Birds were chirping as Kusum realised it was morning. She got up with a start. A slight smile played on her lips as she realised this is going to be a special day. She was getting married. It was still early so no one else in the house was up. Kusum sat on her bedroom’s window and sipped her cup of tea in silence looking at the rising sun soaking in peace and calm. She knew one phase of her life was transforming into another. It could be long before she could come back to have tea in solace like this, she thought to herself. Yet there was excitement brewing in her heart of course. After all she had not seen her would be groom.
That’s how it used to happen in those days. The elderly and respected folks of the house suggested this gharana1 for Kusum. Kusum’s father was very pleased with the proposition. The groom was electrical engineer. The family was an affluent one in Lucknow. In those days, it was a big deal to get such an educated groom. Who would not jump at this proposition?
As Kusum blossomed into a beautiful woman, her match was highly sought after. Additionally her father felt that Kusum with a Master’s degree in Arts, deserved a highly educated life partner. She was much pampered being the first child in the family followed by five brothers and sisters. All her demands were always fulfilled. As she entered youth, her opinion was sought in family matters. Being the eldest, she helped in household chores and her organising skills came handy to help out her siblings in their studies, clothes and sorting fights on toys. Her parents and relatives doted on her. But when she did not get things per her expectation, she would get angry at the drop of a hat. All the siblings were kind of scared of her and rather did things her way. Since Kusum was a very caring daughter and sister, she could get away with her anger. Her family understood she held lot of love and warmth for all of them.
Kusum’s father was elated to get such a wonderful alliance. The groom was very well educated, had modern thoughts in a yet developing India of 60s. But there was a minute detail that was missed out. The groom could not see partially from one of his eye. Kusum’s father was not tricked into this alliance, he was aware of it. But he thought the groom was tall, handsome and very educated and to top it all, he belonged to a much respected family of Lucknow.
Kusum, although very modern in outlook and thoughts, fashionable and ahead of times, did not refuse to this alliance too. It was Kusum’s nature to be caring, loving and empathetic to all. Being the eldest in the family, it seemed logical to get married at the right age. Besides, she never thought his partial blindness could be a problem. After all, it could have happened to her as well. Could she be rejected too just because of this minor flaw?
Kusum’s father thought this was a lesser problem as the groom wears glasses. He thought at the maximum he would lead a life wearing spectacles like so many other people. What could be wrong with that? Just because of this, a beautiful alliance could not be missed. He went ahead with the marriage preparations. Little did he realise what future held for her at that time. She got married in a very grandiose wedding celebration. She left for her new home with mixed feelings of excitement, happiness, and joy for a new life along with sadness of leaving her dear ones behind. Just like every bride.
Kusum had a zest for life. She enjoyed and wanted to enjoy every moment of it. She loved travelling and the newlywed couple would go out to Shimla, Nainital, or Kerala whenever they could. She was epitome of brains, beauty and respect for others. So although she enjoyed wearing the most elegant, stylish blouses with latest sarees, salwar kameez, bellbottoms, she accepted the norms of Lucknow’s society back in 60s. Being the new Bahu, she kept big ghoonghats in front of elders. She made platters and varieties of kebabs and dishes when some guests came to their house although there were two or three servants working in the kitchen.
Soon time began to pass. Kusum’s husband took up a job as an electrical engineer. They shifted to Delhi. They continued travelling all over India. By her husband holding her hand, she would make him see the beauty of all the places they visited. They both dreamt of going around the entire world. Both had passion for travelling. Kusum thought that she will make it happen someday. In time, she gave birth to two sons and got very busy bringing them up.
One night, as she was putting the children to sleep, she heard a loud thud just outside their bedroom. As she rushed out, and groped for the light switch, she stumbled upon her husband. He was lying on the floor unconscious in the living room, next to his study table. She quickly sprinkled some water on his eyes and he sat up.
“Kusum, I just felt heaviness in my head and I tried to reach for light switch, but I could not and suddenly there was complete darkness. I don’t know what happened. As a matter of fact, I can’t still see from this one eye.”
Kusum rushed him to hospital. The doctor did all the tests and asked them to come in the morning to collect the reports. Kusum’s heart was full of apprehension. She had kept tossing and turning throughout the night. She had an early morning appointment to collect the medical reports.
The moment she laid eyes on the report, her worst fears swelled in her eyes. Tears trickled down uncontrollably. The report said he had a rare disease. His eyes could not only be cured but also he could turn completely blind in a short period of time. An unshakable anxiety pressed her chest.
She came home with a heavy heart. As soon as she looked at her sons who were just back from school, her inner turmoil almost instantly vanished. She made a resolution to herself. She thought, “I will make things work. For my children, me and my husband. We will lead a good life.” At that moment, she felt a sense of calm in her heart. She did not know how and when she will do it. She just knew she had to. There was no other option she had given herself.
The next day started as usual. Thanks to her upbringing and her nature of getting things done, she found a productive substitute for her worries. She buried herself in studying, reading and giving tuitions to neighbourhood children. She started applying to the schools for the position of a teacher.
With a 1st class Master’s degree in Arts, she soon got many job offers. She started working as a teacher in a public school. A new phase of her life started. Kusum was a very good teacher who knew her subject- History very well. She was so good that she could tell the entire history’s main events in her sleep. She was so in love with the subject that talking to her about historical events, could make anyone develop interest in the subject. Her passion and ease for the subject reflected in every student who studied from her. They could visualise the entire events happening as she spoke about them. She gave remarkable results as her students gave top percentages of the times at Board level exams. Soon she became the most favourite teacher at the school.
Kusum involved herself in the development of the girls at school. She would push the girls to interact with each other in English knowing very well that lot of them came from very ordinary families, where English was never spoken. She started getting engaged in organising events at school- debates, poetry writing, dances and cultural functions. In her school principal, she found a friend who could push her intellectually. Kusum along with her School Principal aligned with other teachers and tried to give all possible means to students for development of their analytical skills. They prepared them thoroughly for examinations; inter school debates and sports events. Kusum’s efforts showcased in the phenomenal results the girls showed.
Meanwhile, Kusum’s hardships increased at home. From partial blindness, her husband was thrust into complete blindness. He could not contribute in his job much. Slowly from working full time, he started working a few hours. But this did not deter Kusum’s love for her husband or her interest in life. Everyone who came to meet them, were full of sympathy for her husband, his blindness, his flourishing career that was coming to an end. They even sympathised with his increasing frustrations. Fewer knew what Kusum was going through. Her husband could not take his blindness so well. Her life was turning into a living hell. He increasingly dwelled into negativity due to his inability to see.
In our society, the issue is rooted in low expectations of the handicapped. But Kusum was not willing to make his handicap an excuse for not living life. She had two paths in front of her- either to succumb to her husband’s deteriorating eyesight or make the most of what she had. But Kusum continued to keep her head high and her feet grounded. She completely accepted the situation. She handled her responsibility of not only bringing up her two sons but also taking care of her husband effortlessly. She never flinched. Always smiling, whenever you see her. Even today.
Despite whatever situation they were facing financially, she did not let it hamper her sons’ future or their living standard. She made sure that her children were convent educated. She worked really hard for it. Her mornings started earlier than everyone else in the house. She would get ready for school and pack lunches for everyone, make her kids ready and drop them to school. In the afternoons, she would rush home, prepare lunch for everyone and start tuitions. As the tuitions continued into late evenings, she would head for kitchen and make dinner. Then this schedule continued day after day.
For her husband, Kusum became his eyes. She took him everywhere he wished to go. They were both enough for each other. What courage, what determination she had, is hard to express in words. But there was something extraordinary about her – her smiling face, her grit and determination – perhaps she had a God given strength. Anyone who came to their home was always greeted with a welcoming smile and different varieties of food. She did not dwell into her misery. She always lived in the moment, enjoying whatever way she could.
