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When Did I Start Believing That I Am Nothing Without Him?

Her protests went unheard, like a child’s demands for candy. Her mother’s melodrama, her father’s pleas, and relatives’ constant interference won, and Sayoni found herself walking down a new path, albeit a bit reluctantly.

Her protests went unheard, like a child’s demands for candy. Her mother’s melodrama, her father’s pleas, and relatives’ constant interference won, and Sayoni found herself walking down a new path, albeit a bit reluctantly.

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

Chandra Sundeep is one of the winners for the October 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. The juror for this month, Himanjali Sankar commented, “A familiar gender problem is articulated through a story which conveys a simple message on how to find strength within yourself and not blame or expect others to take your decisions for you. This story could have descended to the maudlin but the writer controls the narrative in a way that makes it quietly empowering.”

The dahlias and frangipani swayed in the morning breeze, spreading their mystic fragrance all around. A pair of pigeons perched on the high electric pole gurgled with glee. Beyond the horizon, colours of fiery-hearth and tangerine covered the cloudless sky. It looked like an artist’s canvas with a collage of colours splashed about.

But to Sayoni, the calm morning felt as if it was the lull before the storm. Her feet felt warm and clammy against the cold, dewy grass. From across the tall compound walls filtered in the cacophony of vehicles honking. She heard the street vendors and the neighbourhood women haggling over vegetable prices. If this had been a regular day, she too would have been out there; bargaining over the price of brinjal or for a free bunch of fresh coriander. Not that she needed the freebies. She haggled just so she could be seen, felt, and heard.

But not today.

Today she wanted something more. Today she was searching for her lost voice.

Her morning tea lay cold and forgotten beside her, a thick layer settling on top. Her ebony orbs veered towards the lawn, soon settling on the paper cups, cigarette butts, vomit. There were even a couple of broken flower pots, the mud spilling out, oddly angled flowers with broken stems. And then, because it was all so depressing, the overturned plastic chairs and food half-eaten on Styrofoam plates, she knew in that moment that she would have to make up her mind about it all. Did she really want to be here?

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The scene was not very different from every other day. She had gotten used to it, but today, somehow, something inside her was broken.

Broken beyond repair. Just like the flower pots.

*

“Arey, keep that aside and look at this. Your Pammi Chachi has brought this alliance.” Mrs. Gupta waved a glossy photograph in the air. Sayoni glanced at the clean-shaven boyish face but soon returned to the brochure at hand – study in the USA.

“Mumma, I want to pursue my Masters in Fine Arts.”

“What masters-shasters!” Mrs. Gupta scowled, spilling tea over her designer salwar-suit. “Mrs. Sharma’s daughter is younger than you, but she is already married. Log kya kahenge, if we send our unmarried daughter to Umrica? Get married and go wherever you want.”

Sayoni passed a tissue to her mother, but Mrs. Gupta was determined not to get distracted, and she started stringing beads of praise. “Badaa achcha khaandaan hai! They own a big tire showroom. Aman is their only son.” She spread her flabby arms wide as if she was measuring the showroom. Her shrill voice squeaked with enthusiasm as she continued singing paeans of the prospective groom’s qualities and his family’s social standing.

“Mumma, I am just 21. Not 80! Why are you so hassled about my marriage? We’ll talk about it later.” Sayoni walked away, having announced her decision.

However, there was no escaping from reality.

Her protests went unheard, like a child’s demands for candy. Her mother’s melodrama, her father’s pleas, and relatives’ constant interference won, and Sayoni found herself walking down a new path, albeit a bit reluctantly.

Showering Sayoni with diamonds, roses, and perfumes, Aman quickly made his way into her heart. Her inhibitions flew out the window as she enjoyed long drives in fancy cars with her beau. His love for the outdoors was infectious, and soon Sayoni too started fantasizing about exotic holidays with Aman.

Keeping her dreams of higher studies aside, Sayoni started weaving rosy dreams of a happy married life. The table, which was once covered with books, was now bending under the weight of brochures, pamphlets, samples of designer lehenga, handmade jewelry and accessories.

“Raaj karegi meri beti,” gushed Mrs. Gupta to one and all.

The starry-eyed, demure bride entered the palatial bungalow with hopes, desires, and dreams; clueless of what future awaited her.

*

A cloud of silence had swept over the streets. The street vendors were gone, and so were the ladies. All that was left behind was the unsightly scene ahead and her web of dreary, dreadful thoughts.

The sun’s golden rays teased the sparkling emerald on her finger – her 2nd-anniversary present, the one he had slid into her hand the previous night in front of family and friends.

Her eyes clamped shut, feeling heavy and drained under the burden of memories…

*

Barely six months into the marriage, an unexpected turbulence rocked her boat.

Holding up Aman’s shirt, Sayoni screamed, “what is this?” Dreading to hear the worst, she braced herself. But Aman’s seemingly innocent reply about some American lady’s business meeting felt convincing, and the incident was forgotten.

Had Sayoni known it was a sign of changing times, she would have been more cautious and more assertive.

