The True Woman of Substance: Neera Chopra’s Story

I was touched, inspired and awed by the story of an Indian woman who lived through  abuse, poverty and some tough choices to make her once-unwanted girl child, Pooja Chopra,  Miss India. This is Neera Chopra’s story:

I don’t know where  to begin… they were terrible times. My husband was  well-placed, but the marriage had begun to sink almost as soon  as it began. Like most women do, I tried to work against all  the odds . 

My in-laws insisted everything would be  alright if I had a son. My first child was a daughter, and  that didn’t do me any good… but I couldn’t walk out. I had  lost my father, my brother was in a not-so-senior position in  Bata. I didn’t want to be a burden on my family and continued  to live in my marital home in Kolkata. 

I looked after  my mother-inlaw, who was suffering from cancer, and while  bathing her, I would tell myself she would bless me and put  things right. 

I don’t know how I tolerated it all. The  least a man can do, if he must philander, is to not flaunt his  women in his wife’s face. Then began the manhandling. I still  wanted my marriage to survive. I was a pure vegetarian and  learnt to cook non-vegetarian delicacies thinking it would  please him. 

Then, I was pregnant again. When Pooja was  eight months in my womb, my husband brought a girl to the  house and announced he would marry her. I thought of killing  myself. I hung on the slight hope that if the baby was a boy,  my marriage could be saved. 

When Pooja was born a girl,  for three days, nobody came to the hospital. There was a  squadron leader’s wife on the opposite bed, who was kind  enough to give me baby clothes for Pooja to wear. When she was  20 days old, I had to make a choice. I left the house with my  girls ‘ Pooja and Shubra, who was seven then. I haven’t seen  my husband since. I promised myself, even if we had just one  roti, we would share it, but together. 

I began life in  Mumbai with the support of my mother, brother, who was by then  married. It wasn’t the ideal situation, especially when he had  children ‘ space, money, everything was short. I began work at  the Taj Colaba and got my own place. How did I manage’ Truth  be told, I would put a chatai on the floor, leave two glasses  of milk and some food, and bolt the door from outside before  going to work. I would leave the key with the neighbours and  tell the kids to shout out to them when it was time to leave  for school. 

Their tiny hands would do homework on their  own, feed themselves on days that I worked late. My elder  daughter Shubhra would make Pooja do her corrections… This  is how they grew up. At a birthday party, Pooja would not eat  her piece of cake, but pack it and bring it home to share with  her sister. When Shubhra started working, she would skip lunch  and pack a chicken sandwich that she would slip in her  sister’s lunchbox the next day. 

I used to pray, ‘God,  punish me for my karma, but not my innocent little kids.  Please let me provide them the basics.’ I used to struggle for  shoes, socks, uniforms. I was living in Bangur Nagar,  Goregaon. Pooja would walk four bus stops down to the St  Thomas 
Academy. Then, too little to cross the road, she  would ask a passerby to help her. I had to save the bus money  to be able to put some milk in their bodies. 

Life began  to change when I got a job for Rs 6,000 at the then Goa Penta.  Mr Chhabra, the owner, and his wife, were kind enough to  provide a loan for me. I sent my daughters to my sister’s  house in Pune, with my mother as support. I spent four years  working in Goa while I saved to buy a small one-bedroom house  in Pune (where the family still lives). I would work 16-18  hours a day, not even taking weekly offs to accumulate leave  and visit my daughters three or four times a year. 

Once  I bought my house and found a job in Pune, life began to  settle. I worked in Hotel Blue Diamond for a year and then  finally joined Mainland China ‘ which changed my life. The  consideration of the team and management brought me the  stability to bring them up, despite late hours and the  travelling a hotelier must do. 

Shubhra got a job in  Hotel Blue Diamond, being the youngest employee there while  still in college, and managed to finish her Masters in  commerce and her BBM. Today, she is married to a sweet  Catholic boy who is in the Merchant Navy and has a sweet  daughter. 

I continue to finish my day job and come home  and take tuitions, as I have done for all these years. I also  do all my household chores myself. 

Through the years,  Shubhra has been my anchor and Pooja, the rock. Pooja’s tiny  hands have wiped away my tears when I broke down. She has  stood up for me, when I couldn’t speak for myself.  Academically brilliant, she participated in all  extra-curricular activities. When she needed high heels to  model in, she did odd shows and bought them for  herself. 

When I saw Pooja give her speech on TV, I knew  it came from her heart. I could see the twinkle in her eye.  And I thought to myself as she won ‘My God, this is my little  girl.’ God was trying to tell me something. 

Today,  I’ve no regrets. I believe every cloud has a silver lining. As  a mother, I’ve done nothing great. 

‘I won due to my  mother’s karma’ 

Pantaloons Femina Miss India Pooja  Chopra’s mother promised ‘One day, this girl will make me  proud’. Pooja speaks on fulfilling that promise…     When I was 20 days old, my mother was asked to make a  choice. It was either me ‘ a girl child, or her husband. She  chose me. As she walked out she turned around and told her  husband, ‘One day, this girl will make me proud’. That day has  come. Her husband went on to marry a woman who gave him two  sons. Today, as I stand here a Miss India, I don’t even know  if my father knows that it is me, his daughter, who has set  out to conquer the world, a crown on my head. Our lives have  not been easy, least so for my mother. Financially,  emotionally, she struggled to stay afloat, to keep her job and  yet allow us to be the best that we could be. I was given only  one condition when I started modelling ‘ my grades wouldn’t  drop. 

All the girls in the pageant worked hard, but my  edge was my mother’s sacrifice, her karma. Today, when people  call to congratulate me, it’s not me they pay tribute to, but  to her life and her struggle. She’s the true Woman of  Substance. She is my light, my mentor, my driving force.


Thanks to BGHS for sharing this story.



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