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That A Woman Alone Must Make ‘Small Adjustments’ For A Happy Marriage…

“A woman must know her priorities.” She could hear her in-laws admonishing her. Nothing had changed in this supposedly progressive society in all these years, Hetal murmured to herself. 

“A woman must know her priorities.” She could hear her in-laws admonishing her. Nothing had changed in this supposedly progressive society in all these years, Hetal murmured to herself. 

The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women. 

Parvadavardini Sethuraman is one of the winners for the August 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. The juror for this month, Madhulika Liddle commented, “A thought-provoking insight into the double standards of a patriarchal society, which eventually provides a ray of hope as well.”

Hetal walked into the office cafeteria. She could sense several pairs of eyes following her, but she moved on unaffected. This was a regular occurrence for Hetal, she knew all the gossips that were circulated about her and all the vile comments passed behind her back.

But Hetal had mastered the art of ignoring her naysayers. Those she chose to interact with were a select few and she was perfectly happy with her sparsely populated social circle.

Richa was among these chosen few and the only one from office. Though more than 6 years younger than Hetal, they had bonded well from the first day they had met each other. It had only been 7 months since they knew each other, but they both enjoyed each other’s company and the bond seemed to grow stronger with each passing day.

Hetal picked up her lunch tray and started searching for Richa, she spotted her sitting in a corner. “How unlike Richa”, wondered Hetal as she proceeded to join her. There was a lot to catch up on, the previous week at work had been crazy, hardly leaving Hetal any time for even a coffee break.

“What’s up with you? You look different.” Hetal enquired, as she joined Richa at the table.

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“Hi” Richa responded feebly with a quizzical expression.

Hetal responded with a smile and a nod of her head. She took a couple of bites of the food, before noticing that Richa’s food lay untouched. “I thought you loved the masala pulao?” Hetal asked her.

“Umm… it’s nice” Richa responded with a faraway look on her face.

“That’s some extraordinary skill you have. You have managed to say how the food tastes, without actually tasting it.” Hetal chided her jokingly. But the pained expression on Richa’s face worried her.

“What’s wrong?” Hetal asked and the next moment she saw tears clouding Richa’s eyes. “It’s ok if you don’t want to speak” she added hurriedly.

“It’s Umesh, I was such a fool. I had dreams of a perfect life and …” Richa began sobbing.

Hetal passed her the bottle of water. She did not want to prod her further, she knew Richa would speak when she was comfortable and chose to remain silent until then. She just hoped it wasn’t anything devastating.

“Umesh says, I must leave this job, this erratic and long working hours are not feasible for his family,” Richa said between her sobs.

Hetal was shocked, hardly a month ago an exuberant Richa had informed her about her engagement with Umesh. After their 3-year courtship, she had been excited about the new phase of the relationship. Until last week, Richa had been happily gearing up for the wedding. But giving a second thought about what she had said made Hetal feel a sense of déjà vu.

“He always knew about your job, and I thought he was happy about the progress you have been making. You can, look for a job with an organisation with more flexible timings, though that’s not a very feasible option in this line of work.” Hetal responded, trying to offer a solution.

“That’s the whole issue, his parents are not comfortable with their daughter-in-law interacting with ‘random people’ and travelling so frequently. They want me to take up a more ‘women-friendly’ and ‘respectable’ job like teaching. I can’t believe in 2021, people can be so narrow-minded.” Richa responded with a forlorn look.

Hetal was stupefied on hearing Richa’s words. Which reasonable person could think like this and what was a ‘woman-friendly’ job? “But why am I being shocked, this mentality could not have vanished in 5 years.” Hetal thought in her mind. “So, what, have you thought about it?” She asked Richa.

“I completely respect the teaching profession, but that’s not where my passion lies and neither am I cut out for it. I worked hard to reach where I am, how can I simply give up on my goals and let my years of hard work go in vain. I feel angry that my work is being disrespected. Why is it that a female marketing professional is condemned for her choice of career, while it remains respectable for men? It’s infuriating; I feel so cornered.” The pain was evident from Richa’s face as she spoke.

