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People Say I Have A Perfect Life… But Maybe Because I Had Simply ‘Adjusted’? No More!

If my mother-in-law had her way, I would be taking leaves every second day. There is always something on the almanac that needed to be celebrated. 

If my mother-in-law had her way, I would be taking leaves every second day. There is always something on the almanac that needed to be celebrated.

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

Lalitha Ramanathan is one of the winners for the December 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. The juror for this month, Ranjani Rao commented, “A slice of life story from everywoman’s life but with a not-wholly-unexpected twist that leaves you with a smile. Better late than never.”

People say I have it all. A beautiful house, a charming husband, affectionate in-laws, two boisterous children, and a promising career. I have a perfect life. It’s probably true.

My day starts as usual. The alarm goes off at five a.m. sharp. I wake up, not feeling energetic at all. But how can I be? I had video calls till midnight the previous night, and worked afterwards as well.

Today is a festival day. Rishi’s mother, my mother-in-law, has reminded me to prepare lunch for the household.

“On auspicious days, it is not good to eat food from outside!”

And so, I am up at the crack of dawn, preparing lunch boxes for the whole of the house. We have a domestic helper and a cook, but they come in much later in the day. I dread festival days, as my work multiplies exponentially.

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Ten years ago, when Rishi’s parents came to see me, they said ‘that they would allow me to work after marriage.’ That sounded promising indeed. When the norm was that a woman must give up her ambition after marriage, it was refreshing when someone came along and told you that you were free to pursue your dreams. But then nothing is free, is it?

They had claimed to be a God-fearing family which translated into ultra-religious and ritualistic. Being from a liberal family, it was hard for me to adjust initially. But adjust I did. And look, I have a perfect family.

Rishi was the only son, and while he was kind and affectionate, had never helped with any of the chores. And even if he did try to help, my in-laws would find excuses. Suddenly, one of them would send him out to get something urgently. By the time he got back, I would have completed it myself.

When the children came along, we had the finances to employ help, which came as a relief to me. Because now not only was I a mother, but also a manager at work, and the expectations were high.

The murmurs started a few years ago.

“Must you continue working? Do you want a stranger to raise your children? My son earns so much, why don’t you take a break?”

I have had a taste of success. And it’s addictive. Two years ago, I got promoted after a very successful product launch. And in another year I could become a director, one of the youngest. It made me feel valued and important.

“Ma’am I saw your pictures on Facebook. Your kids look adorable! How do you manage it all?”

Oh, but I don’t. I smile and beam with pride.

When the kids fall sick, I shift to work from home. Because Rishi can never take leaves, as there is always some fire at his workplace. If my mother-in-law had her way, I would be taking leaves every second day. There is always something on the almanac that needed to be celebrated. 

I pack the boxes, kiss the kids goodbye, and rush to work. My boss tells me that I’m being considered for a big promotion. I need to be more visible he says. Over the past few years, I have indeed become more visible- for I have piled on so much weight. Junk food, quick fixes, and late-night calls. I haven’t gone for a health check-up in years. My insurance would cover it, but I’m afraid of what the results will tell me. I can’t quit, can I? Because quitting is for losers.

During the day, I get beeps on my phone. That’s the school teacher reminding us about the ‘parent-child’ assignment. Promotes bonding, you see. The children’s education is my department.

“Shalu, they won’t listen to me. I’m the fun-parent!” Rishi makes excuses.

Chief Education Officer. I’m adding accolades to my name, by the minute.

At 6:00 PM, I have downed my sixth cup of caffeine. I bid goodbye to my team, after promising that I will log in at ten, after the religious ceremony is over.

“Ma’am you uphold tradition. That’s praiseworthy!” my teammate’s comment uplifts my spirits as I head home. My head feels a little heavy. Must be all the coffee. I will stop drinking that much. Perhaps from tomorrow. A rolling target.

It’s absolute chaos at home. My sons are running around berserk. The Prashad needs to be made. Mummyji is like a military officer in the kitchen issuing commands. I slip into my room and don my heavy silk saree. I glance at the mirror. I can’t recognize this person. Heavy circles under my eyes. All I want is sleepI apply concealer to cover the circles. There. Nothing a little make-up can’t fix.

I admonish my sons and get them to wear silk kurtas. As I’m helping Mummyji decorate the idols, I get a call from the office. A team member is struggling with an escalation. Uh-Oh! I better get involved before it blows up. I speak to him, ignoring Mummyji’s thinly veiled acerbic remarks.

Finally, all the work is done. The Pooja has been a grand success. The guests have complimented me. The dopamine rush has drowned my aches and pains. The last person has left. I go to the next tasks on my list. Clean up, tuck the boys, and log in again. It is finally calm and peaceful.

On the surface, all may seem calm, but things move forward exactly as they should, in tandem with an unseen natural rhythm. Sometimes the movements are cohesive, while other times they unleash utter chaos. Because cumulative actions have consequences.

I feel dizzy. There is a stabbing pain in my chest. I scream for Rishi, who comes running to my side. I fall, and the darkness surrounds me.

*

“Heart attack? Doctor, I’m only thirty-five!” I protest. But the multiple devices I am hooked to seem to state otherwise.

“Your blood pressure and cholesterol are off the charts. It was only a matter of time. You were lucky this time. There may not be a next time. Change your lifestyle, before it’s too late.”

I was stunned. My phone was beeping non-stop. Messages from my team at work and other well-wishers. Great! I am now the corporate case study for burnout.

Rishi walked in, concern writ on his face.

“Shalu, take care of yourself. You need a break!”

Mummyji walked in. Her eyes were filled with tears.

“I will do special prayers for you! You will be fine!”

My boys rushed in and surrounded me. They were shaken too. I looked around at my family, convinced that I had some soul-searching to do.

*

A few weeks had passed since that day. I was back at home and recuperating.

“You should resign. Enough of all the stress!” Mummyji advised.

Rishi supported her. “Shalu, we almost lost you. Please stay at home. There are so many things you can do here.”

Lying on the hospital bed, staring at the ceiling listening to the beep of the monitors, I had made a few decisions. It was time to let the family know.

“Rishi, my career is my dream. I am never going to quit. I am going to take a break for the next few months; I would like to call it a sabbatical. I have told my boss that I don’t want a step up in my workload. It might mean that I won’t be considered for that elusive promotion, but that’s OK.”

Mummyji’s eyes brightened up at the mention of sabbatical.

“No Mummyji, I’m not going to my break for chanting prayers. I get that you like rituals, but please don’t force them on me. To each, her own.

And Rishi, ‘staying out of my way’ is not the best way to help me. You and I are equals in every way. I expect you to be more engaged and lend a helping hand when needed.

Yes, we have electronic appliances that make my life easy, but no, they don’t operate by themselves. Even using them involves labour. Additionally, I need you to step up and take more interest in our children’s education.”

Mummyji went purple, and Rishi looked miffed, but they would come around.

I was stepping back temporarily, but I felt every bit a winner. I smiled at my reflection in the mirror. I had finally started prioritizing the one person that had taken a back seat in my life- myself.

Image source: a still from the film Thappad

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About the Author

Lalitha Ramanathan

Lalitha is a blogger and a dreamer. Her career is in finance, but writing is her way to unwind! Her little one is the center of her Universe. read more...

6 Posts | 19,328 Views

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