She had threatened the week before, “I hate you. Don’t dare marry my son. He is a patient of acute depression. If something happens to him, I’ll have your entire family killed. I have sent my agents after you and your father. I know of every single move of yours.”
I wasn’t like any other bride. I wasn’t wearing heavy lehangas or sarees. I was wearing a dark-violet Georgette suit with peach colored embroidery and I had no make-up. As I stood next to Manish outside one of the Type IV government quarters of Munirka on that cold winter eve, I was shivering. Shivering not because of the chilling winter but because of fear and guilt. Fear of a life ahead of me of which I had no idea about. Guilt because I had chosen him against my family’s wishes.
A fairly tolerable first week, with brickbats from not just the immediate family but from the extended family too. A hurried wedding reception to cast away gossipers. I was now sure that come what may I have to continue this life since I chose it.
The first instruction: Change your surname.
Mistake number 1: I obeyed.
The second rule: I shall not visit my parents and I had to give it in writing.
Manish and his siblings did fight for me. But my father-in-law requested me to agree to it to maintain peace at home.
Mistake number 2: I obeyed.
One evening, around 8.45 p.m., I reached home with Manish after a long day at work. Mother-in-law offered hot water to Manish and told me, “Since I don’t let you sleep with him you have now started spending time in hotel rooms on the pretext of being in office?” I swallowed my pride as both Manish’s younger brother and sister were sitting right there. Manish too did not respond because I guess he was habitual of his mother’s taunts.
Over the weekend, Manish had bought me glass bangles and asked me to make their jingling sound whenever I missed him. That very night, my mother-in-law broke each of the bangles.
Another evening upon our return from work she said, “Beta, I went to the market this eve and there were these fresh farm-grown peas, so I bought 5 kgs. We’ll refrigerate it. You shell them fast so you can use them tomorrow morning for the curry.”
I washed my hands and shelled all the peas.
The next morning, I searched for the packet of peas that I had kept in the refrigerator the previous night. But I couldn’t find it anywhere. Since I had to rush out at 7, I thought I’ll have some milk and go. I boiled a fresh packet of milk. and then I managed a dry-wash with the allotted half bucket of water ensuring no noise so that the sleeping siblings who had just returned from their night shifts don’t get disturbed. It was a warning I got every night as I slept on the floor next to mother-in-law’s bed. After getting ready, I went to kitchen to get a glass of milk for father-in-law and myself only to find an empty tumbler. The droplets of milk beneath the kitchen sink I ignored and picked up another tumbler to boil another packet of milk. Beneath the tumbler I found the packet of peas sitting peacefully. As I turned, I was face to face with mother-in-law who shouted, “You threw the entire tumbler of milk down the drain just because it wasn’t bought by your bloody father? And why have you kept the packet of peas underneath tumblers? You didn’t want to cook food. Right???”
I was about to reply when father-in-law waved from behind requesting me with folded hands to remain silent.
Mistake number 4: I did not retaliate.
While chopping vegetables/fruits or kneading the dough for chappattis, I would be deliberately asked to leave the kitchen on the pretext of either looking at who is at the door, or to get something that wasn’t required urgently. As soon as I returned I would be asked to wash my hands with soap. It was 1.2 degrees Celsius and my fingers were swollen and reddish in colour to match frozen sausages. And the hand washing tally sometimes went up to about 50-60 times in a day. It was only mandatory for me as I was supposedly from a lower caste even though in all my certificates my caste was mentioned as GENERAL. In my hometown, we were supposedly Brahmins, the upper-most caste.
As Manish started revolting against the behaviour meted out to me, things started improving on the forefront. When Manish was on official tours, serving spoons, rolling pins and hangers were used to show displeasure. And she cursed me all night saying my parents and siblings will get killed or will meet with accidents. The worst was when she cursed me on every possible opportunity saying that I’ll give birth to dead babies. The 22-year old naive me didn’t realize the stupidity of her words. How was I ever going to conceive when I was sleeping with her and not my husband? I was scared of her and she knew it. She abused me continuously. And I kept bearing all her tortures because deep within I always thought that it was all my fault.
Mistake number 4 (Biggest Mistake): I accepted whatever my in-laws ordered in anticipation of a bright life in the near future. I was also made to promise that I will not disclose anything to Manish to maintain peace and harmony.
Wiping off the tears from her cheeks Kavya asked, “Amma, so when did you and Papa started living like a couple? How did you get out of that hell? Why did Papa let you suffer so much?”
I replied, “After about a month and a half, when she realized that your Papa wasn’t going to abandon me, she acted like the most loving mother in the world and declared us husband and wife. But she kept threatening and abusing me physically and mentally. Since I never told your Papa, he was unaware of it. I kept chanting Shri Ganeshaya Namah thinking God will come and help me like he helped Draupadi. That’s when I realized God is nowhere. It was much later that I realized that the God was none other than I myself. It was my attitude towards myself that mattered. The stories that are written in our epics are nothing but man-made stories. What we were not taught was that the supreme energy is within us and we keep searching for it outside like fools. I lost your elder brother/sister in the ninth week of conception to an accident which could have put your grandma behind the bars and left me infertile. But your grandpa’s folded hands like always stopped me from letting your Papa lodge a police complaint. We left that house on that very night. We spent the night in the garage where the watchmen kept staring at us and passing comments. Your Papa kept holding my hands tightly all through the night and he kept holding them and making me feel strong till date. Continuous rubbing of a soft rope too leaves marks on a stone. Just like that, this horrible experience left me completely dejected, depressed and I started showing withdrawal symptoms. Three long years of treatment and conceiving you helped me get back to my normal self. Your birth, that was the day when I Ridhi Iyer Malhotra, cried one last time and decided that never again shall I let anyone play with my self-esteem. Never again will I let anyone break my self-confidence. Never again will I let anyone else decide what my life would look like.”
Kavya said, “Amma, hats off to you and Papa for going through such horrible times and still managing to be winners in life. I need your blessings before I get in to this crucial relationship tomorrow.”
“My child, I want you to unlearn many things that I taught you as a child. Rather I want you to change them a little bit. I taught you to respect your elders. Today I tell you to respect them till they respect your identity and existence. Never let anyone hurt your sentiments. Be assertive. No need to make unnecessary compromises. Do not hurt anyone but don’t let anyone else hurt you too. Most of all, be brave and love and respect yourself before you love or respect anyone else. Being selfish is much better than being a victim. I wish you enough courage, enough maturity, enough intellect to make wise decisions. Listen to all, but use your brain. Keep your intentions and deeds clear. And most of all, communicate with all those who need to know what you’re going through. Especially keep your communication clear with your husband. He must know what he needs to know. It was my silence that encouraged her to commit all that she did. I am as guilty as much as her in what I underwent. I wish you a loving, understanding and peaceful relationship. And most importantly, if God forbid something goes wrong, don’t blame yourself for your choice. Come back to us for any help. Papa and I will always be there for you. Remember this: To us nothing matters more than you. I love you my baby.”
An attempt at fiction to describe the status of domestic violence in India.