Fatal Little Things
Fatal Little Things
It was a typical Indian wedding with lots of noises and lots of commotion. The Mehra’s were happily slaving themselves away for the success of the event, for them, their 23-year-old daughter was already late to give away and this fortunate event was not to be undermined. Mrs Mehra, smiling as widely as her mouth would get, donning the shiniest jewels from her ‘arsenal’, was ‘playing the hostess’ for every guest in her ‘range’. Mr Mehra, holding both hands behind his back like a ‘Nawab’, was doing evening walks in the dining and kitchen area, ordering something or asking something, trying to help, although for the kitchen staff he was more of an ‘un-removable’ nuisance. All this family madness was well within Shanti’s viewing range, who from her bridal seat could see all the drama unfold. She tried looking for her younger brother in the crowd but could only see glimpses here and there of the busy person, as he would disappear into the chaos as soon as she could set her eyes on him. She found it humorous, these circumstances in which she had never seen her family in. “What’s the matter?” asked Ajay from his ‘groom’s seat’ when he saw his new bride smiling, Shanti smiled and shook her head. Ajay looked very uncomfortable in his heavy clothes in the hot weather, actually, both were, but Shanti had a ‘temporary maid’ whose sole job for the evening was to wipe away any traces of sweat from her brows before it could ruin her heavy makeup. Aside from that, Ajay and Shanti looked great together, smiling and talking in their seats, they provided perfect visual incentives for their slaving families.
One would almost be tempted to believe it a love story fulfilled, but the couple hadn’t even known each other six months prior. Ajay, a 33-year-old civil engineer, was simply living his daily life when his parents approached him with the proposal. Ever a “man of the people”, Ajay had lived most of his life on the wishes of others, especially his parents, and barely ever had any ambition or desire to call his own. Maybe he understood what marriage meant or maybe he fully didn’t, whichever it may have been his answer was a mild “OK”. He saw no wrong in it, it was his parents’ wish, the girl was pretty and his colleagues liked the idea of a young maiden “bhabhi”. The man of the people was satisfied with his condition.
Another party that was absolutely ecstatic by this deal were Shanti’s parents. The ten years age difference made no issue for them, “he may be old for her, but he’s still good for her”, that’s how they thought of it. Shanti had just graduated her ‘Bachelors’, a ripe age for marriage, according to some and an offer from a high-class family with a civil engineer for a son was just godsend. Shanti, who was still dreaming of a ‘crazy youth’, defended her ground for some time, but was soon bribed by her mother with the promises of a “grand-life” in a big city, being a girl who always wished to leave her rural homeland behind, Shanti caved in like a ‘sinkhole’. She was 23, but still a smart girl, perhaps she knew what she was doing. It was a hesitant, shy, yet a willing “yes” from her.
After the wedding, the couple went and settled in the capital city, where they rented an apartment in a residential building with two rooms and a balcony. Born and raised in a spacey bungalow in the countryside, the tight spaces of the city life took some getting used to for Shanti. But for the moment, she was happy, or excited, to be out of the place she had always wanted to leave. Ajay quickly got himself busy with his work, he was one of those “Indian good boys” who said little and did more or who obeyed more and refuted little.
Forbidden from any paid work or further studies by her in-laws, Shanti tried her best to pass her time doing every single necessary(or unnecessary) household chore she could think of, trying her best to play the role of the “good Indian wife”. But all of that would still not keep her busy enough till Ajay arrived; who - when he does arrive - was also not a very good company as his worn out, tired and almost collapsing self. Shanti’s days would be spent mostly looking for extra corners of the house to clean or searching for extra channels on the television.
