From an unwelcome baby to the girl who holds the family together, Kanchan has come a long way!
Written by: Nisha Shah
Life is what we make of it, and Kanchan is a great example of it! From having a difficult childhood to growing up and owning her life & empowering several others, she exemplifies strength. This International Day of the Girl Child, we’re proud to share her inspiring story!
“In those days, daughters were seen as a burden, so when my parents got married, my grandparents pressured them to have sons. However, their first child was my sister; but as a firstborn, she was celebrated. After that, Bhai was born and then when my grandparents wanted one more son, I was born.
My grandmother’s mindset was very patriarchal; she expelled Maa and me when I was just a few days old. So, my mom took me to Nani’s—there was nothing my dad could do, he was very obedient to his parents & sister; people used to call him ‘Shravan kumar’. We were forced to separate & Papa went through a lot – not only the pain of separation but also the sole responsibility of earning as well as caring for my siblings since my grandparents were too old to do that.
Since the mindset of my paternal family was very patriarchal, we didn’t have the strongest of bonds with our grandparents. But Papa loved me a lot. When I was sent home alone, he was the only one looking after us three siblings. I remember how Papa would take care of us — before going to work, he’d feed us breakfast and then after dinner, he’d come and feed us dinner. All day, we’d barely eat as we were too young to take care of our own; and due to this we were very weak. When I was 4, Maa came back to live with us & normalcy settled in.
However, the family environment was still the same – the situation hadn't changed. In fact, Maa was forced to have another child & this time the baby’s sex was checked. When my grandmother found out it was a girl, she suggested Maa abort the baby. However, for the very first time in her life, Maa took a stand for herself – she refused to abort. That one moment of courage was enough —- when my sister was born, I decided I’d do everything to give her everything we siblings didn’t get in our childhoods.
We grew up in a tense environment at home, but one incident shaped my life & entirely changed its course. It was a conversation with my teacher. the 12th board exams had just finished, and I’d gone to meet a teacher. He asked me, ‘So, what next are you conquering?’ and I meekly said, ‘I’ll wait for results and then see!’ Surprised on hearing my answer, he said, ‘You have a lot of potential, why don’t you give the entrance exam for Engineering?’ I was doubtful, but he said he saw me as a great fit in Engineering! That’s it. This was the only conversation we had, and for the next 7-8 weeks, I started prepping. I believed in his belief in me and I decided to give the entrance exam for engineering. That conversation shifted my ambition and belief in myself, and soon I got into the Delhi College of Engineering! It’s still a miraculous phase for me…I couldn’t believe I had done something I hadn’t even thought I could do!
Getting into mechanical engineering was a big deal – I was the only girl in a batch of hundreds of students & it was not easy at all. In the first year itself, I was suicidal — there was bullying and aggression and I couldn’t fit in at all. There were several times where I wasn’t allowed to voice my opinions simply because I was the only girl in the class. However, ultimately, it made me very strong.
While those years strengthened me, I didn’t know a storm was awaiting me…Papa passed away. I was barely 18, his death broke me as a person. We all were shattered but I felt as if I’d lost a roof over me…he was my biggest support after all. He was always so encouraging, pushed me to excel & always reminded me how much he loved me — his passing away left an emotional void in me that cannot be filled by anything. I still think there’s still a part of my puzzle that’s missing now.
It was a difficult time for all of us, but life had to go on... So my brother started managing the family because we were all too shattered to take on any responsibilities. However, in a few years when I graduated, I started working and bringing a stable income—Bhai was more into philanthropy and had an unstable income. That’s when we decided to switch roles & before I knew it, I became the primary breadwinner of the family! Since I was the daughter of the house, it had never occurred to me that I could be the primary breadwinner; however, my education & my skills made me capable of being one. Despite that, it took Maa years to accept that I would be the breadwinner in the family & not my brother.
While unintended, life for me had become a series of breaking stereotypes…I was creating my own path in life. One such significant decision I made was to remain single — at the age of 35! It was not as though I never wanted to be with someone, I just never found the right person! In my 20s, after my breakup, I got on matrimonial sites and right from screening the prospective grooms to planning the meeting, I’d do everything because Maa couldn’t make those decisions for me. She would say, ‘We don’t understand you, how can we find a partner for you?’ I met almost 300 men, but 99% of them were not okay with me supporting my family; and that was a dealbreaker for me. Though I haven’t found a partner, I still feel complete by myself, and that’s my biggest strength.
Making them understand mental health treatment was difficult, they’d feel ‘aap sirf humse baat karte hai aur kabhi kabhi davai bhi nahi dete’.Sometimes, because of their superstitious beliefs, they wouldn't recognise that they were dealing with mental health problems. To convince them, I’d tell them, ‘Aapko jo puja karni hai kijiye magar meri davai bhi lijiye…agar farak nahi pada,main aapke paise lauta dunga.’ Most of the time, they’d notice the improvements the medicines would make and come back to us. Moreover, they’d also spread awareness, thus helping others as well.
One of the women I’ve helped is Darshana Joshi, who is the CEO of Vigyanshala, the NGO that helps girls get into STEM careers. I coach Darshana on how to define her vision, how to define the impact she wishes to make and she in turn helps many other girls. I also coach individual women on a daily basis to help them increase their influence and shape their decision making that allows them to stand up for themselves
There was this one time where I felt I made a huge difference—by helping cure a couple’s son who was schizophrenic. The boy was delusional and thought his parents were going to kill him, so he’d beat them up! Since he had harmed them multiple times, they had no choice but to chain him up in the house and he stayed like that for 4 years! They did consult a doctor once but since the treatment was unaffordable, they stopped it midway.
Seeing these women make a change in their daily lives after taking coaching from me makes me feel my efforts are worth it. I’ve also coached women who’ve gone through abuse in their life and are suicidal — I help them get out of those situations and become stronger mentally to be able to deal with life better. A friend I coached who was severely abused and was suicidal – after helping her, she’s become much more stronger. From not being able to live alone to now taking solo trips, she’s come a long way and it makes me happy to see her!
While I’ve made my own decisions in life & paved my path myself, I couldn’t have done it without Bhai & Maa—Bhai was the first one to join me in breaking stereotypes. No matter what, he’s stood by me. From Maa, I’ve learnt a lot; she is very intelligent & amongst her peers she was the most educated. However, people took decisions in her life — the only difference in my life is I make my decisions. In a way, Maa really lives a version of her dreams through me – she supports me wholeheartedly. The challenges we’ve gone through as a family, we couldn't have lived had we not been so strong – we’ve survived a lot & today, stand with each other at every step of the way. I think today, living satisfying lives despite the terrible past we’ve had — it’s the biggest win for us! Today, I want to build stronger women who can make better decisions, choices which allow them to be ready to face life & when I can achieve that, I’ll feel accomplished!”
Being India’s biggest storytelling platform, Humans of Bombay is all about bringing you extraordinary stories of ordinary people. Today, on International Day of the Girl Child, we bring you this inspiring tale of a brave girl who fought all odds to shape herself into the person she is today. She is an example of the fact that no matter what our circumstances, we can rise and be better than them. If you’d like to read more such stories, check out our book and dive into the diverse tales of a country with billion beating hearts!