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My parents were inconsolable; they were feeling bad for me. But rape by your own husband was a bizarre term for them. How could a husband rape his wife?
August was the month of paintings for the art world in Singapore. The International Portrait Gallery was unveiling its fourth exhibition of exclusive paintings made by renowned painters from all over the world.
Last year an Indian artist, Shoham Sarkar not only debuted here but also won critical acclaim. This year he managed to win lots of new admirers as well. His painting ‘The Thetis’ was pronounced as the best art piece of the exhibition. Today was the first day of the show and the hall was packed with aestheticians.
While Shoham was having a conversation with media personnel, he saw her. She was continuously staring at his award-winning painting for half an hour. It made him very uncomfortable, which was very unusual for a man like Shoham. So he walked towards her, without giving it a second thought. He quietly patted on her shoulder. She turned, looking directly at him with the most beautiful and mysterious eyes.
“Age-old wisdom says that hard work always pays off. And you proved it correct by admiring my art.” He said while riveting the eyes on her face.
“Too much of a good thing could be dangerous.” She said with a Mona Lisa smile on her face.
“You didn’t like my painting.” He said it with a cheesy smile.
“I loved it. But it has one flaw.”
“Really, tell me, please?” He asked with a dismayed voice.
“Name of the painting.” She appeared steadfast to him.
“But this painting is of Thetis. I guess you have not heard of her.”
With a sardonic smile on her face, she gazed at Shoham. And then she spoke as if it was par for the course for her.
“Thetis is encountered in Greek mythology as a goddess of water, one of the 50 Nereids. She was the daughter of the ancient sea god Nereus and mother of Achilles.”
“I am impressed. But you forgot, she was the lover of Zeus too.” He said with a touch of sarcasm in his voice.
But she was unaltered by his remark, as she replied bonafide.
“Actually, she was loved by both Zeus and his brother Poseidon. However, she was in love with Zeus only. But they asked her to marry Peleus, a mortal man because of their fears about the prophecy, that her son would become more significant than his father. Thetis was a headstrong woman, she declined their indecent proposal.
Zeus was a coward and selfish man; he made a grotesque plan with his brother. They asked Peleus to rape Thetis. She fought hard to save herself from that creep, Peleus. But she lost. She was forced to marry Peleus. Her respect, her virtue, and her desires were nothing for them.
Although she gave her approval for the marriage, she did not forgive any of them. She was planning to reprimand them some day. She worked the magic spell on her son and made him immortal and brave. Then she left her coward husband and after that never returned again.”
“You know this much about her. Wow.” Now he was looking at her with approbation.
“If not me then who else?” She spoke in a tender voice.
“I beg your pardon.” One could quickly figure out the curiosity in his voice.
“I was fascinated by ancient Greece since I was a child. My work as a librarian also opened the doors of knowledge for me.”
“Great. Greek mythology has also amazingly powerful goddesses. In my work, I tried to capture the beauty and strength of Thetis.”
“But this painting is not only about Thetis. It has much more to it. Let people remember it as the face of all women who are like Thetis.”
“A penny for your thought. I want to see my work through your eyes.”
This made her happy, as lots of stars were seen twinkling in her eyes.
“In your work, it is visible that a woman in all blue is surrounded by men, but there is also fire in her eyes. She is fearless, She is strong enough to withstand the storm and ambitious enough to be that storm. Her vision is clear as water, and she dares to shine among those who never believed she could. Everything that ever hit her in life, she dealt it with on her own. She wiped her tears and fought back with the things and people who were meant to break her.”
“Go on, you have my ears.”
She continued with a shy smile playing on her lips.
“So, this painting is not only of Thetis but also of many similar water born women, silent on the surface but several storms hidden deep inside. Don’t narrow the reach of this art; let it play with the imagination of viewers.”
He was awestruck, and her words made his jaws drop.
“What could be the name?” He spoke as if he was bewitched by her observation.
“You know better than me after all this is your artwork.”
