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I was left speechless; he was not ill that he needed to be cured and seriously why should I go about changing anyone. Though I felt cheated in the marriage, I was forced to go back.
In 2019 our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month gets bigger and better (find out how here) and also takes the cue from the words of women who inspire with their poetry. The writing cue for April 2019 is these lines from Punjabi poet Amrita Pritam, considered the “feminist before all feminists” in India, from the poem I will meet you yet again (Main Tainu Phir Milangi), a translation of her original poem in Punjabi.
but the threads of memory
are woven of enduring atoms.
The fifth winner of our April 2019 Muse of the Month contest is Parvadavardini Sethuraman.
Kiara kept looking at the photograph intently, zooming into it again and again. “Could this really be her?” she wondered.
“You know this lady bakes the most heavenly cakes,” her friend Tina quipped. Tina was showing Kiara photos of her weekend getaway to the quaint town nestled among the mountains. The town being remote, was still untouched by the perils of commercial tourism and it looked mesmerising. She was admiring the beauty of the place till she came across this photo of Tina posing with a lady in what looked like a bakery.
For a moment she was shocked to see the lady in the picture. “What’s her name?” she asked Tina.
“I was so busy relishing her yummy creations that I totally forgot to ask her name” Tina responded, striking her forehead with her palms. “But why are you asking?” she enquired. “She looks familiar.” Kiara responded in a casual tone. After spending some time with her friend, Kiara headed home and rushed to the old almirah in the store room, pulling out the bag containing those old photographs before rushing to her room.
One look at those photographs and Kiara was sure, it was indeed Sami didi she had seen in the photograph with Tina. Looking at those photographs, she was lost in thought. They were pictures of Sami didi’s wedding. She looked gorgeous in her bridal finery, but strangely she didn’t look happy or excited, but rather worried. She wondered why?
Kiara had been hardly 9 years old at the time of Sami didi’s wedding, and too young to notice this. She had been Sami didi’s favourite little cousin and Kiara always adored her. So she had been extremely excited about the wedding. After the marriage she didn’t get to meet Sami didi often. The last time she had met her was almost 15 years ago, when after her school final exams, she had gone over to her cousin’s place to spend some time with her before she left for college.
A few months after that Samridhi had vanished from their lives. Whenever Kiara asked anyone at home about her, they hushed her, asking her not to remind them of all the hurt and humiliation that they had faced. Soon she learnt that nobody would tell her anything, and over time she stopped asking anything, choosing to keep her favourite cousin alive in her memories and relish the time spent with her. But today seeing her photo after all these years, Kiara was tempted to tie up the loose ends. She wanted to know the truth, and most importantly meet her sister and know how she was after all these years.
Kiara told her family she was going on a work-related trip, because she knew that mentioning Samridhi’s name would create unnecessary tensions. She was lost in thoughts of her Sami didi right through the journey to the town, where she hoped to find her.
She remembered the pretty and cherubic girl, who had won over people with ease. She had been a friendly and affable girl who loved music and baking. Being the eldest among the cousins she was adored and idolised by the younger ones. Kiara had been quite close to her till her wedding. The wedding, now that she thought about it, had happened in quite a hurry. There had been a lot of tension in the house preceding the wedding. She being very young at the time, had been kept away from all of it. But after the wedding she had seen a change in her sister, she was not her usual lively self. In fact, the last time she had met her, she seemed worried or rather deeply upset or sad about something. She could not fathom the reason for the same, as everything around her seemed to be perfect. But after all these years she had realised appearances can be deceptive.
The bus came to a halt with a jerk and woke Kiara up from her reverie. She looked out of the bus window; she had arrived at her destination. An hour later she was headed to the bakery eager to meet her long-lost cousin. But there was a worry which kept hounding her: would Samridhi recognise her after all these years? Would she want to meet her?
With these mixed feelings she entered the bakery. It was fairly crowded and there she could see her behind the counter, packing the orders for a customer. She still looked like the same pretty and effervescent lady whom Kiara had last seen fifteen years back, but those eyes which brimmed with energy in her younger days, seemed to be calm and tranquil now. She approached the counter and called out to her. Samridhi looked up shocked, for nobody here called her Sami. Seeing Kiara in front of her, she was shocked. Her kid sister had grown up to be a smart young woman. After a moment of stunned silence, she enveloped Kiara in bear hug.
An hour later both of them were sitting in Samridhi’s little house on the floor above the bakery. Kiara had loads of questions to ask but didn’t know how to start. Samridhi looked at her munching on the cakes lost in thoughts.
“I know you itching to ask your questions, go ahead” she said. Kiara was a little embarrassed at being caught unaware, she paused for a while before asking “Didi, why did you leave everything and vanish all of a sudden?” Samridhi laughed before saying “I am no magician to vanish, though back then I often wished I could. But no, I didn’t vanish but decided to walk away from the life of sham that I was leading.”
