Husbands gone, these UAE-based women took life head on
It is not possible to fly on one wing. But many gutsy women in the UAE do just that.
As widows and single mothers, they fight all odds to soar high. On International Women's Day, Anjana Shankar and Ashwani Kumar bring you the extraordinary fights of four ordinary women facing life's adversities.
'Don't take your regular support system for granted'
P.V., Bank employee from Chennai
The loss of a partner can topple your life. For P.V., the untimely death of her husband Vasanthan in 2013 left her as the sole caregiver of their then five-year-old twin daughters. "It was just two days of illness and then he was gone, at just 37," said P.V., now 38. "We never planned for anything like this. We took our regular support system for granted. I have tried my best to fill the void for my children. We continue to live in the same house and neighbourhood, so they could go to the same school and see their friends," the widow said.
P.V. found emotional healing in friends and supportive colleagues. When your partner is gone, there is no time to grieve, as the task of putting your life in order rests entirely on your shoulders. Having a job and her own visa was a huge saving grace, she points out. "Luckily, I was working. Financial support is a top priority during such crises. Your husband's bank accounts - even if they are a joint accounts - will be frozen. Going forward was not easy, as all assets in the name of the deceased are released only on the advice of the local courts. You also need no objection certificates from male relatives," she said. She also struggled with sponsorship issues of her children. "It's not easy for a woman to sponsor kids. Only women with certain jobs can get it," said P.V., who works at a public sector bank.
Through it all, P.V. says she has drawn her strength from life's challenges. "I came here in 2001. This is the only home my kids have known. So I have to fight it out for my kids," she said.
Annamma Varghese's son Arun says she is the family's biggest source of strength
'My husband had planned our future before his death'
Annamma Varghese, businesswoman from Kerala
In the long verdant stretch of what is called the Mina Flower and Plant Market in Abu Dhabi, Annamma is the lone female face. The Umm Al Salsal Trading Flowers and Indoor Plants run by the 60-something widow has blossomed into a success story, even after her husband V.A. Varghese's death in 2013.
"When his health worsened, he told me never to shut the shop even if it runs into losses. It's the fruit of his blood and sweat. I would have closed it and returned to India otherwise," said Annamma.
"He was diabetic and had kidney stones, but would never take medicines." But Annamma credits all her success to Varghese's visionary planning and foresight helped her tide over the crisis when he was gone. "In 2004, he transferred the licence of the flower shop to my name. The fact that the shop licence and bank accounts were in my name helped. The family did not even know about the seriousness of his illness till late.
"After the funeral, I returned to Abu Dhabi with many questions and to an uncertain future but he had already arranged everything for me," she said.
After her husband passed away, her son Arun who was in the US, joined her in running the shop. He lives in Abu Dhabi with his wife and two children.
Arun says his mother is the family's source of strength. "Over the years, my mother has grown into a businesswoman. She remains brutally honest - a trait my father instilled in all of us. We may incur losses but have made long-term gains too," said Arun.
After her divorce, Diana brought up son Ronnie, who has special needs, as a single mom
'I tell women to turn weaknesses into strength'
Diana Lama businesswoman from Mumbai
When life gave Diana lemons, she made a cocktail out of it. The 45-year-old single mother who has a son with special needs, stood up to life chin up. Today, she also inspires and helps other women find their feet. "My son is my biggest strength. If it weren't for him, I would not have made it to where I am today," said Diana, who runs a makeover studio called Diana Beauty Castle in Dubai.
"I had to start from scratch when I got divorced in 1999. I resumed my education and secured a college degree to be able to manage my life," she said. "I was working as a technical director for a German beauty brand. I gave up the high-paying job to come to Dubai and got trained as a hair dresser." The journey was tougher with her son Ronnie Sherpa, now 24, who cannot hear or speak. But she weathered it all - unemployment, financial difficulties, depression, society's ridicule.
Her son stayed in India to complete his studies at a special needs school. Meanwhile, she found a job as a hairstylist at Burj Al Arab hotel. "I started rebuilding my life slowly. Now I have my own business and even my son is here with me in Dubai, working as an assistant pastry chef at a five-star hotel," said Diana. With more than 25,000 followers on her page, Diana says her business is all about inspiring women. "When I meet women who share their personal struggles, I tell them to turn their weaknesses into strength. My son is my biggest weakness, and there is no greater source for my strength."
Uma Venkatesan is struggling for the livelihood of her daughters Keerthi and Krithee
'I see my girls and know I have to fight for them'
Uma Venketasan from Bangalore
Till four months ago, Uma could hardly have imagined living on her own in Abu Dhabi. Her husband Venketasan, 47, was her biggest support system.
But life took a tragic turn for this mother of nine-year old twin girls, when her husband passed away in October 2016 from a heart attack. "It was just another day. He had a cup of tea and went in for a shower. Half an hour later, we found him collapsed on the floor," said Uma. She says her husband was under tremendous stress, as one his partners played foul and Venkaesan had to bear huge financial losses. Now left alone with her daughters, Keerthi and Krithee, Uma is struggling to pick up her life again. "I have to be strong. There is no choice. I want to bring up my girls and give them a good education. That is my only aim in life now," said Uma.
But without a full-time job and enough resources to pull on in the UAE, Uma faces a bleak future. "I am a post-graduate in Commerce, and have experience in administrative work. But to be honest, I am even ready to work as a nanny to support my kids," said Uma. Faced with difficulties in sponsoring her children, Uma is left with no choice but send her daughters back to India. "I want to first find a job and then bring them back."
She said in her moments of desperation, she loses courage. "But then, I look at my daughters who still cannot accept that their dad is gone forever, and I know I have to fight," said Uma.
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