It didn’t take her long to see Aman’s true face, the one hidden underneath the gossamer. The way removing onion peels brings tears to one’s eyes, her entire being singed as newer aspects of his personality unraveled in front of her eyes.

To the world, he was the perfect husband – always holding doors for her, showering her with lavish praise and exquisite jewels in front of people, never shying away from a public display of affection. And she was the luckiest wife.

But only she knew the truth.

He was a loving husband indeed, but his love was as vast as the sky and as deep as the sea. He believed in change, in variety. A true nature lover, he loved nature, and its beauty in all forms, including other girls, many girls.

Once inside the four walls, she was invisible. With time, she became unwanted, undesired.

Aman’s words continued to haunt her, “I got married only for the sake of my family. I can’t be tied down with one person. It’s not you, it’s just not my style.”

To make matters worse, no one believed her truth.

The glossy image painted by her charming husband dazzled her parents. He was the perfect son-in-law, the one who could do no harm. Her mom’s unwanted advice sent her into a tizzy. “Bachcha kar lo, sab theek ho jaayega. A child will bring you both closer and you won’t have time to imagine about unwanted meaningless things.”

“Mumma, bringing a child into the equation is out of question. I cannot ruin an innocent child’s life.”

“All these English movies have corrupted you.” Instead of offering a patient ear, Sayoini’s mother brushed aside her trepidations.

Like Gandhari, her mother-in-law too was blinded by familial love. She ignored Sayoni’s sad plight. She turned a blind eye to her son’s promiscuities. He was the cherished son. The fault must lie in the daughter-in-law. “Don’t you know how to keep your husband happy? Didn’t your mother teach you anything?” Her acerbic barbs left scathing marks on Sayoni, but Aman remained unbothered.

The lonely nights on the king-size bed reminded Sayoni of her emptiness, her loneliness, and her barrenness.

She slipped into a cocoon while he thrived. “You are Mrs. Aman Chopra. Without me, you have no identity. You are zilch, you are nothing!” He reminded her of her flaws and imperfections at every opportunity; irrespective of whether he was drunk or sober.

Food was her only succor, the impulsive eating comforted her. But her burgeoning waistline pushed Aman farther away.

“Aman abhi chota hai. It’s his age to have fun” her mother-in-law would comment, ignoring the putrid stench of alcohol and vomit wafting in the hallways even long after Aman had staggered to his room.

Her visits to her parental home filled her with more anguish. Her pleas fell on deaf ears.

“Maarta toh nahi hai na?” her father’s creased brows signaled his worry. But her negative response comforted him and he heaved a sigh of relief.

“Then what are you fussing about? Everything is fine.”

“Why can’t you understand? I am unhappy! Aman is different from what you think.”

“Do you think I’ve always been happy with your father? Any relationship takes time and patience.” Her mother’s rigid stance put an end to any further discussions.

Sayoni realized she didn’t have anyone to hear her and started bottling her emotions within. She had never felt this alone before.

*

The courtyard walls burned bright and red, just like the lava bubbling inside her. Marriage is about compromise and adjustment. Her mother’s constant mantra had tied her down instead of guiding her.

Last night’s party had been a success. Food and drinks flowed freely while the guests tapped their feet to the latest Bollywood hits. She had played the role of the hostess to T. Her wide, dazzling smile never left her face, but it didn’t reach her eyes either. Aman remained the Casanova, flitting like a bee from one flower to another.

She had masked her turmoil for the sake of the world. How long can I pretend to be happy? Why should I lead this life of deceit? Is this facade worth anything?

The questions nagged at her core.

She was crumbling inside, with no respite in sight. She was losing her self-confidence and sinking into a hollow shell.

The chairs lying upturned were visible to her and to all. But my life, dreams, hopes, and happiness have turned upside-down, and the world is blind to it? Just because my body isn’t marked by scars and bruises, does it mean my abuse isn’t real? What about the neglect, the brazen affairs, the psychological trauma?  

The lava inside reached a crescendo and soon the flood-gates of tears crashed open. Like the mud spilling out of the pots, her pain, anguish, and agony flowed freely. Sayoni lost track of time and sat staring at the mess till she felt light. The web of her thoughts cleared, and a pathway emerged. “I’ve adjusted enough. Now, there’s no point continuing.”

She didn’t want to end up like the oddly angled flowers with broken stems. The broken flower pot made her realize it wasn’t just her who was broken. Aman was broken too.

It wasn’t her job to fix him.

It was time to put herself first. Not society, not Aman, not her in-laws, not even her parents.

The road ahead was full of challenges, but at that moment, she knew it was the right path.

“If broken pots can be made beautiful with a little gold and lacquer, why can’t I too feel complete again? I am a modern educated woman, yet I have behaved like a helpless, illiterate woman. When did I start believing that I am nothing without him! It’s time to regain my self-confidence and show my worth. Only I can re-write my happily ever after.”

Sayoni picked up the precious thing, her source of inspiration – the piece of the broken pot to pack along with the rest of her belongings.

It was time to leave. It was time for a fresh start.

Image source: a still from the short film Ghar ki Murgi

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