She grew up wanting to be an artist. To depict her angst in oil on canvas. To bury her aspirations in dark charcoal sketches. To blow off some steam! She grew up as the under-recognized sibling of a much-accomplished elder daughter. So nothing was ever good enough; the benchmark had already been set and achieved previously. She had gotten used to playing second fiddle, in family get-togethers, amongst friends, at work.
I never knew her as an individual. Always as an under-achiever (her words). She felt inadequate on most days. She never aspired to lead her sister’s life, never sought to match up to her. She was looking to carve her own niche. Where the benchmarks hadn’t been predefined by another individual. Yet, the feeling of inadequacy persisted.
She longed to escape from the mundane of the engineering world to a haven of color. But that was not to be. The retorts never eased.
“Don’t you know artists don’t have a steady source of income!”
“You want to starve or something for the rest of your life!”
“Why can’t you be sensible? For a change!”
Sometimes, it was the mother, albeit mild. Occasionally, it was the grandparents, who were already rankled by the lack of a grandson. But mostly it was the father, in an attempt to “soften the blow from the world.” (His choice of words)
She knew better than to argue or fight back. She meekly suggested Medicine. It was the next best to losing yourself in color, she felt. Too much effort, they argued back.
Swallowing a bitter pill, she opted for a career in Finance. She set her heart on making so much money that she would never have to listen to income-related barbs again. She drowned herself in numbers and equations, in numerous coaching classes and in the cold pages of ledgers.
She hoped that abandoning an off-beat career path would help smooth familial ties. But she was also a realist. Nothing would erase the fact that she was a girl and not a male offspring that the grandparents had been hoping. Career choices were just a convenient façade.
Treatment meted out to her by her parents and grandparents had a trickle-down effect with other family members. They all deemed her to be useless and not good enough. Apart from a few stray words of praise by a sympathetic aunt, criticism was her only constant reinforcement.
She came under similar scrutiny when she found herself a lover. He was a gem of a man, one of the best I know, albeit a few years her junior at work, and a year or more younger. He came across the bigger person, totally willing to negate the age difference and marry an older woman. His folks were fine too. But not hers. Never mind that they were in the same industry, never mind that he was professionally sound, never mind that the two were madly in love.
The objections appeared trifle too her. “Lack of a social life,” they opined. “Slightly heavy build,” they lamented.
They also said that she was too good for him. They had finally lauded her. A laud, if only to denigrate another individual. But a word of praise, nonetheless.
It was only when she left her parental home that she felt like a loved daughter. Only when she was finally ready to leave it all behind, love found its way toward her. Soothing, caring gestures, words of appreciation, etc. she got them all. Marriage, she thought, would grant her that respect as an individual, as a daughter, as a sister. It’s almost as if somebody had ripped apart a bag of goodies and was showering them on her endlessly.
However, things were slightly different upon a closer look. Much of it was misplaced affections, once the honeymoon ended. A large portion of it was directed toward the son-in-law. Everyone had suddenly gone gaga over him, their objections kept aside. And she was back to playing second fiddle, yet again.