Dickey “Diki” Choedon grew up in a family looked after by her single mother, Tseten Lhamo. She has lived a life full of grit and courage and has a story of sensitivity to share. We conversed with her about the ups and downs of her journey so far. Following is an excerpt from the interview with her:
Tell us something about yourself
Most of my childhood was spent with my grandmother and my brother. My mother was mostly busy with her job. She had an arranged marriage. My father was in the army. My brother is two years elder to me. When I was in my mother’s womb, my father left without any word and never came back. They had been married for three years when he left.
How did your relatives react to your dad leaving?
They felt bad but we never looked for him. He did not come back and later we heard he married another woman. At that time, I was just 6 years old.
How did the six-year-old child feel when she heard about her father’s second marriage?
I might have been excited to hear more about him without much of a deep feeling.
Did you ever think things could have been better if your father was there if there was more than one person earning?
Yes. I did feel it twice in my life. Life could have been way easier for my mother. I thought if he was there I could have had more pocket money. But at times, I feel it is better without him. His presence might have ruined our family’s happiness because his weakness is women. I do not have any grudges against my father.
Are you able to talk to your mother or brother regarding how you feel about your father leaving?
I am not very close to my brother as we were sent to different hostels from class fifth. My mother never raised this topic at home. So I thought it would not be nice if we talk about my father.
This may be a very sensitive question to ask, but was your mother ever blamed by your relatives or anyone else for what your dad did?
No. They never blamed my mother. Everyone blamed my father. My mother worked tirelessly as a single mother to bring me and my brother up.
I am really glad no one blamed your mother. The kind of social system we live in, more often than not, it is always the woman who is held responsible for any conjugal mishap.
Yes. It was the fact that my father left my mother that no one had a reason to blame her. This is what I felt. I felt bad that he left for another wife. But it does not matter now. We have matured.
Did your mother try to seek a divorce?
After my father married another woman, many people advised my mother to ask for legal money but she did not take that. If they divorced legally, my father had to give half of his salary to my mother. That was the army rule then. I do not know how it is now. My mother did not want to put him in trouble. So she did not take that money.
Do you think your mother had the possibility to remarry?
She was asked by my grandmother to remarry but she refused and said that she will dedicate her life to her children. We were fortunate that she did not remarry. My friend’s father married again, and his second wife had suffered domestic abuse. In many ways, we were very lucky that she did not remarry.
You said your mother worked “tirelessly” when you were a kid. Would you like to share your how you felt when you saw your mother work so hard?
It made me feel sad that she was trying her best to give a better living to me and my brother. She was employed as an accountant and manager at a government run handicraft center. She even worked on Saturdays to earn extra. Once, when my grandmother was hospitalized, my mother still had to go to work to look after the family needs. It was tough for her to manage the hospital, work, and children as we both were very small. Even after being under so much stess, she never lost her temper with us.
Tell us more about your grandmother.
Throughout my childhood, my maternal grandmother played an important role in our family. When my mother worked tirelessly to make ends meet, my grandmother took care of me and my brother. She taught us all the basic things that a child should learn. My family has a record of the matriarchy system.
It is heartening to hear that. Were there instances in your life where you were stigmatized because you were a child of a single parent?
As a child, I never faced any social stigma attached to a fatherless child. We were given best of everything by my mother as she was a government employee. I had a few friends in school who also did not have a father.
Since your mother was busy when you were a child, do you hope to spend more time with her now?
Yes. Now she is retired and I try to spend more time with her. I have gone to several trips with her. She has not gone through a physical trauma but she was a victim of emotional and mental trauma, of thoughts and experiences. I do spend more time with her now. I have been a psychology student, and I can somehow relate to her experience as a single mother.
How is your relationship with your father?
I never met him personally so I do not have any grudges against him. When I did not meet the person, I cannot hold any hatred against them.
You said you do not have any grudges against him. Would you like to talk more about it?
I do not remember thinking much about him. When I was growing up, I had already learned to live without a father. From the beginning, he never really existed in my life. My mother might have gone through a troubled time, but she never told or mentioned anything about my father. The little I do know about him was told to me by my grandmother.
Do you think, after all these years, you have reconciled with the whole situation?
We are in contact with my stepmother and step-siblings. We are all on good terms as the fault was only of my father’s. I have not seen him even though he is alive. Once my father’s family contacted us regarding the custody of one child (either me or my brother) but my grandmother refused as we were already grown up.
Since you were very young when this happened, how do you think this experience reflects on the person you are today? Does this experience hamper your relationships today, in any way?
I would have been a different person if this never happened. We do not talk about this issue at home. I do not express my feelings to my family. I do not like depending on men. I like to do things independently. Mother always advised me to not trust men and to do things myself. But I do have male friends. Not all men are same.
How do you feel when you meet people or friends from families with two parents? Do you feel any different?
Yes, I do, sometimes. But I am proud of my mother because she never asked her husband for money for the expenses. She worked and earned her own status. This thinking made me a feminist.
Thank you, Diki. You shared an intimate part of your life with us.
Anytime. I am myself a research student and I wanted to research around single mother but I hardly got any respondents to open up. Since you are doing it, I feel you are doing it on my behalf.
Dickey “Diki” Choedon was raised in a Tibetan settlement in Mysore. She went to school in C. S. T. Bylakuppe. She pursued her education in psychology from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. She is currently a Ph.D. research scholar at Gandhigram Rural Institute, Tamil Nadu in sociology. Her thesis is on “Changing Dynamics of Indian Citizenship among young Tibetans”.