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Do not speak until you are spoken to. Do not wade like a duck. Walk slowly and silently. Do not laugh like a banshee. Sit like this. Eat like that. The list was endless, yet I had mastered it all.
“School reunion on the 29th of this month. Please try to make it this time at least.”
I stared at the WhatsApp message sent by my best friend Reema. The last time I attended it was around 10 years ago, one year prior to my wedding. She knew my chances of going were nil, yet she never failed to send me an invitation each year.
While I, as usual, nipped my desire in its bud by reminding myself of my husband’s words.
“Sakshi you are Mrs. Singhania now, wife of the Chairman of ‘Singhania Group of Industries!’ And not the daughter of a clerk who went to school with the children of janitors and labourers. Please think about my reputation before taking any step.”
“Sahil is right beta,” my mother had echoed his thoughts. “It’s your duty to honour your husband’s wishes. Moreover, you are fortunate enough to have found a way out of this drudgery. Take care not to mess it up.”
Was I indeed so blessed? What good karma had I done to attract the attention of the handsome young industrialist who had come as chief guest at our annual college festival?
As far as I remembered, I wasn’t even aware of his presence! All my senses were concentrated only on my dance.
“You were so graceful Sakshi. I couldn’t take my eyes off you.” Sahil had whispered on our first date.
Naively I assumed it was my art which took possession of his heart. Only later did I realise that my physical attributes had drawn him towards me.
That night, over a bowl of chicken soup and salad, Sahil informed me of his official trip to Amsterdam on the morning of 29th.
With great effort, I brought my pounding heart under some semblance of control but spend the rest of the days in excited anticipation. I was still in two minds about going to the party. Afterall in all these years, I had never gone against my husband’s wishes.
But no sooner than the morning of 29th arrived and I shut the door behind him that my legs took me to my cupboard.
After ten minutes of rummaging through it, I stomped my foot in frustration. There wasn’t a single piece of clothing suited for the occasion. Rather it was filled with exorbitantly priced gowns, dresses and sarees all exclusively hand picked by Sahil.
“You carry my name and you should look it too.”
Well for once I didn’t intend to carry his name but my own. From the furthest corner of the lowest shelf, I unearthed the simple pink salwar kameez my mother had gifted me sometime back. I had never worn it. Perhaps now was the time.
“Oh ho! Look who’s come! Mrs. Rich and famous.”
A group of men hooted from inside. I recognised them instantly. ‘The most notorious back benchers of our class’!
Reema dragged me to the cluster and I found myself enveloped in warm hugs and tight handshakes. People around me were talking, arguing and laughing as if they didn’t have a care in the world. I stood staring at them in mute fascination.
This was so different from the formal and sophisticated parties that Sahil took me to. In fact, right after our marriage, he had appointed an Anglo Indian woman to teach me manners and etiquettes required to move into his circle.
Do not speak until you are spoken to.
Do not wade like a duck. Walk slowly and silently.
Do not laugh like a banshee.
Sit like this.
Eat like that.
The list was endless, yet I had mastered it all. The unsophisticated wife had moulded herself perfectly into the shape crafted by her high profile husband.
“Hey Sakshi!” Someone tapped on my shoulders. “I remember what a good dancer you used to be. Why don’t you perform today? For us?”
I looked at her in dismay. How do I tell her that I had bid adieu to my passion?
“Women in the Singhania family don’t indulge in such #&@ !”
“I…um…” I fumbled while a soft melody reached my ears. I turned around and saw Reema playing it on her phone. An invisible force nudged me and I stood up. Slowly my body started swaying to the rhythm of the beats. Soon I got transported to another world as my mind and soul united with my movements for the musical rendition.
A thunderous applause brought me back to the present.
“Oh, my Vaijantimala,” mimicked one of the backbenchers. “Leave your husband and marry me. I will forever be your humble servant.”
I looked at him and burst out laughing. And with that came down my barriers. I laughed, joked and flirted just like l used to during my school days.
It was hard to tell when I had laughed this hard or enjoyed so much. Even the 24 karat gold and diamond necklace that Sahil gifted me on my birthday hadn’t fetched me so much happiness as this.
The first thing I did on reaching home was to retrieve my ‘ghungroos’ from the trunk in the store room where I had abandoned it in a fit of rage. As I tied them across my ankle and twirled around the room, I spread my hands out and laughed loudly. Each and every corner of the mansion reverberated with the echo of my laughter. It amazed me to hear my own voice after a long long time.
My decision was made. Sahil and I needed to talk. Not as opponents but equals.
I wanted to save my marriage but… No more at the cost of my laughter or dignity!
This story had been shortlisted for the short fiction contest Muse of the Month for November 2020.
Image source: a still from the Hindi short film The Relationship Manager
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