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“I hope you will dress traditionally, show the world that you are a married woman. I don’t want all those guys in the office to look at you!”
Here is the fifth winner of our April 2017 Muse of the Month contest, Krshka Afonso.
The cue for this month was from the movie Kahaani, in which the cop, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, tells Vidya Balan that she should wind up what she is doing and go back. To which she politely replies that she does not need to be told what she should or should not do.
Siya felt their eyes on her, heard the whispered laughter. She knew how these girls saw her. Aunty, Behenji, village belle who lost her way into a software company. If only they saw me at home, with this sari pallu over my head, thought Siya. Someday, they would know better. She froze, let that never happen, let them never experience what she had been through.
Had it only been five years that she had been one of these girls, enjoying the start of their professional lives, and the financial freedom that came along? When she tried to remember, she could only remember Rishi. Rishi, a few years older than her and working in the same company, had swept her off her feet. She had been on cloud nine as a quick courtship was followed by a fairy tale wedding.
Her first shock came after the return from their honeymoon. She was so excited that they would re-join their jobs after the wedding leave, and be in the same office. To her rude shock, Rishi said, “I will come with you when you resign. I can get HR to waive off the notice period. They will understand.” Siya tried to reason, but she soon realised that Rishi not only had a problem with her working in the same office, he had a problem with her working in the first place. She was very disturbed, but did as he said. After all, wasn’t a happy marriage the most important thing in life?
If only I had known better.
In the years to come, she lost her self-esteem, confidence, everything. How could she not have seen how regressive Rishi was when it came to her. Everything that she thought happens to other women, was happening to her. She had kept quiet when he first hit her, thought she could get peace by just being patient. She had considered walking out completely, almost done it. But without a job, how long would she last? Her parents would be sympathetic at first, but she knew that there would be only so long that they would be able to stand up to social pressure. They would be heartbroken that she had chosen so miserably.
She realised that she would not be able to extricate herself out of this mess in one stroke. Financial and social pressures would make her go back to Rishi, and then her condition would be even worse than what it was now. She had to fight this battle slowly, one step at a time.
She had to work on Rishi for months, but she managed to convince him, that it would be good for his image if she started working again. Until they had a baby, of course. Not a demanding job, something close to home, not in a company that was perceived as having a higher status than the one he himself worked. But something that he could mention in front of his colleagues and relatives. And yes, she would not let her responsibilities at home suffer.
Rishi agreed and spoke to his parents as well. None of them must have expected me to get a job; they certainly did not make it easier for me. Visits to relatives, pujas at home, everything seemed to be happening just when she started getting interview calls. Those calls were precious chances. In the beginning there were none. In a job market where recruiters were spoiled for choice, nobody wanted to waste time calling someone whose only work experience was less than a year, and that too almost five years ago. Slowly, through old classmates, she managed to go for a few interviews, but her lack of preparation meant that it went no further.
If I had a rupee for every time someone told me to quit, smiled Siya. She could expect no encouragement from Rishi, rather he kept saying I told you so. She found time to study despite all odds. Even then, she couldn’t join the first company she cleared the interview at, because Rishi and her in-laws declared it to be too far from their home. She had to take that in her stride too, and finally she found this job that met all their conditions.
She was on tenterhooks until her first day, afraid that Rishi would derail her new beginning. She took extra care around him and her in-laws. “I hope you will dress traditionally, show the world that you are a married woman. I don’t want all those guys in the office to look at you”, he said. That’s why she would turn up gaudily dressed to office, looking like she belonged at a wedding.
She had to hand over her entire salary to her mother-in-law. She wished she could buy something smart for herself, be able to go to the cafeteria at work. Still she was so excited that she was able to go to office.
At her first appraisal discussion, the team leader, younger than her, had been upfront. “See Siya, HR has introduced all these inclusion and diversity targets, we are trying to support women. But you have to keep up with the pace of work. You are on review for the next 6 months, else we will have to let you go.” Somehow, without being able to stay back at work, or work from home; she managed to keep her head above water. She remembers those days well, how she didn’t have time to breathe. How she went over algorithms in her head as she cooked dinner.
She was strong. She had come far, and was now searching for the next step.
And then she met Kirti. Kirti who was her closest friend all those years ago, when both of them had just started working. The same Kirti whom Siya dropped like a hot potato once Rishi entered her life. When Kirti tried to warn Siya, Siya accused her of jealousy. That was the last time they spoke. Kirti who now looked so confident and sophisticated. Siya hesitated to approach her now, but Kirti came to her and hugged her in delight.
Slowly the two women picked up where they had left. It did not take Kirti too long to figure out the mess that Siya was in. Kirti was careful, she could take Siya to counsellors, lawyers, whatever she wanted, but the decision had to be Siya’s. She was already facing enough stigma for still being single, and she did not want to be accused of being a bad influence on a married woman. After all, in the eyes of society, Siya was the settled one, the one Kirti should aspire to be.
It took weeks for Siya to plan the whole thing in her mind. Surreptitiously she started bringing her passport, college certificates, etc. to office and keeping them locked up. It took so many days, because she could not arouse suspicion. She organised a cleaning binge at home, so that she could lay hands on all the documents that she needed. She could not trust Rishi any more, and she knew that she had to be very smart and careful in how she planned her escape.
Her office was sending a few people to the client side in Europe, but they would have to be interviewed by them first. Everyone was shocked when Siya signed up. She managed to get the slots in the earlier hours, there would be hell to pay if she got home late. She made herself look professional for the video conferences, by borrowing clothes from Kirti that she changed into, for just that time. And she studied, like her life depended on it. After all, for the others in the fray, this was only a chance to travel, to make some money. For Siya this was a lifeline.
She knew that the assignment was only for a few months, but she was prepared. Once she returned, there would be no going back to Rishi. She would look for a new job in a different city, far away.
Tonight was her flight. Kirti had purchased a suitcase for her, and also clothes and other things that she would need. All these days, she had made sure that she cleaned her phone for any travel related messages. It was a normal morning in the house, rather what she had rationalised in her mind as normal. Waking up at 5, cooking breakfast and lunch (her in-laws did not believe in employing maids, the maid could come after they were dead, they said and Rishi nodded), weathering criticisms at her every step, the odd slap from Rishi, and somehow managing to catch the office bus.
She changed at the end of the day. These were her new clothes, not clothes that she would have to return to Kirti. And left for the airport. There were so many calls and angry messages from Rishi, his mother must have told him that she was not back home. At the boarding gate, she dialled Rishi’s number. A moment of remorse as memories flooded over her, of the early days when Rishi was so caring. The centre of my world, he called her. She was jerked to reality by his voice, angry and vicious, “Where are you, you b****?”. How and when had he morphed into this monster?
She spoke the words that had taken years in the making.
“Rishi, I am leaving.”
Krshka Afonso wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2017. Congratulations!
Image source: pixabay