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Should love and marriage be based on mutual respect and understanding or on thoughts like obey and control? If the roles were reversed, would he have asked her for permission?
The first winner of our September 2019 Muse of the Month contest is Shalini Mullick.
Garima had set the alarm to 5:30, an hour before her usual morning schedule. She needed to catch up on her course work as a number of submissions were due in the next few weeks. After enrolling in her PhD recently, she had been feeling that she was quite out of touch with the routine of university. The last few months had been rather difficult and she was now getting used to the busy routine.
Switching on her coffee maker, she stepped out on the balcony of her hostel room. It was a pleasant, breezy morning. Her usual 10 minutes of meditation and mindfulness was followed by her settling down at her desk with her cup of not so strong coffee.
She had enjoyed the course so far and was happy to have an advisor with similar interests as her, but she also knew that studies would get more intense over the coming year. The poem for discussion this week was “Someone Leans Near” by the Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison. She began to read but was distracted by the words she came to.
You wait, longing to hear
Words of reason, love or play
To lash or lull you toward the hollow day.
It was probably the word hollow that had started it.
Strange, how, sometimes innocent words could be guilty of releasing torrents in the brain. She tried to concentrate but found her mind wandering to the past year and a half.
A few months ago, she would have probably tried to push those thoughts away, but today she decided to let the intruders take the path they wanted. Would they once more take residence in her mind for the rest of the day?
She could relieve the word hollow loud and clear in her mind. It was as if Prashant was screaming at her again “You are a selfish and a hollow person. You don’t deserve to be loved”. Those were the last words he had ever spoken to her.
Unleashed, the memories flooded her being.
They had been happy in the initial days of their togetherness. Having shared many moments and milestones, they certainly enjoyed each other’s company. Common interests and pastimes had ensured that they would be together most of their spare time. It had been surprising often to discover how random ideas had resonated with each other. They had been in a relationship for more than 3 years, and had decided to get married.
The news was accepted whole heartedly by both families. Her mother knew Prashant as he had been friends with Gaurav, Garima’s brother for a long time. In fact, it was at Gaurav’s wedding that Garima and Prashant had come together. Prashant’s parents had also blessed them by arranging a small engagement ceremony. Everyone was quite satisfied at the thought of one wedding leading to another and life had seemed to be on course.
As she took her pen and began to write, the flashbacks came in a random sequence, as if wanting to her to string them together.
Comprising of just her mother and brother, Garima’s family had been small but close and contended. They had a simple and rather uncomplicated life with the usual milestones and struggles. Gaurav’s wedding and Ahana’s birth had expanded both the family and its happiness, but only for a short span of time.
Gaurav’s daughter Ahana was diagnosed with a rare liver disease and would eventually need a transplant. This shook all of them and plunged the family into despair. There seemed to be no hope as both parents of the little girl were not eligible donors and they were forced to see the joy of their life struggle to survive.
Garima had accompanied the girl on one of her visits to the hospital and asked the doctor if she could be a donor. A few weeks later when the test results came, it was confirmed that she was indeed a suitable candidate to donate part of her liver to the child.
Prashant had been distant in discussing the problems being faced by the family for a few months and was guarded in his reaction to this development. She had been surprised at his reactions to these developments but initially attributed it to his busy work schedule.
Garima had shared the news with him as she was relieved at finding a solution for their current circumstances, and was taken unawares by this change in his demeanor. His detachment from her distress and the anguish being faced by her family soon changed into frequent outbursts of rage.
She had tried to understand his reservations and believed that she could address his concerns by discussing with him. She even scheduled a visit for him to meet the doctors with her, so he could be reassured that she would fully recover soon, and have a normal life. All they would need to do right now, was postpone the wedding for a few months.
However, as the days progressed and she found her conviction to be an organ donor increasing, he became more and more unsupportive. Her excitement at being able to save a life was tempered with his furious accusations of her being selfish.
The pressure had been direct and indirect, starting with the usual “What will people say?”, “If you loved me, you would obey me” and progressing to “My parents would never have allowed this, if we were already married”. She had been shocked when these were replaced by threats like “I will not have anything to do with you if you don’t give up on this crazy idea of yours!”
These arguments left her genuinely confused. When he accused her of not taking his permission, she felt that he would do the same for any step she would take of her own volition. His aggression and opinion that she should be thinking of only her future family, made her wonder if that must always be at the expense of her priorities and cost of closeness with her own people. She had never thought much about it, but as she went deeper, she began to introspect about his stand, and then, about their relationship.
