An anthropologist, psychologist, and culture enthusiast at heart, I’ve always found tremendous joy in speaking to people, and learning about their stories. And being reassured that in the end, every story is a legacy. Worth listening to, and learning from. All it takes is the right ears and hearts to listen.
One such story, I discovered, is that of Daadi.
Daadi. Biologically, we’re not related. Yet, by the Indian definition of family that extends to everyone you’re even remotely related to, Daadi truly is family. And over the years, especially after I moved to the US, I’ve had the good fortune of getting to know more and more about her, and her story.
A woman who technically speaking, came from nothing, yet became so many things. One who having grown up in the India of the ’60s, had no lofty dreams for her life beyond a happy home and family, yet one whose life story included her doing so many things she’d otherwise deemed unimaginable – making a foreign land her home, getting her first paying job, and raising three children in an environment completely different from what she’d imagined it to be.
Married at the tender age of 18, before she could even complete her graduation, Daadi says she was neither forced into it, nor was she over excited by the prospect of it. She just accepted it as a normal course of life. She spent the next decade or so in domestic bliss,living across several cities in India, bringing up three children, playing the role of a dutiful homemaker. And believing that this was the zenith she would reach in the course of her lifetime.
A major turning point is her journey came when fifteen years into her marriage, life offered her a rare chance, one that she had never even imagined. An opportunity to move to America, one which to her presented itself as a chance to a provide her children a better future. A choice which might seem rosy at first glance, but entailed a lifetime of struggle and uncertainty. Not to mention the fact that they were going have to start a new life, almost afresh. Yet, she decided, this was a gamble they would take. Even if it meant a huge sacrifice on their part.
And daadi and daada, with $100 and their entire life packed in four suitcases, found themselves in a foreign land. One where they had a few family members, but knew that they had to hit the ground running, to create their own life. Fresh off the boat. Immigrants. In the true sense of the word.
And the, a woman who had never held, or even thought she’d ever have a regular job, found herself as a cashier in a restaurant, working night shifts, seven days a week, before she went on to hold a series of jobs. It wasn’t easy, she says. Yet determination and will power have their own gifts. Teaching herself resilience, fixing her broken English and learning every skill necessary to make herself indispensable, Daadi recalls days where she toiled hard. Her children supported each other as she worked. And so did strangers who performed rare acts of kindness, going from being acquaintances to her extended family in America.
Daadi says she feels very fortunate, that married a complete stranger, who slowly metamorphosed into her best friend and partner through every phase of life. Her husband supported her throughout her journey, and continues to even today. His constant support means a lot to her, and their struggles together only made their marriage stronger. In fact, her children were first hand witnesses to their trials and tribulations, and she feels that hard work and gratitude became core family values, and gave them a strong foundation.
It hasn’t been exactly an uphill ride, with its own share of ups and downs. Yet, an extremely fulfilling one. Ask her about what America did for her, and she proudly says that while India might be her homeland, America is her country too. One she has called home for almost forty years now. One that allowed her to fulfill the dreams she’d envisioned for her children, for all of her three children are happily settled in their own lives today. But more than anything else, one that gave her much more than what she’d asked for. Taking her on a trip of her own self-discovery. Allowing her to discover, through a combination of her own unflinching desire to learn and adverse situations, a version of her she never even knew existed.
And as a listener, who has had the sheer pleasure of listening to the tales and anecdotes of her journey, and being able to pen them down, I’d say that Daadi is nothing short of a source of inspiration. Her tale is one of having faith in your dreams, and taking the plunge when you have get the opportunity. Of being soft even in toughest of times. Of having deep gratitude. And living life with a strong sense of giveback. For in the end, you always reap what you sow. What goes around, truly does come around. And her story is living proof to this.