Kusum was filled with an everlasting love for her husband and her children. But she was human. Sometimes, she found herself in thoughts of negativity…she could even relate herself to Gandhari from Mahabharata. Just like her, she could have tied the cloth on her eyes- shunning the world of light around her and not see what her husband could not see. Kusum could have let negativity drown her. She could have let her children go where destiny took them and let their upbringing be dependent on God. But she did not do that. Kusum was pursuing something greater than herself and her husband. A defined purpose. Something that was immeasurable. Instead of getting exasperated with her situation, she faced it boldly. She was determined to give her sons a good life no matter what.
Bringing up boys can be a tedious task, especially if they are very naughty. Keeping them occupied is another task if they are super intelligent and full of pranks. She faced challenges on that aspect too but she took it in her stride. Kusum instilled the importance of education through study and play. She brought up her sons giving them enough freedom to play, and study at appropriate times by ensuring discipline in their life. Her early organising skills came very handy at this stage. Since she had contemporary thoughts, she knew young minds needed to be developed at their pace. She would take them to playgrounds and ask them to reach higher and higher on the climbing walls and swings. She would pamper them in all ways that she could. She encouraged them to learn new things, and become best in whatever they do – sports or whatever they liked. Kusum encouraged her sons to climb higher, push harder, test the limits and go.
With adversity, comes strength. People who saw her now, vouched for her complete transformation. Her anger vanished. She was very calm, peaceful and smiling. When someone commented on it, she would often laugh it off as “Let bygones be bygones. As far as I am concerned, my life is beautiful and I am living it fully.”
Someone has said that life is like a sport where you get knocked down again and again, where people and circumstances tell you are not good enough, where uncertainty, refusal and panic try to take over. But those who keep running, playing the game and chasing the dream, ultimately win this game.
Kusum gave her husband complete support to strive, to live well and still work. It was with her strength and support; he could reinstate confidence in himself. In casual conversations with him, she gave him inspiration and clarity which he so much sought. He then went on to learn Braille. With Kusum’s help, he soon established his business in Electrical works- wiring and networking. He was so sharp and knew his work so well that he could train people on electrical work. Soon he started taking assignments based upon his trained staff.
In time, the business flourished. People were all praises for a blind man who did it big. But hadn’t it been for her courage and perseverance to be with him through thick and thin, he would have given up much before and led a handicapped life full of pity.
As her sons were becoming young, Kusum knew times were changing. New things were happening in the world. She kept in line with the changing worlds. She had been free willed and gave ample freedom to her sons to decide how they wish to lead their life. Her sons had different mind-sets and interests. And she encouraged growth in them.
She continued teaching for many more years, till she retired. She completed all her responsibilities with ease. And yes, the couple fulfilled their lifelong dream of travelling around the entire world. After her retirement, Kusum took her husband on a world trip. People were filled with awe wherever they went. Some even asked Kusum, “Why all this trouble? What will your husband see? What is the point?” And she said with peace and calm in her eyes, “There is a point, but I do not need to prove it to the world. It’s our passion to travel and we can share my eyes.”
How Kusum did it? How she pulled it through yet smiling, she only knows. But she did it and with what finesse! Her husband continued to live till 85.Her sons today are doing well in life. One is a pilot in one of the esteemed airlines and the other is a very well reputed business man in interior designing.
Even in her advance years today, Kusum continues to lead her life enjoying it, doing yoga, keeping herself fit and going for vacations with her friend circle. She is a friend to a lot of needy and elderly people in her neighbourhood. Although she says she has ‘slowed down a bit’ but it seems she is just not ‘twenty five’ anymore. Her kind, selfless attitude, and love for life continue to teach all around her. She always makes her nears and dears feel special. The story of her life can show anyone how life can be lived in adversity and how success can be achieved in the face of darkness.
Gharana: In Hindi, Gharana refers to a particular family, a household.