He was indubitable that a woman like her crossed a man’s life once in a blue moon. He wanted to know more about her.
“I know it would sound desperate, but I couldn’t stop myself from asking.”
“Join me for dinner tonight.”
“Are you asking me out on a date?!”
“We could decide the name together.”
“Are you kidding me? You hardly know me.”
“I want to know you more, say yes to me.” He was now behaving like a teenager but was unapologetic about it.
“You are a stranger to me.” Now she was playing with him.
“I am Shoham Sarkar, 41-year-old, single and painter by profession. Is that enough?”
“I have some plans for tonight.”
“I am sorry; I should have guessed it before.”
She chortled and replied with witticism in her voice.
“But we could have coffee together if only you are free.”
As if someone lifted the heavy stone from his heart, he smiled profoundly.
After an hour they were sitting in a restaurant facing each other.
“You are from India, I guess.”
“Yes from Kanpur, a small city in Utter Pradesh. I was shifted to Singapore two years back. I work in Global Centre Library.”
“It’s heaven for book lovers.”
“I know. What about you?”
“I am from Kolkatta, but as they say artists are the wanderers. They never stick to one place.”
“I forgot your name, Miss…Mrs..”
“I never told you my name.”
Both of them laughed together.
“I am Ambhini.”
“Your name is beautiful. What does that mean?”
“I guess your father is a lover of Greek mythology too.” He winked at her with a smile on his face.
She smiled in return, but her smile was carrying the heavy burden of pain, which anyone could easily decipher.
“When my father gave me this name he never knew about Thetis. But who could have imagined at the time of my birth that not only our name but our fate would be the same?”
After few minutes of silence, she spoke again.
“My story is very much similar to her.”
“We all have some secrets which we are afraid to share.”
“I am afraid of nothing, and I don’t have any secrets either.”
“If memories are painful, leave them and make more beautiful memories.”
“But my memories give me strength. My pain is my best medicine.”
“Then it would be my pleasure to hear more about you.”
She signed and continued.
“I don’t know why I am sharing my ordeal with you.”
“I am in solace.”
He shrugged his shoulders in confusion.
“Because your pain empathizes with my pain.”
“My pain!” He was thunderstruck.
“Every heart has pain, and only a person like you can show it through his art.”
“Nothing hurt me anymore, I am the pain.”
A faint smile was playing on his lips.
“So, I am worthy enough to share your story. Hope it would not hurt you anymore.” He asked her.
“Just like you nothing hurt me anymore, I am the painkiller.”
Both of them laughed endlessly.
Then she started narrating her story with a solemn face.
“I was born in a middle-class family of Kanpur. My father was a school teacher and mother was a homemaker. We had a small family of four people, me, my parents and my younger brother. After completing my education, I joined a college in Kanpur as a Librarian. There I met Rajiv; he was a guest faculty there. How it always happens; two individuals meet each other, fall in love, they date for a while and finally decide the time of their wedding.
But his parents were highly superstitious, so astrological compatibility was significant for them. Although Rajiv was a chemistry professor, he also supported them. I was a “born Manglik,” considered to be cursed and could cause an early death to my husband.
According to an old Hindu custom, this curse can be removed by marrying off the bride to a peepal or banyan tree. The tree is then destroyed by cutting or igniting a fire. A bride could also marry a dog.
My parents readily agreed to this suggestion, but I was not. Rajiv tried every way out to convince me for this marriage. But when he failed, he started spreading rumours about our alleged love affair. He even threatened me with dire consequences. My denial did injure his male ego, and he wanted me back for his lust and to gratify his ego.
It was tough for my parents, village elders and relatives persuaded them to convince me for giving consent for this marriage. I was not at all ready to marry Rajiv. But how long one could fight against the society, I lost it too.
