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She soon discovered that his business turnover had not improved much and it was her hard-earned money that he was splurging.
Mansi looked at the girls scattered around the college campus; they looked so full of life. She could hear unbridled laughter, a smile that reflected in their eyes. She wondered if the world was so kind to them, that they could be this happy.
All those happy faces took her back by a decade and a half, and she could see herself among those girls. Those were the days when she smiled, laughed to her heart’s content, and looked forward to each new experience that awaited her. Then she had stepped out into the world, and reality had not been as simple as she had desired it to be.
“Mansi, what dream are you lost in?” Apoorva’s voice brought her back from her reverie.
“Just soaking in the happiness in the campus” Mansi smiled back.
Mansi and her colleague Apoorva were a part of the marketing team of a popular woman’s hygiene products brand. Mansi was a senior member of the team and Apoorva was an executive who had been reporting to her since the past 4 years. Today the two of them were here at Kirorimal College for Women, to create awareness on women’s hygiene as well as their products.
Mansi knew that this campaign was targeted at increasing the customer base for the products and the awareness drive was only a garb for that. But Mansi enjoyed these tours just for the sheer joy of interacting with so many people. That had been Mansi’s biggest strength all along; she could chat to just anyone and make friends very easily. Though it was only much later in life that she saw it as a strength.
The session began and the questions that poured in from the girls and even some of their lecturers kept it engrossing.
As the session was being concluded, Apoorva excused herself to receive a call and came back a few minutes later looking worried. As soon as they got free, Apoorva told her with a worried tone, “we cannot leave tonight as planned, there is some political unrest and the state borders have been closed.”
“We, will figure something out, stop getting worked up. I will call the head office and see what can be done.” Mansi responded with the hope of allaying Apoorva’s fear, but there was hardly any effect on her. “Trust me Apoorva, you will reach home at the earliest we can manage. Let’s go and have a nice dinner, the treat is on me. Cheer up now.”
Apoorva looked a minute at Mansi and then asked “It’s already been four days since we are travelling, aren’t you missing your family, your home?
Mansi smiled, “you know Apoorva I have realized over the years that 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. So, any place my heart feels happy is home to me.”
Mansi’s response left Apoorva a little confused, but she also saw this as a smart adaptability technique that lessened the pangs of longing. She had her doubts, however, about being able to master it.
Mansi looked at Apoorva, lost deep in thoughts, and wondered if she had said something too intense, but this was the truth of her life. This thought was what had helped her survive those difficult times, and made it possible to find that ray of happiness.
Looking out of the cab window as they drove back to the hotel, Mansi’s thoughts travelled back 15 years in time.
21-year-old Mansi had been a content person. She did not nurse big dreams or ambitions; she had simple expectations from life. She had been an average student and academics had never interested her much. After her graduation, she had decided against studying further. She was happy helping her mother with household chores, rustling up new dishes in the kitchen, reading books, or painting in her spare time. She had dreamed of having a family of her own in a little home.
This simple dream had kept her heart happy. But her lack of ambitions worried her parents. They could see other girls of Mansi’s age working hard on building a career, nursing ambitions of achieving high goals in life, and they feared that Mansi’s laid-back nature would hold her back in life.
A few months after her graduation Mansi received a marriage proposal from Manoj’s family. Her parents were more than happy to go ahead with it, but Mansi was not at all enthusiastic about taking it forward.
Manoj was 12 years older than her, and after an initial couple of meetings more than the age difference, it was his behaviour and attitude which bothered her. The perpetual frown on his face, the authoritative tone in which he questioned her, and the condescending manner in which her queries and suggestions were dismissed by him, all made her increasingly averse to him.
She put forth her concern before her parents. But her father’s response left her shocked. “You have no ambitions, do not want to work towards achieving anything in life, there are no accomplishments that you can proudly speak of, despite which you have received a marriage proposal from such a well-off and respectable family. You should thank your stars, rather than finding fault with the boy. People are different, you have to make adjustments.”
It pained her that her father was deeming her a failure for having little wants from life. When she saw the refusal to understand her in the place she had called home over all these years, she decided to speak no further. The wedding happened with a lot of pomp and show, but her married life began with a rude shock.
Very early in her marriage, Mansi realized that her husband was an emotionally unavailable man. But the reality of her marital home was the bigger shock for her.
