Tales From A Marriage: Let’s Look At This Invisible Toxic Masculinity?

How on earth was her male chauvinist of a husband looking as peaceful and placid as the Queen of f...ing England? "You're OK with this? Your sister marrying a guy who doesn't want to work?" Nisha asked Rahul shrilly.

Nisha looked around the living room. Even though the gathering that evening was very preliminary – almost a meet and greet kind of thing – she still wanted to make sure the house looked spiffy and clean. She did not want her husband or her in-laws to point fingers at the non-existent coating of fine dust on the coffee table (she could visualize her mother-in-law running her index finger over the marble surface and shaking her head in disappointment) or that there were cobwebs hanging where no human eye could possibly see. She’d made sure her house-help Laxmi tai dusted, mopped and polished every surface in the house and rinsed and sanitized and scrubbed every micro-inch of the bathroom floors and Lysol-ed the heck out of the toilets, bathtub and shower stall. Although, Why would anyone go inside the shower stall? Nisha’s sister-in-law and the lady-of-the-hour, Anamika, asked incredulously. Nisha simply shushed her and continued with the task at hand.

Deep down Nisha hated the show they had to put on that evening. But it was for Anamika’s (Anu) benefit. And Nisha loved Anu. Anu was more like Nisha’s own sister rather than sister-in-law. Anu was one of the smartest people Nisha had ever met. She got her B-Tech in Computer Science from IIT, Mumbai and now worked in a mid-management position at a top IT company. Being a smarty-pants brainiac came naturally to her. But as Nisha often told her own family and friends with pride – Anu was more than that. She was sharp, quick-witted, personable, well-read, funny, and, most importantly, she was kind.

And, Anu loved her bhabhi (SIL) right back. The two of them never had a traditional sister-in-law relationship. Nisha was the older sister that Anu had always wanted. She loved her big brother Rahul but she connected with Nisha – as a woman, as an Indian woman and as a best friend. They spent hours giggling about how hot Hugh Laurie was (pffft…so he was an amazing actor and funny AF but he WAS HOT), if size really mattered (IT DID! IT DOES!), Angelina Jolie vs. Jennifer Aniston (obvi Aniston…loyalty was the cornerstone of their lives) and seriously discussing FDs vs playing the stock market, giving back at least 5% of their incomes to charity and so much more.

They didn’t always agree on everything.

Anu rued that Nisha quit her job when she married Rahul. “Why didi? Why did you quit? Bhaiyya would probably sulk but who cares what he thinks? I’ll bully him and get him on board. He likes that you quit to take care of the kiddos but he’ll be OK if you went back to work, you know? I’ll make sure he gets OK with it,” Anu said impishly.

Nisha’s face softened as she heard Anu’s brave defense of her future probable choices. And, deep down, Nisha knew she could go back to work. Unlike what Anu seemed to think of her older brother, Nisha knew that Rahul liked having her home. And he wouldn’t get on board with her going back to work as easily as Anu believed. And quitting her job was her choice and one she made wholeheartedly and with the knowledge that it would stall her career as an architect. Some of her classmates were out there designing big projects and working alongside the likes of Hafeez Contractor, Brinda Somaya, Shashi Prabhu and making a name for themselves while she…sigh. She was running after her house-help getting their home ready for that evening.

BUT…she wanted to stay with her children during their formative years. And, they were lucky. Rahul was able to take care of the family on his salary. As an IITian himself who also got his MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad – Rahul had an enviable job at a foreign bank and it was one he loved, one where he was respected and rapidly rising in the echelons of management. It was also a job that paid enough for them to live in a plush 3-bedroom apartment in a tony location in the city, send their kids to private school, and take at least one foreign holiday every year.

Yes. They could’ve afforded to put their kids in daycare so she could’ve pursued her career but she was happy with the choices she made.

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Nisha felt blessed.

Anu felt Nisha was being shortchanged.

Anu saw ‘compromise’ where Nisha saw ‘being lucky.’

The girls didn’t always agree but they felt close and comfortable enough to have healthy debates over what they disagreed with. Nothing was off-limits between them. Nisha had never dated anyone when she married Rahul. Anu dated and dumped guys at will. Nisha listened to Anu’s playing the field with a sense of awe and envy but always with a complete lack of judgment. But she also tried to get her SIL to get married.

