Writing about your life is a roller coaster of emotions. sometimes you are quite pleased to realise it is behind you and you have made it to a better place, others it takes you down the depth of despair, you can see the dark corner you were in and it brings anguish and often tears.
Being in the hostel of the health school was a much happier period of my life, there was no criticism, I made a lot of friends and we were a happy bunch together. And surprise surprise, I was getting high marks in all my written work. I loved Biology and nutrition and all the other subjects and we were now working on the wards too in the teaching hospital where part of our training was to be. The first year passed, now we were given more responsibility of the wards , and we also had to conduct twenty deliveries and provide maternal and child care ,being a health visitor in India meant that you worked in the primary health care centres which were in the rural areas.
We were being trained to provide health education, vaccination , and maternal and child care. We had some twenty subjects to study, from hygiene and public health to the law and order and how governments worked . I loved my hospital posting, I was living the dream, taking charge of the ward and talking to the patients and making sure the young mothers went home ,armed with the basic rules of hygiene and child care was a triumph, this meant they didn’t have to rely on the village quacks or heresy. The rural areas were so dusty and had limited water supply, simple things like caring for the baby’s umbilical cord was full of dangers. Some used cow dung as a healer, quite a few babies dies of Tetanus , as the dung and the hands of the carer would be a minefield of all kinds of germs.
There was a huge job satisfaction in what we were doing , we were educating and teaching young mothers the basics of hygiene, nutrition and child care , to safeguard the health of the next generation. Patients were immensely grateful and trusting and hung on to every word we said. But the elder ladies and other relatives used to sneer, saying what would these young girls know about such things! The big hurdle was to charm them. Somehow we did.
By now the paranoia of my family was on its height. Every week or so a new story will emerge about my misdemeanours . There were a few young cousins who were full of admiration for me, first time in the history of family a female was working /training and doing it against everyone’s wish and facing the world on her own. A couple of those cousins will come and visit me, we were allowed visitors once a week in the hostel’s lounge, no one was allowed in our dormitory. During the two hours of the visiting time , the matron patrolled and kept an eye on the proceedings, and of course only relations were allowed to visit ,no friends of either sex could visit any of us.
I suppose i had shut that part of my brain where hurt or humiliation reside. I listened to stories about myself, and it felt as if they were talking about someone else. I was focused , for the first time in my life I had an aim, an ambition and I wanted to change the world at least as far as the young mothers and babies were concerned.
In India ,there is a myth propagated by Bollywood movies and the romantic fiction that all doctors and nurses are meant to have romance, most doctors of that era eyed nurses as playthings, or thought they had the God given right to flirt , and most nurses eyed them as a meal ticket. I have never had the comfortable and wonderful life of reading fiction or watching movies and imaging myself to be one such heroine. I have never been exposed to the flirty ,floaty world of love and romance. I was always taken aback when any of the doctors tried it on with me, I mostly responded in quite sharp manner and walked off. Soon I was given the title that I was a man hater! That suited me fine. I could just get on with doing what I always wanted to do.
There were many memorable events, like when i was working on nights on a very busy admissions ward, the sister in charge collapsed. I not only had to have seen to, but also take charge of the ward. I was in my second year then. As they couldn’t find a replacement for the nurse in charge I ended up running the ward for six weeks, or until my period of night duty ended. And once when one of my very snooty maternal aunt turned up , her son was admitted and I was looking after that private ward. Her face was a picture when I very professionally told her about the treatment etc;. I dont know what her reaction was in private but she had no choice but to do as she was told!
Those three years came to an end rather quickly, time, as they say flies when you are enjoying yourself. Our finals came ; we worked hard and I got a First. I still have no idea how but I did.
We had to leave our hostel and go “home” for a month while we waited for our postings in various parts of the rural areas. This posed a dilemma for me, where was I going to go?
My cousin who had supported me before came to my rescue. They were now living independently and her husband was posted out of town, I went away with them and it was bliss. We were in a rather nice area, with nice scenery and open forests. I spent a month with them ,a blissful and happy time . It was good to know that there was some decency left in the family I came from.
My posting came and I was posted to a rather nice primary health care centre, not too remote ,easy access to the city and a well run and equipped place.
I was for the first time self supporting and independent. I rented a room , bought a bit of furniture and made it my own. I felt on the top of the world. I have made it! It had been a long journey but now I was earning a wage, and I had staff!! I had never imagined I will be where I was.
Within a year of my posting we had a massive outbreak of small pox. I remember going house to house ,vaccinating, and isolating the victims. The villagers considered and referred to small pox as a deity, they didn’t want any treatment, ( there was none). I had to supervise a whole team and make sure the houses were disinfected , there was a lot of hostility towards all the health workers. The number of deaths was huge.
Some six months later we had an outbreak of cholera, it was a baptism of fire for me. I felt those episodes have made me very resilient, once you have coped with such atrocities they rest seems a walk in the park.
During that period a new medical officer arrived at our centre , he was our boss. After a day or so he casually told me that he trained in the same hospital s I did, and it has taken him a lot detective work to find out where i was posted and a lot of bribing to get himself posted to the same centre! I was astonished ,why would anyone want to do that? My self esteem has never been my strong point. It never had a chance to develop in my childhood. And in adulthood my family in general and my parents in particular have tried their best to break my will and destroy my character
Nobody has ever said I was worth anything, leave alone being pursued, this was a novelty, I was puzzled but a part of me was thrilled, it made me feel that may be I was not bad. He was he said was very much in love with me and it took me sometime to understand what love meant. When no one, even your parents have never ever considered you worthy of love, i should say especially your parents, it goes back to the attachment theory. The first years of ones life when a mother gives unconditional love and attention,I suppose that builds a kind of self worth in an infant. To know that your well being and your happiness matters so much to someone. When you dont have that and brought up with constant criticism and loathing then it is hard to start believing later in life that you are loveable.
I still find it hard to believe that am worth anyone’s attention or affection, perhaps a part of me always wants to please others just in case they take a dislike to me. Parenting as they say is a huge responsibilty.
That one year, when he ( my future husband) single minded, pursued me , by being thoughtful ;understanding and caring and it took me a year to reciprocate ,it was not because I was not capable of love but because it was a novel experience.
Though we were seeing each other but in secret. His family were not at all happy that he wanted to marry someone of his choice. And that person happens to be a working woman, lives on her own and works with men and is estranged form her parents. As far as they were concerned I was highly unsuitable to be part of their family.