This story won “Muse of the month” June 2016 at Womensweb
Ashish looked at the computer screen in front of him, weary eyed. He glanced at his surroundings and realized that he was the lone employee in the office. He stood up sluggishly, held his office bag and moved out of the plush glass office building. As he sat in his car his thoughts rushed back to what would be awaiting him at home.
Ashish knew what lay ahead for him. Like every other day he would reach home. His wife would open the door of his two bedroom apartment, take his bag and while he would change, dinner would be served on the dining table. Thereafter both Ashish and his wife Suman would eat the food in silence. It was not always that they ate in silence.
In the beginning, Ashish made an effort to strike a conversation with Suman. He used to ask her how was her day and she would reply nonchalantly that it was fine. Later on, Ashish would talk about his day at the office but he would make out that Suman looked terribly bored.
It was not her fault, Ashish thought. She was a plain graduate and she told him that she did not understand ‘these’ things. Ashish on the other hand had an opinion about everything, be it politics, movies, books and so on. He was a voracious reader and would lose count of time if happened to be in a bookstore.
One day, on September 11, when Ashish was watching the news, he generally said to her that what happened at the World Trade Centre on 9/11 was horrendous and it had been fourteen years already. To this, Suman looked at him questioningly. Ashish was stunned. Suman had no inkling about the 9/11 tragedy which shook the entire world.
It was not that Suman was a bad wife. She looked after the house with perfection. Ashish was served hot food and he loved her lip smacking recipes. But, when it came to communication, Suman had hardly anything to offer. Ashish craved to have a companion in his life. He longed to have conversations that went beyond ‘what he wanted to eat’ to ‘what groceries had to be bought’.
Suman and Ashish’s parents were family friends and so when Ashish got a good job in a reputed IT firm, Suman’s parents sent a marriage proposal. Ashish had a certain image of the kind of girl he wanted in his life. But since he did not have a girlfriend and as his parents thought he should not eat ‘hotel food’ anymore, he had to concede to marrying Suman. When they got engaged, Ashish tried to meet Suman and talk to her over the phone innumerable times. But they hardly spoke. He was in a real fix. But finally gave in when one of his friends counselled him saying “You will fall in love with her after marriage. You have a lot of time to talk then. Arranged marriages work like this”.
How wrong his friend proved to be, thought Ashish. Ashish was miserable. He had everything going for him in his life. He had a good job, colleagues who were supportive, his finances were also soaring at a good pace. But, he was solitary. Each day felt dreary and uneventful.
At times, lying in his bed, staring at the fan which moved languidly as if signifying the weariness of his own life, Ashish contemplated how his life would have unfolded , had he married a like minded girl. Once or twice, he even toyed with the idea of a divorce. But then, ‘divorce’ was such a taboo in this country. And Suman was not evil. She did not deserve to be shunned and left to be mocked by the society at large. With such conflicting thoughts and an underlying melancholy, Ashish dozed off each day.
Suman was a simple girl. She was brought up in an environment which forever echoed the fact that she was a ‘girl’ and she had to become someone’s ‘wife’ someday. So, she , who was always a mediocre student, turned her attention towards equipping herself with qualities that embodied a ‘good Indian wife’. She became a skilled cook and opted for Home Science in college. After she graduated, she was married off to the first boy who looked ‘appropriate’.
Suman was always ill at ease with Ashish. She felt he was always judging her. She knew nothing of the books that he loved reading and those English movies that he rented and enthusiastically watched. She would strive hard to like the things that appeased him but however hard she tried she could not feign. She thought Ashish would be happy with her culinary and housekeeping skills. He would appreciate her for them, but it seemed that it did not suffice.
As Suman lay in the bed in their two bedroom apartment, she felt wretched. Ashish was not a vile man. He never scolded her, respected her parents and had no vices. But still she could not fathom as to why she did not feel happy. At times she thought about her childhood friend Ram. Even thinking about him filled her with remorse. She was a married woman. Ram was a good friend of hers and she could be herself with him. He did not seem happy when she handed him her wedding card two years ago, or so she felt.
Some days back when she visited her parents, she bumped in to Ram. He had started a small business and he animatedly told Suman how he missed her. To this Suman looked sideways, but furtively felt a surge of excitement ran through her.
Ashish and Suman just returned from a family function. Both looked pensive. As they sat on the blue sofa in the drawing room, Ashish could hold no longer. “Suman, are you happy with me?” Suman was taken aback. She knew that Ashish did not look pleased when his relatives asked him as to when are they planning to start a family. She herself was aghast. She was not sure of her relationship with her hubby and here people were thinking of new beginnings. Ashish waited for her to answer with a long face.
“I do not know”, was all Suman could blurt out. “Then, in that case”, Ashish took a deep breath, “Let us get a divorce”.
Suman looked at him unbelievingly. Her whole world was crashing down in front of her own eyes. She should plead him to not think of such a thing. But she did not want to, she felt. She should be aghast with misery. But all she felt was a sense of relief pervading her. “Alright, if you say so”, the words came out coherent enough even before she knew.
Ashish looked at her admiringly and realized she too desired what he so badly wanted- happiness. Silence spoke a thousand words and both of them knew that ‘people’ would ask questions, ‘cast aspersions’ and their respective families would ‘play blame game’.
But it was high time and they both had realized, “Once you stop worrying what the world will think of you, your life will become that much easier to live.”