“A wonderful day to spend among women in leadership” said Rashmi Karthik an attendee of Women #BreakingBarriers Bangalore. Breaking Barriers is now coming to Pune, Panjim, Kolkata, Coimbatore, Chennai. Register now to attend!
I always thought of women as being there to serve us men. To love us, to care for us, to give us their lives. I was never told otherwise and I never bothered to find out either.
Today was going to be the day. One last try. I owed it to myself. I owed it to her. I owed it to our marriage of 15 years. I winced as I recalled the events that had led to me coming out of the drama that had unfolded as a much married man.
I was about 30 years old, armed with not only a Master’s Degree from the United States of America but also with an offer of a lucrative job from a very prestigious company. I had been given 2 weeks of time before I would be starting with the company that hired me as a Project Manager, and I set about to find a bride for myself in that short period. My parents had already started looking for potential candidates. All I had to do was to approve one of them.
Being so young, the only thing I was interested in was of course the outwardly appearance. I’ve had my share of fun with some ‘firangi’ ladies, but of course as my wife I wanted someone who was simple, chaste and proper. My complexion was on the dark side, so I needed my wife to be fair skinned. I was tall, so though not unduly concerned about her height, I needed her to match up to me. She had to be slim of course, but properly endowed. I was pretty relieved that I could dictate what qualities I wanted in my wife because of my professional qualifications and the sheer fact that I was a man! I was a prize catch and I was going to take full advantage of my exalted status.
I went through a bevy of pictures and bio-datas of eligible bachelorettes before settling on Su’s. She was a classic Indian beauty. Fair, slim, not too tall, rounded in areas that mattered to me.
There were protests from my family that she came from a poor family and was past the marriageable age – she was almost my age. They had made a mistake by including her in the pictures that were sent to me. She was a career woman who was helping with the finances of her family. She had worked to get her younger siblings educated and settled. Her parents were old now and she wanted to keep earning to support them. Her parents however wanted her to get married. They felt very guilty about their daughter’s life not taking off and were doing everything in their power to get her married and settled.
No matter how hard I tried to ignore her candidature, I kept looking at her picture. It was like I was besotted with her. I could not picture anyone else as my wife. My parents had to give in reluctantly. The day I flew in, I was supposed to go see her in person. It was a very exciting time for me. I was going to meet the woman who had made her place in my dreams.
I stared at her for a long time as she made her way towards the room we were all sitting in. She moved with grace and poise. I kept looking at her as she sat down. She for her part kept her head down, not even glancing at me. I could not imagine what she was worried about. My mom was being so nice to her, complimenting her on her looks though it would have been better had her nose been not so broad. She gave Su good advice too. She asked her to control her eating and start an exercise plan so that she could be slimmer on her wedding day. She generously gave her a gift certificate to a very prestigious beauty parlor where she could get a facial done. She advised her to get bleaching done as part of it so that her face would shine like a moon.
“I am sure you have never been to such a high-end salon, but since you are going to be a part of our family now, you should be getting used to the idea.”
Su just listened nodding her head from time to time. My mom even told her about all the dishes I liked so that she could get herself ready to cook my favorite food after our marriage. I watched my mom proudly as she imparted precious knowledge to her future daughter in law, knowledge that was crucial in carrying out her duties as she became a member of our family. How lucky she was. What more could a girl want?
I looked around the house. It was huge but in a very dilapidated condition. I replaced it with the image of my swank apartment back in the US and my heart swelled with pride. I was rescuing this woman from this torture. I was sure she was going to be forever grateful to me. Who could live in such a dump? Well, it seemed like her parents were getting rid of the house anyway. Presumably to pay for their daughter’s wedding. It seemed to work out very well for them. They would not be able to look after such a big house anyway. They were trading their house for their daughter’s happiness – not a bad deal at all.
However, I noticed that though everyone was falling over themselves to make us feel comfortable and lofty Su just sat there staring into oblivion. I know brides in our culture are supposed to act all coy and bashful but she seemed to be carrying it to the extreme. She just sat there with a blank expression as my sisters told her in no uncertain terms that women doing a job after marriage in our family was forbidden. That meant she would have to leave her job as dictated by our family values. She did not even nod to that one. Maybe because she was relieved that she did not have to work so hard anymore. Surely, she realized that she had chanced upon a treasure in the form on this rishta?