I was married to a Peepal tree first and then to Rajiv. It was not the end of my misery, it was just the beginning. He raped me every single night and sometimes in days too. I was not spared on my bleeding days also. In the spare time when he was not raping me, he utilized that time by verbally abusing me. Both my body and soul were full of scars, and I tried to cover them with clothes and fake smiles. Because I was aware, that the concept of marital rape does not apply in India. Here society treats marriage as sacred. Wife is the unpaid prostitute, who is not allowed to say no to their husband.
It all went for six months until that night. It was his birthday, but I was not well, so I asked him to celebrate it with his friends. He was already drunk, and my no made him furious. I begged for his forgiveness, even fell on his feet. But he was not at all ready to listen. He stripped my saree and made me half-naked. At that very moment I realized that more than him, I was responsible for my sad situation. He was insulting me because I had stopped respecting myself. That was enough for me, I stood up and walk out of the house. He tried to stop me, but I pushed him aside, and he fell down. My mom in law wanted to cover me with a bed sheet. But I was done with all covering up, I longed to walk with my naked soul and half naked body.
My parents were inconsolable; they were feeling bad for me. But rape by your own husband was a bizarre term for them. How could a husband rape his wife? This was his right after all, and it was the duty of his wife to satisfy the desires of her husband. As if I was a slave, and my husband was the master. My consent was not at all essential, but his desires were. Marital rape is still not a crime in our country, and at that time I was nothing but a laughing stock for everyone.
Life was tough for me, but it became even more robust when everyone came to know about my pregnancy. My parents started forcing me to return to my husband. I was also told that I should ask for his forgiveness.
My parents decided that I should give my relation another go. However now I was not ready to let other people decide about my life. I left their home and rented a small apartment near to my college. I filed for divorce. He was trying hard to make it tough for me.
He even wanted the custody of our unborn child too. But everything changed after the birth of my daughter.
In his family birth of a female as a first child was considered a stigma. It made divorce hassle-free for me. We got divorced, and he married another woman and settled in Dubai.
He did not even maintain contact with me or my daughter, nor did he ever offer to pay for her upbringing. Also, I had never demanded any alimony from him. He hated us. And I was happy that he no longer existed in our life. His indifference was the best gift he ever gave me. Suddenly life did seem worth living for. It was as if I was given a chance to make a fresh start. Of course, the occasional taunts referring to me and my daughter still continued, but when this did happen, I never tolerated it and stood firm.
You know what pained and bewildered me was the mindset that some male and indeed some female had. No matter how educated they may be, women were expected to be decorative and subservient.
Three years later I left the job and shifted to Bangalore. My parents accompanied me there. And now I am here; Singapore. I lost my father when we were in Bangalore. For now, my mother is with my brother. They all are planning a trip to Singapore this year. Jala, my daughter is so excited about this.”
He kept on glancing at her as if his eyelids forgot to blink.
“Ambhini, you are a wonder woman.”
She moved her head in disapproval.
“No, I am not. I did make some mistakes in my life. I have let people make decisions for my life. But yes, I am not an escapist. I am a warrior. I have learned from my bad choices. And even though there are some scars on my heart; I wear them as my medal of excellence.”
“Just like Goddess Thetis.”
“There are many like her.”
Suddenly she looked at her watch and appeared little tensed.
“Shoham, sorry but I got to go. Tomorrow is my daughter’s birthday, and I am throwing a party for her. Preparations are still not complete. Please ask him to bring the bill.”
“You need not worry about the bill. It was an honour to be with you.”
She gave him an inquisitive look.
“This admiration is mutual. By the way, this is the invitation card, and you have to come tomorrow.”
Shoham smiled and snatched the card from her hand abruptly as if she was going to take it back.
“Of course I will. What’s her name, and how old is she?”
She ran towards the exit and screamed from there.
“Jalahasini is her name, and she is going to be ten-year-old tomorrow.”
She waved at him and disappeared into the crowd.
Shoham took out his mobile and made a call to his assistant.
He renamed his famous painting as “JALAHASINI-The smile of water. He dedicated this work to all those women who encountered many defeats but were never defeated.
Image source: pixabay
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One of the finest read!!!!
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