Chapter 43 (i): Someday you’ll be a mom-in-law, too


mum in law

Relationships that come as appendices to the main wedding clause are perhaps the trickiest ones on earth. You could argue that professional relationships are equally difficult, but if your boss turns insufferable—no matter how cushy the job—you can stick your tongue out at him/her one day and call it quits. No such exit clause available here.

When a daughter is born, very frequently your mind shifts to that time in the future when she would be taken from you by people who would claim her forever. You often wonder how that new world would treat her—and hence the extremely common blessing for girls: ‘Allah naseeb achha kare’, or ‘Saubhagyavati bhava’. May you be blessed with good fortune forever.

And though it is meant to be a blessing, it is a profoundly sad one. Ever wonder why we do not bless boys this way? Because everyone expects boys to be able to create their destiny. A woman, feeble creature that she is, is bound to her destiny forever.  And so, perhaps, if I had a daughter, I would have blessed her thus: “Allah tumhein apna naseeb banane ki quwwat de.” May you be blessed forever with the strength to make your own fortunes.

In fact, I don’t remember ever hearing my father bless me with a prayer for “achha naseeb”. On the contrary, what he repeatedly quoted to us, me and my sister, were these immortal lines from an Urdu couplet:

Khudi ko kar buland itna

Ki har taqdeer se pehle

Khuda bande se khud puche

Bata teri raza kya hai

(Elevate the self to such a height

That before your destiny is inscribed

Allah himself would ask his slave

What is it you would have me write?)

He would repeat this couplet day and night to hammer into us one single thought: we are the masters of our own destinies.

Nevertheless, he was a rare Indian parent, an exception to the norm—because the norm comprises of people wringing their hands in despair at her destiny the moment a daughter is born.

But now, tell me, when a son is born, does your mind wander to the time he’d be taken from you by another? A woman, a rival for his affections, an idol he will worship—much to your chagrin? I’m betting, no. Pardon me for generalising—it’s not a practice I’m fond of —but most Indian moms are so attached to their sons, they place them almost at the pedestal of ‘man in my life’. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not indicating some sort of Oedipal complex here. I’m talking of this—which was more prevalent in the previous generation than it is in ours, but it exists nonetheless:

The husbands were supposed to act superior to their wives—the whole ‘mardon ki shaan’ thing [The Man’s Pride] and not show their emotional side or the wives ‘would get too big for their boots’.  I actually know a person among my relatives who would tell his wife, “If I’m not criticising the dish you’ve cooked, it means you’ve cooked well.” Criticism or silence. Compliments be damned.

The woman, emotionally parched, unable to quench her thirst for approval and admiration, unable to express her physical desires for fear of being considered wanton, unable to find solace in the mere fulfilment of obligations, lives an unspeakable life of bottled frustration. And then, along comes the son. He loves what she cooks. Every son does. (Mine does, too.) And she finds herself showered with compliments. He is a baby. Babies express their love unhindered.

And then, slowly, as he grows up, he starts caring for her—for her happiness and her health. Sees his mother being verbally, emotionally, or even physically abused by either her husband or her in laws, and becomes that Man—the wall of support she always sought.  He becomes the mainstay of her life.

Then, of course, enters the other woman.

His wife. But he’s not the husband his father was.

He compliments his wife’s cooking, has eyes for her, cares about her well-being. And one day, he confronts his mom, taking the side of his wife—much like he had taken the side of his mother not so long ago.  And this woman, who had spent a major portion of her life fussing over her son—considering him her sole achievement, in the absence of all other avenues— feels cheated. Betrayed. For her to grudge the daughter in law’s happiness, then, is quite natural.

If you haven’t already, read Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, and specifically go through the lines about Mammachi and her son Chacko. You’ll know what I mean.

