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100 Women: Overcoming the stigma of an Indian divorce

Illustration of Divorce papers

When my husband walked away from our house that night, it felt like my whole world had crashed.

But not a sound could be heard. There was an eerie silence.

I stood alone with my 10-year-old daughter, surrounded by photos and memories of the life we had shared for 17 years.

I called him, repeatedly. And he simply said that our marriage was over. No explanations were given, there was no sense of guilt.

It was through his friends that I found out that he was in a deep relationship with his work colleague.

Shocked is such an inadequate word. I didn't want to live any more. I took an overdose - but I survived.

#HerChoice is a series of true life-stories of 12 Indian women. These accounts challenge and broaden the idea of the "modern Indian woman" - her life choices, aspirations, priorities and desires.

I couldn't imagine life beyond him, beyond marriage. I couldn't see the love of my life with another woman. I didn't want to accept the reality.

Pain and jealousy enveloped me. I cursed the other woman in his life, forgetting that my man played an equal part. I understood that it was not all that sudden. Many incidents flashed in my mind and helped me connect the dots.

In the run-up to our marriage breakdown he had started looking down on me. I wasn't pretty enough, nor did I earn enough.

"I am fortunate to find you," turned into, "I am unfortunate to have you in my life."

"You look beautiful," changed to, "You are not fit to be by my side."

I must have appeared to be a country bumpkin in front of his city-bred girlfriend. Suddenly, I didn't dress well enough for him.

He'd say, "You can't speak English, who will keep you in a job?"

I fell not just in his eyes; I started thinking less of myself too, that I wasn't fit to be the woman for him.

I was made to do all the housework, from grocery shopping to nursing sick relatives.

He stopped taking me out to parties, dinners and social gatherings. The person I loved the most was abandoning me, pushing me away. Slowly, all love vanished.

I sensed something and tried to bring the warmth back but failed. And one night he just walked away.

After he left, he started living in a different house and I continued to stay with my in-laws along with my daughter.

It's not liked they wanted me to, but I stayed in the hope that he would come back.

I'd look up at every knock on the door only to be disappointed again to see a courier boy's face or a maid.

I had weaved all my life around him. I had aged. This was not a time for a fresh start.

My daughter was too young to understand my emotional trauma. My health deteriorated yet it was his shoulder I yearned to rest on. I needed him to nurse the wounds he had inflicted.

He filed for divorce in court. Still, I fought.

It took me three years to realise that I was fighting to save a marriage which had long died.

In the end, I got tired. Tired of going around court rooms, answering lawyers' questions and managing legal expenses.

I agreed to a mutual divorce and at 39 acquired a new status, "Divorcee" - a title which doesn't hold any respect in our conservative society.

The first challenge was to find a home. I had to face questions: "Where is your husband? What is his profession?"

I was not ready to answer them. I didn't want to emerge from my nostalgia.

It was my friends who jolted me out of this. They came into my life like angels, encouraged me to be courageous and prepare myself to be called a single mum.

It was not easy.

He immediately married his work colleague. Every time I saw them together, it made my wounds raw again.

My parents passed away around that time so I was left with only two parts of my life: my job and my daughter.

I focused more on my career and climbed the corporate ladder. Engaged myself in reading and blogging my thoughts, indulging in my favourite hobby - writing. Instead of cooking for my husband, I started cooking for my friends.

I threw parties, planned short trips and took photographs to build a fresh collection of memories. I also tried to fill the vacuum that his absence created by making friends online. Virtual interactions helped me feel that I had a big world around me.

I volunteered at an organisation for underprivileged children and that became a precious source of positive energy. I bounced back in life, realised my strengths, and finished my Doctorate.

I reclaimed what had been taken away from me. Instead of being ashamed, I started attending social gatherings and weddings. I dressed well, in pretty saris. It was my silent but firm reply to those who expect a single divorced woman to always be sad.

Their eyes would grow wide in judgement and mine would be bright with defiance.

Four years later, I found another job and took the bold decision of leaving my city and relocating somewhere else. I was reborn as an independent woman.

Today, I don't need any shoulder. I can walk alone.

This is a true life-story of a woman who lives in Southern India as told to BBC reporter Padma Meenakshi, produced by Divya Arya. The woman's identity has been kept anonymous on request.

If you've been affected by the issues raised in this story, BBC Action Line has a list of organisations offering further support.

What is 100 Women?

BBC 100 Women names 100 influential and inspirational women around the world every year and shares their stories. Find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and use #100Women

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