We profile ordinary women with extraordinary strength. They find the reservoir of strength within themselves, like Yashodhara. Every year, the Women’s Day becomes a cosmetic celebration of already known and regularly felicitated achievers. But there are countless women, who go through their lives quietly, bravely willing every muscle and sinew to keep them from being wrecked by adversity or daily domestic violence; obscure women in whose bosoms ferments a deep sense of self-worth, honour and pluck; they have retraced their steps from agonising darkness to re-arrange the symphony of their lives. We need to salute such women. These are women who have not allowed their circumstances to turn them into cynics, into scattered shards of bitter emotions without hope of redemption. Instead women of such exemplary nerve lend credence to Maya Angelou’s belief, “I think that the courage to confr ont evil and turn it by dint of will into something applicable to the development of our evolution, individually and collectively, is exciting, honourable.” Shernaz salutes the countless Yashodharas, in the special feature on International Women’s Day (IWD), exclusively for Different Truths.
“A courageous woman does not need anyone to complete her. She is complete on her own.” These are the words Yashodhara is supposed to have said to the Buddha, when she saw him again after his Enlightenment.
This write-up celebrates all the unrecognised Yashodharas of today.
For a life of relative freedom, strength is a necessary attribute. Without it a person can break under a catastrophe. There are various kinds of strength – personal, emotional, physical, mental, psychological, inner, outer, spiritual…. This is not an intellectual discourse on different types of courage. Every year, the International Women’s Day (IWD) becomes a cosmetic celebration of already known and regularly felicitated achievers. But there are countless women, who go through their lives quietly, bravely willing every muscle and sinew to keep them from being wrecked by adversity or daily domestic violence; obscure women in whose bosoms ferments a deep sense of self-worth, honour and pluck; they have retraced their steps from agonising darkness to re-arrange the symphony of their lives. We need to salute such women. These are women who have not allowed their circumstances to turn them into cynics, into scattered shards of bitter emotions without hope of redemption. Instead women of such exemplary nerve lend credence to Maya Angelou’s belief, “I think that the courage to confront evil and turn it by dint of will into something applicable to the development of our evolution, individually and collectively, is exciting, honourable”.
Joel Osteen says in Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential, “We may get knocked down on the outside, but the key to living in victory is to learn how to get up on the inside”. And millions of unsung heroes do just that! They learn to get up on the inside, no matter how murky or prolonged the gloom of their injured spirit.
I asked a few friends what strength signifies to them and from where they derive theirs. These are women I know personally and though their coping strategies might differ, one common thread binds them in sisterhood – gritty perseverance. They believe in the sanctity of life and have risen in spite of all its battering to attain wholeness of spirit. They keep lifting themselves up from the inside and having accepted the truth of their beauty they live with pride
Faced with a life threatening situation of intense mental and physical abuse and consequent 50% physical disability, Paddy (Padmaja Iyengar) chose to walk away “even if it meant trying to swim in a sinking scenario” rather than continue to live with domestic violence. It meant taking on an unsympathetic world with the nerve she seemed not to possess, with a son to fend for; it meant finding the strength to heal her battered spirit and save it from disintegration; to mend her broken body through medical/surgical intervention. She believes that “women often derive their personal strength more from within than externally, with their journey in life thus far being their greatest guide and mentor!” She found that power by delving deep into the reservoir that each of us has but is not aware of. She says, “Believe me, today I hold my head high with pride and dignity. I also credit my son Hemant for always being non-judgmental and for being a pillar of strength and support that certainly made things relatively (both literally and figuratively!) easy for me!”
Saffiyah, who is training to be a counsellor, has been through her own living hell. She has this to say: “I have forever wondered what strength is, because I have felt that I never had any. Yet I hear people say you are a very strong person. My counselling studies have brought to light a certain perspective on strength. So firstly, to me, strength is being able to bear something painful – physical or emotional – within reason. The only evidence of strength I have felt I have had is when I feel myself still standing, as though in a wrestling match between my circumstances and me, I am the last man/woman standing.”