The family was nowhere close to being affluent, though they had seen better days. The family business had lost its sheen in the last decade and several branches of their home utility and furnishing stores had to be shut down. The ones in operation did not generate many turnovers.
The unhealthy financial condition at home led to deep rifts in the family, with her husband’s siblings holding him responsible for the desperate financial condition. Her husband Manoj got even more sullen and distant from her. Mansi could see her dream of a small, happy, and contented family crashing to pieces before her. She spoke to Manoj about wanting to work with him in reviving his business. But her offer was arrogantly brushed aside. “It’s not as simple as the work you do around the house, I already have enough mess to clear.” Manoj’s response was hurtful and Mansi decided never to speak to him about his work or the family business.
For a person who had been happy being a homebody, Mansi now detested staying in the house. Manoj hardly communicated with her, and the rest of his family was rude and toxic in their behaviour towards Mansi.
Thus, when a friend offered Mansi the job of marketing her newly launched female hygiene products, she jumped at the opportunity. Neither Manoj nor his family had been too keen about her taking up the offer, but the lure of additional money coming into the house stopped them from protesting too vehemently against Mansi’s decision.
As Mansi started working, she realized her ability to communicate with just about anybody with ease was her biggest strength. As she kept growing at her work, her self-confidence grew but the situation at home remained the same. Though her earnings went into the home and helped improved the financial condition of the family, respect kept eluding her in the house. “What is there to be so proud of about your job, selling sanitary napkins is nothing to be happy about.” These were the kind of taunts she received sometimes even from Manoj.
A decade had passed since her wedding and she had grown on to become an important and reliable person in the organization. The situation had changed on the personal front but entirely not in favour of Mansi. While her income helped improve the finances at home and Manoj shut down a few branches of his shops which were running in loss and a chunk of Mansi’s earnings to improve operations at the remaining shops. Mansi did not object to this either, she was willing to help.
Over time the joint family had also disintegrated, but Mansi was still treated badly. The new complaint was her lack of ability to produce offspring. Mansi had herself been keen on becoming a mother and had been trying to conceive for 2 years now. Her medical reports showed she was perfectly healthy. She had asked Manoj to go for a check-up but he refused immediately. Mansi felt shattered at her husband’s heartlessness even after all these years.
Mansi would have continued being the docile and non-confronting wife had she not made the discovery two years ago. She discovered the extravagant lifestyle her husband was leading, while she continued living modestly in the belief that funds were tight and she had to be mindful of her savings and expenses. He had gone on several vacations, while she longed for a day of respite. She soon discovered that his business turnover had not improved much and it was her hard-earned money that he was splurging.
The next day Mansi informed Manoj that she would henceforth be paying for the grocery and the domestic help’s salary which would be her contribution towards the house and the remaining money from her salary would be handled by her. She could see Manoj’s eyes flare up in anger.
“What do you mean, you are going to handle your salary on your own, as you wish? What do you know about the expenses, all the luxury you enjoy doesn’t come free!” Manoj snapped at her.
“You mean the luxuries you enjoy, right?” Mansi responded. “I know about your parties, vacations, and all the fancy shopping you have done, while I have to count each penny and I am questioned for every purchase.”
Manoj was alarmed at seeing his usually calm wife, ready with answers. “Be happy I have put up with you over all these years. You have only added to my troubles and given no happiness and now you are out to question the little joys also in my life. You can leave, if you have so much of a problem with me, but if you choose to stay it will be according to my rules” Manoj glared.
“Return all the money that you have taken from me over the years, compensate me for all the mental trauma you have caused, I will leave,” Mansi retorted. “Until then I will stay here, this is my legal right and if you act smart, there will be skeletons tumbling out of the closet, which you wouldn’t want. It’s not a threat, I am only warning you about my course of action.”
As Mansi walked out of the room while Manoj stood rooted to the spot. The anger and determination in her eyes had been chilling.
“Mansi, we have reached.” Apoorva’s voice broke her reverie. She went to the dining area of the hotel and ordered their dinner and then made arrangements for their extended stay with the reception. As she was heading to her room, the receptionist said “have a pleasant stay, Mam.” Mansi smiled at her. It was going to be pleasant, she felt welcomed here. She felt more at home here than the place she called home.
This story was shortlisted for our June 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest. Our juror for the month Kiran Manral says “A stand taken by a woman taken for granted feels good.”
Image source: a still from the short film Ouch/ YouTube
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