Her Husband Was Never Bothered About Unimportant Things Like His Wife’s Needs…

Everyone knows that the balance tilts towards the husbands in the Indian household. So, why state the obvious? Right! His lordship was right. He had not done any wrong.

Like every other day of the last thirty-five years, she came to the bed and looked at her husband who lay asleep sprawled in the middle of the bed as he did daily. Not exactly in the middle – more on her side of the bed.

That had always been his policy in life – take her share, take it plainly or arrogantly, and stamp it as his own because she had never stopped him. Perhaps he had not allowed himself to be bothered by such petty things as a wife’s demands/rights. In his superior supercilious mind women have a goat’s brains and few rights. You see he was not a boozer, gambler, or wife-beater. What else did she want? He thought of himself as God’s gift to her.

When had he embarked on this policy? Right at the beginning of their marriage.

Yes, she remembered she had come to his house with her dreams and dowry. Initially, she had found it funny. She felt like she was back in her childhood playing ghar-ghar with her friends. One of them would be the Maa and the other Papa. She remembered her old friends, all of whom used to contribute something to the ongoing game – toy furniture, that heavenly mixture of dry mango powder and sugar, dolls, and utensils. But in this adult game of ghar-ghar, she had brought all the paraphernalia for setting up the home. He had contributed nothing. It was as if her family knew this and had equipped her so; his family also knew this and did not gift anything. Okay, she had thought, maybe his contribution would be his salary.

In the first month of setting up the home, he had realized her dowry contained only the necessities – not frills. And then he started singing the song about ‘your needs’ to her. ‘Your needs are too many. You should start earning for your needs. I don’t need that many things. You need them, you earn.’ Fair enough, she felt but very soon she realized he also needed those frills for his social standing, just that he did not accept this. Clearly, he had turned the tables on her – making her feel she was the, what did he call her, yes, the ‘materialistic’ one. Oh, what was her naïve movies and romantic novels fed twenty-two, when pitted against his experienced thirty-one?

So, she picked up a job.

Earlier he had declared to his family that he did not want a working girl. He had seen his elder sister struggling with holding down a job and pleasing her in-laws, husband, and kids. This made him decide that he did not want a working girl. Now his liberal stance was that his wife wanted to work, and he was too broad-minded to stop her from that pleasure. He never owned up to the fact that he had asked her to work to support herself. His family and friends thought he was too easygoing, adjusting, and was going out of his way to please his wife. Thus, he became a husband with two salaries.

As a science student, he knew equations have to be balanced. The reactant entities are given on the left side and the product entities are on the right side. No atom can be created or destroyed, so the number of atoms that are present in the reactants has to balance the number of atoms that are present in the products. A full-time job was added to the left of the equation of their marriage which represented her duties but no change in the duties of her husband appeared on the right side. It suited him hugely to ignore the part where he would have to balance the equation.

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She stumbled, trundled, and dragged herself through pregnancies, babies, homeworks, exams, cooking, housekeeping, and full-time job while he sang about how fit he was because he rose early in the morning, played badminton, and followed his fitness routine. Why did she allow this? Good question. Because she did not know she could and should have pulled the brakes. She had been trained to be a people pleaser, a good girl, and thought all this was her lot.

In his lofty male wisdom, he had taken over the finances and started handling her salary with insouciance from day one, however, her salary slips were a constant reminder to her of something. They made her feel restless, goaded her to lash out, to demand that her workload should be lightened. They made her ungrateful to the conventional ‘suhagan’ image because she felt more like the beast of burden and later like the family dustbin.

She retaliated by silently, sneakily boycotting all the signs – ornaments, bindis, poojas. She had never been trained to voice her needs. In life if her needs got fulfilled, she would be lucky, otherwise, she had to adjust to compromise, and carry on without rocking the boat – had been taught to her. Since voicing her just demands which she instinctively knew would never be met by him and his two older siblings, his life coaches, guides, and mentors – she quietly emotionally distanced herself. She had maintained a sullen silence. He took this ‘silence’ to mean he was a good husband; a good provider and it reflected positively on the way he had handled his marriage.

