There was a time when I would think life is this smooth, uni-directional slide. Finish university, be a successful bureaucrat, travel to places, lead a blissful married life. The perfect happily-ever-after.
Growing up, I realized that fate has an absolutely random way of striking plans down. Like that mottled green serpent on a cheap plastic snake-and-ladder board game, waiting to swallow you at column 98 as your nine-year old self anxiously rolled the dice on your way to hundred. One mistake, and the grinning reptile pushed you all the way down to column 2. And you had to start all over again, or give up. Those were the choices.
And just like that, at the age of 9, my dice would roll over into the dark attic at a distant relative's home, where a distant male relative older than my father would do things to me for the next four years.
Four years that would go on to change me in ways I had never imagined.
But I survived.
I picked up the pieces, got up, and moved on.
And I am proud.
The journey has not been easy. The decision to move to Europe came about one cold Autumn evening back in 2012, at my then in-laws' house in Delhi. I was unhappy, and I knew this was not what I wanted. I did not want to spend the rest of my life cooking and cleaning. I did not want to be constantly reminded how my faith and the colour of my skin made me an inferior person. I wanted ambition. A dream to live for. I wanted to take risks.
I wanted to feel alive again.
Almost two years later, I moved to Germany in the Autumn of 2014. Four months after that, my marriage ended.
Walking out of an eight-year old relationship was far more difficult than I thought. My mother would often look at me, with sadness in her eyes, and remark how much I had changed. I no longer had the confidence I once used to have. I had been a bright student. I had won elections at school. The showcase at my parents' home was filled with trophies. But my newly-separated, 27 year-old self was a far cry from the past.
It was like learning to walk again. I had forgotten what it was like to go out alone. To be seen as a person outside of my married-woman tag. Healing was a long process.
Slowly, I began to learn. To embrace my personal space. My new identity. I learned to accept that many people could never come to terms with a woman choosing to walk out of her marriage. There were friends who stopped talking, relatives who would look away. I learned not to let that affect me a lot.
I work as an apprentice chef at a four star hotel in Berlin now. The classes at the cooking school are taught entirely in German. That has been a struggle, but I am catching up.
Germany has taught me so much. It has taught me resilience, it has taught me perseverance. When I first arrived, I was a vulnerable twenty something. I am still vulnerable sometimes. Naive, even. But then, everyday has been an experience. I have had days when I had nothing to eat. The stipend for an apprentice chef is barely enough to make ends meet. I have been homeless, coming home after a long day at work to some couch at a kind acquaintance's place. I have even spent a night at the subway station after work because I had nowhere to go.
But for every drop of tear, God has sent me a blessing. I am grateful for my classmates and my teachers at the cooking school. For the kind strangers I have met. And I now have a wonderful companion whose family treats me as its own. And we share a home. I am no longer the miserable backpacking gypsy I once used to be.
Most of all, I am thankful for the professional kitchen. Life of a trainee chef is stressful, physically demanding, and hard. That does not bother me though. I now have a dream to chase.
The road ahead is a long one. I do not know what destiny would bring me next. But this, I know for certain: if I want something, I will go for it. And I shall never give up.
About Asha Justin Odakethal
Trainee chef in Germany. Kitchen is my happy space. To me, it's always been the little things. Leonard Cohen, Creme brulee, lazy afternoon walks in the warm golden January sun. Oh, and lemon tea.