There was nothing for her in this stifling marriage. Maybe it was time she did some letting go…
Here is the third winner of our August 2016 Muse of the Month contest, Kasturi Patra.
The cue was: “For the first time she realized that nothing was permanent in life – friends, circumstances, riches or parental love.” — Tanushree Podder, Nurjahan’s Daughter.
Rupa was saving the Power-point presentation for the next day’s client meeting when someone gently touched her shoulder. She turned around, “Hey are you coming to the pub for Mayank’s welcome party?” Maria smiled.
Rupa twisted the edge of her dupatta between her fingers trying to get out of her embarrassment. The problem was, ever since she got married a year back, she’d been avoiding these team parties. Rahul expected a hot dinner ready when he returned from work, failing which his taunts were unbearable.
Rupa’s days post marriage went by in a haze. Mornings were a rush to make breakfast and then preparing lunch for the both of them. Then she got ready for work while supervising the domestic help. Back from office, it was yet another race against time.
Her only respite was her job which she loved wholeheartedly. She’d been working only for a year when she got the job offer in this online travel company. Two years back, this company was just starting out. Rupa loved the challenges. Since then, it had been the team’s sheer hard work that the company had grown to be one of the topmost players in India. Rupa had been one of their most treasured employees. She was due for a big hike and promotion next year. Just a few years of experience and she’d soon be heading a large team.
Rupa was 25 when she got married. She met Rahul– who her parents selected from a matrimonial website– for a few times and he seemed like a nice person. What she did not know was that having brought up in a patriarchal family, Rahul completely relied on gender roles. Just after their marriage, he made it clear that he was ‘liberal’ enough to allow her to work provided she managed the household smoothly.
That evening, as Rupa was about to put the rice on the stove, her cell phone rang.
“Hi, I will be late today!” Rahul shouted over the loud din in the background. “One of my colleague’s farewell.”
Rupa uttered an “Okay” and hung up.
Despondently, she reflected upon the unfairness of life. How casually he stated that he’d be late. If she’d have thought of attending her office party on the other hand, all hell would have broken loose.
She finished her dinner and then switched on her laptop to go through the presentation once more. Getting this client’s account would mean a major milestone for their company.
Rupa’s work was her only respite in life. When the husband expected to be treated like a child, depending on her for every little thing, her work seemed to make her at least use her intellect instead of forcing her to be the caretaker of an adult which she hardly enjoyed.
It was not like Rahul was an evil person. Once all his needs were met, he even asked her how she was doing, but it was often a struggle to keep up to his expectations.
Their physical relationship also followed a routine. Everything seemed so dull about her life. The thought of escaping from these responsibilities did cross her mind but every time it did, she chided herself saying how she could be so demanding. At least she was lucky she could do her job and her husband wasn’t physically abusive or had any bad habits. There were a lot of married women going through worse.
She couldn’t tell her parents about Rahul’s attitude because she knew they’d only ask her to adjust. Besides they were already busy preparing for her sister, Runa’s marriage. Rupa didn’t have much in common with her sister. Though they occasionally chatted or met at social gatherings, it was almost always a stiff interaction.
Runa was working for an advertising agency these days and after a short while; she proudly announced that she’d be marrying the director of the ad firm. She even indirectly mentioned how her would-be husband earned more than Rupa’s husband! Rupa felt nothing but happiness for her little sister.
Rupa sometimes felt that no one truly understood her. There was not a family member she could confide in, her husband thought she was a mere tool for his convenience, and the only friends she had were her colleagues.
That Tuesday, Rupa couldn’t make it back to her house on time to finish cooking dinner before Rahul arrived.
“How many times have I told you to keep everything prepared before I arrive?” He snapped.
“I’m sorry, Rahul. The client meeting took longer than usual. I’m expecting that they’ll give me greater responsibilities in office very soon.” She beamed.
Rahul twisted his lips scornfully. “Rupa, they pay you a pittance! I don’t know what still makes you so happy about your work. Like a little puppy, you tend to please your masters!”
Rupa stared at Rahul with disbelief. Not a single congratulatory word!
Without saying another word she went back to the kitchen. Rahul was almost ten years her senior. Was it really fair to compare their salaries? How much did HE earn when he started out? Did he handle so many responsibilities like her? Or was it because she was a woman that all her achievements meant nothing to him?
That night while tossing and turning in her bed, she played with all those questions in her mind. Was marriage all about serving another person silently? But could she even contemplate coming out of it? She knew her parents would disapprove of it and society at large would point fingers at her.
The next morning Rupa was about to pack his lunch, when Rahul stood at the threshold of the kitchen and smiled in a self-conscious way.
“I have some good news. Last night, you spoiled my mood and hence I didn’t feel like divulging. Take a leave today, I will also bunk office.”
Rupa was surprised. In their year-long marriage, Rahul had never asked her to spend the day with her.