Cabin fever soon kicked in, and the bored housewife started to frantically think up newer and newer ways to stay out of the house. “Let’s go shopping,” she’d say as soon as the husband would cross the door line. The man unable to say “no”, would sloth his way through his husbandly duties, dragging himself with every step with a bent down head. Shanti didn’t mind, she just wanted to stay away from her loneliness. She’d pick random things to decorate the house, well it seemed random to Ajay anyway, who would simply stand there thinking why they need beanbags when they have good furniture. Little did he know how great “Deepika Padukone” looked on her beanbag in “Cocktail”. And then there’s the cat, that she got, randomly one day, just while passing by a pet store, a cat resembling “Snowball” from “Stuart Little”, apparently. Again Ajay had neither any say nor any understanding in the matter. One night out would heal Shanti's desperation for about a week, but then the cabin fever would return and the process redone. Pretty soon it became a ‘weekend thing’; movies, restaurants’, shopping and shuffle.
Thus began Ajay’s ordeal, a man of 34 now, made older by work, environment and Indian food, with a hint of alcoholism. He was now a perfect picture of a typical Indian working-class middle-aged man and thus not very nimble or enduring like his young wife at the summit of her youth. His only desire in life was to return home to his iced whiskey glass and open balcony, his open balcony, his place, his man-cave of peace, away from the noise called life. He’d mostly get some time alone when Shanti would watch her favourite TV serials every night (except Sundays), and he would get to enjoy his cold whiskey in his balcony, so he thought “that’s that”.
On one of their weekends, during the summer, the couple had planned to go to a party - well Shanti had anyway, Ajay just couldn’t say “no”. Ajay hadn’t had a particularly good day on his part; his boss had scolded him pretty badly and according to him, unjustly. And the colleagues who supported Ajay had also criticized him for his over docility and told him to act more like a man, although, curiously enough, no descriptions were given by them on the matter, no how to's, just "Come on! Be a MAN". Ajay really wanted to prove that wrong, prove himself more of a ‘man’.
Shanti, on the other hand, had an even worse emergency on her hands, her rival in the ‘kitty party’, Mrs Sharma, had recently gone to Goa for a holiday, and had thousands of pictures to show off, which she flamboyantly did, ‘in the face’ of her favourite rival. Shanti had to think up a way to ‘return fire’, and in that desperation, planned a weekend party, of which her plus one was made privy of only when he entered the door, tired from the day’s work, humiliated by boss and friends alike. None of the two asked each other about their ‘day’, so none of the two understood; they simply went along.
“Hurry up! Hurry up!” Shanti was shouting as she hurriedly got dressed. An unwilling Ajay did his best to try to convince her that there’s still an hour till their planned departure but a woman preparing for an event is like a soldier preparing for war, unstoppable. Although, in Shanti's defence, Ajay in his brooding unwilling self was treading lazy as she got ready, ultimately, as a woman's prerogative, in the end it was Shanti who had to be waited for. They locked the cat in a room, to keep its ‘field of destruction’ limited, and headed off.
And half a kilometre later were stopped by the traffic. It was thick, it was long and it was in India. The inevitability of a long wait, in the noise and the smell, brought out the worst side of the two frustrated heads.
“This is your fault,” Shanti used the housewife’s cliché.
“What did I do?” Ajay answered with a frown, already having been called names by fellow hot-headed drivers on the road, coupled with the day's story, he was near boiling point.
“If only you got ready when I told you to...”
“What! You were the one who took too much time to get ready.”
From there on the argument went back to some nights before, when they fought about the empty whiskey bottles lying around, and changed up to reckless expenses by Shanti which was in return blamed to Ajay’s drinking problem, and then changed again to the bad activities of the cat, on which they both agreed. Finally, the plan was cancelled, the traffic was unbearable and their mood had soured, more than before, so they decided: “Let’s just go back”.
They came back with exhausted looks on their faces, gone expecting some fun but back after some more fights, as the drivers who shouted at them as they moved forward also shouted at them when they turned around. No amount of the cat’s “nyah nyaah’s” and “meao mao’s” was enough to redeem their night.