“I wish you would pick a guy and settle down, Anu,” she’d say gamely.

“Too many fish in the sea, didi!” Anu would retort with a grin.


Which is why today was a momentous day. Nisha was more than a little unsettled at what was to come later that evening. Anu’s parents and Rahul had invited Neeraj and his family that evening to come ‘see’ Anu. Neeraj was Rahul’s friend from IIT…a few years younger than him. Neeraj moved to Delhi after graduation and worked there for some time. He was now ‘in-between’ jobs – meaning, he was jobless, Nisha thought snarkily. And a jobless man was coming to ‘see’ Anu – her dynamic, gorgeous and stunning Anu.

A worried Nisha’s mind vacillated between two key issues and she wasn’t sure which one irked her more. The fact that a decidedly modern Anu was letting herself be ‘seen’ by some random dude (Neeraj maybe Rahul’s friend but not a very close one) and his family as a potential future partner? Or the fact that said dude was jobless?

“But why, Anu?”

Anu shrugged. “I don’t know, di. Whatever Rahul bhaiyya told me about Neeraj – he sounds pretty cool. I checked out his social media and he is big on secular values and respects women. He’s also an open feminist. His news feed is full of posts from Mark Ruffalo and Harry Styles (who wears dresses with elan) and Ashton Kutcher (who does a lot for survivors of human and sex trafficking). He’s also not bad-looking. And, most importantly, I’m in-between relationships now like he is in-between jobs! So, win-win!”

Nisha looked unsure.

Anu reassured her. “Don’t worry di. We are just meeting each other. There’s no gun to my head and it’s not like I have to get married to him or anything. If I don’t like him – I’ll say no.”

A pensive Nisha nodded. She remembered her day of being ‘seen’ by Rahul all those years ago. It wasn’t a day she reflected upon often. It brought back memories she’d rather forget. But…

“Di? Didi? Nisha didi! What else needs to be cleaned?” Nisha’s reverie was interrupted by Laxmi tai standing with a broom and mop in front of her. Nisha shook her head. The reminiscing about her day had to wait for another time. There was still work to be done for today.

“Come, Laxmi tai. Let’s make sure the kitchen is spotless.”


The evening finally came.

And Nisha had to agree. Neeraj seemed like a really nice man…personable, fun, solicitous of everyone without being too ingratiating. His parents said all the right things – about wanting a daughter-in-law who was more of a daughter to them, about how proud they were of Anu and what she had accomplished in her life. They were also gracious and thankful to Nisha and Rahul for opening their beautiful home for the occasion. Rahul was chuffed with all the compliments that came his wife and sister’s way. He looked genuinely happy. And Nisha’s in-laws’ eyes gleamed with pride.

If only Neeraj actually had a job, thought Nisha. Things would be perfect.

As was the ritual in these types of ceremonies…after some time Anu and Neeraj left the rest of the family members and went off to the guest bedroom to have a private one-on-one conversation with each other.

The families could fall in love with one another and could be ideally suited in every possible way – money-wise, status-wise, education-wise…but unless the two in question were compatible…it would all be moot. It was now all up to Anu and Neeraj.

The two families did not have to wait for long. A mere 10 minutes after they went to have a private tete-a-tete Anu and Neeraj came out and joined the rest of them with huge smiles on their faces. They refused to talk about what they chatted but it looked as if they’d made up their minds. Even if they weren’t ready to commit to anything just yet.

“Think about what I said, OK? And get back to me,” Neeraj said to Anu as he and his parents took leave. Anu smiled and nodded. Nisha’s in-laws followed Neeraj and his parents. They had to rush back to their home since Rahul’s 89-year-old bedridden paternal grandmother was alone with an attendant. They hugged Anu and made her promise that she’d call them later and tell them about her decision.

As soon as they all left Rahul and Nisha pounced on Anu. “So. so? What happened? What did you guys talk about? Do you like him? Did you say yes to him?” Rahul and Nisha inundated Anu with questions.

