The Story of a Life

It was in the early 1970s that she left her village in central Kerala to work as a nurse in a western European country. Her father was the first to learn to read and write in the history of the family. He wanted his little girl to have a life of her own and stand on her own legs, somewhere outside the realms of the ossified centuries-old society draped in chattayum mundum. He half-heartedly agreed to send his daughter off to study nursing and later off to alien lands. This was a time when the role of the woman was strictly limited to the household and to the faithful propagation of the clan. Moreover, a concept of a world outside the water-and-coconut tree-fringed circle of one’s birth did not exist yet.

What she didn’t know, however, was that she would be among the pioneers of the great migration of young Nasrani girls out of the wretched southwestern coastal plains of the Indian subcontinent. She and tens of thousands of her sisters following her would shoulder the survival of an entire community that even today claims greatness of the hard work of its men alone. They conveniently forget that all their pomp and glamour and the massive houses, estates and cars that throng Central Travancore comes from the tears, blood and sweat of their daughters, sacrificing their lives toiling in hospitals and old age homes in Europe since the 1970s, and continuing today.

She silently adjusted to the new, alien world with great difficulty. There was hardly anyone around she could talk to or make friends. She lived out her best lives in silence and toil. Her living quarters where a ten square-meter room allocated by the hospital. It was in this small space where she cried alone for her father at the news of his passing. He probably died heartbroken that the burden of paying off the debts his father had owed the erstwhile naaduvazhis of the region fell on the shoulders of his little girl alone, as her brothers grew complacent and would have no part of it, and were only interested in enjoying the fruits of her labour.

Now that all the debts were paid off (and then some), her brothers and uncles decided that it was time to “marry her off” to someone they deemed was best for her.

He was ostensibly also a nurse. Dutifully, she flew him over and managed to land him a job in her same hospital . Everything looked set for a long and happy life. Except that it wasn’t.

As it turned out, the guy was a total fraud. He had no nursing diploma, he had never held a syringe and had never even seen a catheter. She covered for him for a while, but he was soon discovered and dismissed. He complained bitterly about how the “foreign system” had treated him “unfairly”. After all, he was a poor immigrant who had nowhere else to go! They should’ve obviously continued to keep him on the rolls and paid him. It wasn’t his fault that he didn’t know nursing! This country had so much wealth! Why couldn’t they share some with him?

He spent his days on the couch watching TV and drinking wine, badgering and pestering her for the easy life. She of course, continued to dutifully toil day and night for both of their upkeep.

By the mid 1980s he decided that they had made enough and returned home. Back in Kerala, he squandered most of their money living the retired NRI high life and running clueless businesses. He then took to running “creative” schemes to make money. It wasn’t long before he was arrested by the authorities for cheating and fraud. They divorced. Convinced that she had left her spate of bad luck behind her, she decided to start her life afresh. This seemed to confirm when she was offered her old job back and could return to Europe. Little did she know that fate hadn’t dealt out all the evil jokers in its deck.

She married again. Two little girls soon emerged out of this wedlock. And as woe betide and fate had it, both turned out to be autistic. Her second husband also soon left her. What followed was many years of unspeakable suffering, sacrifice and tears, as she struggled to raise two autistic girls while also having to work 100%. However, it was all for naught. The cruel angels decided that all that misery was not enough and took one of the little ones away. The “benevolent” state took over the care the other. The years of loneliness and endless toil continued, until one day, they were over. Her productive life of four decades had ended and the time had come for her to hang up her scrubs.

She found that the country at whose altar she had sacrificed her life didn’t want her now in her old age. It was impossible to sustain with her meagre pension alone in that now crazy expensive country. She packed up the few belongings she had accumulated over her life (some cups, plates, towels, books and other memorabilia), bid a teary goodbye to her daughter who didn’t recognise her, and left on a blue-tailed plane to live out her days in the land she had grown up in. She expected the care of her kin during this autumn of her life, after all, she had thrown away her life for them. But to nobody’s surprise, nothing of the sort happened. Alone and abandoned and struggling to fulfill even her basic needs, her last years passed in even greater misery.

She died some weeks ago, alone and forgotten in a flat in Ernakulam. There was no one by her side but a hired home nurse, whose calendar dictated that she be there that day. Maybe she held her hand as she breathed her last.

The people whose debts she paid are all very prosperous and important members of the society today. They brandish their pomp in the form of massive mansions on MC Road and brash seven-seater SUVs. Of course, they insist and pretend that they “worked hard” to “earn” them all by themselves.

Her daughter, the only remaining thread to her existence on this world, lives out her days somewhere in Europe, forgotten, alone and unaware of herself.

There are countless such untold stories of people who struggled and sacrificed their entire lives only to die defeated and exhausted, alone and unknown. Mourn them. Spare them a thought as you cry for celebrities who had lived out plush lives and died with no want. They had no one else.

As a footnote, be sure what you are getting into when you are leaving for unknown lands with stars in your eyes dreaming of a bright and shiny future. Looks are often deceptive, and life can deal unexpectedly brutal blows in unfamiliar circumstances from which you will never recover.

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