Check out 16 Return-To-Work Programs In India For Ambitious Women Like You!
She shivered at those words. "It should not take ME the death of my husband, or any other family member, to love myself," she thought.
“I don’t know what to say.” The response was tediously predictable.
The night before, in the haze of sleep, Rashi had envisioned her husband uttering this phrase. In the quiet of the night, those words seemed distant, barely audible whispers. Now, in the stark reality of daylight, the same words carried a palpable edge, slicing through the air just a few feet away from her.
She turned to her right, locking eyes with Shekhar, her husband of twenty years. In the ambient darkness, he lay sprawled across the bed, his forty-five-year-old frame etched in shadows. The weariness of life etched lines on his face, and a subtle slouch betrayed a man accustomed to the monotony of existence.
“You don’t have to say anything,” Rashi countered with a subtle shrug.
“That’s what you want, don’t you?” Shekhar persisted with more than a tinge of sarcasm. “That I let you do whatever you want.”
She sat straight up on the bed. “What do you mean by ‘let me’ do it? I am a forty-year-old adult, not a five-year-old child seeking permission.”
“There – you have donned your durga avatar again. I am just saying you went on a trip with your newfound girlfriends three months ago. Now you want to go on another escapade next month.”
“That was one destination; this is another. And if you heard me, I stated about travelling solo this time.”
The startled expression betrayed the fact that her husband was paying more attention to the television than her at the start of the conversation. But then, he always prefers talking to listening, Rashi thought.
“Solo travel!!! What’s gotten into you?”
“I have been wanting to visit Auroville for a while. Since no one seems free for the next few months, I have decided to embark on the journey alone instead of waiting indefinitely. What’s the big deal?”
“I don’t know what to say,” Shekhar echoed like a parrot before continuing, “I can’t let you go.”
“I wasn’t asking you. Just informing you that I will be travelling out of town for ten days next month,” she remarked, reclining on the bed once more, her thumping heart now under control. The conversation was less complicated than she had envisioned in her head.
She changed sides to face the wall. In the moonlight peeping through the window, the contours and façade of the bare structure represented the stark reality of her two-decade-long marriage.
Married at the tender age of twenty, a few days after her graduation, she had acquiesced to her father’s arrangement with the son of his close friend despite her own aspirations for further education. A conservative mother-in-law and a pliant husband left little room for her to contemplate a career outside the home.
Shekhar never raised his voice or berated her before others and always wished her on her birthdays. According to her mother, these attributes made him a good husband.
Rashi wasn’t so sure.
Nourished on a cinematic diet of Shahrukh Khan’s movies, she had associated romance with candlelit dinners, surprise gifts and soft toys. She longed for that reassuring touch of hand to comfort her amid her mother-in-law’s criticism for the chapatis not being round enough. She wished for her husband’s post-business evening hours to be filled with conversation rather than the constant hum of the news on the television. The desire to explore destinations beyond the confines of Bhopal and escape the routine annual trips to Ujjain with her husband’s business associates and their spouses lingered persistently.
But her explicit entreaties met polite dismissals, and unspoken wishes remained unacknowledged.
The initial years of marriage crawled until she embraced motherhood with the arrival of an adorable son. Time, once sluggish, suddenly raced forward, and she gave birth to a cherubic daughter a year later. Amidst the whirlwind of household chores, a mother’s duties, a wife’s obligations and a daughter-in-law’s responsibilities, Rashi – the person – took a backseat. The luxury of reminiscing about dreams and desires eluded her, and gradually, these aspirations faded into the recesses of her mind.
The hands of time ticked on, casting shadows in their wake. The children grew up, Shekhar became fatter and quieter, and her mother-in-law’s tongue acquired a sharper edge as she withdrew to her bed. In the monotony of daily life, Rashi scarcely registered these changes.
Till the day, about a year ago, her mother-in-law died peacefully in her sleep.
Their home buzzed with visitors, and Rashi was immersed in tending to their needs and fulfilling the responsibilities befitting a daughter-in-law during the cremation rites. The cascade of obligations left little room for tears. Once the men departed for the cremation grounds, leaving the women to congregate in the living room, Rashi got to put her feet up and engage with the guests.
Shweta, the maverick fifty-year-old widow and a recent addition to her circle of friends remarked, “It must be a relief, Rashi, to see the old lady gone.”
“What are you saying, Shweta?” Rashi said, taken aback. “I genuinely loved my mother-in-law.”
