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The truth was that he did not even care about her existence, but he would never end the marriage as it was important for his image, to the world he was a man who treated his wife like a queen.
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Parvadavardini Sethuraman is one of the winners picked by author Damyanti Biswas for the February 2021 Muse of the Month. First titled ‘Finding Your Lost Worth’, this is what Damyanti says about it: “A satisfying tale of comeuppance, and a woman overcoming a lifetime of silence and guilt, in an explosive finale.”
Gehna sat on the window sill looking blankly into space, there were a plethora of thoughts playing in her mind, but those words Manik had spoken in the morning seemed to be reverberating in the background of all those jumbled thoughts in her mind slowly taking over their space.
Gehna turned to look at the television screen and those words being spoken by a panellist on the talk show caught her attention. “Manik Tiwari is a respectable man, who has been nothing short of revolutionary in the manufacturing industry in the country. He is also such a dedicated family man; last year when he had won the Business Icon award, he had so lovingly dedicated the award to his wife, giving all the credit for his success to her. He adores his family and he is the one responsible for increasing female representation in the manufacturing industry. It is sad that such a man should be facing these allegations. I doubt there is even an iota of truth in these allegations.”
Though Gehna was seething in anger, she couldn’t stop herself from smirking. “A little show of greatness is enough to make the world put you on a pedestal and if you are a man, it’s a cakewalk,” Gehna thought aloud as a flurry of memories came rushing in.
Manik had mastered the craft of creating the perfect image of himself early on in life. His polished, gentlemanly demeanour and affable charm were what had drawn Gehna to him. The persona of a responsible, caring, and self-made man who had pride in his roots, that is what had gained him the love of her parents immediately. Gehna could not remember taking any efforts to convince them to accept her love. Her parents had been proud of her choice; her father could be heard telling all their relatives and acquaintances how lucky their Gehna was to have found Manik for a life partner.
Reflecting on her decision after the wedding Gehna had wondered – had she really been lucky, had she really found a partner, worth sharing her life with? Gehna had begun her married life with rose-tinted glasses as every besotted young bride would, but the reality of this marriage had not been rosy. The Manik that Gehna had fallen in love with and the Manik that was her husband seemed like two entirely different people. He was nothing like the open-minded, caring, and encouraging man she had been drawn to.
A week after their marriage when she had informed Manik about her plans of joining her old street theatre group for a performance, he had responded: “you are my wife now, there is an image you need to live up to.” That was the first time she heard those words; after that those words kept coming each time she expressed her desire to live her life or claim her share of joy from it. In the process, he effectively reduced her to the trophy he had acquired.
Gehna had wanted to question the unfairness of the relationship between Manik and her, she wanted to question the unreasonable power he exercised over her but she never got down to doing it. Like every other girl around her, Gehna had been raised to believe that her husband was her custodian, and that he would have expectations from her and she must strive at fulfilling them. But she often wondered why no one cared to know about her expectations, least of all her husband.
The initial years of marriage passed by with Gehna putting in the efforts asked of her to fit into the mould of the wife Manik aimed at creating. It was in the fifth year of marriage when Gehna had got the first hint of Manik’s infidelity. Gehna was devastated and had wanted to end the marriage then and there, but when her parents questioned her decision, advising her to work on the relationship and win him back she was left wondering, where was she to go even if she walked out of the relationship? Years later, she would often feel bitter about having retraced her steps.
The initial few times Gehna questioned her husband, threatened to leave him if he did not mend his ways, raised a storm, and showered him with extra dollops of attention, all with an effort to win him back or that is what she thought.
The initial few times Manik did apologize, and vowed never to break her heart again, but the saga kept continuing. Over the years Gehna stopped confronting Manik and turned a blind eye and deaf ear to his philandering ways. She would keep herself occupied with the few charitable organizations that she volunteered with, rather the ones Manik had approved of her association with. Her only source of joy in life was her daughter Tina.
Gehana was a doting mother and found great joy in seeing her daughter grow. But her joy was short-lived. Tina was 12 when Manik decided to send her to boarding school. It was the most reputable residential school for girls in the country, and for the world to know that his daughter was seeking education from such haloed portals was important to boost his image.
With each year of marriage, Gehna’s bitterness towards it kept growing. A couple of years later, Manik’s secretary had approached Gehna for help. Though she had been bitter to the girl when she first approached her, the truth she learned left her jolted. Gehna had accused the girl of having an affair with her husband but the girl came equipped with evidence, which brought out the truth about Manik. She showed her how she was being sexually assaulted by Manik, the e-mail conversations, messages, and even the voice recordings she had clearly showed how Manik was using his position of power to have a coercive physical relationship with him.
Gehna could see that the girl needed this job and finding no other means of ending the abuse had approached her. She had resigned herself to her husband’s cheating ways, but to know that he was a serial abuser was not something she could brush away; it was a tormenting truth. But again, she chose not to confront him, though Gehna managed to get another job in a different city for the girl through her connections at one of the NGO’s she volunteered for. She wondered if Manik ever had an inkling that she knew his truth?
