(This story was shortlisted for ‘ Muse of the Month September 2017’ at Womensweb )
Neelima closed the door and took a sigh of relief. She stood there and kept staring at the wall clock. The tic tac sound made by the clock seemed to symbolize her own life. It was moving at a weary pace but nonetheless it moved with days turning into weeks and so on.
She moved towards the kitchen sluggishly and put on the pan to make coffee for her. The room was filled with the aroma of coffee and it seemed to lift her spirits.
As Neelima sipped her cup of coffee sitting in the balcony, she again sneaked a peek at the wall clock. Why was she so perturbed? There were still six hours for Amit to reach home.
As she went about doing her usual chores in the house, Neelima found herself looking at her image in the dressing table mirror. She could see before her a woman dressed in a skimpy night dress and she felt naked all at once. Quickly, she went to take a shower and opened her cupboard. Her cupboard swarmed with all sorts of clothes, jeans, shorts, crop tops, lacy night gowns and what not. From one corner, a cloth fell, and she picked it up wondering why someone would rave about wearing a torn piece of cloth. In her hand lay, a torn pair of blue denim jeans which were in vogue these days.
Stealthily, she put her hand beneath the bottom of all her clothes and dug out a salwar kurta. Her eyes lit when she wore it and saw her reflection. Yes, she could now recognize herself.
Neelima could not help but wonder as to why everyday she had to wear a garb of a stranger. Yes, her husband, Amit had categorically told her the day after they got married, that he always liked smartly dressed women. He could not stand a ‘behenji’ clad in salwar kurta.
Initially, Neelima did not take him seriously, nor did she gauge the intensity of his whim. One day, a few days after they were married, she wore her favourite blue kurta and even put a gajra in her hair. She looked forward for Amit to see her all decked up.
But, all hell broke loose when Amit saw her. He was enraged to the extent that, he steered out of the house screaming on top of his voice, “Didn’t I tell you, I hate such outfits. Can’t you dress up in a presentable way? I got all those chic dresses for you and this is what you wear.”
He did not speak to her the next day. The silence was killing her. She did not know what to make out of his fixation on western clothes. After, a number of other incidents, she was sure that this was not normal behavior.
But, what could she do? She was newly married and there was nothing gravely wrong with Amit. His family was kind to her and she had all the luxuries that a couple living in a metropolitan city could think of.
At times, she contemplated calling either Amit’s mother or her own mother both of whom, lived in Hyderabad. But, every time she picked up the phone, something in her curtailed her.
Many a times, she would blame herself for creating a problem when there was none. Any other girl would kill to have such a ‘forward’ husband and here she was forever mulling over it. But, Neelima had been born and brought up in Hyderabad in a very conservative family and since always she had worn simple Indian attire. No one prodded her to wear such clothes, but she herself was fond of such outfits and felt extremely comfortable in them.
It was almost time for Amit to come back home. She opened her cupboard and took out a Capri and a sleeveless t- shirt that they had bought from the mall last month. It was as if, her persona took a drastic shift and she wore a veil and was another person altogether. A person, who was alien to her, a person, the burden of whose identity had to be borne by her each day, in her bid to be a good wife.
One day, as Neelima sat flipping TV channels, her gaze was transfixed to an advertisement. It struck her like a bolt of lightning, when she least expected it. It was a short video, titled #stopjudging. It depicted a number of incidents where people are judged and stereotyping occurs. But, what stayed with her was the image of a salwar- kurta clad woman, who is shown walking with her held high proclaiming to the onlookers “Meri salwar kameez mujhko behnajee nahee bulatee (My salwar-kameez doesn’t call me a behenji)”.
Neelima scrolls through her phone and watches the short clip repeatedly. And each time she feels ashamed. She loathes herself for letting her dignity to be trampled. She resolves to stand up for herself.
As the door bell rings that evening, Neelima is herself. She is no longer wearing the garb of a stranger. When Amit sees her, he is stunned.
“I cannot live the way you want me to live Amit. I love wearing such clothes. This is my identity and if you cannot accept me like this, I will no longer stay with you. And yes, I called your mom and told her about how you wish to see me everyday. She wants you to call her as soon as you reach home.”
Amit looks at her flabbergasted. As Neelima turns around, she has a big grin on her face.
She feels alive again.