Tales From A Marriage 6 – The Male Perspective

The only way to go forward is for us to come up with our own million-dollar idea and find a buyer for it. Else, our shit's going to get canned. The tension is killing me.

Rahul felt a hand squeeze his right shoulder. He still felt groggy but opened his eyes slowly and saw Nisha open one end of the thick floor-to-ceiling dark red and gold curtains that closed off their master bedroom from the world outside. Nisha bustled about the master bedroom which was her pride and joy. While the rest of the house was more on the understated side, she gave vent to a normally deep-hidden vibrant side of her personality with the master bedroom.

The theme was luxe Moroccan. A curvy intricate Moroccan design stenciled in dark brown bordered the off-white walls. The cream color was the only laid-back and sedate part of the room. While the entire rest of the house had granite floors, the ground in the master bedroom was made of wooden floors stained in a dark brown varnish. The king-sized dark teak wood bed with an ornate headboard was imported from Morocco. The mattress was a solid eight inches thick and was covered with soft but high-thread count luxe cotton sheets in deep magenta. The soft throw and comforter dazzled the eyes with bold dark red and golden prints and they matched the thick curtains that spanned the entirety of their bay windows which, in turn, opened into the common terrace that spanned the length of the living room and master bedroom. The wardrobes matched the style of the headboard – ornate, dark wood, and very lush. Nisha had also casually strewn about thick dark red, magenta, and gold pillows – on their bed, the little bench seat at the foot of the bed, and a few on the floor.

Every time she entered the master bedroom Nisha would stop for a second and take in the spectacular view in front of her. It was the only space in the house that was a no-holds-barred take on her design aesthetic and she loved it. While her whole apartment was her pride and joy…she, particularly, saved her intense love for the master bedroom the most.

Rahul hoped the fact that he came with it had something to do with the room being her favorite.

And then rolled his eyes. Get real, man!

Yeah, no. That wasn’t it. Five years back when Rahul suggested that they buy this apartment that they had rented till then – Nisha was excited but wondered if they could afford it. It’s OK, babe! His company paid the rent for the three-bedroom apartment already. Just get together a down payment of 10% of the cost of the house and the same rent could be paid towards their estimated monthly installments (EMI). “So the company will stay pay for us to stay here but the house will be ours. The rent will now be our EMIs and it will go towards repaying the loan we take from the bank.”

Nisha was unsure if they could afford it given that she was a lot more conservative with money than Rahul was. And their lifestyle needed a lot of money to maintain. She was strictly a spend-less-than-we-make kind of person. Unlike Rahul.

It wasn’t true. What Nisha thought about Rahul’s spendthrift habits was so off base that he constantly had to hold himself back from arguing with her. Truth be told, in an ideal world – Rahul couldn’t give a damn where and how they lived. But an ideal world was not one they lived in. He was rapidly making his way up the finance career ladder. Being associate president of a reputable corporate finance company meant that he had to look, walk and speak a certain lifestyle. It meant maintaining a certain way of life that reflected solidly on the upward mobility his career was experiencing. Rahul didn’t necessarily want to send his kids to a private school (hell, I went to Kendriya Vidyalaya and I did OK) but he had to – like his peers and bosses at work. He still couldn’t hit the round white ball to save his life but was a member of the tony Landmark Club where he went to play golf every weekend. Playing golf was just an excuse. He remembered an evening a few days prior when his company hosted a members-only drinks party at the Landmark Club because it was where the financial heavy-hitters of the city – ones with deep pockets and ready to invest money they either inherited or earned – went. And a significant part of Rahul’s job entailed meeting meet with them, drinking with them, shooting the breeze with them, schmoozing them, and then trying and to separate them from their money.

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It was a normal enough thing except the people he was wining and dining had gotten progressively younger over the years. The average age of multi-millionaires (some 50 of them) at the party was 25/26. All young engineering/ design and/ or MBA grads who created start-ups based on some unique idea that venture capitalists from Silicon Valley to the UK to Shanghai were willing to spend millions of dollars on. The last guy he met…23 and just out of business school and he asked Rahul for money tips to help him invest the $500,000 he got just as a ‘bonus’ that year.

It wasn’t enough that his clients were getting younger and younger – he’d also much rather spend what he gave the club as membership fees on something more practical…like investing in property. But needs must.

When Rahul realized he was pushing 35 with no real assets – he mulled over the possibility of buying the house they lived in. And as excited as Nisha was – she worked an entire afternoon getting their finances together. They fell short of the 10% down payment by…well, 4%. But Rahul’s sheer energy and positive spin (he decided to borrow money towards the remainder of the down payment) combined with both his and Nisha’s deep-rooted desire to buy their own first property meant they made it work.

And bought a very expensive house they probably could not really afford.

Sigh!

Rahul’s musings came to an end as he slowly got up that Saturday morning. Nisha hustled Rahul out of bed even as she picked out clothes from their dirty laundry hamper to throw them in the washing machine. As he walked towards the bathroom to do his morning ablutions and change and then take off to the golf course he heard her murmuring under her breath, “Wish I was so lucky to go play golf after a week of slogging at home. Do you think…”

He got inside the bathroom and quietly closed the door. To some peace and quiet.