With each passing year, Gehna’s guilt also grew. She knew she should be taking a stand; she should bring out the true image of her husband, but what held her back? She knew that the emotional connection and love in their relationship had faded away long ago. The truth was that he did not even care about her existence, but he would never end the marriage as it was important for his image, to the world he was a man who treated his wife like a queen. Who knew the reality of this queen than the queen herself; she was a shattered queen who had been humiliated and insulted at every turn? But she found no route for escape, and deep down she knew she could not fathom the courage to do that. Even if she managed to walk out, she wondered if the world would ever believe that the man with such a pristine image was, in reality, anything but that. Manik had over the years effectively managed to distance her from all those people with whom she had ever shared a close bond.
Then her family pictures flashing on the television screen brought Gehna back to the present.
The young intern at Manik’s company had proven to be more courageous than all the others who had been victimized by him. She had filed a criminal complaint of sexual assault against him, and also spoken about her ordeal with the media. Though her step in the right direction had shocked Manik, he was not a man to give in, he had used his influence and financial strength to turn the tide in his favour.
All of a sudden, all the news channels and media publications were projecting Manik as the crusader of women’s empowerment, a man who believed in giving a fair opportunity to capable women but who had was sadly being victimized by an opportunistic woman. Every time Gehna heard false allegations against the young lady and her character being mercilessly assassinated on national television, she was pained and could not hold herself from feeling guilty.
“The girl has been speaking the truth, hasn’t she?” Gehna asked Manik as he buttered his toast smirking at the article in the newspaper.
“What good has it come to; you can see for yourself,” he responded with the smirk still intact on his face as he handed her the newspaper.
“Do you have anything called a conscience?” Gehna shot back.
“Do you have the right to ask that question? Why this sudden surge of anger? I know you won’t give up this life of luxury for any battle of righteousness, so have your breakfast and relax in your cushioned life, and let me lead mine.” Manik had walked away with these words, but even a good six hours later the words would not die down in her mind.
Two months later…
Manik was getting ready for his anniversary party, this was an important event and he had left no stone unturned in making the event special. The who’s who in town had been invited, the aim had been to perfect his image of the doting family man further. But there had been no sign of Gehna since morning and with just an hour left for the event to start, he was starting to look worried. He was stepping out of his room to check on the arrangements when he received a message from his friend asking him to switch on the television. What he saw on the TV screen left him in a state of shock.
Gehna was on TV recounting the reality of their married life. He could see clippings of his chats and e-mail conversations with his victims over the years.
He heard his phone beep again. “Happy Anniversary Darling. Hope you liked the gift? You had been so sure that day I would not risk this life of luxury to fight any battle, it gave me the idea to actual wage this fight because I need to break of this cage and live my life. The important pieces of evidence are still with me, it is for the court to see. You were right; I need a life of luxury and this evidence that I have against you shall guarantee me my rightful alimony. So, I am leaving your cage to lead my life of luxury and you enjoy yours.”
Manik was furiously reading this message from his wife, but his carefully crafted image and all the image makeover plans had been washed away in one go by the woman from whom he had used as the primary tool of his makeover.
When Gehna lay in bed that night there was a feeling of calm and satisfaction which she had not felt in years. She could feel the darkness slow and deep, quiet, still, unmoving, unbreathing in a dark, sugary sleep: no pain, no joy, no sight, no sound, no taste; she remained floating, distant. She wouldn’t wake up, she’d stay in this cotton-wool world, its soft, sleepy music lifting her up through the roof, the bannisters, the rooms up above, through the entire weight of the building, its steeple. She rose like a wisp of cloud. She felt all those years of guilt unloading, but the burden of the guilt was yet to vanish.
Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Damyanti Biswas, author of the multi-faceted and fast paced crime fiction book, You Beneath Your Skin, reviewed here.
Damyanti Biswas currently calls Singapore her home. Her short fiction has been published, or is forthcoming, at Smokelong, Ambit, Litro, Puerto del Sol, Pembroke, Griffith Review Australia, as well as other journals in the USA and UK. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions and is available in various anthologies in Asia. She serves as one of the editors of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her debut literary crime novel, You Beneath Your Skin, was published by Simon & Schuster, and optioned for screens by Endemol Shine. She’s a mentor at Pitch Wars, a program for aspiring authors, a blogger for the past thirteen years, and sends out a curated monthly gazette for writers and readers.
The cue is from her book You Beneath Your Skin, which you have to incorporate into your entry – whether at the beginning, end or somewhere in between.
“Darkness slow and deep, quiet, still, unmoving, unbreathing in a dark, sugary sleep: no pain, no joy, no sight, no sound, no taste; she remained floating, distant. She wouldn’t wake up, she’d stay in this cotton-wool world, its soft, sleepy music lifting her up through the roof, the banisters, the rooms up above, through the entire weight of the building, its steeple. She rose like a wisp of cloud. “
Parvadavardini Sethuraman wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: a still from the the series Kehne Ko Humsafar Hai
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