Kiara looked shocked on hearing those words from her sister, “a life of sham?” she asked with a questioning expression. “I know that everything about my life seemed perfect to the onlooker, but it was anything but that. You were very young Kiara, so I don’t know if you remember my friend Atul and how all of a sudden, all ties broke between us,” Samridhi replied.
Kiara was reminded of a tall and friendly boy who often visited their house; he and Samridhi had been very close to each other, but why did she mention him all of a sudden, she wondered. “It’s a slightly long story, but Atul has an important role to play.” Samridhi said as if reading Kiara’s mind. “I had plans of my own and at 22, getting married wasn’t one of them, but destiny definitely had different plans for me. Atul and I were in a relationship for five years, we had been friends since longer. He was a regular visitor home and everyone at home knew him well. So, I was sure our relationship would be happily accepted at home. I couldn’t have been more wrong; the moment the family got a whiff of the relationship all hell broke loose. They accused me of breaking their trust and causing shame to them for choosing a guy from outside the community. I was shocked and couldn’t believe if it was the same family which had taught me to value people above social discriminations. But this was only the first of the shocks I got. I was soon sent out town while they started vigorously hunting for grooms for me, and at the same time, they successfully managed to remove Atul from my life completely. I was strictly monitored at an aunt’s house where I was sent away leaving no means of communication to Atul. Then one fine day I was told my marriage had been arranged. I was not asked for an opinion, neither did I get to meet the groom.”
Kiara looked on shocked, hearing her sister, “It sounds like a movie story right, but this is what happened?”
Samridhi continued. “I tried to reach Atul through my friends but nobody had a clue where he was. He and his family had left town without leaving behind any details of their whereabouts. I resigned to fate and got ready for my wedding, not that I had much of a choice. Sagar seemed to be nice person, he was friendly and caring. But there was something strange about him; he deliberately maintained a distance from me after the wedding. In the beginning I did not think much of it as I needed time to adjust to this change. But when even after six months we had not consummated the marriage and neither did Sagar seem interested in initiating any kind of physical intimacy, I was a little perplexed. But I wasn’t sure how to raise the issue and waited for months. But finally, one day I gathered the courage to question him and the reply I got shattered my world. Sagar told me he was gay; he had never been interested in women but his family was not ready to accept this, and he had agreed to the marriage just to pacify them. Those words shattered me, I felt cheated. I decided to go back home. But what waited for me there only broke me further.”
Kiara heard on shocked as Samridhi continued “When I told the elders at home what had happened and my desire to end the marriage, they told me not to bring them shame again. They said that I had caused them enough pain already, and it was time I behaved maturely. In fact, they told me how I should work on changing him, find a way to cure him. I was left speechless; he was not ill that he needed to be cured and seriously why should I go about changing anyone. Though I felt cheated in the marriage, I was forced to go back. Quite shockingly I lived the sham that my marriage was almost close to a decade.”
“But you and Jiju seemed to be such a perfect and friendly couple, you know those few days I spent with you after my school finals, I adored the way Jiju doted on you.” Kiara said cutting in.
“He was pro at putting up appearances. He had mastered the craft. He put up a perfect show before the world but in private we were two strangers living under the same roof.” Samridhi answered. “But the perfect and doting husband of mine grew tired of putting up a charade, and one fine day decided to move to the country where his partner resided, leaving me behind to be alone and answerable to everyone. I was mercilessly questioned, his family blamed me for his moving away. I was even told how having a child could have saved the marriage and changed him, when they were perfectly aware of the truth. My family wanted me to stay back at my marital home and continue the charade of my marriage by serving his family. But I had had enough by then and decided it was time to move away from everyone.”
“But why this quaint little town didi?” questioned Kiara.
“Atul mentioned this place often, he had been here quite often in childhood. He cherished the memories he created here. Now I understand why, it’s a cosy place which can comfort just anyone,” Samridhi said.
“Won’t you come back with me?” Kiara asked longingly.
“Sorry dear, those are dark memories I have buried with great difficulty. This town, the simple life I am leading and the love I have got from its people, makes me envision a life that could have been Atul’s and mine. A life very different from what I received. It was Atul’s memories which pulled me to this town, and its with his memories that I choose to continue living.” Samridhi spoke with a choked voice, but there was happiness that emanated from her eyes.
On the journey back as Kiara thought of her sister’s story she was reminded of the lines from a poem she had read long back; “but the threads of memory are woven of enduring atoms.”
Parvadavardini Sethuraman wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: Vimeo
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A dreamer by passion and an Advocate by profession. Mother to an ever energetic and
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