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As if all I was good for was to raise kids and manage the household. As if me being educated and ambitious was something wrong. I felt humiliated and embarrassed.
Today was the worst day of my life.
Check the date above. Yes, today was the day if my engagement with Rishi. Every single one of my friends and family were there. Even Dad! Can you believe it? Even he managed to finally find some time for us. For the first time, I didn’t see Mom and Dad fighting.
Instead, it was Rishi and I who had been fighting all evening.
Let me back up a bit.
Just before the Ring Ceremony was about to start, Atul Sir came up to me and said he had a big surprise for me. The final appraisal report with the management team’s comments had come in, and I had got that promotion I had wanted for the last two years. Which also meant I was being moved to the Singapore office.
You would think Rishi would be thrilled for me. But no, he was furious! In fact, he said something that shattered my illusions about having a fruitful career after marriage. He said I had “progressed enough” in my career. Now it was time to “focus on building a family!”
Can you believe it? I still can’t! Rishi – progressive, liberated, educated, who always said the right things about women empowerment. Yup! That Rishi. Was he even the same person?
He was the one who wouldn’t stop talking about how awesome Vartika, our VP is. When I reminded him of how much he admired her, he retorted that she is single and doomed to be so, for the rest of her life!
I was too shocked to even respond. You know what he said when I asked him why then did he keep praising her all the time? He said it was because she was ‘sexy’, not because she was a good VP. He said that she got that position only by sleeping with the big boss, the global head of operations. I was shocked to hear that. Was it really true that she had slept her way to the top? How could he say it with such conviction? Was it just a piece of petty ‘locker-room’ gossip or did he have any proof? I wanted to rush to her defense, but I didn’t have any proof either.
But I had more important questions on my mind. Why was he saying the same thing about me? I am not like that. I hadn’t slept around with anyone to get where I am. Why was he accusing me of being the same as Vartika ma’am? I knew then those allegations about her couldn’t have been true. Even before I could respond to his insults, he said more such hurtful things.
“This is why they shouldn’t raise the marriageable age for women,” he said. As if all I was good for was to raise kids and manage the household. As if me being educated and ambitious was something wrong. I felt humiliated and embarrassed. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes but I fought them back. I didn’t want to give Rishi another chance to mock my emotional nature.
Somehow, in that state of confusion, a clear thought dawned on me. He expected me to turn down the job now, but very soon, he’d ask me to choose between career and family. But I didn’t want to choose. I wanted both! What were the chances that ten years later someone wouldn’t say the same things about me that Rishi was saying for Vartika ma’am? How many ambitious women had heard such things, and to protect ourselves from character assassination, turned away from achieving our dreams and our potential?
I immediately realized that whatever he had said about Vartika ma’am was a lie. Because here was Rishi, already saying the same about me too.
It was then that another realization hit me. And this one left me gasping for breath. I didn’t want this man as my husband. And yet, we were to be engaged in just a few minutes.
Today was the day of important realizations.
I was so confused, I immediately wanted to talk to Mom. Hadn’t she been a working woman all her life and yet brought me and Anan Di up so remarkably? And that is not something we think; that is what everyone has always said.
I remember how she’d never be home when we returned from school or college. She would always miss our Parent-Teacher meetings; but she would always meet with the teachers later to discuss our progress. She missed almost all of our plays or musical performances. Just like other busy parents, she’d miss some events and she’d attend some others. She didn’t always attend my piano recitals, but she did hear me play at home whenever I rehearsed on the weekends. I still remember the look of pride on her face whenever my or Anan Di’s friends’ parents would praise us.
She wasn’t always there, but she wasn’t completely missing either. I remember her always being there for us emotionally even when she couldn’t be there in person. She had done it all alone, as a single mom.
I didn’t remember all this then, when Rishi was fighting with me and accusing me of potentially becoming a negligent wife and mother. But I remember it now. At that time, I was worried only about not wanting to create a scene, so I let the Ring Ceremony happen without any further drama. But right after he had put the ring on my finger, I looked at it, all sparkly and shiny; and all I felt was the darkness in my heart. As if there was something wrong with the ring. But there was nothing wrong with the ring. It was just my relationship that was wrong. I couldn’t even think straight anymore. All I could do was cry. And everyone thought they were tears of joy.
But right after the ceremony, I went to talk to Mom. I just couldn’t bear to hold it in any longer. I told her everything that Rishi had just said. Mom was so shocked and angry. You should have seen her face when I told her what Rishi had said about me sleeping around to get that Singapore posting.
And then, Mom did something I’d never forget my entire life. She said, ‘To hell with not creating a drama. We women have kept silent too many times, for too long. No more.’ She walked up to the stage and gave a speech that left everyone in shock.
I don’t remember every word of what she said but I’ll try to tell you the gist of it. There are things I know now that I never did, earlier. I didn’t know Dad had left Mom because she refused to quit her career. I didn’t know Mom passed on an important promotion because she got pregnant with me, and Dad hadn’t let her take that job at that time. She also said that she hadn’t educated her daughters and made them independent only to become subservient to egotistical men.
I do remember one part of Mom’s speech, though, distinctly. It was right before she said, ‘My daughters won’t settle for less. My daughters won’t marry a man who can’t value their dreams and aspirations. Avantika and Anandita – you are meant to conquer everything you set your heart on; and let no one, least of all a man, come in between you and your dreams.’
That part I remember word for word. Because I never want to forget it.
She said: “Men love beautiful women. But when it’s beauty and brains, they don’t know how to handle it. Because we have no role models to emulate? Even our parents call such women ‘too forward’. When actually it’s the men who are backward. Women are racing ahead, having kids and careers, leaving men holding their dicks in their hands. You know, at one time, girls were sent to finishing schools to increase their market value? Well, guess what? It’s time for men’s finishing schools!”
Right after she said this and that I won’t settle for less, I took off my glittering ring and gave it back to Rishi. My finger immediately felt lighter. I told him I was going to take the job in Singapore. They have some great finishing schools there, in case he wanted to apply. The look on his face was priceless. I hope the photographer captured it. It’s surely going to be my favourite picture of him for a long time to come.
As my eyes searched around for Anan Di, for the reassurance my fluttering heart needed, I found her standing near the stage, talking to some very worked up relatives. I hoped she would look my way, I needed her to tell me that I wasn’t making a mistake. All she did was wink at me and raise her glass. That is all she needed to do, actually. I remember exhaling, hard; and feeling lighter. Men could hold on to their dicks all they wanted. We’d be holding our glasses and raising a toast to each other.
Anyway, after much looking around, I finally found Atul sir near the chaat counter and told him that I was ready to fly to Singapore next week.
I don’t know when Rishi and his parents left the gathering. I was too busy eating chaat and chatting with Atul sir. I wondered if Vartika ma’am liked eating chaat as much as I did.
Today was the best day of my life.
This was shortlisted for our January 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest.
Image source: a still from the Hindi short film Khilaaf
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Piyusha is a sometime sane reader, part-time crazy writer and full-time wacky alien.
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