Granted, all of this is rather dramatic, and not everyone had a life like that. But to varying degrees, most couples—small town, middle class, ‘Indian values’ type— fell within this range.  My father was an exceedingly romantic, mostly liberal guy who fed milk from bottles to his kids, changed their nappies and combed their hair for lice, frequently massaged his wife’s legs and back—something unheard of in his generation— because she suffered from a slipped disc and requested his wife to keep her hair loose down her back and her hands henna-painted at all times, because he loved to gaze at her beautiful self. He would take her out for a stroll by the river, and hire a cameraman to follow them and record their movements like a personalised romantic movie, while a chapraasi (man-servant) trailed behind them, holding the baby (me, one year old).

And this was in the year 1988.

But even then, my mother remembers being fairly intimidated by his quick temper in the early days of marriage, and watching, fascinated and thankful, as his temper completely mellowed down after I arrived:

“He would leave for office in a huff, angry over something, and be sure to not speak to me when he came back. But when you were born, and he came back still angry, he took one look at you and his anger evaporated. And I was so thankful for this angel in my life.”

Now this is a very loaded (offensive, too) statement, but I think this provided a major motivation for women to long for children.

I remember when I was pregnant and not very happy about it, my mum in law would reassure me saying: “Just wait till your son is born (the unborn baby is always a son for in-laws all over India). You will have a great pillar of support!”

What she could not understand, of course, was that I already had a pillar of support—my husband. Relationship dynamics had changed drastically over the previous generation. I already had a complete, fulfilling relationship; I didn’t necessarily need someone else to soften it.

But now, now that I am a mother myself, I often find myself sitting at the fence, wondering what lies on the other side. The side when I’ll be the dreaded law.

So when you are the mother of a son, tell me, do you ever wonder about the time you’ll have a daughter in law? More precisely, do you pause to consider what kind of mother-in-law you would be?

Because, to twist that line immortalised by Ekta Kapoor, the queen of soap operas: Kyunki Bahu Bhi Kabhi Saas Hogi.

The daughter-in-law, too, will be a mom-in-law someday.

 

(To be continued…)

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Chapter 42 (ii): Village Life


village life

 

A village is a hive of glass, where nothing unobserved can pass

—- Charles H. Spurgeon

 

May 4, 2014

Before I was married, I had no idea what village life was like. Even my grandparents on both sides were city dwellers. And never had I glamorised country life either, the way many people do—for its simplicity, slow pace, close knit family atmosphere, fresh organic produce and so on. I was a city slicker through and through.

I never actually had to live in the village after marriage either, for my immediate in laws—the husband’s parents—were city dwellers too. It was just the ancestral home and the extended family that we used to visit in the village and that only on festivals, weddings and special occasions. And to be fair, my husband’s ancestral home in the village is a far cry from the typical village homes you’d imagine in India.

A sprawling khandaani house spread across 10 acres—40,500 square metres, to be precise—flanked by the family’s mango orchards on one side and a small lake on the other, and divided into separate, independent sections for each of the six families that make up the home. Like a private colony with interconnected doors that are forever open to each other.

The rooms all come equipped with most of the amenities you’d find in an urban middle class home. My bedroom is a large, well ventilated room with a sparkling bathroom that I particularly adore, mostly owing to the rain shower head fitted especially for me upon my arrival. But the thing that most delighted me when I first arrived as a bride was the courtyard facing my room—all abloom with pink bougainvillea and the Madhumalti or Rangoon creeper. The adjacent courtyard boasts a flowering pomegranate tree and a grand old Neem, another one has a flowering peach tree while yet another boasts red chilli plants. A veritable organic heaven of sorts.

And yet, what struck me hard right from the beginning was the huge cultural chasm. Within the beautifully painted walls and blooming courtyards, the lives and mindsets are quintessentially representative of regular Indian villages. The values I’ve lived and sworn by all my life are alien here, drawing blank astonished looks if I so much as utter the phrase “women’s rights” or “gender equality”— unfortunately/fortunately my favourite phrases in any conversation. Women are expected to know their place– quite literally.

But then again, this isn’t something odd or astonishing—considering that I’ve met some of the most deep rooted patriarchal mindsets in swanky urban settings as well–it’s not like my own relatives are immune to it either. It’s a general Indian trait—except I happen to not share it, and thankfully, neither does my husband. But the effects of patriarchy are never as manifest as when you become a mother.