Anu continued smiling as she walked back towards the couch and sat on it with a deep sigh. The other two looked at her impatiently even as took her own sweet time before she looked up and nodded. “Yes. I said yes even though he asked me to talk to you guys and ma and baba and sleep on it. And, yes, I said yes because I like him. He is even better in person.”

A worried Nisha asked, “But…”

Anu interrupted Nisha and said dryly, “No, Nishu di…he does NOT have a job. And neither does he plan on getting one. And I’m OK with his choice.”

Her eyes darkened with worry Nisha started to say something when Anu cut in again. “We talked about it, di. He asked me if I wanted a child? I said yes. He said he wants kids also. And that he doesn’t want to wait. When I told him that my career is important to me – he said that he will be a househusband and take care of the kids and that I do NOT have to compromise on my dreams!”

Nisha could not believe what she was hearing. Marrying a man who was going to be a househusband? Her beautiful and amazing Anu marrying someone with no future whatsoever? A helpless Nisha looked at her husband convinced that Rahul would stop all this nonsense completely. But a serene-looking Rahul put his left arm around his sister’s shoulder and asked gently, “Are you sure? Having a househusband in our society…that’s not something that people will take to kindly, Anu. You know our ma and baba will have major issues with it as well. I’ll support you with them but they won’t take this lying down.”

Neither will your wife, Nisha screamed silently. She was confused. Her husband? How on earth was her male chauvinist of a husband looking as peaceful and placid as the Queen of f…ing England? What in the actual f… was going on? “You’re OK with this? Your sister marrying a guy who doesn’t want to work?” Nisha asked Rahul shrilly.

Rahul looked at his wife and shrugged. “It’s her choice, no?”

Anu stood up and walked toward her very confused and disturbed sister-in-law and took both her hands and squeezed gently. “Di…it’s OK. When you sleep on it and think about it…you’ll see. Neeraj is a good choice for me. He is the yin to my yang. I have goals and ambitions. He is laidback. Trust me. It’ll work, ok?” With arched eyebrows, Anu stared hard into Nisha’s eyes and willed her upset SIL to understand her choice.

Still unsure but wanting to be supportive Nisha finally nodded. “OK. If you’re sure,” she said softly.

Anu smiled gently. “I am. OK? Now…I’m tired. I’m going to call it a night!” With a breezy goodnight, a hearty and happy Anu went to the guest room where she was spending the night and shut the door behind her.

There was a moment of complete and utter stillness in the room then.

Nisha broke the reverie as she got back to the process of living and life and started to tidy up the living room. A quiet Rahul assured his wife, “It’ll be OK, Nishu. Anu knows what she wants. And I always felt like Neeraj would be perfect for her.”

Without waiting for Nisha’s response he gave Nisha’s shoulder a quiet squeeze and made his way to the master bedroom, “God, I’m tired! I need a hot, hot shower!”

Nisha watched her husband walk away and stared at his back. Of course. Because playing golf all day is tiring. I’ve just slaved away all day cleaning the house while you went out with your friends because you were tired from a hectic workweek. Because I just laid around all week doing nothing. God forbid you actually offer to help me? Hell no. That’s beneath His Royal Highness. Toxic masculinity, much?

As Rahul stood under the rainforest shower and let jets of piping hot water soothe his aching arms he thought, “I don’t know what she wants from me. I genuinely think Anu and Neeraj will be fine. Nisha keeps asking me to be more supportive. Be less of a male chauvinist which I am NOT. I can clearly see that forcing Anu and Neeraj into traditional male-female roles is a classic example of what she calls toxic masculinity and traditional gender roles. But do I get a pat on the back? Hell no. She is still pissed off with me about something.” Rahul sighed tiredly. “She’s always pissed off about something. There’s just no winning with her.”

This is Tales From A Marriage Part 2, a serialised story. Read Part 1 here.

First published here.

Image source: a still from Ghar ki Murgi

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Roopa Swaminathan - The Messy Optimist

Hi...I'm Roopa. I'm also a messy optimist! I'm an academic-cum-artist. I'm a writer, filmmaker and professor of creative writing. Academically, I've a Double Masters and a Phd read more...

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