Lean On Me...
Femina|March 09, 2020
... when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on,” sang legendary singer-songwriter Billy Withers. Who doesn’t need a girlfriend? In fact, be it friends, mentors, colleagues, bosses or mothers-in-law, women lifting each other up is perhaps the best support, therapy any woman would ever need. Femina’s Women’s Day big story brings you inspiring stories of strong bonds between women who stuck it out through thick and thin, nudging you to remember your own

MOM’S THE WORD

Transwoman Shree Ghatak Muhury, a Kolkata-based activist, entrepreneur, and actor, tells Hemchhaya De how her mother-in-law has been her constant pillar of support

Shree Ghatak Muhury had always felt she was a woman trapped in a man’s body. In 2015, fighting all odds, she underwent sex reassignment surgery, and finally felt she had become who she was always meant to be. A couple of years later, the actor made headlines when she married her childhood friend, Sanjay Muhury, who, besides her mother and grandmother, always had her back, and continues to do so. Post marriage, Shree had found another pair of strong shoulders to lean on—that of her mother-in-law, Saraswati.

“My mother-in-law was clear from day one that I should focus on my career, rather than feeling burdened with household responsibilities, which she believes should not weigh a woman down,” Muhury shares. Her in-laws live a stone’s throw away in Kolkata and are always available for assistance. In fact, for Saraswati, mother to two sons, Shree is the “daughter she never had”.

Shree further narrates that her in-laws have known her since childhood, as Sanjay and she had been close friends in school. “After the surgery, they couldn’t recognise me. In the moment, they even asked me, ‘Is it really you?’ They embraced me, having absolutely no qualms accepting the physically transformed me,” she says.

A few months into her marriage, Shree had ‘well-meaning’ relatives, neighbours, and acquaintances relentlessly enquiring about her plans on motherhood. “Some would suggest surrogacy, others would recommend complex medical treatments.” There came a point when she asked her husband point blank which option they should consider. At such a delicate time, her undeterred mother-in-law took charge, “You have been under the knife so many times, why do you need a fertility procedure? Focus on your work right now, and later you can think of adoption.”

Saraswati is proud of Shree’s professional achievements. The latter is an activist, an entrepreneur, an actor, and has established an NGO, Troyee, working with the LGBTQI community. She liaises with medical establishments to help transgender persons get sex reassignment surgeries at reasonable rates, and has helped organise weddings for transwomen in Bengal. She will soon make her Bollywood debut in Seasons Greetings.

Saraswati is ever-ready to thwart any effort by outsiders to speculate about Shree’s sexual identity. “Recently, knowing that her house help was curious about me, courtesy the neighbourhood rumour mill, she had her interact with me. Her introduction was, ‘This is my daughter-in-law, isn’t she gorgeous?’ I know for a fact that not many members of the LGBQTI community have such strong family support. Such encouragement, apart from making me feel grateful, enables me to embrace my struggles,” she concludes.

COME RAIN, COME SHINE

Kartiki Nitin Lawate had Medha Nilesh Sakpal by her side when the going got tough, reports Nikshubha Garg

About 25 years ago, Kartiki Nitin Lawate and Medha Nilesh Sakpal met at an NGO working towards uplifting tribal women, and haven’t looked back since. Lawate, who taught at the centre in Kalyan, reveals it was their common taste in books and music that got them talking. “I would always wonder ‘How can someone be so simple and genuine in today’s times? I have the same opinion today,” she chuckles.

Cut to 2009, a happily married Lawate met with an accident which left her left leg fractured, and a major surgery followed. Unable to devote adequate time to work, she quit her job rendering the family financially unstable. Months passed and the couple managed to secure jobs in Pune, giving them hope for new beginnings. Just as life was getting back to normal, the company employing Lawate shut down, and the two were back to square one.

Sakpal remained the constant pillar of strength through the phase. “No matter how minute the detail, I would share everything with Medha. There were times when she deposited money in my bank account without me mentioning anything because she knew we were struggling financially. Somehow, she knew when I most needed it,” Lawate tells us.

Meanwhile, Lawate conceived, but the couple decided to terminate the pregnancy, owing to their financial condition. “My husband and I mutually decided to take the step. Considering the foetus was less than a month old, the doctor expressed it was safe. While I understood we took the right step, this incident left a huge impact,” she explains.

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