In truth I am aware that this is just for a few days. I am aware that it springs merely from a place of love for the kid, I’m aware that all their advice can be taken calmly. But with everything going wrong in my life right now— dashed hopes, frayed trust and unreliable business partners—calm is the one thing I cannot be.

What I am is desolate, suffocated and utterly trapped.

 

Chapter 36 (ii): How to create Happiness— Part II


March 28, 2014

1 p.m.

Gurgaon. The name literally means “jaggery village”, which you could, if you’re so inclined, also interpret as “sweet village.” (Alternative meanings from history make it “village of the teacher” or ‘Gurugram’ as it has recently been renamed—appropriately, if you think about it, because the teacher’s village could definitely give other places a lesson in ‘upgrading’ themselves.) Now, this sweet little village got lucky when the gods of construction (read real estate giants) decided to look kindly upon it. And so from simple desi jaggery (Gur), it went straight to donuts and macaroons and truffle pastry. The place is now recognised by its imposing glass-fronted, imaginatively-designed high-rise office buildings, malls dripping with luscious labels and swanky residences peopled with humans sporting the most perfectly straightened and artificially coloured hair and the most insanely expensive cars.

This is where I am today, and the reason I’m here is that a certain flight from Oman is due to arrive in a little over an hour. Yep, you guessed it. I’m here to receive my man at the airport. And at first light tomorrow, we’ll be heading to the airport again, this time to catch a flight to Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.

I tell Hasan, all of 15 months, that we’d be seeing ‘Baba’ now. Of course he can say ‘Baba’. All kids can say Ba-ba, and mine is a born chatterer. At 15 months, he can speak rudimentary sentences that use about 4 words. Things like: “Bahar jaana hai.” (Want to go out.) “Khul nahi pa raha” (Can’t open it), “Baby so rahi hai” (the baby is asleep) and so on and so forth. So yes, of course, he can say Baba. But whether he can relate the words to the actual person remains to be seen. It’s been 5 months since he last saw his dad, which had also been for just 5 days after another gap of 5 months. And because we’ve had zero access to video calling, he hasn’t seen the man on screen either. I look at him, and in exactly four words, tell him, “Baba aa rahe hain.”

Baba is coming now.

3 p.m.

Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi

From a long way off, I spot Sajjad in his grey, green and coral panelled t-shirt and dark glares. I cut across the crowds, deliberately moving in from behind. I want to surprise him the way he always surprised me—stepping quietly from behind and poking a finger in my waist. It always worked. I jumped hard each time, caught off-guard, before realising who it was that had “groped” me!

I poke a finger in his side now, and he jumps a little but swivels round and catches me quickly in the crook of his arm, pulling me briskly to his side. We laugh. “Where’s Hasan?” he asks, looking around. Hasan is just a few steps behind me, being carried by our driver.

Greedy woman that I am, I wanted this embrace to be mine first—not my son’s. But now, Sajjad holds his arms out expectantly. I wonder what the little one is going to do. The little one, though, has no such doubts. He wastes not a second in leaning over eagerly into his Baba’s arms, and once there, wraps his tiny arms around him. He remembers.

I see the smile of complete satisfaction on the young father’s face, and I am struck by how little thought I’ve given to what this man is facing out there. It’s not just me who’s been left alone. He is all alone out there, too. No wife, no child. No family. He has fathered a beautiful little boy just about a year ago, and all this time he’s been deprived of the chance to witness the baby’s milestones. The chance to hear his baby’s first word, to watch his baby’s first step, to hear those little squeals of delight and laugh at his innocent mischief.

I am struck by the realisation of this loneliness. But then I remember all those pictures of him dipping in hot water springs, walking along silver shores, feeding turtles and riding water scooters, and I can’t help but wonder why I must be the one carrying sole responsibility of childcare while he leads the “bachelor life”. I feel my own loneliness more deeply, more bitterly than any other. Light fades, darkness closes in.

As the car meanders through the lanes I glance sideways at his face, and it seems to be the face of a stranger, a man I do not know.

