“How come it was okay for them to relentlessly pursue their careers? Why do I need to feel guilty about loving my job just because I possessed a vagina?” A short story.
Here is the fifth winner of our December 2016 Muse of the Month contest, Kasturi Patra.
The cue for this month was “There is love and understanding in this knowledge. There is sorrow.” – Namita Gokhale, Shakuntala: The Play of Memory.
‘Hi, I will be a bit late for the presentation today, can you put Amrita before me?’ I gushed.
‘Ok, but this is the second time this month, Radha, you need to buckle up!’ Came Tanvir’s concerned voice.
‘Yeah I know. Sorry for this time.’ I replied meekly.
I cut the call and started assembling our lunch packs. Deepak had to leave early again today and hence I got late. He didn’t even wake up to help me when he knew I was in a hurry and in the last moment he blocked the bathroom. I let out a deep sigh to ease out my frustration. It has been a frequent phenomenon these days. The days I told him I had important meetings turned out to be the very days when he too needed to leave early even though his shift usually began from noon.
I suspect whether it has got anything to do with my impending promotion that was due in a year’s time. He did seem delighted hearing this and he even treated me in a five star hotel but somehow, his smile didn’t reach his eyes. The delectable Goanese food turned bland when he suddenly mentioned how he will see even less of me from now on.
Deepak and I have been living together for the last three years. We’d met at a common friend’s party and the spark had flown from the word go. The very next day, we decided to go for a movie and then that turned into a dinner to end with coffee and kisses for dessert.
We had been perfect for each other. We wanted the same kind of things: we were both from Kolkata and had settled in Delhi for work, we both loved to read and travel, we’ve both had messy relationships before, and we both wanted someone who would understand us as friends before we took the plunge into the lifelong commitment of marriage.
However, as the newness of discovering each other started to wear off, reality slowly crept into our relationship. We were both busy professionals. I work for an airline and he, in a market research firm.
The problems seemed to surface since this promotion prospect of mine though there were small issues even before that. I worked in the network planning department and every time there was a new route proposal, I needed to stay late for meetings and projects. His work was less demanding.
I’d tell him that I’d been passionate about aviation ever since I was three. I did an aerospace engineering and MBA in aviation management so that I get to work in this field. When I got the job with this new airline startup, I was over the top! It’s been only four years for me and they are already considering me for the position of the head of the network planning team, where I’d be directly reporting to the CEO! How could I not be happy with my job?
He knew I loved this profession even before he proposed me. Deepak’s job paid him well but he didn’t particularly love it or hate it, he just did it because of the money. Maybe, that was the reason why he never really thought of putting in more effort than required and perhaps that’s why my attitude to give in my best and even some more, irked him so much!
I even suggested whether he could start exploring other avenues that he might be more passionate about, to which he said he loved the security of his stable job and didn’t want to switch as of yet. Fine! If mediocrity satisfied him then that was none of my business. What I worried about was that he thought even I shouldn’t take my job seriously.
After I announced the good news of my forthcoming promotion, he’d been acting a lot differently. He’d been calling me more often at work when he knew that it was difficult for me to converse freely. When I didn’t pick his call after his several tries, he’d throw a tantrum once I returned.
Anyway, that night I thought I should come out clear with him. I returned from work and cooked his favorite meal. After dinner, I asked him to sit with me.
‘Baby, I think something had been bothering you over the last few months. Could you please get it off your chest?’ I held his hand stared into his eyes.
He looked down at our hands. ‘We’d started off so well thinking our priorities and life views were so similar, only after all these years do I realize that we do have some fundamental differences and I’m finding it difficult to come to terms with it.
‘I’d never met a girl who is this much into her career. Trust me, I’m all for women empowerment. You know how I always help you with the housework and never stop you from having your personal space. But since my childhood no one prepared me for a girl who was so career-driven. Don’t get me wrong, you’re amazing! But what hurts me is that I’m not THE most important thing in your life.
‘Growing up, I saw all my girl cousins getting married and opting for ‘convenient’ jobs, if at all they worked, you know? Even the girlfriends I had so far, seemed to be more interested in discussing how many children we’d have post marriage or whether I had a chance to settle abroad because they’d love to tour Europe or America.
