“And now I may dismiss my heroine to the sleepless couch, which is the true heroine’s portion - to a pillow strewed with thorns and wet with tears. And lucky may say she think herself if she gets another, goodnight’s rest in the course of three months.” Jane Austen
We did not keep count of the coffee and lemonade that we drank. It has been quite a while since we sat down under the canopy paved with coconut fronds. The fan above was gently blowing breeze so we did not feel the warm day building up outside. When we wanted to smoke we moved to the shade of the mulberry tree outside. We already had a couple of Gold Flakes each. He was keeping a tight leash on the cigarettes as he noticed my habit of devouring them when a little vexed in mind. A habit that was formed after marriage and ostensibly as a distraction from the rumble-rough-and-tumble of wedlock. We human beings, always beg to find alibis and self- justifications for our actions. Don’t we?
It is true with many women that their natural ambition is through marriage to climb up, leaning upon a man; perhaps I was no different! I was running away in resentment towards my childhood and teen. I thought he would be a refuge! But it soon became clear in even time when he began to feel that the sheen of wedlock was ebbing and the scent of fresh meat became cold that I’m a loner and destined to be one. My value as spouse was stuffed with the rag clothes and I realised that after all, not necessarily a woman needs a man to lean on and she can be great without the help of any man, just as she is. But then I was afraid to break the shackles that tethered me.
Slut is an offensive word and often addressed towards women as an ultimate form of abuse. But there is no word with equal power of flailing and venom to direct back at men. And no man will probably take such an abuse lying down. His male pride and self professed virtue will dust its mane like a spited lion and arise. Yet, I often think, but what did I do when he repeatedly pronounced me slut and whore’ and all other unique expletives in his lexicon that he always preserved for me? Even when he abused and violated me physically? The mental rape and pain he poured over me is another matter. Not for just once, not twice, but for twenty five odd years?
The young stewardess came around to enquire if we would like to have another mug of coffee. I smiled and told her not for now. She smiled, cleared the empty cups and sandwich plates before she left. She was a debonair and her smile stayed at the table even after she was gone. Some folks leave behind their fragrance. Don’t they?
I said, continuing our conversation. “Coming to the matter, like the widely espoused duty bound Indian woman I bore the brunt of all of his idiosyncrasies, his feral words and yielded to his carnal penchants. Yet he directed all invective at me when he was plowed down by alcohol and even when he was not? But when I try to explain his behaviour as a psychological condition -paranoia. Even try to explain with the reasoning of professional diagnosis – ‘paranoid schizophrenia’, and then you accuse me of equivocation.”
“You are. You are searching for a reason to explain him? You know why? It’s because of this traditional woman syndrome, the very same you just mentioned. The stereo typing of Indian woman as meek and submissive and you folks accept it as a matter of fact, gleefully. Because women are the miserable descendants and heirs to the legacy of Draupadi and Sita. You believe that they are destined to be pinned down by the weight of a narcissistic, feral, megalomaniacal, chauvinistic, selfish male; and that they must as dutiful spouses mutely and meekly assent.” His angst was more from irritation than resentment towards my argument. I know many might see my stand as inane and lame. But you know no one actually would be foolish to bear this for these many years in the hope that there will be change. So would I be peeved by such remarks against my stand? Hell NO! I know it may be equivocation, and I sometimes feel that I continue to fool myself. My adamant being! No he is right, in some ways only, I like to think.
I pounced on what he said and retorted “Well mercifully I need to only bear his stink and odour, his foul, filthy temperance and his specious love talk when he crawls to my side slobbering and cloying in moments of lecherous itches! The consolation is Draupadi had to act dutifully to not just one lustful eunuch but five hogs.”
“You are one hell of impossibility”, he threw up his arms partly in exasperation and partly with a grimace that told me he acknowledges my position. You are equally impossible”, I riposted, leaning forward and pushing him fondly. It was nearing 11 in the morning and there were still few people at the tables in the café. I could not suppress laughter when he replied to an inquisitive lady with whom we happened to casually pick up a conversation of a word or two, who first enquired if we were spouses and when we said no, she asked how long we were friends and known each other. “Well it has been a few generations since, but we are now catching up for some lost time.” How much I laughed! It made the woman squirm and show some annoyance before she excused and went. That was a metaphorical statement and lo I told him so once and he sat for a while in silence and musing for a moment before agreeing to what I said. But soon thereafter he did not forget to tease me as he always does for my faith in reincarnations and after- life. He asserts that there is nothing esoteric about my belief in rebirths and all that is load of mumbo jumbo and gibberish. Something we rather aggressively disagree amongst ourselves. He told me that when I argue with him over my convinced belief in rebirths, I countenance the exact expression of the woman in a Malayalam flick who is obsessed with a fairy tale of ancient and refuses to accept when her version is disputed. A bit of obstinacy I guess, but rebirths are close to my heart for it gives me hope and I told him that.
“Look, I do not want to mince my words here and do not care if my words hurt. I do not want to pat your back in appreciation and say hey great going, keep it up, when I know what it is. You have told in your own words what its. Haven’t you?”
I touched his palms that were cupped together on the table. “No, certainly no. I can understand what you feel and why you may use strong words.”
