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Life after divorce is not easy, but there were two things Preity came away with – a precious child, and equally precious – her dignity.
A flurry of thoughts went through Preity’s mind as she tried to put her 5 year old son to sleep. It had been two years since she got a divorce from her ex-husband Karthik. She could not but weigh her life before and after divorce. Even though life after had given her a great sense of relief and peace of mind, it was not all easy for her.
She felt bemused by the stark, dismissive response she often received from others. She remembered how people around her used to be warm towards her when she was resilient towards her husband’s arrogance and infidelity, and coped with the harsh realities of life. However, the moment she decided to let go of her marriage, all of a sudden, she became the ‘bad woman‘ in everyone’s eyes, including that of her parents.
After a tumultuous marriage and a nasty divorce, she decided to spare the man of any maintenance amount, for the simple reason that she did not have the energy to see him on a regular basis on that count. Instead, as a one time settlement, she was given the ownership of the studio flat they had lived in until then.
Her only prized possession, other than her home, was her 5 year old son, Jovan, the sole person in the whole wide world for whom her heart beat. Just a look at her son’s innocent face would make her leave behind all her painful memories and worries about the future.
She always made sure that she fed her son and put him to bed before 9, so as to not terrorize the child by the random knocks at her door, which she was so used to hearing after that time. Some who act as puritans in broad daylight, turn hooligans after the onset of darkness, eyeing her flesh. Some of them in an inebriated condition, would shout and swear outside in frustration, asking her to open the door.
They think that since she is a woman with all the desires, she will one day or the other, open the door to quench her thirst for physical intimacy. Some are even kinder; they sneak out of their flats, (mostly behind the backs of their wives) and drop in their telephone numbers. Interestingly, these incidents too happen way past ten or midnight!
She laughed inside thinking about these men who care so much about a single woman who is so alone and deprived of sex! Who said the world is full of evil people? Not when there are such people, brimming with benevolence in their hearts!
In the morning, Priety usually walked past a crowd of young men, mostly out of college, who did not have jobs yet and loitered in the apartment lounge. Their main hobby, as they called it themselves was ‘Bird watching’. Although she was atleast ten or fifteen years older than them, that was not at all a cause of concern for them. In the morning, when she walked past them to drop her son at the bus bay, she could see from the corner of her eyes, those drooling faces and hear voices all of a sudden skyrocketing just to grab her attention.
She was so used to the daily stunts now that she just chuckled at the thought and hurried back to her apartment to get ready for work. She felt relieved that these men at least had their raging hormones to blame, unlike those middle aged men sneaking behind their wives’ backs.
Priety had been working in a small private advertising company. Although the salary was not enough, that was the best she could find, and she regretted not completing her MBA before she decided to marry Karthik. Her dream of pursuing higher education had became bleak once the responsibility of the house fell solely on her slender shoulders and being only a graduate in Accountancy, she had to clip her dreams of a job with better pay. She worked hard and although not quite what she had studied, her job included being a Personal Secretary to the boss, an Accountant and at times assistant to the Editor in designing cover pages and making captions for the brands.
Her office was on the fifth floor of an apartment that was just two kms away from her home and she used to walk to work to save money. It gave her the added bonanza of being a slim and svelte lady, unlike those of her age who had put on fat in unwanted areas. She had been working there for three years, since her son was two.
Since the news of her divorce became public, her boss too started trying to fool around with her. She could see the lust in his eyes every time she had a meeting with him in the cabin. She became wary of his flirtatious attitude and gestures.
The clown once started jabbering about his passion for palmistry and insisted that Preity should let him read her palms. Even before she said yes or no, he had already came over to her side of the table, and leaned over. The six foot tall man towered over her and in a swift move, he got hold of her hand. Although she tried to pull her hand away, with a sheepish excuse that she didn’t believe in such things, his grip was so strong that she could not budge. The guy on the pretense of reading her palm began running his fingers all over her palm, his eyes fixed on her face. Just then, like a messiah sent by God, Rahul, one of the Managers at work, barged in, after a careless knock on the door.