10 days later we were married. On our wedding day, Su was miserable, I could tell. I put it down to her being nervous about getting married and leaving her family. I could not understand why though. After all she was getting married into a family that was much better placed than hers. She was getting married to a man who had such a bright future.
I did not quite like the idea of getting married until my parents told me the real reason. With the dowry amount they would be able to get back all that they had spent in sending me for my higher studies and then some more. On her part, my wife would be getting a rich and successful husband. It was win-win situation all around as my father put it. But somehow that did not seem to be the case with Su. She was clearly not very excited about getting such a great deal. To be frank, I could not care less. I just wanted to be with a woman and that woman happened to be her. I was tired of living alone and looking after myself. I needed to be with a woman. I needed a wife. I needed Su. Everything else be damned.
After the first few months, the novelty of being with a woman wore off. All my physical needs were being satisfied and for the those first few months, I thought I would never tire of wanting her. I thought I would come home every day to my wife and want to make love to her. Whether she wanted to or not did not quite matter. She never said no and I was very happy about it. After all I had heard stories from my friends that their wives were not in the mood sometimes. Not my wife. She never said no to me. She always turned towards me whenever I would reach out for her in the night. She would let me do whatever I wanted, never quite complaining about anything. She went along with whatever I wanted.
Food would be ready waiting for me after I got back home from work. I loved it. Gone were the days when I had to trudge home all my myself and come back to a vacant messy house, an empty kitchen and a bare refrigerator with rotting food. I was as happy as I could be. I would devour the piping hot food. My wife would be missing from the action but I could not care less. I was happy to enjoy my food in peace. The only place I reached out for her was in the bedroom and she seemed to oblige. She hardly was around for anything else. I was thankful once again. Thankful that I did not seem to have to deal with wifely tantrums and pestering. All those things my married friends and colleagues were routinely dealing with and complaining about. My life with Su was peaceful, quiet and all about me. Exactly what I wanted. At least I thought I did.
However, the monotony of being in a marriage all my myself started to get on my nerves. It started out with me wanting more than a physical relationship with Su. I wanted her to talk to me. If she was not doing housework or tending to the garden, she would be reading her book. I had come to realize that she was extremely intelligent. I had heard her talk to her parents and siblings. I would catch the tail end of the conversations though. She would hang up as soon as she realized that I was listening. She seemed like a completely different person with her family I wanted to be with that person. She did not let me.
Years passed and I began to gather bits and pieced about her but never quite got to putting the entire puzzle of Su. She never once seemed to reach out to me. It was like I existed only in the physical realm for her. It was like once out her presence, I ceased to exist for her. She never talked to me about anything. She was always distant emotionally. The only time I saw her emotional was when her parents were killed in an accident. I told her I would take her to their funeral. She refused. After that incident, I never caught her talking or smiling as she used to before on the phone. She seemed to wilt as a person in my absence as she did in my presence.
I tried rectifying the situation many a time but it was too late. We had both fallen into a rhythmic charade of alternatingly playing the roles of being a provider and consumer as and when the need arose. There was one difference between her and me though. Her demeanor did not change whereas mine underwent a drastic transformation. I went from being happy, content and generally an amiable person to one who was sullen, unhappy and irritable. I longed to see some sort of emotion from my wife. I longed to see her once reaching out to me, calling me when I was at work or even picking up a fight with me. But she remained like how she had been since the time I had seen her for the first time. Head down, not a peep out of her mouth.
In the beginning ego prevented me from asking her what was wrong. Somehow asking her meant I was on the backfoot and responsible for her sorry state of affairs. So, I kept quiet. But after trudging along in life next to her for another couple of years, I could bear it no longer. I asked what the matter with her was. She gave me the same vacant look that she subjected me to every single day. I had to control myself with all my willpower not to lash out. One day the will power gave away to reveal my naked self to her.
“Why are you like this?” I asked holding my head, tears streaming down my helpless face.
She did not even look at me.
“I feel like I am then only one in this marriage. Like it has always been about me.” I screamed.