“Twenty five years is fairly long time to be grappling with. It’s actually a considerable length of time, a little more than a quarter of an average human life time. If you could not live a happy life with someone for twenty five plus years there is no way you going to do that now and here after. If you have put up with the nastiness and abuse of that person for a quarter century, bore with his insanity all the while, you will only do what you have been doing till your days are up. Compassion, understanding and love, these are qualities that are just a stupid reaction to some fancy idea of sympathy that you keep. You can continue with your cleaning his vomit, washing his piss off the closet seat, and try to show that you are still mesmerised with his slobbering for satisfying his libido, but he will still live in his misogynistic delusion and paranoia as you see it. He will still see you as a slut and suspect you of liaison with every man and boy you speak to. You think he will change? Do you really believe that his condition is illness that can be cured? You can hope for, and live another quarter century if your body carries you that far, or if he survives with you that long. But then? But then, what if your wishes were lame horses that could not even walk let alone sprout wings to fly?”
I listened to him patiently and said. “It was not sympathy that kept me in this. It is empathy. I have no sympathy, all that has long gone. So is love. I do not have any left for him. But yes empathy, not from love or affection but an acknowledgement of his condition. I like to believe it will. I could have walked out when things got intolerable long ago. But what would one do if it was a malady that was terminal and long drawn? Will one forsake a person because he is terminally ill? I admit there is no love left in me for him and he never had, never, in the first place. It was just gagging to possess me also so that he could satisfy his lust whenever he wanted to and he did win.”
“You were temperamental and impetuous.” He said.
“Perhaps yes, I was. For I was a fool and temperamental, that I presumed a leap into such a relationship would be my way of making a forceful statement to folks at home that I don’t care for their social and conventional propriety and my act was a retaliation for a forgetful childhood that they made me bear. I let him have complete control over me- my physique and my life eventually. But believe me 25 years of atrocities that he piled on me have not killed my spirit. He cannot touch that. It was the case then and even now. It is I who on my volition decided to stick by him and not him. My spirit and my soul he cannot touch. He knows that.”
He clasped his hands and then applauded. I new straight away that was his way of mocking and chiding. He did not forget to tell me that was great piece of oration. He said. “To compare his condition (as you call it) with that of a terminally ill man is queer and not the correct way of seeing things here; sticking by a misogynist and the man who has no regard for his spouse , who sees her as expendable , who distrusts her and is a miserable wreck to be always doubting her chastity….! It sucks. It doesn’t matter if one is terminally ill or he is a person with perverted thoughts about all and sundry his spouse interacts with or whatever crazy condition you said the counselor made you believe. You ought to have walked out years ago. Any self respecting woman would do that. And chastity my foot! Come on you folks accept that chastity and virginity are preconditions for a nice woman . Now which matters most respectability and self respect or virginity and chastity? The problem lies there in such bizarre notion that virginity and chastity are requisites for a respectable and self-respecting status and there is nothing sick with a moronic man demanding something ridiculous as that.”
“I feel for your angst. But you don’t understand. Do you think I would have borne with all this if not for my children? During all this cruelty that he meted out to me, he was good to them. And they loved the father too. I just could not break the twain that tied them to him; it was unfair if I did. If he had shown one instance of violence or abuse towards either of them, the very moment I’d have picked them up and left him.”
“I cannot understand your mind and the way you reason out. Kids, yes I understand. But what you say is strange to me, for if it was my kids and they saw me abuse their mother without an end, they‘d sure turn against me. All kids would.”
“Hmm, may be yes. But you know my girl actually told me not once but a few occasions, ‘Ma if this relationship didn’t work for you for a quarter century it will not work. Understand that and move on. Let him fend for himself.’ You see kids change their outlook when they grow to a certain age, when they can think independently."
“But you still hope. Don’t you? That is wonderful! I cannot understand.”
“You would not believe. There is a change. He even said that he cannot be without me. He doesn’t snoop as he used to. At least I guess he is making an effort. You see the medications may have begun having an effect.”
“Oh yes, really? Now you forgot that he threw his infamous fits and allegations yet again, didn’t he the past week? I could not understand how educated, civilised and cultivated woman like you would submit meekly and let him access all your personal communications, your social media accounts and so on, only because he has a delusion that you are a hussy and cheating on him. How could you?”
“But you see he is making a genuine effort.”
“Yes, indeed! Whether he makes an effort or not, you are doing an effort as you always have been for the past twenty five years. The trouble is with you and your lot, where such misogynists are emboldened. The very woman who makes a statement with her haute couture display and an active participation in women’s liberation or woman’s rights platform is a meek, pathetic figure at home where she either cannot tell between a canoodling by the master of the house for carnal favours or render meekly when he demands. Remember she is the very same woman who may have spoken sonorously against marital rape. I cannot understand your tribe.”
“I told you that I’m trying. I tried all the while. It is on my terms now. He knows that he cannot have his way anymore. One word of abuse and he knows he can be sure of fending for himself for the rest of his life. He can’t touch me. He was surprised that I have been resisting like never before. He asked what has suddenly emboldened me and that I no more quiver or fidget when he glares at me. In fact I began retaliating years ago. But the energy and resoluteness that I now feel that has been given to me, was not felt before. I told him it is nothing but the tempering of the past twenty five years. But I also know that a small window has opened a little for me.”
He smiled! We smiled! I smiled thinking of my intuitive feeling, the sixth sense that has shown me the tiny window open and his smile I was certain was for my esoteric thought as he would call it. "When all doors are closed, somewhere there will be a tiny window open!"