This is when I’m supposed to feel happy. This is when I usually feel happy. What I feel now, though, is just this: indifferent. Numb, the way your tongue is when the dentist injects anaesthesia in the gums. You can move it around but you can’t feel a thing.

7 p.m.

“Sajjad is unusually quiet…” observes my aunt, at whose place we’re staying right now. “No jokes, meagre conversation… he’s quite cheerful normally. What’s wrong?”

If only. If only I could know what on earth was going wrong. Even though the man is generally more of an introvert, he’s unusually morose today. Not in a persistently sulking kind of way, but in an absorbed-in-thought manner, feigning cheerfulness when asked. After all these years I have come to associate this with “something on his mind, but he’ll never tell you what.” Sigh.

What is it with husbands and their absolute fear of transparency? You never share your actual problems with your wife because you don’t want to “burden” her or make her “worry”, when in truth she would be more than happy to lend you a sympathetic ear and more than eager to help out in whatever way possible. What worries her more, ironically, is that you don’t trust the relationship enough to be frank and open about your problems, that you don’t consider her competent enough to support you or help you out. Most husbands think they’re protecting their wives this way, when in truth they’re just isolating them. If you’re a man reading this, know that in most cases, the biggest thing your wife wants is your time—and more than that, your trust.

If only. If only it were this easy to explain.

There is a pattern to this pre-occupied, intermittent gloom. He’s trying. He’s trying very hard to stay cheerful—and often succeeds, because after all, he’s back where he belongs. But then there are those tell-tale intervals of vacant, abrupt silence. Most markedly, the complete absence of his trademark quirky humour, his dry wit and the crazy imagination that would rival JK Rowling’s. All those quirks, the most endearing of his qualities, are missing. There’s no roughness in his demeanour; he’s more tender and loving than ever. But there’s a pensive edge to it all, like he can see something profoundly sad that you cannot see, and because you can’t see it, he can’t tell you what it is.

A terrible burden to bear alone.

But he’s not the only one with a burden. The piling up of days and nights has left me with more frayed edges than tolerable, and I am beginning to unravel at the seams. Inevitably, the eruption occurs.

10:30 pm

I’m in the guest room, putting our son to bed. Sajjad is upstairs, conversing with my uncle, and I stay awake a long time, waiting for him to come down. I can’t leave Hasan alone, for this room is two floors down, and if he woke up and cried, we wouldn’t even be able to hear him. The clock ticks steadily. I wait. And wait. The magma rises.

After five whole months we finally have alone time together, and all this man wants is casual chit-chat. The magma rises further.

I pick the sleeping kid (who promptly wakes) up in my arms, march up two flights of stairs, barge into the room, and blurt out something curt and snappish. My uncle is appalled and clueless. Sajjad looks blank and baffled. He has no idea what I’m going on about. The reason is simple: Earlier in the day, it had been decided we’d be sleeping in the room on the top floor, but post-dinner, the guest room on the lower floor had been cleared for us. The guy had somehow missed the post-dinner development, and even as I waited for him downstairs, he was actually waiting for me to get back upstairs.

Of course, within a minute my uncle realises what is actually going on, and speaks to me kindly, soothingly—at which point I just burst into tears.

Tears are cathartic. The rest of the night proceeds in harmony.

March 29, 2014

8 a.m.

It’s my birthday and we’re at the airport, all set to fly off to the coast.

As we enter through the glass gates, there’s a palpable change in the air. It gets lighter, fresher, easier to breathe — with a whole load of emotional magma suddenly cooling, crusting up and falling off both our shoulders. We’ve left the world, the real world with its punches and whiplashes somewhere behind, and entered a happier sphere, a sphere of airplanes and sand beaches and lighthouses and cliff-top resorts. A sphere with just the three of us, a happy little soap bubble so fragile yet so glorious with its kaleidoscopic shimmers. We hold each other’s hand and savour the bubble.

Sometimes, that’s how you create happiness— purposefully, when it’s not naturally abundant. That’s just one of the ways.

