What does this actually mean? for me it means a woman who has belief, ambition, drive to do something and does it against all the forces that might try stop her.
She does not need to be a major business tycoon or wife of a biggie or one with some political or other power. For me a woman of substance is the one who has conviction, drive, the killer instinct to do it and goes behind it, all out.
Her being successful in task is not as important as her belief and commitment in doing so.
She may be a maid, who wakes up early morning, gets her kids ready for school that she can hardly afford, works all day in 8-10 houses, secretly saves money for rainy days- always believing that she will give her kids a life that she never had.
She may be a farmer’s wife, who starts working in field before sunrise and works through sunset – believing that the field she works in as a daily wage earner will be hers one day.
It may be a woman from working class who goes through struggle of life day in and day out – not only wanting to but knows it will make a difference in her and her children’s life
or could be the business woman who wants to make big in the men dominated business world …
There are many forms of my woman of substance, but for now I want to narrate a story of a particular one …
She was born in a conservative joint family in a city of Punjab, where girls were sent to school with male escorts (brothers, uncles or a trusted male servant), girls always covered from head to toe, not allowed to mingle with many friends, it goes without saying, they would be grounded for months if seen as much as just talking to a boy.
The idea was to give basic education to the girl, so that she can be married off at the earliest to some businessman or a sarkari / office baboo making good money, have kids and serve husband and family as a good Indian housewife.
But she had a dream – to break free from this life, and live a life ‘with’ her and not ‘for’ her family… hence unlike her sisters she accepted a marriage proposal from outside Punjab, to an Airforce officer, where the life was not about only raising children, it meant having one’s own identity. A life away from the usual sunrise to sunset household routine. She argued back the objections raised by the family on challenges she may face – she was determined to beak free.
During the courtship they exchanged letters in two languages…she wrote in Hindi and got reply in English. On her fiancee‘s request she started writing back in English – irrespective of how the grammar or language might sound. From that point she knew that her life was about to change.
The docile girl from a city of Punjab got married and moved from city to city with postings. The life, culture and people were different, she coming from a tee teetotaler vegetarian family was surprised to see alcohol flowing in the messes. At every step there was a choice she had to make, either move away from the situation and get into a shell, or come out and adapt to the situation. The first meant, leading her life with her husband and kids at home with no or very less social life, and the other meant to compromise and adjust to the new way of life and thinking. She chose the second, and learnt to strike a perfect balance between the new life and her belief’s.
When she overcome the adjustments of social differences mentioned above, she found some new problems awaiting her. As she wanted to do more than just socialize and move around in messes, hence started teaching in a unit school. People around her, in school and in general showed sense of superiority because of their background and good command over English. Today it sounds funny thinking about this, as every kid is born speaking English. But think of the time, when this girl was time and again let down as she was not comfortable speaking the language. That is when she decided to study further, and do her Masters …in English. Since that time there was no looking back for her. Determined like a tigress, never again wanting to be talked down, she further went ahead in doing her BEd. Took English as her core subject started teaching junior classes and moved to teaching the board classes of Xth and XIIth in Delhi, with 20+ years exp she is now HOD of a leading school in NCR.
Today with her expertise on the subject, she is consulted within the family if one has a doubt on any facet of grammar or usage of the language. She is the final verdict when it comes to getting answers for bets or challenges within.
With time she had became more and more independent, and when her husband got affected by asthma, she took charge of the situation, packed kids to bed or neighbors house, kick started a bajaj scooter, and rode miles from a remotely located airforce station to the MH (military hospital) in city, with her husband panting for breath on back seat. She did this not once, but many times, be it day or night, she would never lose her nerve, always kept her calm for her husband and little kids. This only those can do who have a drive and belief in themselves.
She always stood strong like a pillar for her family. In rough times, the once meek girl from Punjab, stood strong in storms of life, and supported her husband and children, assured them and saw to it that they sailed through. Without her strength her family, her children would have been long broken. She is the house of willpower with which she fights her battles. If needed she will even make way with God and not let any harm touch her family.
For me, she, – my mother – is a woman of substance !!!