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“I want to write this book because I want Shweta to know that putting your plans on hold or abandoning them for anyone’s sake is not a smart idea like her father feels and has advised her.”
Bharti took her place at the breakfast table. Ashish was engrossed in the newspaper. She could see him moving his fork and spoon on the food on his plate and then move it to his mouth, but she was sure, he had no idea what he was eating.
To Bharti, this had been an everyday occurrence in the 30 years of their marriage and this annoying habit of his had stopped bothering her ages ago. All those years, he had been hard-pressed for time and this was the only time of the day, he could devote to reading the news. He had retired from service last year and had all the time in the day, but his breakfast routine remained the same. “Old habits just stick to you” Bharti sighed as she buttered the toast.
“Bharti, what is this?” Ashish almost flung the newspaper towards her. Taken aback for a moment, Bharti realized, he was pointing at a news article. She looked up at the title of the page it was the social and events page. “I never knew you read this page also with interest?” Bharti asked him, suppressing a smile. She looked down at the news article he was pointing to, it was an interview of hers taken from an event she ha attended yesterday. “You knew I went to this event yesterday, you were there when I received the invitation. So, what is the problem now?” She was a tad irritated at this sudden outburst by Ashish.
“You have said here, you are working on a tell-all biography. We discussed this, didn’t we? Why can’t we be living our retired life in peace? Have I ever stopped you in all these years? Have I not accepted you as you were? I want to spend my old age in peace, is it too much to ask?” Ashish sounded furious.
“Please stop sounding victimized. I have never asked you any questions or placed restrictions on you. But I do not keep celebrating it as a virtuous act from my end, because not trying to control another’s person’s life is basic human decency. I have been clear of my expectations with you from the start. So, 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. To tell you the truth, while you were fine with taking risks and experimenting with new opportunities in life, you have never really been very encouraging of those qualities in me.” Bharti went back to her breakfast after the fiery response but her anger was visible on her face.
Ashish looked at Bharti and realized she was still the same woman he had met 33 years ago at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration. He had been happy to see a familiar face among his batchmates. Bharti was his senior in school, but they had hardly spoken to each other back then.
He was soon enamoured by her outgoing personality. She was a woman of few words, who spoke to the point and never hesitated from speaking her mind. He knew she came from a modest family and the journey thus far had been difficult for her, and shaped her into the tough person she was. After they completed their training both of their postings had been at two different locations. They had been in a long-distance relationship for the next 2 years, most of which had been spent by Ashish convincing his family that Bharti was indeed the right person to be his life partner.
Bharti looked up and saw Ashish sitting quietly, the newspaper sprawled across the table. She looked at him questioningly.
“I gave you all the possible support I could, I have always stood by you. You know from where you started and look where you have reached today. Would it have been possible, had I held you back? I don’t want credit for your success, but don’t make me this selfish villain who created obstacles in your life.” Ashish sounded pained as he spoke.
“Ashish, I did not level any allegations against you. I just spoke the plain truth. I have always acknowledged the fact that you stood by me when it was required the most. A working daughter-in-law was an anomaly in your family 30 years back, that too one who had erratic working hours and travelled frequently for work. I couldn’t have managed that animosity from your family without your support, but tell me, did that no come at a price for me?”
“Over the years, you expected me to accept postings that wouldn’t be too inconvenient for you. As the children grew, you expected me to be the ideal mother, highlighting little lapses and taking me on a guilt trip. You will not accept, but this is one of the main reasons for the chasm between me and Shweta. There were several instances at work, where I wanted to speak up and raise my voice but you held me back because you did not want to face any repercussions. Tell me of one instance, when I have held you back in any manner? When you claim to accept someone for who they are, you just accept them, without the conditions and disclaimers at any point.” Bharti’s response like always was straight but it had made Ashish uncomfortable.
“Bharti, I am human and I made mistakes, I agree and I will apologize for them. But your plan of writing this book now, when we deserve a peaceful retirement, I do not see the need for it. I know you are a mature person, so this cannot be some petty revenge you have in mind. So please think logically. Why invite controversy and trouble at this stage in life?” Ashish’s tone had drastically sobered down from the time he had questioned Bharti a few minutes ago.
“Thank you for trusting me enough to understand it is not petty revenge. Secondly, I said it will be a tell-all biography, I did no say it would be a scandalous memoir. There have been several instances in my professional life, where I was cut a raw deal. A lot of times I have felt it was because of my gender, but I fought back.”
“Today, plenty of youngsters look up to me. When I address forums or lectures in colleges, I see all those young faces look up to me for inspiration, especially the young women out there. This will be for them, a warning about what lies ahead so that they are prepared. I will write with the hope that this will change mindsets and fewer women are at the receiving end.”
“Yes, both of us have our plans for retired life. You want to spend yours, gardening, reading and meeting your friends for golf. These are those which you believe will give you peace of mind. But I will derive my peace from writing this book. So how is either of our plans for peaceful retired life being hampered by my decision?” Bharti responded while sipping her coffee.
“Bharti, like you said peace of mind is all I seek after all these years of stress. But give it a thought if you want to rile those in power at this point unnecessarily.” Ashish made a last attempt to convince Bharti to agree with him.
“I cannot please everyone, how much ever I try. There are going to be people who will be disappointed or angry with me despite all the efforts I put in. I cannot put my life on hold for them. I want to write this book, most importantly because I want Shweta to know that putting your plans on hold or abandoning them for anyone’s sake is not a smart idea like her father feels and has advised her.” Bharti got up from her chair to wash her hands and Ashish sat there looking at her. Was it discomfort or guilt that clouded his face?
This story was shortlisted for our May 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest, and our author juror Trisha Das says, “A layered and emotional conversation between a married couple. I liked the dialogue format. Issues with repetition and absence of context.”
Image source: a still from the short film Ghar ki Murgi
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A dreamer by passion and an Advocate by profession. Mother to an ever energetic and
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