Life is a gift from God. Learn to relish every moment: Sr Jesme

The group went to one of the newer restaurants called Round -- The Global Diner and had an enjoyable meal.
Life is a gift from God. Learn to relish every moment: Sr Jesme

KOCHI: On November 1, when Sr Jesme went to the treasury office in Thrissur, to find out about her pension, Sub Treasury Officer Rajesh Raj P R said, “Sister, I can see that your birthday is on November 6. So, can I get a treat?”Rajesh had always been helpful to Sr Jesme. So, Sr Jesme said, “Sure, but you must bring your family along.” Rajesh nodded.

So, on the night of November 6, Rajesh came in his car to collect Sr Jesme at her home. He was accompanied by his wife, ayurveda doctor Dr Preethy, daughter Jyotilakshmy and son Jyotis. The group went to one of the newer restaurants called Round -- The Global Diner and had an enjoyable meal. Otherwise, on that day, no one dropped in to see the former nun. And she did not cut any cake.

Sr, Jesme, who has turned 63, lives in an 1,100 sq ft flat on the third floor of an apartment complex. She has a living-cum-dining room, a kitchen, two bedrooms with attached bathrooms along with two verandahs. “But for this privilege, I am paying a steep EMI,” she says with a smile. “However, I am grateful for my pension from the UGC (University Grants Commission)” (Sr Jesme had been principal of St Mary’s College, Thrissur, from 2005-8).  

It’s been 11 years since Sr Jesme left the Congregation of the Mother Carmelite for reasons of emotional torment. Asked about her feelings, she says, “I feel relieved and happy. I am leading my own life. Freedom is a pivot of my life. For example, I can get up whenever I want. And go wherever I want. I can read whatever and whenever I want. In the convent, our freedom was curtailed. There was a constant infringement of human rights.”

This also happens to ordinary women in our society. “The majority of women don’t know what it is like to be a human being, to have the freedom to make their own decisions,” she says.

Nevertheless, it is not all hunky-dory for Sr Jesme. “In our society, a single woman is always singled out and attacked,” she says. “If a woman is ill-treated, she can complain to her husband or a brother or a male relative. People assume correctly that I have no one to defend me. I have to fight my battles all alone. I get phone calls where men speak of what they want to do with me sexually. I have been fighting back all these years but at the same time, I try to ensure that I also enjoy life. I don’t want to lapse into bitterness and anger.” What has been heartening for her is that the attitude of the Catholic laity has changed a lot. “I have a neighbour who is a Catholic,” says Sr Jesme. “They are very loving towards me. I go and spend time with them. I am so happy that I am no longer ostracised.”  Interestingly, her former colleagues also welcome her. “When I see them in a public place, many come and hug me,” she says. “They ask me whether I am suffering. I reply that I am not suffering at all. They start sharing their problems. And it is the same issues that I had written about in my autobiography, ‘Amen’ (2009).”

Nothing has changed, she says. “Many are fed up with convent life and want to leave. But none can do so because, firstly, they don’t have the money to survive on their own. Secondly, the fear of their family and society holds them back.”

About her opinion of Sr Lucy Kalappurakkal who was expelled recently from the Franciscan Clarist Congregation for speaking against rape accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal and other misdemeanours, Sr Jesme says, “I have two ways of looking at her. Because Sr Lucy was part of an institution and had taken a vow of obedience, I cannot defend her because she broke the vow. But the second way to look at her is that Sr Lucy is trying to redefine the definition of obedience in the 21st century. Regarding this aspect, she has done a great thing. I don’t think ‘blind obedience’ works anymore. It should be ‘responsible obedience’.”  

Finally, when asked whether she is lonely, Sr Jesme says, “I don’t think so. I would define it as solitude and I enjoy it. I am working on my eighth book. I listen to music, watch TV, and now. Many women call and tell me about their problems. I listen and offer advice. I also share my problems with my close friends. I do a little gardening. I have learned to stitch and now I can repair clothes.” Sr Jesme pauses and says, “Life is a gift from God. You must learn to relish every moment.”

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