I realized at that moment what was wrong with my marriage and Su did not even have to say a word. I felt so ashamed of the person I was. I could not bear to be around her. I had been such a bastard all my life, especially with Su and even now it felt like it was about me. I wanted her to be a willing participant in the marriage – as usual it was all about me.
I stopped trying after that, I felt too embarrassed and ashamed to even think about what I had put Su through, leave alone trying to resolve it with her. The only other option before me was to separate and I frankly had no idea how to live without her. I had gotten used to the idea of coming back home to her. More than the piping hot food on the table, it was her presence that seemed to matter more than the incredibly delicious dishes that she cooked. The poise she exuded, the intelligence she displayed meant so much more than the body I had coveted. She had come to represent everything good in my life. I realized with a start that I was always thinking of her. Suddenly all those romantic songs and love stories made sense to me. There was nothing I wanted more than to see her smile. I watched her from the corner of my eye when I was home. The way she moves, the way she sat, the way her eyes got heavy when she felt sleepy – I was getting to know her and love her more each passing day. The urge to make her happy was gaining momentum.
One day I asked her what she needed to make her happy. She said she did not
“I can see that you are miserable. I feel like I am married to an emotionally dead person.” I blurted out.
“So, what if I am? As long as I am not physically dead.” She replied.
Her words stung, but I was happy that I had managed to get some reaction from her. I decided I had to take advantage of the situation.
“Su, I can’t live like this anymore.” I said.
“No one is asking you to.” Our first argument. Great!
“I want to make you happy.”
“Then let me go…” she said in a whisper.
Her tone had not changed. Her voice had not faltered. She was in control. As usual. I was not. I wept like a baby. She was unmoved. I realized that the chain of events was one of my own doing. I had made a pact to do whatever it takes to make her smile and if that entailed that I had to let her go, I would.
15 years seemed like a good time to let go. I booked her ticket to India. I was going home to pick her up to drop her off at the airport so that she could fly away out of my miserable life to her own happiness.
I came home. She opened the door. Head down, eyes downcast. I walked in.
“I need to talk to you. Please.”
She sat down.
I moistened my lips.
“Happy 15th anniversary.” I said.
She did not even smile.
“Su, before you leave I want to apologize for you for the last 15 years. I want to apologize for all that I and my family put you through. I don’t have any excuse to give to you except to say that I was young when I married you. I just carried out what I was taught to do. I was never taught how to treat women. I was always told that me being a man meant that I somehow was superior to women. I always thought of them as being there to serve us men. To love us, to care for us, to give us their lives. I was never told otherwise and I never bothered to find out either. I am 45 years old now. I see things differently than I did all those years ago. I am embarrassed at how badly you were treated and I don’t blame you for shutting me out completely. I deserved it. Even if I realized that what I was doing was wrong, ego got the better of me. I am sorry it took me so long to own up to my shortcomings. I can’t even ask you to forgive me. I have made your life a living hell from the moment I set my foot in your life. While I cannot give you back those 15 years, please allow me to set things right in the next how many ever years are left. Please, forgive me.” I said.
“I am ready to leave.” She said. I looked and she just had her purse in her hand. 15 years and all that she had gathered in so many years fit in that tiny purse. I went up to her.
“I love you Su, please don’t leave me.” I whispered as I held her close.
She did not even flinch. It felt like I was holding a lifeless body in my arms. I let her go. She walked out of my embrace, ready to walk out of my life.
There was a spring in her step as she hurried towards the gate. I watched helplessly and tried hard not to cry. I stood there not knowing quite what I stood there for. I did not expect her to glance backwards – I just stood there watching her presence melt away from my life. I realized then what pain and hurt I had inflicted upon her as I had snatched her so unceremoniously away from the life and people she loved and thrust myself on her.
Suddenly I felt relieved for her. Relived that she had broken free of the chains that held her against her will, chains that I had laden her with. She was near the gate. I stood rooted to the spot. She turned and looked directly at me. I stood starting at her.
“Thank you!” she mouthed.
I smiled and waved at her. She waved back before disappearing out of view. It felt good to have finally done something for her. It was a few years late though – 15 years to be exact.
Image source: Photo by Kate Williams on Unsplash
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