“Have you spoken to Umesh? What about your parents, do they know that your future-in-laws possess this kind of deplorable mindset?” Hetal put forth, all the questions that came to her mind.

“About Umesh, I am at a serious loss of words. He has been telling me to act mature and not act so stubborn. Can you believe it? He tells me his parents are looking at the bigger picture. He even justified them saying that in future if he chose to move to a different city for work, however, remote it be, I will surely find a teaching job anywhere, so it makes more sense that I make the switch.”

“My parents, well, what do I even say? They have been telling me, a woman must make such ‘small adjustments’ for a happy marriage. They told me, ‘Umesh’s career is more important anyway, don’t act so self-centred, it’s not like they want you to sit at home, aren’t they allowing you to work? Instead of complaining, you should be the support system in his journey of success.’ What about the support I need? Why am I being abandoned?” Richa had copious tears flowing down her cheeks as she spoke.

Hetal felt like her past was playing out before her. “Beta, why can’t you make the basic adjustments expected of a woman. Is your career more important than your husband and family?” She could hear those words of her parents, spoken all those years ago reverberating in her mind.

“My parents only want this home cared for, why are you villainising them for such a basic expectation?” Her then husband’s words echoed in her mind.

“A woman must know her priorities.” She could hear her in-laws admonishing her. Nothing had changed in this supposedly progressive society in all these years, Hetal murmured to herself.

“What, happened? You look lost.” Richa enquired.

“I’m fine. But you tell me, what are you planning to do?” Hetal responded with a counter query for Richa.

“I feel lost. If I go ahead with this marriage, I will have to give up my career and my individuality and freedom. But if I break this engagement, my parents have threatened to disown me and I am sure they will act on their words. The family reputation and honour are at stake for them. I feel cornered” Richa was holding her forehead in exasperation.

“Are you not capable of looking after yourself?” Hetal asked her in a stern voice.

“I am perfectly capable Hetal, I have no doubts about that. But I am afraid of being left alone. There will be no one I can reach out to, no one I can call family. That is what scares me.” Richa responded banging her fist on the table.

Hetal was pushing her spoon back and forth on her plate. “Perhaps there is an advantage in being alone,” she remarked. “One is spared the worry. I need worry only about myself.” She shook her head. “And I have learnt not to worry overly about myself. What is the worst that can happen, after all?” She looked up.

“Doesn’t a family comprise people who care for you and have your back no matter what? Do you have family support now, that you are worried about losing it?” She asked Richa as she scooped the remaining rice on the plate with her spoon.

Richa was silent. The question though uncomfortably direct, bared nothing but the truth. Did she need a bigger inspiration than this woman in front of her? It was her life and she was going to take charge of it. The corners of her mouth turned up in a smile.

Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Madhulika Liddle, a novelist and award-winning short story writer. She is best-known as the author of the Muzaffar Jang series, about a 17th century Mughal detective, though she also writes other novels and short stories in different genres and across themes ranging from black humour to social awareness, crime to romance.

Madhulika’s next book, due for release in September 2021 is The Garden of Heaven, the first novel of the four-book The Delhi Quartet, which covers the story of a group of interconnected families against a backdrop of 800 years of Delhi’s history, beginning with the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate and ending with Partition. Madhulika lives in Noida, India, and blogs—mainly about classic cinema, food and travel—find her here.

The cue is from her upcoming book The Garden of Heaven.

“‘Perhaps there is an advantage in being alone,’ she remarked. ‘One is spared the worry. I need worry only about myself.’ She shook her head. ‘And I have learnt not to worry overly about myself. What is the worst that can happen, after all?’ She looked up.”

Image source: a still from Marathi film Kaagar

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About the Author

Parvadavardini Sethuraman

A dreamer by passion and an Advocate by profession. Mother to an ever energetic and curious little princess. I long to see the day when read more...

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