“What is it?” She asked.
“As you know, I have been trying for jobs abroad. Yesterday, I got a confirmed offer from a German company. Within a few months time, we’ll move to Germany!” He smiled broadly.
Rupa was shocked. He announced it so casually as if she could not have an opinion about this.
She tried to control her emotions and remain calm. “I love my job here, Rahul.”
Rahul broke out into a cruel laughter. “You really think your petty job should even feature in such an important decision? In fact, I’ll be earning so much in Germany that you don’t even need to do a sad excuse for a job. You can concentrate on housework properly, while I focus on my career.”
“But my career is important to me.” She whispered, almost in tears.
“Listen, Rupa. After marriage every girl’s priority is their household. Plus, we’ll have children and you need to look after them, too. You didn’t marry an established man to just neglect him and build your career, right?”
“Why can’t we both build our careers while I’ll also look after the household affairs like I do?” she tried to intervene.
“Shut up, you stupid woman!” Rahul roared. “It is because of women like you that men feel afraid to get married! What’s your problem? You’ll get the money you want to spend from me. Stay at home and enjoy!”
She fell silent and mumbled something about having to leave because she had an important meeting.
Rupa couldn’t control her tears the moment she stepped onto the road. She was passionate about her work. That’s the only thing that gave some meaning to her otherwise mechanical life. How could Rahul be so callous about it? She called in sick at office and took a taxi to her parents’ place. She needed to talk to them.
When she entered the house, she saw Runa sitting on the drawing room sofa, chatting with an elderly lady. Runa gave her a half-hearted smile. “Hi didi, no office today? This is my would-be mother-in-law.”
Rupa folded her hands in a Namaskar and the lady returned the gesture and smiled.
“So you are Rupa! We’ve heard so much about you but Runa always told how busy you are with your household and your job and so couldn’t come for any of their visits to our house.”
“Yes, aunty.” She smiled. “You know how difficult it is to manage time post marriage.”
“Oh I can understand, beta. In fact, I don’t get it why girls these days insist on working after marriage. Your husband can provide for everything, your first duty is to see to his comfort. That’s why I’ve told Runa, my Vikas earns enough. Stay at home and help me with the housework. We can even go to movies and shopping trips, it’d be so much fun.”
Rupa looked at Runa whose face was beaming with pride.
While she respected Runa’s decision to stay at home, she realized that talking to her parents would be fruitless. They had already told Rupa how her new family should be her first priority post marriage, and she knew they’d expect her to follow Runa’s footsteps.
One year later
Rupa pressed the pillow against her ear, while the phone kept playing the Maroon 5 ringtone. “Arrrgh” she gave in and answered.
“Rupa, are you still in bed?” The voice on the other side sounded really excited.
“Get ready, I’m picking you up in an hour’s time.” Trina’s shrill voice pierced into her dazed brain.
“Today is Saturday!” Rupa answered sleepily.
“Yes but we’re going to Agra! Just you and me!”
“What?” Rupa started rubbing her eyes trying to make sense of her friend’s words.
“Yes! Last night I came to know that Euphoria in Agra is performing this evening. One of my friends had two extra tickets, I thought we’ll go!”
“Fine but I’m driving, okay? I love the route!”
“Haha ok! Start getting ready.”
Rupa threw her blanket aside and put on Sia’s Cheap Thrills on her iPod. With a spring in her steps she entered the bathroom.
She looked at her well rested face in the mirror. No one to worry about, she could do exactly as she pleased. But it wasn’t easy opting for a divorce. Even in a loveless marriage, there’s something called staying out of habit and then there was the fear of social stigma.
The biggest hurdles in her way were surprisingly her most loved ones – her parents and her sister. In fact, they even asked her not to attend Runa’s wedding for the fear that her divorce might not go down well with Vikas and his family.
There were financial woes too. She had to rent a small one bedroom apartment in Gurgaon near her office. Her only furniture now was a mattress, two beanbags, and a wardrobe that came with the apartment. Most of her childhood and college friends avoided her because of her ‘divorcee’ tag. Even sweet Maria from office told her she could have adjusted and stayed in the marriage.
For the first time she realized that nothing was permanent in life – friends, circumstances, riches or parental love.
Gradually, she made friends through social networking apps, through book clubs, and through the NGOs she supported. Her friends now were people who could look past the ‘immoral’, ‘ambitious’, and ‘divorcee’ tags that society had attached on her. She also realized that there were people who liked her for who she was and her past didn’t matter to them. People who also felt the same way about freedom and self identity. She only needed to take the first step towards opening up and her world – though full of hardships – indeed changed for the better.
And though she was called a ‘divorcee’ by society at large, in her own mind she was free of all labels, just a happy girl learning to fly.
Kasturi Patra wins a Rs 250 Flipkart voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the 10 top winners at the end of 2016. Congratulations!
Image source: pixabay