“I am sure you did. But I observed the old lady, may her soul rest in peace, imposing too many restrictions on you. Bahu, do this, don’t do that, etc. You will regain at least half of your freedom with her gone.”
Rashi looked askance at her. What was the point of talking ill of the departed soul?
Before she could voice her views, Priyanka, seated to her right, queried, “Half freedom? When will Rashi get full freedom?”
“Can a married woman ever be fully free?” Shweta countered with a question of her own. She continued after a pause, “I experienced freedom after the death of my dear husband.”
The crowded room fell into stunned silence. The sound of a pin drop would have echoed in the charged atmosphere at that moment.
Unperturbed by the reactions around her, Shweta continued her narrative. “I loved my husband, though I never knew if the feeling was mutual – he never told me. Despite our nuclear family setting, he was very conservative, with strong views on everything about me. What to wear, how to conduct myself, who to speak to, where to go – he decided everything for me. I lost the habit of making my own decisions, and stopped loving myself in the process.
“When he succumbed to a sudden heart attack five years ago, alongside the grief, I was terrified about navigating a long life all alone. There was the estate, business, home and children to care for. I doubted my ability to make the required decisions.” Shweta gulped, fixating her gaze into the distance, speaking more to herself than them.
“It took me several months to realise that I had gained freedom. I was free to pursue my desires and travel unchartered territories. The taste of freedom also made me discover that I am a strong woman capable of making important decisions. I can’t describe that feeling in words!
“I discovered that one life is too brief to explore the intriguing places, things, and people the world offers. I miss my husband daily, but life is also better in many ways.”
She tilted her head and looked straight into Rashi’s eyes, “What a pity that it took the death of my husband to love myself and regain my zest for life.”
Rashi shivered in the May warmth. She wanted to rebuke Shweta for her words but couldn’t. Something stirred within her soul.
It should not take ME the death of my husband, or any other family member, to love myself.
From that moment forward, Rashi started to prioritise herself. It was subtle at first, like insisting on viewing her favourite soap on TV and cooking her preferred dishes for dinner once a week. Then, six months ago, she took her first bold step by enrolling for a full-time post-graduation program.
“You will study at this age?” Shekhar’s incredulity echoed through the air.
“My friends will tease me about me and my mother studying in the same college,” Aarav – her son – lamented.
“Knowledge knows no age limit, and you can tell your friends that’s cool,” she retorted to both of them at once.
“I don’t know what to say.” That was the first time she heard Shekhar utter the phrase that would become his recurrent refrain with every new pursuit of Rashi’s.
Rashi ignored the questions and barbs. Stepping outside the confines of her house, forging new friendships, reading books and binge-watching the Netflix catalogue was making the mundane interesting for her. The drab grey roads appeared a cheerful blue. The blazing sun became a bright harbinger of hope; the melodious chirping of birds resonated like a symphony in her ears.
She was the first to raise her hand when someone in her social circle proposed a ladies-only trip to Auli in winter. That was the first time after marriage that she travelled to a city other than Ujjain, and without her husband.
A bewildered Shekhar could only manage mumbled expressions of not knowing what to say.
Rashi thoroughly enjoyed herself on the trip and looked forward to travel again. Unfortunately, all her friends were occupied at this time of the year, and the thought of solo travel entered her mind. She attempted to brush aside the contemplation, but it gnawed at her consciousness and burgeoned into a determination, compelling her to take the plunge.
That night, she conveyed her decision to her husband, who expressed his reluctance to ‘let’ her go. She bristled and turned on the bed. How can men talk about letting or not letting their wives do something so casually? She could not imagine saying the same to her husband, or her children for that matter. She sighed and closed her eyes, hoping this was another one of those things destined to change.
Rashi tossed and turned until the unfiltered signs of dawn seeped through the bedroom window. Springing out of her bed, she looked forward to her day at the college. The whistle of the cooker and the clamour of morning chores couldn’t drown out the melody of the song she hummed to herself.
She was arranging the final piece of breakfast cutlery on the table when Aarav remarked, “Dad says you’re going on a solo trip next month.” She glanced first at her husband, then her son, and back to her husband. Sleep certainly hadn’t pushed her upcoming trip to the back of his mind.
“Yes, I am,” she responded, taking her seat at the table. She generously applied butter to her bread and noticed no one else had begun breakfast.
“That’s so cool,” Ahana, her daughter gushed. Rashi smiled at her.