She also began to question what she had thought of as love. She had thought they were happy, that she was happy. But was that true? If she was not free, could it really have been love? Had her choices truly been hers in the time they had been together?
The cajoling in the name of her future in-laws made her wonder whose life it was, and who would take decisions for her. Wasn’t it her life, her body and her choice to make?? Could she accept the use of their relationship as a negotiating tool by Prashant? Every time he accused her of being selfish, she saw his efforts to subjugate her, to tame her to follow his thoughts. She was forced to conclude that it was actually his definition of love that had been selfish, not her decision.
As the doubts began to increase, there remained no ambiguity about the fact that little Ahana grew sicker every day. The questions soon outnumbered the answers, and, it was obvious that the entire family was caught in turmoil. This call had to be hers and hers alone.
Emerging from her vacillation, she decided to listen to her heart. She asked the doctors to schedule the procedure and to take her decision to its conclusion.
The next few weeks passed in a blur, with the entire family dedicating itself to caring for the two female warriors who had undergone surgery. Surrounded by the warmth and caring of those closest to her, it was as if Prashant had never existed. Her family understood the wound was too raw for her and did not bring him up. Still struggling to process the events that had unfolded before the surgery, she was grateful for the strong medications that numbed not just her body, but also her mind.
When Garima had gone to their house to inform them of the course of action she had decided upon, she had been committed to her decision and had hoped that Prashant would take the time to reflect on her views, so that they would be able to find mutual ground later. Wasn’t love about understanding, supporting each other and accepting differences of opinions?
Things however, had not gone as she had expected. Prashant had been livid and his parents had mirrored his response. “She didn’t deserve a family like ours; she would never have listened to us”, “She would have brought the entire family a bad name by taking these kind of decisions”
Hearing these comments, she realized that the she couldn’t continue with someone who wanted to make her feel like a pale shadow of herself. Not being able to visualize a life with someone who couldn’t understand her and her motivation, she had ended the relationship.
Prashant had been uncontrollable in his rage and she saw a side of him that she hadn’t known had existed. It appeared that he was more affected by the fact that she had been the one who had called off the wedding, rather than by the ending of what should have been his most precious relationship. This was probably the greatest embarrassment and affront to the ego for him, with his controlling nature and the typical patriarchal mind set of his family.
She had returned even more resolute of her plans, but a part of her was deeply saddened too. It hurt to face the fact that she had invested so much of herself in a relationship that didn’t work when it should have. She soon felt better physically but the melancholy of having loved without being loved back remained.
Ahana was a fighter all the way, and it was her resilience and vivacity that lifted the spirits of the entire family. Seeing the little girl get better and approach life with the faith and mindfulness that only children can, Garima also tried to move on. They recovered together, and who had saved who seemed to become a matter of perception.
She took the last sip of her coffee and looked down at the paper to see the form these memories had taken today and read what she had written:
You stop, slowly searching within
Feelings of hope, joy or abundance
To keep you going with grace.
You rest, feeling the fatigue
Burdens of doubt, dilemma or question
To allow yourself space and expression
You listen, straining for melody
Music of belonging, truth or belief
To move on a path far from grief.
You feel, deep in yourself
Power of resolve, truth or conviction
To live a life free from contradiction
You smile, serene and peaceful
Laughter of joy, completeness and fulfillment
To feel no more hollowness in the day or moment.
She reflected for a moment and ran her hand over the scar of the surgery. She could barely feel it anymore and she had to look to see its entire extent. She realised that, like the scar, she, too had changed.
She could see the pain and grief she had gone through, but it didn’t hurt her anymore. The thoughts that had seemed like unwelcome trespassers a while ago had actually been fleeting visitors. They had come bringing her the affirmation that she had healed, and had left her stronger in her conviction to live life on her own terms.
Editor’s note: In 2019 our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month got 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 September 2019 is this quote from the poem Someone Leans Near, from the book Five Poems by Nobel Prize awardee Toni Morrison, a towering literary giant, who passed away recently on 5th August 2019 at the age of 88.
“You wait, longing to hear
Words of reason, love or play
To lash or lull you toward the hollow day”
Shalini Mullick wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: a still from the movie Mi Sindhutai Sapkal
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