She took the easy road out without confronting the source of her anger. Being passive-aggressive is easier than confronting and engaging in those emotionally highly charged, loud fights where you can be caught screaming, crying, and baring your soul before the other/others. No, no – she was a gracious lady. She was a private person. She did not want her kith and kin to be enjoying the juicy or gory details, discussing her marital problems – no one can solve them. She had seen her sister’s problems being handled by the immediate and extended family. To most of them, it had been just tamasha. She had to solve them herself. She did not want to feel naked by inviting those questioning glances, those well-meant counsels which boil down to the one and only ultimate truth – only a woman can if she so wants, hold the marriage whatever the cost. So, she asked herself to do it – many before you have done it and many after you would do it. She wasn’t doing anything meriting a Noble Prize.

In due time the nest became empty. The children flew away. Superannuation dawned. Her problem still remains because at night she has to come to bed. Now that she is fully rested there is more tossing and turning. And her retentive memory and total recall play havoc all the time. She keeps on surfing her stream of memories and remembering numerous small uncompleted, fragmentary, unfinished tussles – updating, and reexamining the old memories to understand the past and present. With hindsight, she can see that she was angry, but she was in the habit of repeatedly claiming to herself that she was fine even when she was apparently furious. You see she had been afraid to push too much for fear of losing out altogether.

Is she still in denial? Or is she angry with herself now because she had followed the culture of silence by not communicating her needs and wants? Now she feels bitter that her needs were ignored in the marital journey. Was she processing all those disagreements? Was that why they were so vivid in her thoughts because they were unprocessed? She felt the need for closure, a drive to finish. But he was deaf to her appeals. He was not hashing the past – a useless exercise. What’s done was done! You see, he was maintaining a stoic silence. She had always been a ‘dukhi prani’ (unhappy person) and she would always continue to be so. His conscience was clear. Why she became a DP was her problem, not his.

Mulling over the past she realized that so far, she had ignored her own demands and perceptions. She had served him wholeheartedly putting his demands and rights in front. Now she decided to withdraw; to stop serving him, to hide in her cave of nightmares and forgotten dreams. Hence, she was being labeled moody and selfish by him. Very soon ‘senile’ too will be used to describe her.

Alas! People’s memories are always less vivid for the unethical decisions they have made in the past, especially when those decisions earned them all the benefits, brownie points, comforts, and a personalized maidservant. Why will the ‘haves’ protest? Protesting falls to the lot of ‘have-nots’, the exploited. In a practical (not ideal) transactional analysis of marriage, everyone knows that the balance tilts towards the husbands in the Indian household. So, why state the obvious? Right! His lordship was right. He had not done any wrong. He had not created those norms, rather like a good man he had lived according to those social norms.

Throughout their lives, she had suffered from sleep problems. Insomnia and angst were mere difficult words for him. He in his usual airy manner had shied away from them in his blessed innocence. Her salary slips had given her hours of dissatisfaction – her problem! Consequently, she had chaffed at the chains all the more – her problem! This was the most she could do. She had accepted that while secretly chafing at the chains, she would smile in the broad daylight for the family, and the world to see and she was doing so. (Her victim mentality was a part of her personality and couldn’t be abandoned at this late juncture despite her dreams of doing so.) He was very much in the loop but would stick to his so-called naïve stance and wring his hands for the world to see, claiming “You are impossible to please, I did my best.” He did not know the meaning of abetment. The unfinished business will remain unfinished till one of them goes away.

She had checked her price tag and realized she had been given short shrift, given the small end of the deal. Too late had she been in calculating what the cost of maintaining the marriage had been to her. Seven births? No, thank you. She did not possess the confidence, the same mindfulness as the younger versions of herself do nowadays but she was done with being the traditional wife.

Image source: a still from short film Everything is Fine

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