‘Women from good families do not abuse!’
‘We thought she is a nice girl! But look at her language!’
‘No wonder they are having so many fights’.
Ananti held her head in shame in the quasi court that happened to be her in-laws’ house. Agitated, she put forth her defense.
‘He yelled at me first.’
‘He calls me names too!’
‘It is his fault too! Tell him too!’
Guilty she was. With proof. A domestic fight with her husband was broadcasted live to the mother-in-law without her awareness. A fight in which she was losing it. Screaming. Abusing. A call was made to her parents as well. Her parents had their share of disappointments:
‘You are lucky they are still putting up with you!’
‘Who would tolerate a daughter-in-law with foul language!’
‘You have caused us so much shame!
Three years into her marriage, with a full-time job and a baby, Ananti was struggling. She was told that all women work. They manage the house too. They have better fed, better learned, better behaved children and cleaner homes. It is no big deal. Why does she have to lose her sanity for every petty issues! If the maid does not come, clean yourself! If the babysitter doesn’t come, take a leave from work! Is it worth it when it leads to a quarrel with the husband?
‘You slapped him!’
“How can you hit your husband!”
‘I did not slap him! He was grabbing my arm! I was trying to free myself! He was not letting me go! When he finally did, I did raise my hand to let go. But not to slap him! I mean my hand did not touch him first!’
She heard those words herself. She was sounding like a liar. Was she?
‘This is common. People don’t like accepting their share of mistakes. You hid the truth from us to make yourself look good!’
She looked into her husband’s eyes, looking for honesty. Only they knew the truth. Both were far from perfect. Maybe he will stop them. Maybe he will say, ‘It is okay. We will handle it. We both have a temper issue. We will work on it. Don’t corner her… We will …’
But there was no we. It was only her. Her mistakes. Her inadequacies. Her miserable failure.
‘You are the problem!’
The words pinched through her heart, and shook every fiber of her being. Her thoughts had never been kind to her. But now, it seemed they were exceptionally cruel. She replayed the whole incident in her head. No! she had not slapped him! At least not first. He was the one who had grabbed her arm. He was not letting her move.
‘It is my fault. But it is his fault too!’
She was sounding like a broken record now.
She reached home and wailed. She tried to text a few of her friends. Maybe someone would be available to talk. To meet. But nobody was.
She cried herself to sleep.
In the middle of the night, she woke up. Her husband was blissfully asleep, snoring. It was a text from her friend, Arjun.
He was looking so good in his DP! She zoomed to enlarge the picture. Oops! Accidentally she made a video call to him! She disconnected immediately. But it was too late!
Still awake.. How come.. 😊
Nothing.. How are you.
You were trying to call me?
No.. It went by mistake…
So how are things. Where is hubby?
He is sleeping…
Why are you not sleeping..
Was feeling very low..
Are.. what happened dear?
Nothing… Things will be fine…
Means now everything is not okay? Is there some problem?
No nothing… Marriage is only a problem!
Aha!! Kya hua.. you can tell me.. I can meet you anytime if you need someone to talk to..
Yeah will do… Thanks
Ananti woke up the next morning. She looked at her phone. It was 12 pm!! How did she sleep for so long? There were five missed calls from her mother-in-law.
She called up immediately.
‘We can’t believe it! Our daughter-in-law is talking to men at 2 am and sending them kisses!’
It took some time for Ananti to process what she was hearing. She had chatted with Arjun last night. But how would her mother-in-law know?
‘He is just a friend!’ she said, embarrassed.
‘You are our daughter-in-law. Please be mindful of your words and actions. This kind of behavior is not acceptable! You are no teenager! You are a mature 30-year-old woman!’
Ananti’s husband was not home. He usually took off whenever they had a fight in an attempt to ‘cool things down’. His family appreciated this ‘maturity’ of his to take time off, cool his mind and come back to the house. He never informed Ananti of his whereabout because of course, he was just taking time off from her. But if Ananti did the same thing, a call would be made to her parents instantly of how she left the house, rebelliously! Where was she! What was she up to! What about the maryada of both households that she was solely carrying on her feeble shoulders?
‘You checked my messages, AND you told mummy about it? You know Arjun. You have met him, you know there is nothing going on between us! And I did not send him a kiss for God’s sake! He sent it to me!’
She said to her husband, once he showed up at home.
‘And you sent a smiley in response to the kiss! Why didn’t you block him? Remember how you blocked me one time?’ What kind of a guy sends such messages to a married woman? I had told you.. He is after you…’
‘Even if he is, I married you! Not him! Why can’t you trust me for once! And why do you have to update your mother on everything that goes on here! Do you tell her when you smoke, drink? Why do you have to tell her everything I do!’
‘Aha! As if you don’t talk to your mother! Three times a day! All you do is bitch about my mother..!’
With that, the two went on fighting. Ananti’s family was called to her in-laws place for a round table discussion. Everybody was ashamed of her. She was too. She apologized and promised to ‘mend her ways’. This pattern continued for the next six months. And so did their fights.
Ananti was losing her self-confidence. She started meeting a counsellor and working on herself. She tried to meditate and control her temper. For once somebody was not shaming her. But telling her ways to improve on the way her thoughts affection her reactions. With the help of the counsellor she was able to identify what was causing frustration in her. She started doing things she liked and continued to do it. After a gap of three years, she started painting again. She decided she would make time for it, no matter how occupied her schedule was. She also started yoga over the weekends. She was getting her peace of mind back.
One fine day, Ananti managed to leave early from office. Instead of going home, she decided to go to her favourite restaurant. She sat by herself and ordered her favorite chilly chicken. She enjoyed it with a Mojito. She came back home the usual time – 7:30 pm, enjoying her me time.
Unluckily for her, Vikas had decided to go to the same restaurant to get a parcel of chilli chicken, his wife’s favourite as a surprise. The store manager told him that ‘Madam’ had visited in the afternoon. He was shocked that Ananti would not come home directly from work, to spend time with her child but rather go eat at restaurant alone.
The mother-in-law was especially hurt at this revelation.
‘My leg was aching so badly! Look! It is completely swollen. Still, I was running after Mitthu the whole day! And you are so selfish! You went to enjoy instead of coming home!’
Ananti was silent. She was taking deep breaths. And counting them in her mind. She had learned this from the meditation videos she was watching. She then went about to instruct the maid, and then opened her laptop. It was as if she was not bothered.
Vikas and his mother were confused. Usually, Ananti would be so defensive! She would react! She would justify herself! Her voice would get loud. She would get anxious. She would blame Vikas. But today she looked so peaceful!
‘Aren’t you even sorry?’ Vikas asked.
‘I am. Sorry Vikas. Sorry Mummy. I should have come home.’
And she went about with her business. She said sorry but it was clear from her face she was least affected by their disapproval. But she was not rude either. There was no defiance on her face. But no regret either. Vikas was waiting for her to say, ‘When you go for your team dinners and come late, I don’t say anything. I cannot do anything I like.. I am trapped….’. But Ananti was quiet.
Vikas’ mother was not willing to give up. ‘You should not forget your responsibilities towards your family, Ananti!’.
‘I am sorry, Mummy. I forgot today. Will remember next time’.
She had apologized so many times before. But this was different. Her demeanor was respectful. There was no disappointment in her eyes. There was no scorn on her face. No shame.
She had tried to hold it all together for so long. The wannabe good, perfect woman tag was turning her into a frustrated, irritable, angry person. Today, she wore the flawed badge with pride.
The calmness on her face haunted Vikas for days…