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Constantly being asked to change your ways gets very tiring, very soon. Don’t succumb, rise like the phoenix, says this story.
One of the top 5 entries for December’s Muse of the Month writing theme, with the cue “It’s astonishing how we comment on change, as if change is something remarkable. On the contrary, not to change is unnatural, against nature.” from Shashi Deshpande’s That Long Silence.
“I am leaving you, Anant.” Anita’s statement, assertive in a way Anita herself had never been in twenty-four years of marriage, hung uneasily in the quiet air of their home. A home that was quieter now since both their kids no longer lived here.
“Oh, come on, Anita, I am hungry. Mala jevan vaadh (serve me my food),” he brushed it off.
“Anant, this won’t take long. I have packed already. I need to hand over the keys to you and explain the arrangements made with the servants. This diary has all the numbers that you will need.” She looked up to see that her husband, for the first time in his life, was lost for words.
He sat down heavily and looked at her. Stared as if she was some alien from outer space…which she supposed she was, as far as his understanding of her went!
“Why?’ He asked. “I provide well for us. We have a good life…. I don’t beat you or anything.” Anant ran his hands through his thinning hair.
He truly had no clue, she realised.
“Where do I start, Anant?” She took a deep breath. “Like Maria says in ‘The Sound Of Music’…Let’s start at the very beginning….a very good place to start.” He seemed nonplussed by her sarcasm.
She continued, “The early years of our marriage? When you looked down upon me for being a “Gaonwali” (village simpleton), publicly disparaged my accent, my loud laugh, my inability to eat with a fork and knife….ohh a hundred things.”
Anita closed her eyes. It still seemed so fresh, all those little cruelties. Her throat was tight with emotion. “Remember you changed my name from Bhagyalaxmi to Anita during our wedding? What was wrong with ‘Bhagyalaxmi’? Too rustic for you, of course. So, I became Anita, to match Anant…a modern name for a modern man’s wife! Oh, how well I remember your reluctance to introduce me to your friends…your embarrassment. Ours was an arranged match! So why didn’t you say ‘no’ at the outset?”
Anant was dumbfounded. “That was many years ago. Now, you are different.”
Anita said, “Yes, I am getting to that. You see, I changed myself. Learnt to talk, walk, dress, so that I could become your version of a perfect wife. For years, I watched my weight, ate carefully, exercised till I passed out; all to fit in with your idea of a wife. ” She shrugged. “I accepted the change…whole-heartedly embraced it. Nothing really wrong with being well groomed, except when it is a criterion for a husband to tolerate his wife. So, am I the perfect wife now?”
Anant nodded cautiously.
Anita continued, “I would have loved to work when the kids were older…but, that didn’t agree with you, did it? So, I changed myself again…killed my dreams of a career.”
Anita rubbed her hands over her eyes. She was feeling so pent up with bitterness.
“But, you never changed, Anant. Not an iota. Right from the way you need your morning cuppa to the dilution of your evening peg of Scotch…your aversion to housework to the distaste to being a hands-on dad. Instead, I changed what I needed in a husband…acceptance, affection, support.”
Anant was sneering slightly. “Come on, Anita, you want a mushy romance-novel-hubby?”
“No, twenty-four years of marriage takes away the mush, leaving only the practical parts.” She answered.“You know what was the last straw on the camel’s back, Anant? Our Vineet approached us with such courage and hope, and confided in us about being ‘gay’… and what do you do? Throw him out of the house! I intervene, and you warn me against supporting my own child! Follow my rules if you want to stay here, you said.”
Anita was in tears as she said, “For the past few weeks, I have been asking myself this. If I could change so much, to save a relationship that was important to me, then why can’t you? If we….his parents do not support him, then who will? Are your beliefs so set in stone that you cannot accept your own son as he is? ”
She searched his face for a moment, wondering if her impassioned appeal would move him. She found her answer in his stony gaze.
She paused, “I have found a job on a temporary basis. Not much, but it is a start. I will be staying with Vineet for a while. Incidentally, our daughter fully supports me in this. Her email to you should be in your inbox. Read it. Shashi has grown to be a daughter that we can be proud of.”
At the door, she turned around, “If you need to get in touch with me, you can call and ask for Bhagyalaxmi.”
Pic credit: Image of the phoenix bird via Shutterstock.
Hi. I am an anaesthetist by profession living and working in Mumbai.
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