It had become a regular scene at office for Rahul to come to her aid, whenever she took a little more time than expected in the boss’s cabin. He had been such a protective and caring friend, and he was the one person in whom Preity could confide her problems. He was a handsome guy in his late thirties and a very honest gentleman.
He had got into a love marriage with a conservative girl from Allahabad, where he had gone for an internship, and they settled in the suburbs of Mumbai. But inspite of the fact that there was so much love between them, his wife had set boundaries for Priety and her phone calls were usually screened and chat histories regularly scrutinized.
Priety was so very unwelcome and she could discern it clearly from his wife’s behaviour. Rahul used to hint that his wife was very possessive about him. But quite apart from possessiveness, Preity understood that this feeling was only towards her. She understood that his wife was so very insecure simply because she, Preity, was single. The wife believed that single women are lovelorn and that they can go to any extent to seduce men, single or married to satisfy their need for pleasure.
The other day, Preity wanted help with an assignment that she brought home and when she called, Rahul’s wife picked up as usual and mouthed her usual, “Well, what’s up honey, anything urgent? Rahul is busy right now with something else. If it’s something that I can pass on….”
This ordeal sometimes got on Preity’s nerves, and she had the urge to shout, “Lady, don’t be so insecure! I was strong enough to let go my man for my dignity, and that means I am strong enough to denounce a thousand men, and please understand, all that matters in life is not just men or sex!” These words always hung in the background, but Preity bit back her tongue and instead mentioned respectfully that she needed some help with office work. The insecure lady would then hand over the phone to a much embarrassed Rahul, who would always end up saying a thousand sorries the next day at office, for his wife’s immature behavior.
Preity’s day doesn’t end with all this. She had accepted the hard way that the problem is not just men; her presence is hated even by the aunties next door, who shun her and exclude her from all their activities as she is a lady who dared to break the ‘Saat Pheres’ and leave her husband behind, a grave sin. Modest women would not do that. They would suffer in silence and not let others know about what happened in the interior of their homes!
The aunties would then talk incessantly about her connections with all those who knocked at her door in the night and scheme plots to oust her from the apartment. What if their obedient daughters or daughters-in-law learn a few lessons from Preity and take a fancy for feminist ideologies?
At lonely moments, Preity would stand in the balcony and look at the starlit sky which would bring back nostalgic memories of her childhood and the corner of her home where she had spent most of her life. Her cozy little room where she used to listen to music, and write poems, often about watching the skies through the window…now that door too has been shut on her eternally as her parents could not digest the fact that their docile daughter could have the audacity to commit the sin of divorce. Atleast their son-in-law was providing for her and the child; she should have been grateful for the money! How stupid of her to turn down a secure life – whether she was happy or not is immaterial!
Preity had now come to terms with the loneliness and all the other stigma that was attached to her single status. Her son was sound asleep in her lap and she gently tried to get his head off the lap and on to the pillow, when her eyes filled with tears and one drop rolled down her cheeks and fell on the forehead of the child, who was startled and woke up. In his innocent voice, he asked her what the matter was. She had no answer; she didn’t even knew why she cried, when she was sure she was happy inside,
“Mamma, don’t cry, what if papa divorced you, I will not divorce you!” the half dazed child quipped with a naughty smile. Her prized possession, her son, his little mind too understood bits and pieces about her divorce. She lowered her head and kissed her son, assured of the happiness that he was there with her always.
She gently stroked his hair and as though it were a magical touch, he fell asleep again. Preity wondered how little children always fell asleep so soon. Yes, she was not sad to have lost all, but happy that she had her son by her side and a dignity that she did not part with, in return for the useless tag of being a ‘modest’ woman.
Through her tears, her eyes shone with hope and the faith that she did need not need anyone other than this little piece of joy and as long as she had him, she was the richest person on earth and nothing else mattered at all!
Top image via Unsplash