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But I would remain silent, because husbands own the right to marital rape. The next morning I would get back to the never ending chores, as if nothing happened.
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Preethi Warrior is one of the winners for the June 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. The juror for this month, Kiran Manral commented, “A hard hitting comment on how women’s bodies are policed in the name of family honour by the patriarchy.”
He looked around, disdain written all over his face. He hesitantly sat on the rickety chair, one of the few in our humble abode. I waited patiently, letting him start the conversation.
“So this is where you live now, in this dingy corner of the big city.” He scoffed.
I nodded. He hadn’t touched the glass of water I had offered.
“Your dinner is ready, do have it on time. Don’t wait for me, I’ll be late.” Naina called out to me, as she prepared to leave. All dressed up, with rather loud attire and make-up, she waved at me as she left without a second glance at him.
“She’s going to work, huh! Work, she calls it. And you let her. She gave up all self-respect and shame ages ago, have you lost it too?” He raised his voice, typical of him.
“What other job would a primary school dropout get? She was pulled out of school so you could study. If only you had half her intellect, if only you had passed matriculation, perhaps you would have treated her better.” I retorted calmly.
“I thrashed that man she flirted with, or else she would have run off with him. I persuaded her into marrying a man of our caste, I arranged for the dowry as well and stood up for our family’s honor which she was bent on ruining. We all treated her well, gave her away into a respectable family. Was it our fault she managed to get herself kicked out of her husband’s house?” He questioned me, not a trace of remorse in his voice.
“She was raped.” I spoke loud and clear. “By people whom her husband had duped for money. They used her to seek revenge on him, but his family stood by him and shunned her, casting her impure. Abandoned and shattered, when she came knocking at our doors, you sent her packing. You so conveniently declared her dead, that is how well you all treated her.”
“She had been defiled by many men, you think I could have let her in? We would have been the laughing stock of the village, we would be rendered outcast. She was disowned by her in-laws, then how could we accept her when she was no more a part of our family?” He stood his ground.
“Fine, so if she isn’t family, what are you here for?” I feigned interest; I already knew.
“To take you with me, what else? How could you quit our ancestral mansion for this small and dirty shanty? Come now, enough of this childish behavior.” He ordered.
“No.” I refused him outright, perhaps for the first time in my life. “Which ancestral mansion are you talking about? The one where I was born, where I was never considered as good as my brothers? For my parents, I was only the torch bearer of the family reputation but not a permanent member. They denied me formal education but trained me in household work instead. I was kept indoors post puberty in the pretext of protecting me from boys. My only job was to get married, have children and leave my parents forever in peace. And I did fulfil every wish of theirs, but to what avail? To be pushed into a stranger’s arms and kitchen. Four decades, I have been slogging, birthing more boys, serving food, sweeping floors, washing filth, like a slave with no rights or freedom. Did my opinion ever matter to any of you, you were all so oblivious to my agony. Naina fell in love with a good man, he would have cherished her. It was I who suggested to them to elope, but you beat that man to pulp and forced her into a marriage she disapproved. Now that she means nothing to you, why have you returned? I’m happy with my daughter. I can’t just throw her away, I’ll be there for her when she needs me, no matter what. For once in my life, I feel cared for, I too feel loved.”
“This is not Home Ma, this is a brothel! Your daughter is a whore, don’t you see it? ” He almost screamed.
“Not a word about her from you!” I thundered. “She got into this to keep herself alive, all thanks to her husband, her brothers, her so-called family. Abused and bruised, she was left in the dark to fend for herself. Yes, she sells her body for money. You know, your father took me against my will every night, he would get drunk and molest me. But I would remain silent, because husbands own the right to marital rape. The next morning I would get back to the never ending chores, as if nothing happened. Unfortunately, women like me are not even paid for our services.”
He looked away, “I don’t wish to listen to all this slanderous talk Ma. You know my daughter is an adolescent now, I hope to get her married soon. Naina is dead to all, she’s forgotten. But if you stay in this abominable place, what would the people say? Who will marry my daughter? Please come home.”
Just as I thought. I smiled to myself. It wasn’t his affection for me that brought him here. But that big house I shared with my husband, children and grandchildren, felt nothing more than brick and mortar. I wasn’t welcome in my father’s household either, I was only their daughter, Paraaya Dhan. It was strange how this little shack, part of a brothel as my son termed it, felt so quiet and liberating. Home was perhaps just this body I inhabited and this too was alien to me at times, its folds and creases, its pains and needs. Home was everywhere and nowhere. Home, I realised now, was anywhere the heart slept in peace. Home was where one unpacked one’s cares and settled them into the wardrobe with one’s clothes. It was where one was complete.
“This is home now, people here mind their own business and leave us alone. Moreover, Naina doesn’t command me or take me for granted. Look, it’s getting late and this place is obviously too low for your standards. I would rather you don’t stay the night. If you start now, you could catch the last bus to the village.” I was done talking, I wanted him to leave.
He rose, but I made my parting shot.
“Don’t worry about us, we don’t intend to be here all our lives. Naina is smart, she has enrolled for some skill classes, there are organizations helping her, she will find a better job. We have each other now after all, something good will come up. But then a piece of advice. You better let your daughter complete her degree, than pushing her into matrimony. That way, she’ll be capable of supporting herself in case you spurn her in the name of honour.”
I closed the door on my own flesh and blood, for good.
Glossary: Paraya Dhan- Someone else’s property
Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Kiran Manral, a writer, author and novelist based in Mumbai. Her books include The Reluctant Detective, Once Upon A Crush, All Aboard, Saving Maya, Missing Presumed Dead, The Face at the Window, The Kitty Party Murder and More Things in Heaven and Earth in fiction, Karmic Kids, True Love Stories, A Boy’s Guide to Growing Up, 13 Steps to Bloody Good Parenting, Raising Kids with Hope and Wonder in Times of a Pandemic and Climate Change in non-fiction, apart from short stories in various acclaimed anthologies.
The cue is from her latest book More Things in Heaven and Earth.
“Home was perhaps just this body I inhabited and this too was alien to me at times, its folds and creases, its pains and needs. Home was everywhere and nowhere. Home, I realised now, was anywhere the heart slept in peace. Home was where one unpacked one’s cares and settled them into the wardrobe with one’s clothes. It was where one was complete.”
Image source: a still from the film Ramprasad ki Tehrvi
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