It had just started snowing and Merlin couldn’t stop rushing out to the balcony every few minutes to stretch out her arms and feel the snowflakes. She loved winters. It was funny- the local people here loved summers as summers is when you could go out for a swim, sip a beer sitting in the local pub and roam the streets. Winters were brutal. with snow all around, they sat huddled in their homes and ventured out only with thick layers of clothing.
Merlin never quite understood them, but then she never understood several things about them and their country- this country which she was not born in, nor had grown up in but had moved 4 years back when Shiva got the opportunity to travel overseas for a project. Switzerland- was heaven on earth. One of the costliest countries, endowed with natural beauty, blessed with wealth and good fortune. Had it not been for the famous Bollywood movie DDLJ, perhaps it would have taken longer for people to know about this wonderful place. The mouth melting Swiss chocolates and cheese- how can she forget that. She vividly remembers the first day when she set foot in Zurich , she was spell bound by the beauty, richness and the way of life.
It had been 4 years now. Shiva and she were expecting their first child. A baby girl. Merlin’s happiness knew no bounds. It was legally permissible to know the sex of the child here and Merlin wasted no time in finding out. Both she and Shiva wanted a girl.
Shiva and Merlin had come a long way- their struggles had paid off finally. A whirlwind college romance which turned into a serious relationship. Belonging to different religions, it wasn’t easy. Merlin’s family was not as orthodox as Shiva’s and after some convincing by Merlin and her mom, her father agreed. But it took them 3 years to convince Shiva’s staunch Hindu family to accept a Christian girl as a daughter in law. Shiva was adamant he wouldn’t marry anyone else and finally his parents relented.
They tied the knot- 2 wedding ceremonies as per the traditional Hindu customs and a Church wedding. After marriage they stayed in a separate house near Shiva’s parents place. Shiva was working in a IT company. He was keen to move overseas. Then one day out of the blue, this opportunity arose. A 2 year project with a reputed Swiss bank- who had outsourced an IT contract to the MNC Shiva worked for. Shiva was chosen for the project. His happiness knew no bounds. Merlin was equally excited at the prospect of living abroad. She had only seen Europe in movies, living there would be a great experience.
The glitch was she would have to quit her job. She was going through a rough phase with her current employer and was keen to resign. She knew she was a capable woman and would get a job elsewhere. This would be a good break for a few months and then she could decide what path she wanted to take. They moved to Switzerland and a new journey began.
A few days of being in awe of life in a new country and then the novelty began to wear off. Shiva spent 10-11 hours at work and she was all by herself. No one to talk to, it was winters and the chilling cold meant she couldn’t go outdoors. That’s when boredom began to get at her. Slowly she realised the harm she had inflicted upon herself by agreeing to move. She couldn’t work for 2 years as Shiva was on a C type visa which meant his dependant couldn’t be employed here. There was a possibility that she gets chosen by a company who are willing to sponsor her and get her a work visa. But would they be willing to walk that extra mile for a foreigner whom they did not know? The possibility seemed bleak.
Not the one to give up easily, she gave her best shot at her resume and started sending it out to various banks. She worked in a Operations role in Settlements and Clearing in the past and had good experience. She was hopeful of getting calls. She waited but nothing came. She then visited a consultant and got to know that knowing the local language German was a must here especially for the role she was trying for as it needed communication with customers, many of whom dint speak English. She enrolled herself in a German class and learning German became her biggest goal at that point. It wasn’t very easy but she persisted. Now that she had learnt and passed her examination for 2 Levels , she started reapplying through consultants. She got 1 or 2 calls but nothing materialised into an interview. She was perplexed. The other guys who were in her German class – Piotr from France, Jacek from Poland and Nick from Austria had all managed to get jobs whereas she was the brightest in class. Jacek could hardly speak German. Thats when things slowly started getting clearer as she spoke to more people and found out about it. The first preference was usually given to Swiss people and next to other Europeans- the foreigners came last. And she was a woman. Patriarchy prevailed in the world’s wealthiest countries as well, though no one spoke of it. She was slowly getting to see similarities between India and Switzerland, she wasn’t liking this.
That’s when she met Fran. Fran was called over one day as a Guest speaker in the German Academy where she visited. Francesa was a Senior Vice President in one of the biggest Swiss manufacturing companies, she had been working since the age of 17 there and had spent 27 years moving different roles within the company. She was a mom to 2, a Swiss lady who was not shy to talk about the prevalent misogyny in society and why that needs to change. Merlin was spell bound hearing Fran talk and wasted no time in saying hi when the post event networking meet began. The 2 got talking, Merlin had so much to ask her. Fran took a instant liking to this inquisitive and enthusiastic Indian girl. A bond of mentor and mentee was formed that day.
It had been 2 years since they met and they kept in touch – they met up for coffee once in a few months and exchanged mails. Fran had tried to give some leads to Merlin but nothing worked out, Fran belonged to a different field of work where Merlin did not fit in.
