My grandmother did not have an easy childhood. Having lost her father at a young age, she had to give up on her agency and her dreams soon after. She was married at the age of 18 and had her first child a year later. At 19, she was a daughter-in-law, a wife and a mother – everything but herself. She never got a chance to finish her education, become a botanist and travel the world. She never found her safe space or person. Therefore, and understandably so, she holds very few people in her family close to her heart. Her ‘Mezda’ is one such person (in Bangla, ‘Mez’ means middle and ‘da’ means brother).
She often told me stories about how Mezda would rescue her from her negligent husband and toxic in-laws by asking her to come live with him. She followed her anecdotes with the fact that he did so after his own wife passed away and that he was not being able to bring up his children single-handedly. And suddenly, a very confused look would cloud my face. It was evident that I was putting a lot of effort into looking for love in this obvious act of convenience.
My grandmother worships her brother to this date because, according to her, he gave her a home which was not abusive. Not loving or supportive, just “not abusive”. My grandmother brought up six children without an ounce of assistance. She worked full-time and earned her own money for her and her children’s expenses. However, she was reminded, every single day in her life, that what Mezda did for her was something the latter had to be indebted for as long as she was alive.
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It was only last year during a conversation that she realised that her Mezda never stopped the elders of the family from getting her married in the first place. With a sigh, she remembered how her employed Mezda, who was ready to give her money to run his household, never offered to sponsor her education instead. All he did was to not deprive her of food or hurl abuses and curses at her like her in-laws had done. He gave her as much respect as he could afford to. So, neither did he yell at my grandmother, nor did he bother to take her opinion or give her aspirations any importance.
As I saw her lost in her thoughts, I knew that everything that she had believed was the only thing that she had been allowed to believe. The patriarchs in her family could choose their preferred expectations and women in her family were left to be grateful and devoted. Only the means of expression could be chosen.
My grandmother had been taught to never question the “breadwinners” of the family as long as they are doing what their title suggests. She regrets not being able to question her Mezda about why providing her with equal opportunities never mattered to him. She doesn’t know whether she should be grateful to Mezda for reducing her to a pre-requisite to the comfortable life he went on to lead.
Then she realised one more thing – that Mezda was long gone. He lived his life on a pedestal and his memories will continue to do so too. He failed to see my grandmother as anything more than a caregiver but society will always see him as his sister’s saviour.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty