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I am not sure whether it was Avi who had changed so much or me. Or had I just been so inept in understanding him? How had I never picked up on these signs?
I looked up from my book to see Avi engrossed in what has become his favorite activity after he gets home from work. Surfing the net. No, he wasn’t looking at the stock market like my brother Rajeev. Nor was he devouring the news like my father or keeping up with Big Boss like Nathu, the watchman of our apartment. No, Avi was fixated on sifting through real estate brokerage sites searching for our perfect home.
For the past year, we have spent most weekends looking at houses. We have been married three years and if I ever have the opportunity at my death bed to leaf through a Rolodex of years gone by, I think 2018 would be labeled the Year of the House Hunt.
“Yes,” my back stiffening at what I knew would come next.
“Have a look at this. 3 bhk in Koramangala, in an apartment just opposite the club, 2500 sq feet, 2nd floor with all the amenities. Sounds good nah.”
“Sounds like the last 10 flats we have seen.”
“Well each of those was rejected by you for a different reason so apparently, they are not all the same.”
“I did not reject them. I merely expressed my opinion. And with respect to this one, firstly, I don’t want to live in Koramangala. It’s too far from the airport. Given how much I travel, I would like to stay closer to the airport so that I’m not spending half my life on the road.”
“But you’re not going to be traveling all your life. This is long-term. This is our dream house.”
I paused, not sure what to make of the fact that my husband, who had known me now for four years, was still unaware of my goals and dreams.
“Avi, my job entails traveling. My long term includes traveling. I don’t see that as being negotiable.”
“In a marriage everything is negotiable. Nothing can be off the table. And in any case, we don’t have to move right away. We haven’t even finalized the house. We are only looking. First, we find a house, later; we can take it to the next step and figure out what to do. It’s not about the house; it’s the idea of a house… it means stability, permanence. It gives me confidence in our relationship- that we have taken such a major step together.”
I am not sure whether it was Avi who had changed so much or me. Or had I just been so inept in understanding him? How had I never picked up on these signs? One of the things that we had bonded over, in the early days of our courtship had been our shared childhood experiences. We both came from divorced families. There had been an instant connection when we discovered this and swapped stories of holidays split between different homes, our How-to lists on playing messenger between two adults who were frequently not on speaking terms with each other and our do’s and don’ts for managing step-parents. We got each other- in ways that so many others never did. But in the joy of discovering that unusual bond, I seemed to have been blind to some glaring differences.
“Sure, I get that a house means all that. But I think we can be a loving stable couple even without taking on a joint housing loan. We’d just be adding on extra stress.”
“We are both doing well professionally. If not now, then when? It’s what everyone does. We start now; we’ll be done with the responsibility in a decade. It’s important we have something we call ours.”
“I don’t know how I’ll feel about this later but I know I don’t like planning my weekends now around phone calls with brokers. I don’t like having to calculate EMIs and potential earnings. I don’t need to own a flat to feel successful or important. I don’t need that kind of validation and even if I did, I wouldn’t seek it through a property sale deed. I’m perfectly happy to paddle my own boat.” I realized how that sounded and rushed to add, “paddle it with you that is. And what do you mean we need something we call ours. The marriage is what we call ours remember?”
“Yes, it is. But a home of our own is a glue. It binds us in, in a good way. I don’t want us to waste this time and regret that we didn’t build something of worth ten years from now.”
“How is living our lives the way we want a waste?”
“Oh, Meenakshi you know what I mean. I’m not asking you to give up anything. Only to start thinking a little bit about what lies ahead and building for it. A few small adjustments. Isn’t that what a marriage is about?”
By this time I was itching for a fight. The problem is I hate Avi when we argue. He remains logical and unflappable right through while I bring an angry voice, sweaty palms and a flushed complexion a minute into the fight. Total imbalance of powers!
I could feel my voice climb higher than its usual pitch and I took a breath to calm myself- Think. I tell myself. You have to think. I began again, “I have spent my entire life focused only on the present. The future has always been the most uncertain and undependable thing in the world. You of all people would understand that. It’s the way I am programmed Avi, I can’t change now. I wouldn’t know how even if I wanted to.”
“Nonsense. How can anyone not know how to plan for the future? It’s the most natural thing in the world. And even if you don’t know, well that’s what I’m here for. That’s what I am doing. All you have to do is let me. And yes, I do understand what you are talking about. We both grew up lacking stability and a sense of expectancy from the future. We couldn’t do anything then but we can now. I want our future to compensate for our past.”
“Well, I don’t. I’m happy to let the cracks in my past be as they are. They don’t bother me anymore.”
“Meenakshi, we are all affected somehow by the past.”
“The difference is that I don’t want to lead my life with one eye on it. I don’t want to have anything to do with what’s gone by. I don’t want to revisit it, fix it or learn from it. I don’t want it to be a reference point in my life for anything- period. Whereas you,” I knew I was making it personal but I didn’t care, “you relive it every day of your life. It’s as if you wake up every morning telling yourself- ‘I won’t make the same mistakes as my parents. I don’t need to hear an I love you every single day Avi. You don’t have to be so meticulous about everything; always making sure you’re doing your share of the chores. You don’t need to be so calm every minute. You don’t have to be so careful around me Avi. I feel like you have this invisible line in your head that you are so bloody conscious of crossing, that you stay a mile away from it. Well, news flash- I’m not going to mind if you do cross it. In fact, if that’s how you feel I would much rather you just went right ahead and trampled all over it. I won’t break. And the reason I won’t is because I’m Meenakshi and you’re Avi. We are not Amit and Rupa. You can’t put an old bandage onto a new set of wounds expecting it to work.”
Avi gave me a long look. I could see there was both surprise and hurt in his eyes. I knew I had put them there. Still, he spoke calmly, “Do you feel that I don’t see you for who you are? Is treating you with care and respect a bad thing?”
I was beginning to yell now, “Avi, I know you feel damaged because your parents ensured you had a ringside view of all the drama in their marriage and you feel that that sort of drama is the worst thing that can happen in a marriage, but trust me I would take that any day over not knowing what the hell went wrong in the first place. I am thirty-one years old and I am still not sure why my parents broke up. We had a seemingly normal life- the life I saw everyone around me lead. It may not have been good enough for some, but it worked just fine for me and I had no idea that something was missing, that it wasn’t good enough until one fine day they broke up. I’m sure there were issues, I can even guess what some of them were but what made them so insurmountable is beyond me. Why didn’t they try to work them out? Why didn’t they ever push each other for more if that’s what they needed? Their notions of restraint and respect cost me my home and my childhood so excuse me if I don’t put much stock in treating people with respect. The truth is all that respect fills me with dread beyond anything I can bear.”
I was heaving and sobbing loudly. Avi watched me for a moment and then gathered me in his arms. I crumpled, years of pent-up rage and grief flooding out. Half an hour later, I had quieted and looked at him through puffy eyes as he laid me gently on the sofa and covered me with a blanket. He slipped out, saying he would be back soon.
I sighed. This was one fight that I did not want to sulk my way out of. But I knew he hated histrionics. And I had just had the meltdown of the decade.
“I should have handled it better. I should have just kept my mouth shut.” I closed my eyes, feeling exhausted. A few minutes later I heard the sound of the key turn in the lock.
“Avi?” I called out. “Be there in a minute.” The bedroom door opened to reveal him walking in with two giant tubs of ice cream, a bowl and a spoon. Avi hated to eat out of the tub. He handed me the salted caramel and carefully ladled out a scoop of the double chocolate for himself. I folded myself to accommodate him on the sofa and he sank in, pulling me to his side. He turned on the TV, stretched his feet out on the coffee table and began listening to the news with me cuddled against him, neither of us speaking a word.
We fell asleep and much later; I stirred and then watched him as he lay on his side, on the sofa, considerate even in sleep. Where was my home? 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 realized 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. And I knew, at that moment, without a shred of doubt, where I was complete.
This story was shortlisted for our June 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest. Our juror for the month Kiran Manral says “Every marriage isn’t just between the partners, it is also haunted by the marriages of the parents of the partners. A lovely short story that touches upon this fact.”
Image source: a still from Marathi web series Aani Kay Hava
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