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He blamed her for brainwashing their children against him. But, this was not her concern anymore. She was done with him and his threats. He did not scare her anymore.
It was a beautiful day! The weather was just perfect. The sun was up and lit the small town of Mussoorie with just the right intensity of light. Hema sat by the window sill, looking out into the world, while sipping on her piping hot cup of honey and lemon green tea.
She saw her future before her eyes – Warm, Cozy and Luminous like the sun rays.
She closed her eyes for a while. To soak it all! And feel! She was naked, frozen and numb for years. And, for the first time in years, her soul felt love, warmth and happiness.
As she looked intently into the morning skies, she was transported back in time to another place in her distant past!
“Why is a pretty girl like you without a boyfriend?” Rajesh had asked her.
Startled by such a direction question, she had no ready answer to give him. The next day, he could not take his eyes off her as she walked into the class, in an emerald green salwar kameez, her coy eyes lined with a thick layer of smudged kohl, and her long hair loosely tied in a side braid. Rajesh watched her attentively as she took her place amongst her girlfriends and waited patiently to listen to her voice during the mandatory attendance call.
His heart skipped a beat. Everyday… every single time he heard her voice confirming her presence in the room. He was fatally attracted to her and it was time to begin the chase. He started to get closer to her and make small conversations. What started as a sweet casual banter, slowly rolled into a warm budding romance and finally snowballing into a passionate obsession and madness. Indeed, when there is no madness, it is not love. Then one, day, he said it.
“Hema! Marry Me!” he looked dreamily in her eyes.
“Oh! Rajesh!” she beamed bright and gay like the morning sun of Mussoorie. “Promise me you will never make me cry!”
“Hema, You are my Queen and I, your King! I will never ever let a single teardrop shed from your eyes.”
Hailing from the same community, Hema and Rajesh had little problem convincing their respective families. Soon enough, they were married.
And they lived happily ever after…Not!
Hema painfully learnt that life was not a bed of roses and unlike the fairy tale, lies. Rajesh was no Prince Charming as she rudely discovered. They were both young when they first got married in haste, barely 21.
Rajesh was a revelation to her. She could not recognise him anymore. At first, he got engrossed in making a good living for them. She did not mind the initial lack of attention and shifting of priorities from her to his career. She could wait… at least that is what she thought.
Things were not exactly bad. It was just not the life she envisioned for the two of them together. Or her! There was no time for love anymore. They were living like guests in their own house.
“Do you still love me?’” Hema asked Rajesh one morning over breakfast.
He looked at her with a stone face.
“Rajesh? Answer me.”
“Listen, Hema! I don’t have time for such meaningless questions. Okay? Relax and breathe easy. I have to go now,” he said as he left for his work, leaving her to emotionally fend for herself.
Hema realised she was lonelier than she had ever before. Rajesh barely cared to soothe her apprehensions and worries.
“Your home is your career, Hema! This is also a job. And, I don’t like you going out and interacting with all sorts of men…Hmm, I mean people!”
“Please change that dress. I don’t approve of your choices of late. You are a respectable married woman now.”
“Who asked you to post those pictures on Facebook without my prior permission?”
“Grow up, Hema!”
It started with mild disapproval and restrictions. She was not allowed to have any male friends and her every move was closely watched by Rajesh. Hema complied with Rajesh’s every demand as most good wives would do. After all, Rajesh was now her Parmeshwar (God).
When she could not carry the burden any longer in her heart, she poured out her emotions to a trusted few including her parents. But, they always brushed aside her worries, sadness and fears away saying this was just a normal phase in a marriage. Just another of those ‘ups and downs’ pattern in any marriage, they said. She was advised to give Rajesh time and have the patience to work it out to see the positive results.
Soon, they were blessed with a healthy pair of twins – a boy and a girl. Shlok and Myra. Hema’s life had some purpose finally and she was occupied and contented after a long time.
Hema was the perfect mother just as she was…as a wife, as a lover and a daughter. She was the epitome of supreme sacrifice, love and duty. Often, at the cost of her own happiness!
Fatherhood had little impact on Rajesh. He became even more preoccupied with his work, knowing the house and children were expertly taken care of by Hema. His social life comprised hanging out on weekend nights with his drinking partners.
The monster in Rajesh started to unleash more terrifyingly. Hema was greeted with slaps and blows when she confronted his drinking habits. She was pushed around and kicked for questioning his whereabouts.
The writing was clear on the wall – Hema had to change inside out and make all the effort for the greater good of marriage. But, Rajesh could deteriorate to the lowest level of bestiality to uphold the tradition of a husband!
The love that was so passionate and intense between them at the start, had been eaten away with the passing years. Amidst increasing rumours of his affair with his personal secretary and more women, Rajesh found no novelty factor or any interest in Hema anymore. She was not just taken for granted but was not valued or respected as a human being. Her thoughts, her dreams, her desires and ambitions meant nothing to Rajesh anymore. Hema was not an equal partner in her marriage but a subservient one. She had no say in her own life and she had no say in Rajesh’s as well. He lived his life as per his whims and super-inflated ego.
Yet, Hema chose to remain in her turbulent marriage not for the grand cause of love anymore but purely for the sake of their children. They needed a father…a family, more importantly, than her own happiness. Anyway, she had sacrificed her life and her dreams, so being in the marriage for the future well-being of her children made more sense than getting out of it.
And so outwardly, she projected a highly confident and happy contended front to mask the horrific reality.