‘See I’m not saying all women are like that but these are the women I’d seen so far in my life. No matter how progressive I thought I was, I too had set that expectation in my head that for Indian women, their personal lives came before their careers. I’m sorry if I sound like a jerk, but this is my first time with someone like you and honestly, I’m not being able to accept it.
‘I, being a guy, don’t care about my work as much as you do and somewhere deep down this feeling is hurting me. I know, it’s extremely chauvinistic and trust me, even I hate myself for thinking this way but that is what I’ve been lately feeling. I’m sorry, Radha, I don’t know what to do. Maybe, I’m not as liberated as I thought myself to be.’
I was quiet for a while. I’d always thought him to be as free thinking as me and never ever did he act like a sexist man in any way. And though I was glad with his honesty and though I appreciated how he accepted his own shortcomings, I just couldn’t help feel disappointed with him.
‘Can we not give it some more time, Deep? Maybe you’re seeing this for the first time and that’s why it is making you feel uneasy? We are perfect for each other and you know how much I love you. Of course you’re important to me but so is my work. Just because of this reason…?’ I trailed off.
‘I’ve thought over it more than you can imagine, baby, but I’m just not being able to come to terms with it. I think the reason has got to do more with me than you. Had I been so passionate about my job, maybe I would have understood. But somehow you make me feel like less of a ….’
I couldn’t believe he actually said that. The so called liberal guy with whom I’d been living in for three years! ‘It makes you feel less of man, that’s what you wanted to say, right?’
He lowered his eyes. ‘I’m sorry but even I didn’t know that beneath the surface I too wanted someone like my mother or my cousins. I just hated to admit it. You know my uncle had two children. The daughter was academically brilliant and the son was just an average student.
‘People always used to say to my uncle, ‘How sad that fate played such a cruel trick on your kids. The boy who needed to be smart turned out average and the girl, who is destined to go to another’s house, was the smarter one. That didi of mine wanted to do a PhD in Physics. She even got full scholarship from a university in the U.S. Her parents told her that her life would be more fulfilled with her husband and they married her off instead of letting her study. Today, my didi helps my brother-in-law in his business with his accounts and manages her kids. She could have been a scientist but instead chalked out her life for her.’ He stopped.
‘And yet you think that by the virtue of our gender, our whole life needs to be decided by others?’ I couldn’t help the tears that choked my voice.
‘Believe me, babes I had been trying but I get blinded by jealousy and frustration and end up venting it upon you. I feel horrible afterwards. I’m not a bad person. Yet, I end up hurting you because I myself am hurting. How long can I continue this way before we have a bitter ending? Is it not better that we part ways as friends?’
I fell on his chest and howled like a baby. This guy was so genuine. He actually accepted that he had been conditioned to think like a MAN by our society and yet, he had the humility to accept his shortcomings. I respected his honesty and his vulnerability. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that he too somewhere might have been a sexist who’ll always think of me as a girl before he thought of me as an equal human.
I now know him at his best and at his worst and maybe it was the same with him, as well.
There was love and understanding in this knowledge we shared. However, there was also a deep undercurrent of sorrow threatening to weaken our love with time.
‘Maybe now that we understand each other a little better, the understanding won’t let us be together.’
‘Maybe…’ he whispered while pulling me to his chest and stroking my hair.
The breakup was horrible. Never before did I love someone so intensely. Though we were still in touch with each other through social media, and though it still hurt really badly, I knew we’d made the right decision.
Sometimes when I look back I do feel a twitch in my heart for those happy memories. However, when I’m working and I realize that I am helping in building the future of an airline, I do smile thinking that I’d never ever give up this feeling for anything else. ‘Am I being selfish?’ I sometimes think. And then I look at the men around me–How come it was okay for them to relentlessly pursue their careers? Why do I need to feel guilty about loving my job just because I possessed a vagina?
And then I figure, there must be humans like me out there. People who understand that it is okay to love yourself and it is okay to give your likes and dislikes priority, that it is okay to not sacrifice your happiness because of societal expectations. ‘Will I ever meet someone like that?’ I wonder.
And then, when I sit in the evening with a glass of wine and a book, I realize that though life isn’t absolutely perfect, it has still been a satisfactory journey and I’d not give up on anything to have changed the course of my life as it taught me some of the most valuable lessons. There is love and understanding in this knowledge. There is sorrow, as well. However, there is no regret and there never will be.
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!