“Within reason.” Key words. Sadly, many don’t realise when they have allowed the other to cross acceptable limits and continue to be persecuted at the cost of their dignity because they believe that is their ‘destiny’; or because they may lose their job or the selfish ‘friends’ who use them.
Saffiyah elaborates further, giving us some sensible coping strategies, “Anot her thing I seem to learn now, is the maintaining of a positive or an optimistic attitude against most odds.
Sometimes being patient is strength, at times strength is not giving up. At yet other times strength is staying with an emotion, rather than fighting it.
“Nowadays I draw strength in the thought that I am a decent human being, compassionate and kind, non-judgemental and open minded. I also believe that I have a purpose in life and whilst my prayers are answered by God, there are people whose prayers God might answer through me. I realise that strength for me also means to refrain from hurting or blaming people when I am going through a tough moment. Like everything else in life, tough moments pass too, nothing stays forever, and that helps me get through hard times.”
Life has a strange way of throwing unprovoked googlies at the stumps of self-preservation and respect. It pummels emotions, killing silently like diabetes. There are those who can never say no to another, family or friend, and allow themselves to be overwhelmed by others’ demands yet always rising beyond the call of duty to meet them. For such people their endless storehouse of love is what they dip into for strength.
When reaching the end of her tether, Nilouffer, who has to look after a sister with progressive Alzheimer’s, a husband with various health issues, besides her children and grandchild, takes recourse in prayer. She retreats into her inner silent space to connect with her Higher Self, the entity we call the Almighty. She says that most of the time she gets guidance and strength to face her problem. Only rarely does it happen that there is no response and she panics. She cautions that one should not pray for guidance and help only when in trouble but also out of gratitude for all the happy moments, one has been blessed with.
Avril, my poetry partner is on a spiritual journey. In answer to what strength means to her she offers this: “For me strength means to be able to continue through life with a smile; to continue with my usual activities, validating to myself that, yes I am in pain for whatever reason and that’s fine as long as I can hold on to the belief that it is all happening for a reason and that good will eventually come from it even though I have not a clue as to what that would be.”
She garners her strength from the belief that everything happens for a reason, for personal growth and as destined. She is ever grateful to God and besides praying she talks to Him as to a friend. She uses imagery techniques learned from books by Dr Gerald Epstein. “The first one that I read (at least three times) was titled, Healing into Immortality – A new Spiritual Medicine of Healing stories and Imagery.” And last but equally important, poetry writing has been a cathartic and positive force in her life.
S. Sani champions the cause of righteousness. She believes in standing up for what is right, doing what is right, fighting for it and condemning what is wrong. She meditatively questions how one can differentiate between the two because what is right for one person could be wrong for another and so she follows the old adage ‘Do unto others, as you would like them to do unto you.’ She obtains enormous strength from honesty and righteousness which she says go hand in hand. “If a woman fights for her rights, dignity and justice on the basis of Truth she automatically derives immense strength to continue her struggle and will eventually win her battle.” She believes in living a life of ethics, principles and integrity.
She speaks from experience, which could someday culminate in an inspiring book. She has spent agonising years of her youth fighting for justice against discrimination and sexual harassment at work. She was finally re-instated in her job with dignity. But her battles are not yet over. I pray that the final one too goes in her support, making us proud of our judicial system.
Personally, whenever I have had to face insurmountable challenges, I have tenaciously held on to one thought, through anguish and tears “No matter what, I will not let my spirit succumb,” and that has always helped me stay afloat.
It takes two to tango – the self and undoubtedly a Higher Power, whether one accepts it or not!
Photos from the internet.
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To Shernaz Wadia, reading and writing poems has been one of the means to embark on an inward journey. She hopes her words will bring peace, hope and light into dark corners. Her poems have been published in many e-journals and anthologies. She has published her own book of poems “Whispers of the Soul” and another titled “Tapestry Poetry – A Fusion of Two Minds” with her poetry partner Avril Meallem.