When she was little, she woke up a butterfly too. She would pretend to be a butterfly, her dad would carry her around in the house and she would flutter her Mom’s dupatta. Her parents loaded her cupboard with butterfly frocks and butterfly wings and laces and frills. She was indeed their butterfly.
Gautam was her neighbour, a few years older to her. She saw him in the elevator, at the badminton court, sometimes loitering with his friends, but mostly with a lot of fat books. She did not think he ever noticed her. Sometimes she would pick up a rose, a chrysanthemum, a marigold or a compound leaf, and pluck it petal by petal or leaf by leaf, saying… he loves me, he loves me not… She would make sure that the last petal or leaf was always ‘he loves me’. She reasoned, what was the point in tragic ends? She believed in comedy, she believed in happiness, and she believed in believing in everything! Could a butterfly’s wish be denied?
She was just past her graduation when Gautam’s mom approached her mother. “Anjali is just the girl,” she said. “We have literally seen her grow here in our neighbourhood and fashion into a beautiful young lady.”
“But she is still studying. I am not sure if she wants get married yet – what about her career?” Her mom asked.
“But she can be whatever she wishes to be! We will let her be – whatever it is,” said his mother.
And so Gautam and Anjali were married. No one ever asked Anjali what she wanted for herself, other than whether she would marry Gautam. And of course, wasn’t that the last petal in every flower, the last leaf on every stem? “Yes, Yes, Yes!” she said.
Marriage was all a fairy tale affair. Anjali was on top of the world. There was a hurried courtship period when she learnt of Gautam’s love. He had doubled up his effort to make his career – he did not want to miss the chance to spend the rest of his life with the most luxurious, luscious butterfly he had ever come across. The reason why she saw him so often in the elevator, in the lobbies, in the nearby grocery store and wherever else she went was because he made sure he was in all those places at the right time. Ooooh! Anjali’s knees turned into jelly and she melted like butter. It was a true fairy tale.
Anjali’s address changed by just the flat number, and she did not bother to change her permanent address anywhere. She did not have much correspondence coming her way anyway. Some brochures of beauty parlours, jewellery stores and departmental stores…
Shruti aunty became Mummyji. Usha di became her sis-in-law. Oh that charismatic Usha di, the one whom every girl in the neighbourhood emulated. She was just the best in whatever she did. The pride of Shruti aunty… ooops Mummyji. Older to Gautam by several years, Usha di had completed her education from a leading management institute, ‘the best!’ As Mummyji would say. She was married, had two kids and was in a high ranking role in a multinational. She lived in a different city, but in truth, she was always there in Anjali’s household.
Early morning when Anjali left her cocoon and came out from her room, fluttering in her beautiful attire and jewellery, Mummyji would mention in passing, “You know, Usha wakes up at five in the morning. Packs her two children to school, makes sure the home is taken care of and then leaves for her high paying, high ranking job. I am so proud of her!” First time around Anjali joined in with Mummyji and praised Usha even more. But then day after day, Usha became a constant feature in her life.
It just began to pile up on Anjali, so much so that one night when Gautam embraced her in one of those tight, cuddly and lustful embraces, the one they waited for all day, it felt a little too tight to her. And then she felt as if Mummyji was sitting right in the middle of them saying, “Usha can type in a mail to her boss, even as she makes love to her husband…”
“Eeeeeek!” she shrieked! She realised she was getting psyched by the constant hammering of Usha di’s greatness by Mummyji…
And then, by and by, Mummyji became a constant feature in Anjali’s bedroom. She was there when Anjali woke up, telling her about how Usha makes her bed with one hand and brews tea with the other. She was there when Anjali took a bath, telling her how Usha could scrub her body better than anyone in the world, she was there when Anjali read her novels, telling her that Usha read such serious literature… And of course she was filling all the space between Anjali and Gautam, so that they had fewer embraces, fewer smiles and laughs to share and fewer moments together.
No, Mummyji never really came into their private space, but she was there in Anjali’s mind… Everywhere she went.
And then when it started mounting in her head, she told Gautam about it. “It irks me,” she said, “It bothers me. Can you please speak to Mummyji about it?” She thought he would understand. He was her perfect husband. The love of her life, her lover…
But he looked quite perplexed. He said, “Do you have any idea how much worse women have to go through? Mummy has her quirks. But it is not as if she is hurting you!”
Anjali was shocked, to say the least. Was Gautam suggesting that not hurting her physically is an act of kindness towards her? And therefore was he suggesting that she should not complain about anything that bothers her anymore? Because of course they would never torture her in any other way but in this one single thing! In-laws have their reputation to protect! Anjali was disillusioned, devastated, despondent, distraught.
That night she coiled up in a cocoon again. But this was no play, this was a nostalgic, consoling self-hug, reminiscent of the game she played ever since she was a child. She did not know if she would ever be a butterfly. The closest she had felt to being one, was now looking more like a make-believe, sham! She was not Gautam’s butterfly!
You never know when your dreams can come true, do you? They just have a way of coming true, if you really believe in them. The next morning Anjali had planned to bake some cake – she baked the fluffiest cakes in the neighbourhood, everyone knew that. While she was meticulously measuring every ingredient, Mummyji remembered Usha again. She said something about Usha baking cakes for her children’s birthday, the best cakes she knew.
Anjali froze, and then she stopped her baking. She typed in a quick SMS and hit send, on her phone. She carefully put away every ingredient for later, in small containers and jars. She was glad she had still not cracked the eggs and fluffed them – that would have gone waste! She picked up her purse from the room. She said, “Mummyji, I have got some work, I have told Gautam, I am going out for a bit, see you.” Mummyji stopped at her tracks. “Where?” She asked, but Anjali was already pulling the door shut.
She did not return for lunch. She had forgotten her cell phone at home. She did not come for evening tea either. Mummyji missed the elaichi (cardamom) tea that Anjali served her with hot pakoras every evening. The bell did not ring at all.
In the evening, Anjali opened the door with her key, just minutes before Gautam was about to return from work. She had been to the library all day. She had five books tucked under her arm, three ‘Mills and Boon’, one book on ‘Cooking a Romantic Meal for Two’ (She would have to just improvise a bit to make it three) and Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’. Later, maybe tomorrow, she had decided, she would meticulously compare the literary extravaganza to understand, why ‘Mills and Boon’ are junk and ‘As You Like It’ a classic, when the fact of the matter was, that both dealt with love and romance.
She had reasoned, what is the point in taking Mummyji seriously? What is the point in comparing myself to Usha? I can fill my day and my time with something more exciting, interesting and uplifting. The butterfly will find her wings eventually!
Published here earlier.
Image source: WallpaperCave