During their meetings they spoke at length about society in general and how Switzerland was not very different though it was a developed country. People never quite got the concept of women wanting to work for their “own self” and satisfaction once they became moms. Child care was alarmingly expensive in Switzerland and unlike India family support wasn’t available. The new parents were left to themselves and in such a situation it was often the woman who had to make a forced choice of quitting her career. Unless she made a lot of money, there was no sense in leaving the baby in day care as her entire salary would be spent in paying for child care and if you had 2 kids, the expenses just doubled. Hence many women chose to stay at home and bring up kids and the men continued to work and pursue their dreams. Coming back to work after a break wasn’t easy -but things were changing gradually. Companies were realizing that they are losing out on a great deal by not promoting diversity and they had now swung into action. We must keep talking- loud and clear and our voice will be heard one day” Fran said.
Merlin had not given up on hopes to find a job, she took every rejection in her stride and put up a brave face though inside a part of her was crumbling, bit by bit. She fondly thought of her days in Chennai where she lead a team, she challenged people, gave presentations, handled difficult conversations with clients and end of day though she was often drained, a sense of victory and contentment is what made her feel rejuvenated. She missed it. Shiva was supportive and encouraged her, he never asked her about any expenses and never resisted when she asked for money, but the feeling of earning your own money and spending it on yourself is what she missed.
Shiva’s conservative family had started putting pressure on them to have a baby – it was 6 years since the time they tied the knot. Was it the internal unhappiness that was gnawing at her? She dint know but their attempts at conceiving failed month after month. It took them 8 months, but this time the 2 pink lines appeared and she smiled a full smile from the heart after a very long time.
Shiva was planning to get his visa extended so that they could live here for longer. The baby would have a chance to lead a much better quality of life here. Merlin was excited about the baby but the thought of living here for longer made her worry about her already diminishing career prospects. With a small baby and a career break of 4+ years, who would employ her? And what if she did get a job, the salary would all go in paying for the baby’s daycare.
A part of her mulled over going back home, they had lived here for 4 years, made good money, visited nearby countries and enjoyed their life. Back home she knew she could get a job, her parents and his parents were readily available to support with child care – they could live a life where everyone was happy. But the other part of her rationalised – This is Switzerland , who leaves Switzerland and goes back to Chennai? People are literally dying to get here and now that we are here , do I just give up everything? Will my child get the same standard of living in India? Heck no. Would I enjoy the sweltering heat, roving eyes and wagging mouths? Life is safe, secure, people are non judgemental here. Am I making a grave mistake?
To complicate things further she received a call from Sudarsan Shetty her ex boss who had started his own company in Chennai. He wanted Merlin to come and work for him , he was giving her a senior manager position for knew she deserved it, they had worked together closely for 2 years. Merlin’s happiness knew no bounds , she touched her tummy and thought “My baby has come to reshape my destiny”. This was a clear indication that she had to move back .
She spoke about this to Shiva. He listened quietly and said “I am not moving. I am happy here, the job, lifestyle, money, friends, everything. I would love for our child to grow up here, I have just spoken about an extension and they are happy to grant me one. I understand your frustrations but going back is not the solution , life will be different there, you know it and re adjusting to that is not easy. Why do we have to, when we have a choice of not going back?”
Merlin had to talk to Fran, varied thoughts ran through her mind and nothing made sense. Yes what Shiva said made logical sense but what was in it for her? How about her dreams, her aspirations? Why was she the sacrificial lamb, every time? Why couldn’t he move, for her happiness, just like she moved without a second thought, for his happiness, 4 years back.
Fran listened to her story, and when she was done, spoke ” Aren’t we women always told as little girls that once we grow up, a tall, dark, handsome Prince will come and sweep us off our feet, and we will then live happily ever after. What they dint tell us then but we got to know later is, this happily ever after needs us women to make many sacrifices, adjustments, “flex it” as they like to call it for the sake of family. Adjust with your husband’s family and smile though you may not like them, move to a different city, country or continent because if your man moves, he is doing it for the betterment of the family and you must support him as a dutiful wife. Have babies and then spend your life in raising them, putting your own aspirations on a back burner. You cant really expect much from your spouse, he is busy earning the bread, you need to knead it, cook it, serve it, feed everyone, do the dishes and hopefully have a few crumbs left to eat. It’s time we had the bread pudding Merlin, not crumbs. Follow your heart, take a leap of faith in yourself and go back home. Raise your girl well, set the right example about how she needs to demand the bread pudding each time, loud and unapologetic. We always hear of women following their husbands as they move jobs, I would love to hear of a woman who took the lead and I do hope your husband follows you. Lets change the definition of normal, “this is how its always done”. Lets show our girls that there is a new normal , the one you set for yourself where you live your dreams. Be that change you want to see my dear.
Merlin hugged Fran – it takes a strong woman to know one. Her mind was no longer hazy. She knew where he happiness like- not in the snow capped mountains of Switzerland but in the hustle bustle and narrow streets of Chennai where life would not be easy as a working mom but she knew every moment of it would be worthwhile.
(Image courtesy- pinkpangea )