 

20140328_202711

Chapter 32: The Addams Family – Part I


addams-family

In the 1990’s, when Cartoon Network was all the rage, one of my favourite TV shows was The Addams Family. They’re a quintessential horror family:

Gothic mother with an octopus-like slithering gait;
Super enthusiastic but crazy gothic father (eternally and passionately in love with his wife);
Poker -faced crazy daughter and horribly annoying monster son— both with a penchant for torture;
Frankenstein style butler;
Sneaky, explosive, shark-toothed Uncle; and
Motorcycle-riding, eerily-cackling, spell casting Granny.
Oh, and a dismembered walking hand for a pet.

Welcome, everyone, to The Addams Family.

addams-family-2

Grandma Bazooka is the Border Security Force in our household. Navy, Army, Air Force all rolled into one— no external power, no matter how strong or sneaky, can ever attack us and get away with it. She has her guns, missiles and bazookas forever directed at anyone who so much as wishes to harm a hair on our bodies. And her intelligence bureau is highly trained to keep an eye on all intruders.

Inside those borders, however, she can wreak major havoc. Military rule, so to speak.

Benevolent General of sorts, for you will be lavished with sumptuous delicacies, spoilt with beautiful gifts and tantalisingly exhibited—and promised— the heirlooms she would hand you at your wedding. But make no mistake, you will bear the brunt of that love in no small measure. You will be judged for every step you take, the tiniest of mistake you make, and though you will be encouraged to find your path, that path shall be strictly and unreservedly laid out for you—brick by brick, direction by direction. If she could have her own way—which she mostly doesn’t.

Ours was never an authoritarian household, so she couldn’t technically be a matriarch. To be honest, there’s no ‘Arch’ in our family—Patri, Matri or otherwise. We’re quite close to the definition of anarchy. Rebels all, to the core.

It wasn’t always so.

Before Papa died, mom was just a sweet, loving homemaker—well-read and intellectual but an ‘Indian woman’ nonetheless. I was a timid girl, brilliant in academics but quite a bit of a sissy. My sister was only two—so she just was. And my grandmother was an external force herself, encountered merely on occasions like birthdays and vacations.

And then the world as we knew it was no more.

In the beginning, our uncle—mother’s brother— lived with us. And then he got married and his wife was there, too. For us, it was like a normal, happy family again.

Like I’ve said before, our loss though greater in absolute terms—loss of a parent—was nothing compared to the loss experienced by our mom. We could create new fathers in our uncles, grandpas and whatever male relative that looked kindly upon us. For our mother, love was lost forever.

And then a few years down the line, my uncle’s family increased to four, and our house wasn’t big enough for everyone to fit in. They had to shift to another place—not too far off, yes, but then it was a separation, yet again.

Without a Patriarch to head the family, we escaped the trappings of the traditional Indian home structure, where the man’s word is final, and no one dare question it. And so we grew up quite like a crazy democracy—with the right to protest and the inalienable right to freedom of speech and expression—but squabbling all the way with progress often stuck in first gear.

We’re closer in the sense that we don’t feel obliged to maintain a persona in front of each other —as I’ve seen so often in small town families around me. But we also have significantly less peace and less direction. The best outcome of all this is that we have developed the faculty to think for ourselves and not blindly follow our forefathers and foremothers. The worst, of course, is that compromise never comes easily to us, with no semblance of sanity to our dawns and our dusks.

Into this kaleidoscope of crazies entered this man—this quiet unassuming man with his droll, Jughead-style sense of humour— like a sliver of sunlight in an unceasing storm.

There’s a huge Banyan tree right at the back of the auditorium in AMU Women’s College, underneath which I used to sit and read out poetry on the phone to him. Rabindra Nath Tagore. Gitanjali, Lover’s Gift, Crossing. Narrate to him stories of the books I was reading. Time Machine, Chitra, The God of Small Things. And sometimes, couplets from Ghalib. Or Mir.

wc

Women’s College, AMU: Front lawns

Ever wonder why trees are so often used in the backdrop of romances? Because trees are the poetry of the earth. They are the welling up and bubbling out of love from the earth’s heart— as shade and fruit and breath. Guardians and protectors. Preservers of love.