“You can’t go, Mom,” Aarav persisted. “It’s not safe.”
Rashi laid her fork and knife back on the dining table, looking directly at her son. “I appreciate your concern, Aarav, but I can take care of myself,” she said. “Also, please don’t tell me what I can and can’t do. I am older than you, you know,” she winked, hoping to soften the stern tone of her message.
“But I can tell you,” Shekhar interjected, “being older than you.”
“By a couple of years. That establishes both of us as adults,” Rashi countered. “We both are free to pursue our desires. From now on, I will not dictate what you can or can’t do,” she declared, adding, “I will let you do the things you want.”
“What… but… I have always done what I wanted,” Shekhar quipped with a puzzled frown. “Why would you stop me from anything?”
“Exactly. So why would you stop me? Who are we to let or not let each other do certain things? We can always talk and find common ground if there’s a difference of opinion. Why preemptively decide on behalf of the other person?”
The children and their father consumed breakfast in silence as Rashi finished hers and rose from the chair. “I am running late for college. See you in the evening.”
Fifteen minutes later, while applying lipstick looking into the mirror, she noticed her husband entering the room and standing silently behind her. It was unlike him to remain quiet in her presence.
Rashi turned. “Is anything the matter?” she asked.
“No…I…just wanted to know…is there someone else in your life, Rashi?”
The lipstick stick slipped from her hand as she looked askance at her husband. Twenty years of marriage had dwindled to a lack of trust simply because she had begun to hold her ground in certain matters.
She turned back to the mirror. For a change, it was she who didn’t know what to say.
Her reflection stared back at her. The azure silk saree complemented the full-sleeved woollen blouse, and the black shawl lent a regal touch to her slender frame. The erect countenance, coupled with the wedge heels, made her look taller than her actual height. Her reflection stared back at her. The blue silk saree went well with the full-sleeved woollen blouse, the black shawl lending a regal touch to her slender frame. The erect countenance with the wedge heels made her taller than she was. Her cheeks shone bright, and the kajal gave prominence to her eyes. The mauve lipstick added the right dash of colour to her face.
It was the image of a confident and content woman standing before her.
After years of solitude in a long marriage, Rashi had rediscovered self-love. That was making all the difference.
“There is, Shekhar,” she replied, meeting his eyes in the mirror, trying to recall the last time she saw him this shocked.
“I knew it…” he began.
“But it’s not a man,” she interrupted, realising she had delivered the shock of his life. “It is the woman you see standing before you, the face of who you see now in the mirror. For all these years, I had forgotten her. Now she has come back into my life.”
The whirring of the fan was the only sound in the room as both stood gazing into the mirror. Shekhar cleared his throat after some time, the surprise and relief evident on his face.
“I don’t know what to say,” he admitted. Rashi smiled.
Image source: YouTube/ short film Ghar ki Murgi
Smita Das Jain is a writer by passion who writes every day. Samples of her writing are visible in the surroundings around her — her home office, her sunny terrace garden, her husband’s car and read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
Stay updated with our Weekly Newsletter or Daily Summary - or both!
When someone accuses you of "too much feminism", what they are really saying is, "I am uncomfortable with you challenging the status quo and disrupting my privilege".
Time and again, there is one phrase that keeps coming up in the social media discourse on feminism. Any guesses?
Ah, no prizes for guessing the infamous “itni bhi feminist” or “too much feminism” phrase, a classic eye-roller for me, and I am sure for many more of my tribe, in the realm of gender equality discussions.
Pray tell me, how can an ideology, a movement be too ‘much’? It’s not salt or the seasoning of your soup where you can go, “Oops, too much salt, only one spoon was required”. Either you stand for what feminism stands for, or you don’t.
Half a decade ago marriage was a bargain between two famlies. Most of the women were married off to a man who was either well off or who could fend for his wife and family. Today the parameters of marriage have changed. Women no longer marry for the sake of economic security. Their expectations from marriage have changed in the course of years because of their changed status.
As women grew independent, their patterns of choosing partners have changed dramatically. Now women choose men who they feel can satiate their emotional as well as physical needs. Intimacy is no longer the physicality that happened between two people under the supervision of elders of the family for the sole purpose of procreation. Intimacy in today’s marriages involve understanding and fulfilling each other’s emotional as well as sexual needs.
So before you decide to hook up see if you know these five things about intimacy.
Please enter your email address