In the light of Pepsi CEO Indira Nooyi's comment that 'Women cannot have it all' and after having watched the debate on NDTV last night about men sharing responsibilities at home and women working long hours and achieving a home work 'balance', it is time to share my story.
A Difficult Decision.
Imagine if you had decided to do something at a very young age. You had decided to do that particular thing when you were as young as nine and just in fourth grade. You have spent a large part of your school life just focused on that particular goal. Your college and university education also gears you up towards achieving your dream. And then something happens, you find yourself at a cross road, you have to take a decision where you might just have to give up your goal and set fresh targets. Your life, as a result of that decision might take a new direction altogether and you may have to cross completely uncharted territory. How? Why? Well, it happened to me and this is my story.
I have wanted to be an archaeologist for so long that I cannot even remember how and when I decided to be one. I suspect it is because of something I must have read about the subject and had been fascinated by it. Since I have been reading a lot from a very young age this is the only explanation that I can come up with. So at an age when most children cannot even spell archaeology, I had already made up my mind to be an archaeologist! My mother never ever discouraged me and tried to get me as much reading material as possible so I could completely understand what I was going to get into. My ever growing collection of history books occupied a special place on my book shelf and I was always on the lookout for more books to add to it! Here, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Letters From A Father To His Daughter’ and ‘Glimpses Of World History’ come to mind. I remember spending a huge chunk of saved up pocket money on these two books! In school, English was a subject that I naturally excelled at, but it was History that I was passionate about. It was History where I thought my future lay! Though that does sound like an oxymoron!
Choosing the Science stream or the Commerce stream in Junior College was never an option for me though I had the required percentage. I chose Arts because I knew that was the first stepping stone towards studying archaeology. Mumbai University offered a Bachelor Of Arts degree where you could just study the History of various periods. I was delighted to drop other subjects and focus only on studying history through the ages in many countries around the world. A post graduate degree in History from Pune University followed and finally after twelve years of having relentlessly pursued my goal, I was just a step away from it. I enrolled for a Master of Philosophy in Ancient Indian History and Culture and Archaeology. The fact that I had got married and had had a baby in the interim did not deter me in the least! I was ready to do what I had set out to do so many years ago- I was about to become an archaeologist.
The year sped smoothly by. I enjoyed delving deep into archaeological realms. As we studied the various ages, I figured out which period of history interested me specially and what I wanted to study in detail about that particular period. Yes, though I was yet to complete my M.Phil, I had already begun making big plans for a PH.D in archaeology. We, as a class, grumbled and groaned as one of our professors made it compulsory for us to study the Brahmi and the Kharoshti scripts! But secretly I was thrilled. Once we had mastered the two scripts, we could actually decipher the Ashokan Pillar Inscriptions! We handled stone tools made by early man, we studied charred remains of grains that were hundreds of years old under a microscope and we handled skulls to see how the shape had evolved over millions of years! This was hands on archaeology and this was what I had spent more than half my life waiting for!
At home, my husband, who had adjusted his work hours as per my university hours, was babysitting our daughter just so that I could inch closer to my lifelong ambition. I used to take over her care when I returned from the university and then I used to be up till all odd hours, catching up on my studies after my baby had gone to sleep! By this time I was grossly underweight because coping with full time university, research, exams and an active toddler was not an easy task. But I persevered because I had my goal firmly in sight!
Then it was time for our annual field trip which was compulsory for all archaeology students. My Head of Department was kind enough to assign a shorter trip to me considering the fact that I had a not yet two year old at home. So there I was all set to travel to a remote village in Karnataka and finally be part of an actual dig for four whole days! I was excited as I said good bye to husband and baby daughter and then my fellow students and I were on our way.
After driving for the better part of the day, we were finally at our destination. This was the time when cell phones had just been introduced in India and most of us did not own one. Not that it mattered because the roaming facility had not yet been introduced and so a mobile from the Maharashtra Circle would not work in Karnataka anyway. We had a briefing session, our work was outlined for the next day and then we were told we could walk down to the village in case we wanted to call home. I was the first off the block because by this time I had not spoken to my daughter for over twelve hours!
A classmate and I walked down to the nearest PCO booth (yes, a PCO has, in itself, become a relic today!) and she courteously told me to go first because everyone knew I had a baby at home who, by that time, must have been wondering where her mother had disappeared. Before I could walk into the booth the person manning it informed me that all the lines were down and no calls were going through. He told us to come the next day. I was absolutely crushed! I walked back to camp dejectedly and tomorrow could not come soon enough for me!
After an exciting day at the dig where we uncovered a number of artefacts, I rushed to the booth once more only to be told that the lines had not been restored yet. I had no idea whether my baby was hale and hearty, I had no clue if she was coping well without me and I could not even imagine what must be going through her mind as I had been a constant hands on factor in her life till then, except for the few hours that I was in college, four times a week. The phone lines were finally restored on the fourth day just before we left!
That night, as we sat around our camp, I looked up at the million stars that lit the sky and I mentally prepared myself to make the most difficult decision of my life. I asked myself what I was doing here, miles away from civilization, when I had a baby girl at home who depended on me. She had not asked to be born. We had chosen to give birth to her. It was not possible for me to work as an archaeologist because I knew I could not leave her for days and go on digs. I wanted to be there for her every single day, for as long as she needed me. It was time to make the most difficult decision of my life. I decided that I would not work as an archaeologist and I would not immediately pursue a doctorate. I gave up a lifelong ambition without a qualm or a second thought, without consulting anybody. Archaeology was an amazing field but it was not for me at least for the next many years!
When I finally got home and my daughter clung to me as if she would never let go, I knew I had made the right decision! I decided to appear for the SET exam to qualify as a lecturer and I managed to clear it even before I finished my M.Phil. I received my post graduate degree in archaeology but I chose to pursue a career in teaching History. I was recruited by a top Pune college and I began a brand new career where I could be with my daughter by the time she came home from school. It suited both me and her perfectly.
Even today, I wonder if the phone lines had not been down, if I had been able to get regular updates about my daughter from my husband, my mother and my father in law, would I have realized that I needed to take a tough decision? Would I have been goaded into taking the most difficult decision of my life? Was it God’s way of telling me I had to rethink my life’s goal? I do not know. I can only say my decision felt absolutely right and I was at peace with myself once more. And I have not regretted it even once, from that day to this!