The weary heart always seeks refuge from the unending buffets of life . Asylum from the onslaught of accusatory screams and peristent, unresolved emotional clutter. And though I was an equally crazy member of the Addams Family, I desperately sought refuge from it too.

This man became my refuge. Noah’s Ark, with just me on it. And the promise of safer lands.

Chapter 28: Labours of Love


LL

Official trip to Jordan, April 2011–my work, my love

One of the major casualties of becoming a mother had been my work. The work that didn’t just mean money and prestige for me, it meant the world because it was my passion—an affair de coeur. I don’t write just because I get paid for it, I write because it is essential to my existence.

Like breathing. Like blinking.

Or even like taking a leak—because if you’re forced to hold it in for far too long, you might just die. And prisoners have actually been tortured to death that way—‘holding it in.’

This is exactly the same—I can’t hold it in…  I’d die. I write because once a thought, an idea has its hold upon my mind, I can neither eat nor sleep until I’ve committed it to pen and paper—or laptop, as the case may be. I remember sleeping beside my mom, huddled inside a quilt with a torch in the left hand, writing down poems that would snatch at my sleep and wouldn’t let go… like unruly sylphs that demanded to be put where they belonged… and well past midnight. This was when I was 12.

Now imagine loving something so entirely, so naturally—and then being paid to do it. Like a chocolate addict being paid to taste chocolates. But that’s not even the best part. The best part is that unlike writing privately in your diary, you write in a newspaper—a medium that’s being read and absorbed by hundreds and thousands. You have your name marked on top of what you write, smartly etched out in print, made eternal and exhibited for the world to see. You cannot imagine what that feels like…

Like the rush of first love, every single day.

And then to have this love wrenched from your grasp.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I had to let go of my job around the time I was three months pregnant. That took a pretty big toll on my mental well-being. A job like mine isn’t just a paycheck. It means eight hours of doing something just for your own satisfaction, eight hours of time spent with like-minded people, a circle of friends that have things in common with you. It means going out of the house every day, seeing the world and its minute changes every passing morrow. Meeting diverse people from diverse disciplines—not to mention star achievers in their respective fields— acquiring new knowledge every day. Travelling far and wide on official trips, seeing the world without spending a dime.  It also, emphatically, means having other people to have a good time with than just your husband.

Having no job means being cooped up at home, which puts unnecessary strain on your relationship with your partner, as you begin clamouring desperately for his attention. And that can’t be reciprocated because he has a job and other occupations of the mind, while the only company you have around are women whose conversation centres around either daily soaps or the daily maid—none of which are remotely interesting to the thinking woman. I felt utterly and completely alone, and then I realised I had to be involved in something constructive to stop myself slipping into actual depression. One of my friends suggested joining an MPhil programme in the Jamia Milia University, which was then just a 15-minute drive from my place. But the near-constant retching and throwing up had left me in absolutely no condition to go anywhere on a daily basis. Which was when I remembered the thing called National Eligibility Test. You qualify the NET and you’re eligible to be selected as a lecturer in any Central University in India. When I’d completed my Masters in Mass Communication I’d been advised about a hundred times by well-meaning people to take that test, but that’s not because they thought it would be a great and fitting career option; it was because of the age-old belief that “teaching is the best profession for women.” And then, too, not because it is a noble and honourable choice, but because it’s a ‘safe profession’ with ‘undemanding timings’—basically being a woman you oughtn’t venture into anything too adventurous.

No offense to educators and academicians anywhere in the world—I mean where would I be without all those amazing teachers that shaped me? But here’s the thing: teaching can be the best profession for anyone—not just women—only if they have the aptitude and the inclination for it, not to mention the skill set. It can’t be a career choice based only on your gender, just because it’s stamped as safe.

I remember interviewing Margaret Atwood once, and she mentioned how during her time there were only about five choices open to women as careers: Nurse, secretary, airline flight attendant, school teacher and home economist. She said she opted for the secretarial sciences, because, in her cryptically witty manner, “I thought that if I had to have a job I didn’t want to have, it should be the one that pays the most.”

