a balanced life- your family and work.”
At first, I didn’t feel anything. I was numb. Then, confusion started to set in. And then, anger followed. At that moment, I felt as if someone tied a huge rock on my feet and threw me into the river with my hands clasped together. I felt helpless.
He was waiting for me to respond.
I gathered my thoughts together. This time, to his surprise, I said, “No”.
I have been an obedient child all my life: in school, in university, at work, and at home. I was not taught to disrespect anyone. As a child, I was taught to say ‘yes’. I was taught to follow orders but this time, I couldn’t. This time, I was disrespectful. I am not proud of the moment that followed.
I said it clearly, “I have been applying for universities abroad and I want to study the subjects I like. I am sorry.” He knew I wanted to study and he was supportive of my education but he wasn’t expecting me to apply for universities abroad. He never wanted me to live a different life than what he had planned for me.
I tried explaining that universities in India are expensive and futile, that they don’t have the subjects I want to focus on. My father had turned deaf to my plea. His tone turned to yell while I walked away crying.
But I didn’t walk out silently. Instead, I turned around and said, “I wish you could understand my goals.”
He stopped talking to me after that evening.
Days passed by and I was back to my routine, trying to make my plans work. I was distracted from my job after that incident but I was still focusing on my plans.
But after some time, my father decided to abandon me. He walked into my room one day and expressed his discontent with the way I behaved that evening.
My father is an over-thinker. He reacts at the moment but then, he also over-reacts days later. He told me, “If you cannot obey me, you cannot live in my house.”
Maybe, he was trying his best to stop me from leaving and do as he says or maybe, he was really upset and genuinely wanted me to be gone. He told me to find another place to live and gave me a month’s time.
It was hard to digest. “Who does that to their daughter?” I thought to myself and didn’t utter a word as he walked away.
Suddenly, I had no plans again. I needed my father’s support to fulfill my goals. I saw my mother standing at my room’s door and trying to convince my father that his decision is wrong and he shouldn’t be so hard on his daughter. Her attempts were futile. Everyone left and I was sitting alone in my room, trying to process the information.
“What does a person do in a state of abandonment?” I kept repeating this to myself. I couldn’t sleep that night. I had to find a way out. I had to decide.
By morning, I had my answer. I was abandoned, so, I was free. I told myself that since there’s nobody that I am disobeying now, I am free to do what I think is right. I did ‘my’ right.
Deep in my heart, I knew it clearly that if I don’t prove myself, I will never be able to come back home. It was a risky step in life. I was feeling giddy with those thoughts but I was determined. The new phrase for me that morning was: ‘Go big or you can’t go home’.
I received my admission letter from Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada before the one-month notice period could end. I was accepted into the program I wanted to pursue- Journalism New Media. My father was against my decision until the end but he didn’t stop me.
Slowly, my father withdrew from family conversations. He tried accepting that I made my choice. As my day to leave was approaching, I could see him sulking. I noticed his grey beard outgrowing the usual density. He stopped shaving. He stopped eating properly. For the first time, he was polite and soft to me. He wasn’t the usual angry, authoritative man anymore. I saw him age years in a month.
August 22, 2019. It was the day I was starting a new phase in life. I was ready to leave with my suitcases stuffed with all that I could fit in. My father, on the other hand, was sitting in his room in the dark. I walked to his room to seek his blessings.
What I saw at that moment is something I will never forget: He was trying so hard to push back his tears. His face had turned red and his hands were shaking. He suddenly looked so weak and fragile.
I realized he wanted me to stay because he loves me. He never meant to abandon me. He struggles with expressing emotions. How can I forget he was always ‘emotionally disabled’? I had always known that about him!
It was too late then.
I came to Canada. I am free but I am not free from goals. Through my work, I have to make my father understand that it was the right step. I know he loves me, he will come to terms with my decision and our relationship will heal. But first, I want to make him feel proud, and I will through my work.