In Focus

Walking the talk, even in orthodox Rajasthan

For a woman, success also means being able to live a life of dignity and self-reliance as against the orthodox and oppressive patriarchy existing in society, writes Manu Shrivastava

When it comes to lessons that are never taught in a classroom, it is said that ‘Life’s the best teacher’; Which is why it comes as no surprise that some of the most successful people in the world have either never attended college or have dropped out of it. Success has a string of definitions and for us at The Woman Survivor, success spells being able to live a life of dignity and self-reliance as against the orthodox and oppressive patriarchy existing in society.

So, despite being from a very conservative family and region, Sushila Parihar always stood her ground and broke societal shackles. When the need arose, she stepped up to take care of her severely ailing husband and in the ‘autumn’ of her life embarked upon a career as well.

A resident of Jaipur, 63-year-old Sushila is a grandmother now. Her father was a government officer and grandfather a teacher who home-schooled her initially in her native town Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan. Being bright she got admission in school in the Second Standard directly. She had always wished to study more but “it was never a choice then”. In 1971, at only 16, Sushila was married in a typically ‘arranged’ marriage where she had no say of her own. “There was no question of saying ‘No’ to marriage: It was an impossibility and the way of life,” she recalls.

Sushila at the time of her marriage

Marriage brought her to Jaipur as her husband, a town planner, was posted in the city then. Within the next three years, before the age of twenty, she became mother to two, a boy and a girl. Like most others, she got busy with bringing up her children and managing the house. All her life, she remained a home maker, a somewhat difficult task as she never had to work at her own home.

“My husband always encouraged me and involved me in his work. He would take me out to his sites and gradually I got very interested in maps. In fact, I designed my own house as well,” recalls a proud Sushila. Life was running its normal course. Her husband retired in 2005 and soon after took up a job with a private firm. However, what followed was simply beyond imagination.

In March 2008, Sushila’s husband complained of weakness which soon escalated to difficulty in breathing, sudden weight loss and weakening of muscles. Initially the family and even the doctors dismissed the symptoms as related to onslaught of age, however when his condition didn’t improve, she sought expert opinion.

In December 2008, Sushila's husband was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disorder (MND), a neurological disorder characterised by the progressive degeneration of motor neurons. In layman’s terms, MND implies a condition where muscles gradually weaken leading to visible wastage and disability. There is no treatment for this condition. “I could never have imagined even in my worst dreams that something like this could happen to someone like him,” she quips.

Before Sushila could realise, her husband’s health deteriorated rapidly and by July 2009, he had to be placed on a ventilator. Initially he could walk and eat on his own, could not speak and would write on paper to communicate. By 2012, things got worse and a food tube had to be used for feeding and the ventilator used for longer durations; he could still sit and read a newspaper. In the next two years, he could not even write anymore. By the end of 2016, Sushila’s husband was completely bedridden and could not even sit. He went on to communicate only through signs and eye movements.

During these tumultuous and trying years, Sushila had to step in as the family caretaker and replaced the ‘patriarch’. She did everything she could to provide the best for her husband, despite knowing there was no treatment for his condition. She converted her house into a virtual ICU with a round-the-clock nurse.

When Sushila’s husband was initially diagnosed with MND in 2008, she knew her life wouldn’t be the same. She assured the doctors she would provide the best possible care. After realising the gravity of the situation, for the first few days she would often cry by herself in a room. “Not even once did I face my husband or children with a sad face, otherwise my husband would have suffered more,” she says.

Despite not being very educated formally, she learnt about the disease, its treatment, medical equipment and everything she needed to know to care for her husband. She was constantly on the move making trips to hospitals and doctors, taking critical decisions. “I didn’t leave any stone unturned, never lost hope,” she recalls.

She believes that instead of worshipping idols in a temple, one should worship and serve the ‘idols’ that God has created i.e. humans and give your 100 percent in whatever it is that you do for your family, neighbour or society!

Considering the conservative community and state she belongs to, there was immense resistance over her ‘coming out’ and ‘turning the tables’ to take charge. People would often badmouth or ridicule her, but she simply chose to ignore them all!

When push comes to shove, things generally iron out themselves. As it turned out, Sushila went on to display efficiency at management and organisation. So much so that the very cooperative housing society she lived in, elected her as its President twice. There were members who criticised her for being ‘bold’ and ‘coming out’, instead of taking care of her husband but she managed to shoulder both responsibilities very well. In fact, she has also joined her son’s construction business where she handles the office, accounts, site inspection, etc. She has embraced every difficulty as an opportunity.

A focussed Sushila Parihar at work, turning the tables and taking charge

Sushila is forthright and openly denounces societal hypocrisy. When her husband died in 2017, she did not ‘change’ herself. She resumed work soon after armed with confidence and a high sense of self-belief and a ‘bindi on her forehead’ despite what the orthodox in society all around her had to say.

“I believe in karma and moving forward. I know my husband will always be there with me,” she confides. “Never give up…be completely honest and earnest in whatever you take up,” is what she offers women. And, she walks her talk!