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“What if they really treated me like the daughter they never had? What if I had chosen to silently suffer rather than voting for dignity and freedom?” A short story.
It was that frighteningly nostalgic date again – 5th May.
It’s my wedding anniversary. Sorry. It USED TO BE my wedding anniversary. Sometimes, I wish I could still talk in all present tense, especially on this day, at least about my marriage. It has been five years since I last saw Shekhar on those steep, ominous stairs, outside the courtroom.
Shekhar and I had first met at my sister’s friend’s birthday party. There is one more law of attraction that I was unaware of till our first meeting: that it is pre-determined whom we are going to be attracted to. And then, the looks, the academic brilliance, the million definitions of The ONE become irrelevant. That had been Shekhar and me in that birthday party, drawn to each other by an invisible pull. “You are beautiful.” Shekhar had spoken with his dreamy eyes.
We had seen each other the following week and then the next one till the meetings were predictable enough to be a pattern. I was 21 then – passionate, spirited and very much a starry-eyed young lady. Shekhar was 4 years older and undoubtedly more composed. He was chivalrous. He would take me to my favorite hangouts in the city, open the doors and wait for me to lead, compliment me when he felt I deserved one and inspire me. I could endlessly listen to his eloquent interpretations of Literature, Movie, Philosophy and Politics. He would make me feel at home even when I went to his parties. I felt acknowledged, I felt precious and I felt alive with Shekhar.
Shekhar had been working with a reputed accountancy firm when we had first met. The tough test of our relationship knocked on our doors when we were two years into our relationship. Shekhar’s job required him to accept a work assignment in UK for the duration of one year.
I could sense Shekhar’s helpless despair in the tone of his voice on his final call from the airport, before his departure. I was so terribly addicted to him that the mere thought of not hearing my phone beep every 20 minutes in the distinctive ‘Shekhar tone’ was depressing. But, I learnt a valuable lesson while he was gone – “where there is love, there is hope and strength”. Days without Shekhar were dispiriting, disquieting, empty but I tried to recover from my melancholia, with love as my strength and hope.
After Shekhar’s return from the UK, we both felt that it was about time we tied the knot. So, 5th May happened. Our wedding. A celebration of our love, yearning, companionship and affinity. We were our most radiant, most beautiful selves. Our picturesque honeymoon amidst azure blue waters and the enchanting white sands of Maldives still appears to be a chapter out of a fairytale romance. I am wearing that white seashell necklace today. Shekhar had chosen it for me as a souvenir from our honeymoon.
We had longed to be with each other. Marriage was the culmination of that yearning. We felt relieved in the knowledge that we would no longer need to wish each other good night over messages and phone calls.
The initial days were peaceful, romantic and joyful. Shekhar’s parents stayed with us. I was happy to not have an empty house to myself after Shekhar left for work. Though we had a cook, I cooked something special for Shekhar and his parents, each day. I treated them like precious elders. After all, they were my Shekhar’s parents. However, as luck would have it, the honeymoon period did not last for long.
It started dawning on me as a result of everyday incidents and evident changes in their behavior towards me that my parents-in-law were not very different from the ones that I had met on television soaps or heard of from my married friends and cousins.
They wanted me to live my life on their terms. I couldn’t choose what to cook, what to wear, whom to mingle with, when to return home. The saddest part was that they always made me feel like I was not good enough, that I needed to change in order to be accepted. There was a huge commotion every time I did something to honor my free will. To make matters worse, Shekhar was perpetually unavailable- too absorbed in his work, conferences, meetings and tours. I felt stifled. There was no one I could confide in. I don’t know why I always wanted my parents to believe that I was living the life of my dreams. I could talk to my best friend but then again there was no way she could rescue me.
I don’t remember my parents ever imposing their thoughts or plans on me. I was treated with respect and was allowed adequate freedom to choose my path and voice my opinions. I had assumed, I would continue to enjoy the rights I had been accustomed to, even after marriage. I had met Shekhar’s parents, quite a few times, before marriage. However, some people are really good at displaying their best traits in public. That had been Shekhar’s parents’ and my misfortune.
On a weekend, over a cup of coffee, I had discussed my situation with Shekhar. Shekhar had seemed to understand my problems. He had said, he would talk it out with his mother and all would be fine. I had felt relieved and reassured.
True to his promise, Shekhar had talked it out with his mother. Only, nothing concrete came out of it. His parents’ strict monitoring and screening of my routine continued, like before. Their absolute authority over my life remained unchanged. It seemed as though it was my duty to inculcate self-pity and vulnerability, so they could continue to wield their dominance. Stepping out of the house without their permission or even choosing to pray in my preferred way, were perceived as disrespect.
I wasn’t meant to be a prisoner. I wasn’t meant to be a slave. I was restless and wanted to talk to Shekhar and ventilate my feelings. He had advised me to attempt at bridging the generation gap and to ‘undo’ the idea that his parents had bad intentions. Sadly, he wasn’t home all day to witness the extremes of impositions and intrusions.
We had planned to celebrate our first anniversary with a mini getaway to the Andaman Islands but his parents had wanted otherwise. Their wish prevailed. We had a huge party in a banquet hall with a roomful of unfamiliar faces. My dream of a temporary escape from the confines of the house and spending some precious days with Shekhar, away from his hectic life, remained unfulfilled.
The problem was that the story of forced choices kept repeating itself. My wishes, my life was least important to the important people in my new family. As though I was not supposed to matter. I had adjusted, accommodated and tolerated everything for the sake of my love… for Shekhar. My love for him was the source of my strength.
Shekhar would leave for work at 9 am and return at 10 pm. We would get the tiny window of half an hour to converse with each other, in the whole day. I didn’t want that precious half an hour to be about negative words but my frustration would surface, inadvertently. The endless compromises, the perpetual suppression, the constant choking feeling had started to weigh me down. I had become irritable, short-tempered and gloomy. I had lost my essence. And then there were frequent arguments with Shekhar, some heated fights.
I had suggested a permanent solution, that of renting a separate apartment. Shekhar was completely against the idea. To distract myself and to maintain my sanity, I had registered on job portals. However, just like any other fresher without a professional qualification, I had failed to secure a decent job. The squabbles, the suffocation and the conflicts continued till I had the last iota of energy to be someone I was not. After putting up a brave fight for many months, I lost the power to live a dictated life and voted for dignity and freedom.
It’s been 5 years since Shekhar and I parted ways. Perhaps, Shekhar’s purpose in my life was to teach me the meaning of yearning – the kind of longing that one feels for azure blue seas and enchanting white sands. I know, our paths are different now, never to converge again.
However, on days I still think of how different my life would have been with a little more understanding and acceptance on the part of Shekhar’s parents. What if they really treated me like the daughter they never had? What if I hadn’t considered the pain of being a second class citizen in their home to be relevant, like many other women in our country? What if I had chosen to silently suffer rather than voting for dignity and freedom? Would that have been the right choice especially since it is considered a woman’s responsibility to sacrifice and efface her entity to maintain ‘peace and harmony‘ in the household? Would Shekhar ever lament his loss for not taking a bold?
Yes, the questions are endless and there are no standard answers but I have to confess, there’s a certain contentment and peace in flying free, un-caged and unfettered by shackles of subservient hopelessness in a new life where I can be fearlessly ME.
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