Half an hour later…all dressed in his Saturday golf clothes – Rahul had his first filter coffee of the morning that he enjoyed while reading The Economic Times, asked his kids about their school that week, and then hustled them off to their Saturday morning extracurricular activities – tennis and piano lessons – and ate piping hot idlis with sambhar and coconut chutney that Nisha served him. Then, a quick peck on her cheek and goodbye later, he carried his golf bag and made his way to the club.

He felt his wife’s stares at him – deep and resentful stares. He willed himself to not react. He needed to get out today. The pressure at work was getting relentless. The higher-ups in his company moved the goalposts almost every month now when it came to bringing in new business and the worst-hit of all were the seven associate presidents, including him. It seemed like every single day there was a new round of unicorn funding for a new start-up that led to new millionaires with cash on hand. And it was a veritable vegetable market of corporate finance companies- trying to offer the best deals and the best bang for their buck to the new millionaires on the block. It was no longer about which new client they signed. It was always about the ones they missed.

Yes. The situation at his work was oppressive. And it was getting to him.

He’d been going to play golf continuously over the past four weekends – Saturdays and Sundays. And he stayed out all day. Up until a few months back, he spent a few hours every other Saturday or every third Saturday. But as the pressure built at work – he’d needed to get away every weekend and spend time with some of his colleagues-cum-friends. He wished it could be different but it wasn’t.

*********
“Does she know you’re here?”

Rahul shook his head. “She just knows I’m with you guys playing golf.”

“She still thinks you’re playing golf all day, every weekend, for the past few months?” Arun asked.

Rahul nodded. “She knows how much pressure I’ve been under at work. And that I need to let off steam. She understands.”

Arun rolled his eyes. “Didn’t you say she keeps muttering about how unhelpful you’ve been around the house? With the kids? Didn’t you say that your son Karan has been acting up at school? What did you say he did last week?”

“He was just having some fun. He’s just a little boy doing boy things,” Rahul replied defensively.

“But what did he actually do?” Zubaid, the other friend asked.

Rahul grimaced with irritation at the fourth-degree interrogation but calmed himself and said. “You know! Silly cliched stuff. He took a frog – DEAD FROG, btw, from the biology lab and hid it inside his Hindi teacher’s handbag. So, when she opened it…she freaked out.”

Arun and Zubaid laughed out loud. One of them started to slow handclap while the other did a hi-five and put his fist out to Rahul who did not fist-bump him back. He was still irritated. “They all made such a big fuss over it. My son was taken to the principal’s office where he was reamed out. Then they called us and said they wanted to meet the parents. Nisha had to go. I mean I couldn’t. They recommended that we send Karan to a therapist. They thought he suffered from ADHD or some such nonsense. Attention deficit disorder or something. Recommended medicating him.”

“Maybe…” Arun started.

“No. Stop!” Rahul pursed his lips before he continued. “Karan’s just a boy being a boy. Enough with medicating and therapy and all that nonsense. Nisha, of course, immediately wanted to take my son to some fruitcake psychologist. I put my foot down. I called the school and shamelessly used my position at the company and threatened to take him out and put him in a rival school. I was bluffing. But they blinked. And said something like – we’re letting it slide this time but that we should take more care and that he needed more attention at home. From me!”

“Because it’s always our fucking fault! Kids act out…it’s because the dad is never around!” Zubaid drawled.

“Exactly!” Rahul averred. “We work our butts off to give them everything they want but it’s always our fault.”

A moment of quiet later, Arun said wryly, “So…shall we begin playing golf. That’s what we’re here for!”

The three men looked at each other and sighed quietly and tiredly. The golf course was a one-bedroom apartment that Arun’s father-in-law owned. It was an investment property that currently had no tenants. The men had been using the place for the past month to meet up. The space was sparsely furnished. The living room had one single dining table and four chairs and that was it. The three men huddled around said table with their laptops open.

“OK.” Rahul said determinedly. “We HAVE to come up with a workable idea and come up with it soon. I have a feeling that none of our jobs are safe. It’s not if we get canned but when.”

The other two sat pensively.

“The only way to go forward is for us to come up with our own million-dollar idea and find a buyer for it. Else, our shit’s going to get canned. The tension is killing me. I can’t afford to lose my job. I need to pay for my house, our two cars, the kids’ school…”

Arun grimaced and burst out, “Oh, did I tell you? My mother wants her granddaughter to have an arangetram. I and Lekha keep telling mom that it’s so unnecessary. My kid learned Bharatnatyam as a hobby. Not because she wants to pursue it as a career. But my mom won’t listen. Do you know how much those things cost? Over 10 lakhs between the dresses, the auditorium, the food to serve – it’s like arranging a mini-marriage!”