For years, Hema had been sleeping on the bed of fear and living in pain! She lived her life in constant fear – the fear of being misjudged by her own husband, being slapped and kicked with his fist if she dared to disobey his orders, the feeling of being suffocated like a caged and gagged bird in her own home, the humiliation he put her through before her own children. She closed her eyes, shutting it tight lest her tears roll down and remind her how weak and helpless she had become.
Where did that feisty and bold Hema of the past disappear?
She had been her Daddy’s little princess all along. He had treated her like one. Never had he raised his hand on her. And here she was, supposedly the Queen in Rajesh’s life. But he abused her like no one else did. Emotionally, he scarred her heart with his criticisms, jabs and threats. Physically, he left her wounded in many places…from a twisted arm to a black eye to being dragged by the hair and hurled down to the floor. After years of horrendous torture, she felt no pain anymore. Her body and soul had become numb forever.
It was funny, how the man who she fell ‘head over heels’ in love with at one point of time, was simply detestable by the mere mention of his name or thought alone. His steel gray eyes which made her go weak in the knees in the past was now, a mirror reflection of his cruel heartless soul.
Hema did not remember the last time she saw herself in the mirror fearing her own reflection. She did not want to face up to the reality of the situation. And herself! She did not have the courage to face her own self. More than her parents or her children, she had let herself down with the choices she made at every stage. She had never felt so dejected, miserable and weak like this ever before. Why did she allow so much leeway and give consent to Rajesh to bring her to this state? Why did she throw away her life for this man? She was engulfed with a huge sense of shame and guilt. She did not like own self anymore.
Years passed by, and there were no more pretence and lies anymore. Shlok and Myra were all grown up now at 20 years. They detested their father with all their heart. They couldn’t stand his overbearing dominating behaviour, especially towards their mother. They couldn’t digest all his extramarital affairs while mistreating their mother. They wondered how their mother could put up with this man for so long. They couldn’t wait any longer to get rid of his dark presence which lurked and hovered around like an evil shadow in their lives .
“Mama! Divorce him. Just do it. For your sake and ours!” Shlok pleaded with his mother.
“Mama, what is stopping you? You don’t deserve to be treated like this! Why are you taking this upon yourself?’” Myra pleaded with her mother.
“I don’t love your father anymore. Perhaps, not even hate him. Rajesh has left me numb. This marriage is important to me because of you two.” Hema reasoned with her children.
Myra looked in her mother’s eyes and asked earnestly, “Mama, what if I was in your place right now? Would you want me to follow in your footsteps?”
Hema immediately placed her finger on Myra´s mouth. “Ssssshhh, Myra! You don’t talk of unpleasant things like that. Of course not! I would immediately rescue you from a monster like that and save your life from misery.”
“Exactly, Mama! We want the same for you. You have sacrificed already so much for everyone else’s happiness except your own. We don’t need any financial support from Papa. Shlok, you and I will work and support ourselves from now on. Mama, you may not be Papa’s queen anymore. But, you are ours. And we will not put our Queen’s life at stake anymore!” Myra said with a fierce determination.
“Yes, Mama! Myra is right. You still have so much of life to look forward to. You have no idea how wonderfully strong and resilient you are. We don’t know if we would have survived even a tenth of what you have been through. Mama, You have been through the worst of hell and survived while raising the two of us. You don’t need to endure this hell anymore. It is time to put an end to this misery for good and choose happiness for yourself. You deserve it, Mama! Forget and erase the past from the memory like a bad dream. Go and find that job that you have always wanted to …Dress the way your heart has always wished to…Make new friends…Go and conquer the world, Mama. You are now free!” Shlok said with a positive glint in his eyes.
Hema looked at her two children with gratitude and love in her eyes. If there was one thing that came good out of all this, it was Shlok and Myra! She regretfully looked into her past and wondered what stopped her from getting out of this marriage before. It took Shlok and Myra to give her that courage and strength to put an end to this torture and walk away from this man, who she called husband for many years. She had given him too many second chances in the blind faith that he would change someday. Alas! Just like dogs can never straighten their tail, it was impossible for some men like Rajesh to change their ways.
Hema finished drinking her tea. Rajesh did not take the divorce news too well. As usual, he started to abuse her and threaten her. He blamed her for brainwashing their children against him. But, this was not her concern anymore. She was done with him and his threats. He did not scare her anymore.
She had learnt the powerful lesson of not giving anyone, including Rajesh, the consent to hurt her anymore. She slapped charges of domestic violence and abuse on Rajesh and had taken legal aid to keep him out of her children and her life. She spoke openly and wrote about her life story in the ardent desire of educating and encouraging fellow women who were trapped in their own choices like her in the past. Today, she stood proud and tall as she was completely in charge of her own life.
It was time to rush to her school. She loved her current life and was happier than ever before. She found her true calling as a high school English teacher.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
As she read out the poem ‘Fire and Ice‘ by Robert Frost to her students, she smiled in quiet triumph. Like the references in the poem, her cold snowy ice demeanour finally put to rest his wild flaming fires. She was the victorious destroyer of the past and the re-creator of her own future and destiny.
Hema had finally moved on. Without Rajesh! And she lived happily ever after…
Author’s note: This is a fictional account of a true story.
Published here earlier.
Image source: By Wegmann (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons, for represenational purposes only.
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Winner of the Rashtriya Gaurav Award (2019) in association with the Government of Telangana for ‘
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