I was sitting on the edge of my bed, waiting for him. He had woken up that morning earlier than usual, taken a bath and told me to wait for him to come back with my jewelry. I wasn’t sure if he would do what he said, as he never did. He had been asking me to leave his house for a few days now.
“He” was Palash (not his real name), the guy I was married to. It was an “arranged marriage” that took place in India, and after four years of misery, I was about to embark on a terrifying experience. Having been raised in a traditional Indian culture, I was now being forced out on my own without any support from my community, in a city, Washington, and in a country, America, that I knew nothing about.
Palash’s deep insecurity, inability to communicate, and strong desire to control everything I did as his wife had brought our relationship to a point where I was forbidden from using a cell phone, I could only drive to certain places and was not allowed to make friends or socialize. He mocked me and verbally abused me, saying it was my “dharma” as his wife to do what he wanted me to do and be happy with the way he treated me.
I love my native culture, but I love it enough to address its flaws. It is a culture that treats women with respect; yet it often represses those same women in the name of tradition. I am a victim of my own Indian community, which endures a manipulated set of Indian values and practices and often misinterprets traditions and beliefs. Members of my community here in the U.S. completely failed while the so-called “Westerners” showed respect, compassion, sympathy, and, most importantly, were courageous enough to help me and stand by me.
But on March 11th, 2008, I wasn’t thinking of any of that. I was thinking of survival. My eyes were puffy because I had been crying for several days. Lifting my heavy eyelids, I glanced at the carpeted floor of the bedroom full of my belongings. Everything that touched my eyesight took me to a time in my past. My sarees, hand-embroidered blouses, salwar suits, picture frames from our wedding day, mementos gifted by relatives, gifts and cards from my friends, holy water of Gangee in a sealed spherical container made of copper and brass, and my “Panetar” — a very colorful sight of artistic souvenirs of my roots, relations and traditions that I embraced, icons evocative of culture, religion and practices that worship goddesses like “Lakshmi” for wealth, “Saraswati” for knowledge and “Durga” for unlimited power. In a split second I realized how far I was from all of the above at that very moment. Most of the stuff was already thrown in suitcases; some of it was waiting to get packed.
I was scared, exhausted and in immense pain. I got up and walked to the bathroom. As I was getting into the shower I accidentally caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror, took a double take, and stared at myself for a few seconds, as if I couldn’t recognize myself. I refused to admit the image of the stressed out, weak and helpless female in the mirror was me; my lips trembled with such thoughts. Taking a shower while crying and pressing my fists against the standing shower walls made me feel like I was bathing in my own tears.