She was a mother of two, stuck with an abusive husband and no support system. But Neera Chopra - the mother of Miss India World Pooja Chopra - still decided to walk out of a bad marriage. Today she says with conviction, "Tough times never last."
On the occasion of Mothers' Day May 10, IANS recalls her inspirational journey that saw her singlehandedly and successfully bring up her two daughters - Shubhra and Pooja.
"There were times when I used to question god - why me? All because my life was so tough. There were days when I used to break down and give up. But after looking at my two wonderful daughters, I knew I had a reason to live as they were in this world because of me. I gave birth to them, it was not their fault," Chopra, 43, told IANS over phone from Pune in an interview.
"Ever since my little daughter won the crown, I have thanked the almighty for giving me all the courage and strength. He made me believe that tough times never last but tough people do," added Chopra who works as an executive housekeeper with Mainland China, a chain of specialty restaurants.
She had got married when she was just 21. But she didn't have a choice when her husband, who was well-placed, brought a girl to the house and announced he would marry her. Chopra walked out at the age of 29. At that time her elder daughter Shubra was aged seven years and Pooja was just 20 days old.
"He was not happy because I could not bear him a son and so he wanted to remarry," Neera Chopra said about her husband.
She said all efforts on her part to please the husband failed and in the end she walked out with dignity. "I saw him going around with many girls, but I kept mum because of my family. However, when things became really difficult, I knew I had to make a choice and I chose my daughters over him," she said.
"I asked myself - what am I doing here? If it is for just two pieces of bread, I would much rather settle for one dignified meal, instead of facing humiliation every day. Being abused in my house is not what I wanted all my life," she added.
Chopra left Kolkata and went back to her mother's house in Mumbai. Things were tough because her brother was married and became harder once he had children.
"I can't forget that time because there was no one in this world who was with me. I was fighting a lone battle and to add to my woes, many close ones used to say, 'Issi mein koi dosh hoga' (There must be something wrong with her only), that's why her husband left her," she recounted.
"I had left my husband's house without a job or even a Rs.100 note. I was on my own. Only I know how we managed to survive," she added.
"After I got my first job in a hotel, I moved out from my parents' home and shifted to another place. My job required long working hours and there were days when my daughters used to feed themselves. I am glad that the phase is over," she added.
The hardship paid off and she managed to buy her own house in Pune.
"I wish I could have given them a better lifestyle, better uniform, good books. I used to make them walk to school because I couldn't pay for their school bus. I won't say I alone made all the sacrifices. My daughters have always shared my burden," she said.
The proud mother says the three of them were like a team.
"We ate together, shared burdens and contributed to our home in our respective ways. My daughters never made any demands as they knew that life was not a bed of roses for them. The best part is that we have always been close to each other," she reminisced.
She says life hasn't changed much since her daughter won the Miss India World crown April 5.
"Frankly, except for the media attention, everything else is the same in my life. I still travel in buses and do household chores. Fame is shortlived but struggle teaches you the value of life. I am still down-to-earth," she said.
But she gladly acknowledges that "people now don't know me as Neera but as Pooja's mother and it is a great feeling!"
(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at email@example.com )