I remember musing, even then, how far we’d gotten from there in terms of choices available—but not so very far in terms of mental mathematics—mental growth. The safest, staidest choices were still considered ideal for women—and of course the best job for anyone had to be the one that paid the most—aptitude and passion be damned.

To come back to where I left off, I hadn’t the slightest inclination for teaching nor was I ever bothered in the least by social norms or what people thought of me. I had decided to be a journalist—that’s what I’d studied Mass Communication for—and that’s what I eventually became. But in this period of absolute indecision, where the future was mired in obscurity, I grasped at the one straw in my sight—‘teaching’ which was safe for any time, and which, I thought, would certainly save me from the fatal boredom and mental vegetation that accompanies being a lonely woman at home. It would occupy me in the pursuit of knowledge rather than brooding over the turn of my fortunes.

And so, just to keep myself constructively occupied, I sat for the NET during the seventh month of my pregnancy. The results came out about six months later—I had qualified not just the NET but also got selected for Junior Research Fellowship, offered to the top scorers in the exam, which would get me into Aligarh Muslim University’s research programme quite easily, without a written test.

The JRF-NET is a big deal in the world of academics, and I was accordingly hailed by every one of my family, friends, acquaintances—and former teachers.

But here’s the little difference between love and convenience. To use my favourite metaphor, it’s the difference between a marriage of love and a marriage of convenience. You might get a match that is, for all practical purposes, a source of envy for the entire world. You might get beauty, wealth, and resources beyond your imagination. But there’s one little thing on which all the taste depends… the ‘salt’ of life.

It’s love. Love alone brings elation. You cannot settle for something and be elated about it.

This wasn’t my love. I could scarcely revel in it.

In any case, I couldn’t join the research programme that year, because the dates had already passed by when the results were declared. That was just as well, for my baby was far too small and helpless. I had one more year to decide, for I could join the next year, or even the year after, since the JRF is valid for two years post the declaration of the result. But I didn’t care much either way—we were far more focused at that point on Sajjad getting his visa and moving to Oman, after which, so would I.

A big part of me didn’t even want to seek admission, because I didn’t want to end up stuck in Aligarh with a research programme to complete, while the life I had chosen for myself—my love, my marriage and my happiness slowly crept farther and farther away from me—a continental shift, so to speak.

No, this wasn’t what I wanted. I’ve always been pretty clear about what I want, and when. All I wanted was to create my cosy little nest again, for us to be reunited. I would not create any fresh entanglements here. All I wanted was to join my man in Oman, to pick up the broken pieces of that dream we shared and make a shiny new rainbow for us. To redesign those rose-tinted glasses to view the world with: so we see only beauty, only joy. Three glasses this time—an additional smaller, rosier one. Yes, that’s what I’d be doing, and that’s where I’d be going.

Soon, very soon now.

Or so I thought.

Chapter 4 : The Reluctant Mother


I’ve been going on and on about how I’m not in love with this baby. How I’ve hated the world since I became pregnant. Perhaps I’ve given out the impression that I never wanted to be a mother at all. Well, that’s not the case. I like kids. Kids like me too. I wanted a couple of my own, definitely. Sajjad and I would have a lot of fun thinking up baby names, talking about the games we’d play with her/him, keeping nicknames and imagining our life with a new one.

But here’s the catch—I just didn’t want one right now, so soon.

Don’t know about other places, other countries and other cultures, but here in India most people think that getting married=having children. Everyone expects you to become pregnant the moment you get married, if not the next day then the very next month, at least. Woe unto you if you want otherwise.

Relatives, acquaintances, in-laws—especially in-laws—will beat the crap out of your brains asking you about the “good news” and why it’s taking “so long”.

And if you tell them the truth—that it’s taking so long because that’s how you want it—then here’s the well-meaning advice: “If you keep delaying you’ll regret it later. There are so many childless couples who regretted their family planning afterwards.”

Ouch! That hurts. Hurts terribly.

So the more people keep bugging you about it the more you hate the idea of ruining your happily married life.

Yes, I said ruin.

