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“How could you stoop so low? You are a woman, what about your honour, our honour? You reject a stable relationship, for excitement?”
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Preethi Warrier is one of the winners for the May 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. The juror for this month, Trisha Das commented, “A subtle, poignant story about a woman who breaks from the invisible shackles of society. I liked the writing and internal monologue. Could have used more dialogue.”
“He’s younger?” Mom whispered amidst tears.
“Yeah, two years.” I clarified.
“So he won’t marry you?” Dad almost shouted in anger.
“He’s okay with marriage, I’m not. I need more time.” I answered again.
“What about the baby then?” they enquired in unison.
“I’ll take care of the baby, but what is this, some kind of an interrogation? You didn’t ask me or seek my opinions last time around.” I retorted.
“Shameless.” Dad hissed, “How do we show our face outside? Our daughter, brought up in a respectable family, leaves her husband to live in with a younger man. Is this how we raised you?”
“Trust me Dad, it’s exactly because of the way you raised me.” I looked him straight in the eye, perhaps for the first time.
Now, there are orthodox families and then there was mine. Well educated, urban and well off, my parents hardly seemed the conservative types to the rest of the world. But I had no inkling why they often treated my brother differently and why was I always under lock and key. I was dropped to school, tuitions, dance classes and brought back safely by my mother, well into my teenage. Even when I began navigating to college alone, a ten minute delay was met with a volley of questions.
As if, I would run away at the first chance I got, though honestly I did feel like escaping many times. I was strictly restricted from talking to boys, I remember that day when all hell broke loose, when my brother saw me chatting with a boy, after school. The way I was made to dress, it was next to impossible that a boy my age would cast a second glance at me. Not that I’ve anything against dressing traditionally, but like everyone else, I too did wish to look and wear trendy clothing. But till my marriage, my mother selected my outfits because there’s always certain decorum to be maintained before my father, brother, other male relatives and of course, all people from the opposite gender.
I guess my parents were oblivious to the fact that I was gradually moving into a cocoon, too shy, too afraid, too much of an introvert.
And then there was someone in my college, who incidentally seemed to have a crush on me, and I too was basking in the glory, but he happened to call up home once on the family landline and all my calls were thoroughly screened before I conversed. To cut a long story short, that was the end of my love story.
When it came to marriage, my parents followed the same tradition, they picked my husband, they approved his photograph, and they got the horoscopes matched. A month after my graduation, I was married, into a respectable family, to a noble man, a total stranger, whom my parents liked a lot.
He indeed was good, he cared for me, he shared chores, he took me shopping, he encouraged me to work, he was an ideal husband, just like he was an obedient son and son-in-law.
He loved me in his own sweet way. He wouldn’t object to me wearing makeup, cutting my hair or wearing trendy clothes, but once when I asked for an opinion, he politely commented, “I love the lady I married, simple and traditional, long hair, sans makeup.”
He would call me a hundred times if I ever had to work late, he would sweetly refuse my requests to attend evening office parties, he was deeply disappointed when I tasted wine at a dinner, he chaperoned me everywhere.
With a heavy heart I realized, I had married my mother.
As advised by the so-called elders in my family, I went ahead with motherhood, to kill the monotony of marriage. The arrival of a baby pushed me into further darkness, being a mother isn’t a cakewalk after all. But I finally settled in the walled garden that my husband had built around me.
Beautiful and comfortable the garden was, but how I wished to break those rosy shackles, to fly away, to be liberated.
Arun entered the office and my life, like a breath of fresh air. A wicked glint in his eyes, with ready humour and wit, he was free and wild. He made it so easy to enjoy, he turned out to be the life of the workplace. He was in my team and he would often tease me for my reserved nature. He would instigate, yet amuse me. We happened to interact a lot and I don’t exactly remember when we started developing feelings for each other. I gathered the courage to extend my hours at work, to spend some leisure time with colleagues, I would now dress up the way I liked, he liked. I began breaking my chains, interacting freely and coming out of my shell, all thanks to him. He was what I wanted to be, he was who I wanted to be with and he realised it too. We were in love and he professed his feelings for me. And I was prepared to leave behind a secure life with my ‘nice’ husband and explore a different aspect of love and life.
I knew my husband had seen it coming, I wasn’t reciprocating his love the way I was expected to. He was upset, I too was, but he handled it maturely.
But my parents-in-law and especially my parents wouldn’t hear any of it, so here I was, that evening, at my maternal home, summoned to put some sense into me.
“What do you mean, it was the way you were brought up? Was it our fault you decided to stray? Your husband loves you and your baby, he earns well, lets you work, keeps you happy, what more do you want?” My dad barked.
“Try to step off that pedestal of yours and see my point of view. I like change. I like risk and unpredictability. I don’t want to feel safe and comfortable all the time. I don’t want someone who simply loves and accepts me the way I am. I want someone who pushes me, challenges me, calls me out. Someone who excites my mind as well as my body. Someone fearless and fiery.” I pleaded.
“Chi!” my mother shook her head, “How could you stoop so low? You are a woman, what about your honour, our honour? You reject a stable relationship, for excitement? People like you and that Arun could never be happy, you don’t understand the meaning of marriage.”
“I don’t Ma, I don’t understand what it means to be tied down for your entire life with a stranger, just because your parents decided so. You mean, you would have been okay if your son strayed, and the society wouldn’t have judged me? Moreover, just for once, why don’t you try and understand me, that I am different perhaps, that I might not always want what you want? ” I could feel my eyes well up, my mother had cursed me.
“Get out.” My father commanded, “We don’t have a daughter anymore.”
I wiped my tears and rose to leave. With one last look at the house I had grown up in, I walked away, hoping they would see me as their daughter someday, and not their honour.
Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Trisha Das, who is the author of Kama’s Last Sutra, Ms Draupadi Kuru: After the Pandavas, The Mahabharata Re-imagined, The Art of the Television Interview and the internationally acclaimed How to write a Documentary Script. Trisha has written columns and short stories for Magical Women (Hachette India, 2019) and publications like Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Grazia India, Hindustan Times and Scroll. In her film-making career, Trisha has directed over 40 documentaries. She’s won an Indian National Film Award (2005) and was UGA’s International Artist of the year.
The cue is from her latest book The Misters Kuru: Return to the Mahabharata, which is a much awaited sequel to Ms Draupadi Kuru.
“Try to step off that pedestal of yours and see my point of view. I like change. I like risk and unpredictability. I don’t want to feel safe and comfortable all the time. I don’t want someone who simply loves and accepts me the way I am. I want someone who pushes me, challenges me, calls me out. Someone who excites my mind as well as my body. Someone fearless and fiery.“
Image source: a still from FilterCopy
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