“And my kid – the one who wants to go to culinary school – wants us to spend a month in Italy this summer and do a pasta-cooking tour of the entire country. She wants to travel from Rome to Naples to Tuscany to Positano to Perugia and take these classes. These tours are like 3 lakhs per person. I have three kids and me and my wife! Bankruptcy is just around the corner” Zubaid said.

Rahul clenched his fists and then said through pursed lips. “Well…let’s come up with something or we’re all screwed.”

“Our wives think we’re lolling around playing golf instead of being with them and our families. Little do they know what we’re actually up against. My wife absolutely hates me now,” Arun lamented.

“Mine too,” Zubaid agreed.

Rahul thought back to the day he went to ‘see’ Nisha – their parents had arranged for a get-together. Rahul was a medium all the way…he was 5’8″, average-looking (he never got the queen bees in college but always did ok with the average-looking girls), and came from a very middle-class family (his parents owned their own house but little else). He’d only traveled to Delhi and Shimla until then and had never fallen in love. But that didn’t mean he was OK getting hitched through an arranged marriage either. He didn’t think he’d ever fall in love but he knew he’d – eventually – find a suitable partner to spend the rest of his life with.

But he was also a conscientious son who knew when to take a step back. When his parents told him about his father’s colleague from the State Bank of India and his daughter (same middle-class family with a daughter who had graduated at the top of her class from a very prestigious Architecture school and had been working for a prestigious firm) and that they weren’t forcing him to do anything he didn’t want to but that they’d like him to just meet with Nisha, he shrugged and agreed. He agreed to participate in what he considered a very egregious and old-fashioned ritual but did it to appease his parents. The plan was to ‘see’ Nisha, do some mild chit-chat with her, get back home and then say no to the proposal. That way – he’d pacify his parents even as he got his own way for at least a few months of peace and return to his life before the gentle pressure to get married started again.

And with absolutely no expectations other than to say no, Rahul went to ‘see’ Nisha that fateful afternoon.

And got gut-punched.

When Nisha walked out wearing a beautiful maroon silk sari with a gold border, simple single-stud diamond earrings, and slim gold bracelets, her oval-shaped face with huge eyes, small but symmetrical nose, honeyed lips, thick long hair, astounding cheekbones, and a blemish-free face that needed absolutely no make-up – her astounding beauty hit him hard.

How? What? Was this for real? What on earth was a girl who was so beautiful that she could get anyone – literally, anyone – even allowing herself to be seen by him? Sure. He’d graduated from IIT and then IIM-Ahmedabad. But so did a lot of extremely rich and well-to-do scions from super-rich families. She was, also, no slouch in the education and job department either. Rahul, even then, knew that he was looking at someone way out of his league, while for Nisha, he was multiple steps lower than what she deserved.

“Because my father said how wonderful your parents are. He’s known them for over twenty years now. He also said that you’re a very caring son to them,” Nisha answered honestly to his blunt question as to why she agreed to ‘see’ him.

He fell madly in love with Nisha then. It was love at first sight. Sure. He was being extremely surface-y and vain and only looked at her outer beauty but he was sure it was love. All his plans of playing hard-to-get and walking away without a backward glance flew right out of the window. He knew then he’d met the love of his life. His soulmate. He never asked or cared to find out if she reciprocated all those heavy feelings he felt towards her. He didn’t care. He had enough love for both of them.

He promised her that day that if she said yes to him – he would fulfil all of her dreams and desires. And he learned what they were. She wanted her children to get the best education possible. Check. She had never traveled anywhere. Neither had he. She wanted to see the world. Check. She grew up without a mother. She knew how that felt and wanted to be home till her children started school. Could they afford to live on a single income? Check. But once they started school, she’d want to pursue her passion for architecture. Check. Sure, she hadn’t gone back to the workforce yet (and he liked that she stayed home) but if she really pushed him he’d be OK with it. So, check.

Rahul’s mind traveled forward a few years – from the day he went to ‘see’ Nisha for the first time to just before he’d left the house today. She wore a bright-yellow cotton salwar kameez – with wide-legged pajamas and a long kurta on top. He’d bet anything that whoever saw her for the first time today couldn’t tell that she’d given birth to two children. She looked as slim as she had the day he saw her for the first time. Her face still looked supple and fresh and unlined. Her smile…still devastated him. Too bad she wasn’t smiling much anymore. But that will change. Rahul promised himself that.

“Dude…dude? Where did you go?”

Rahul snapped out of his reverie and shook his head. “Nothing. I don’t care that if Nisha thinks I’m wasting weekends playing golf with friends. I’d rather she think I’m an obnoxious uncaring husband who is doing the ‘man will be man’ shtick and being a discourteous dick. She can think I’m a male chauvinist pig who thinks it’s beneath him to help her at home. Better that than me being out of a job and not being able to support her in the lifestyle I promised her I would. She’s all that matters to me. And I’ll work every single hour of every single day to make sure I give her what she deserves. Let’s get to work.”

Image source: a still from Modern Love Mumbai/ Cutting Chai

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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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