A lot of people think that the only purpose of getting married is to produce children. Not me. Like I said before (Chapter 2), for me marriage is all about companionship and cherishing each other. Yes, you do have children, but –and let me write this in bold—IT IS A BY-PRODUCT OR A PROGRESSION OF MARRIAGE, NOT ITS PURPOSE. What I wanted from my marriage was for the two of us to have a lot of ‘alone time’ together, doing all the things we liked, having those perfect romantic dinners and romantic holidays before a third person came along to share every single moment with us. That’s something that would have happened eventually, but I wanted to have a lot of buffer time before that, so I could look back with satisfaction and think—“Yes, I did all that stuff I wanted to. Now I’m ready to welcome my baby.”

But that didn’t happen. And when the shell dropped, for some inexplicable reason, I got the feeling in my head that I HAD LOST AND THEY HAD WON. All those people out there who couldn’t believe that a love marriage was not going wrong somehow, that we were so blissfully married and my husband was not being the restricting, oppressing mullah they had imagined him to be; all those people who had been waiting for something to go wrong; all those people who had wanted me to feel trapped instead of liberated with my marriage, had won. THEY HAD WON AND I HAD LOST.

And that right there is why I hated the fact that I had an unplanned baby on the way.

I NEVER HATED MY BABY. I resented my pregnancy; I resented the whole world, but I NEVER RESENTED THE BABY.

I felt sad for her…or him.

Yes. I felt sad for this tiny, precious little being who ought to be in a happy mother’s womb, a mother who would be overjoyed to have her/him and would have a whale of a time thinking what fun it would be.  I wanted to give my baby that kind of mother.

I cared for the baby. But I couldn’t be happy.

(Read from the beginning)

Chapter 2: That moment when your life flashes before you…


Death.

Its supposed to be the moment when you’re dying, when your whole life moves before your eyes in a flash. I wasn’t dying. I was fully, completely alive. And I was going to bring new life into this world. And yet, I was experiencing that moment.

The only reason I got married so early was because I was in love with this man. Correction. I was head over heels in love with this man. For him, I had turned my life upside down and shaken it up. Just to be with him.

Now, if you’re reading this and you’re not an Indian, you won’t be able to comprehend.  Everybody gets married because they have fallen in love, right? Not so in India.

Here a ‘love marriage’ is an aberration. Something you need to hide or your parents will be sneered at. Here, people marry for their parents’ happiness. Or money. Or prestige. Or to bring forth thorough-bred offspring. Or if they were busy bachelors incapable of cleaning and cooking for themselves–then they get themselves a cleaning and cooking maid, one that they can legally have sex with and who would raise their children, all for free.

So believe you me when I tell you that this love marriage thing was no piece of cake. Everyone told me I would regret this. But I knew I wouldn’t. And I didn’t.

I was truly, really happily married. Every morning I would wake up, watch his sleeping face and feel an overwhelming mixture of thrill and serenity , all at once. I couldn’t just get over the fact that I had him. Here, before me, in my arms. I had every thing I wanted.

“You know I never feel like we’re married,” Sajjad would often tell me. ” It’s just as if we’re a live-in couple!” he would exclaim with wonder. We had heard all the marriage jokes and none of them applied to us. We were in our own private paradise.

I suppose that was because we respected each other as individuals, and never really expected each other to perform the “husband-wife duties”. Or if we did, we never took these for granted. I mean, what the hell, we literally said sweet thank you’s to each other for the littlest chore done. My entire life revolved around this man and being able to spend the maximum time with him.

All my life, from the time I was 12, I had been known as the super ambitious, super-competitive feminist. Everybody thought I would sacrifice anything for my career. But there was something more important to me than even my career.

Yes, I loved my job. Yes, I was crazy about being a journalist. But I could, and I did once, chuck it all up for him.

My biggest, greatest dream was to be with this man. To spend every second with him. To go on vacations round the world, to have romantic dinners, to watch movies together, to share silly, funny jokes, to go on long drives in the rain, to make love in every corner of the house. And I was doing it. I was living the dream.

Until.

I felt my dream slip from my fingers.