Desperate to have some semblance of mind before they go to bed, Ajay brought out his whiskey and went to the balcony, while Shanti turned on the TV. One of her frequented serials was having a repeat telecast and the episode showed the protagonist being denied by her in-laws the opportunity to become a police officer. Shanti connected well with the storyline and her mood of the evening.
Soon it was dinner time. Ajay, drunk, came to the kitchen, sat down at the dinner table and was faced by dish placement and dinner servings that seemed a bit harsher than usual.
“What happened?” asked Ajay, with the voice that changed tone with his irregular consciousness, but he was visibly displeased.
“Nothing,” Shanti answered with a brooding short deep voice.
“Then why are you eating like that?”
“Now you don’t like the way I eat.”
“Arrey...this girl wants to fight...I simply asked you a question.”
“What I do is none of your business.”
“What is that...I’m your husband...Talk properly...”
“Then do husband-like things.”
An awkward tense silence fell over the atmosphere. Apparently, in all this anger, neither of them realised how both of them are behaving differently than usual (talking out of their characters), except the cat, who having had its dinner, couldn’t care less and slept through it all. Pretty soon, they couldn’t stand each other enough to finish dinner.
“If only... even I want to work.” Murmured Shanti while washing dishes, unbeknownst to her, Ajay was wandering right behind her and whose ears had focused very well on the “If only”.
“If only...If only WHAT... speak clearly.”
He roared at Shanti, who was not as much scared as much as she was infuriated at the shock of the man’s roar and sudden appearance.
“You have problems with everything I do, why don’t you just tie me down with chains?” Shanti shouted, her inner voice now coming out.
Normally, Ajay would have given up and just taken any form of verbal abuse from the frustrated housewife, but tonight three bottles of whiskey said ‘no’.
“Woman.....What are you talking about?”
Ajay knew exactly what she was talking about; he was just fishing for an argument.
“You know exactly what I’m talking about.”
“Hmmm...” The drunkard tried to fake ignorance but couldn’t escape the ‘fury’s gaze’. “I never stopped you.”
“But your mother does.” Shanti’s voice took a turn for contempt. “And you don’t say much in front of her...”
“That is your business.”
“I am your wife and she is your mother. IT IS YOUR BUSINESS.”
“Aaaah...” Ajay waved both his hands in denial, he no longer had any replies, she was right, and he knew that he just never had the courage to face his mother. He tried to escape her by retreating to the balcony but was chased by the woman with a mission.
“What? No answer?” Shanti teasingly poked him, still enraged, a gesture for him to admit surrender; she’d at least salvage that much from her predicament.
“Go away.” Ajay shooed her, bothered more by his ‘man-cave’ being invaded, he tried to recollect whatever ‘manhood’ he had left.
Shanti, determined, kept up her poking; still looking for the surrender. Ajay tickled by it was starting to giggle a bit, witnessing which Shanti had started to smile a bit, both still infuriated at each other but unable to deny their bodily responses. Ajay faced Shanti, grabbed both of her arms, and tried to push her back to the room. Shanti, still stubborn, tried to push back. They were now both wrestling in the balcony like little kids. Ajay managed to push her inside the door, now all he had to do was close the door and he’d be alone, at peace. He quickly sprung away from her (at least as quick as a drunk-man could), and tried to close the door, Shanti sharply behind him, still resolute.
What both of them had forgotten was the ‘Deepika Padukone beanbag’ that Shanti had kept in the balcony to dry (because someone from the kitty-party had told her it needed to be dried to be cleaned). And like the main villain of a detective thriller, it had hidden its presence as a silhouette in the darkness, now revealing ‘itself’ to do much damage. The unsuspecting Ajay, rejoicing his victory, ran his foot right at it, and before he could understand it, he was falling over the railings, into the empty space on the night, high up from the ground. Shanti, in a moment of instant instinct, grabbed Ajay’s hand, only to have her head ram on the side of the balcony door by its falling momentum. The final scene she saw as she was falling and fainting simultaneously, was her husband’s legs disappearing down the balcony railings. She fell down and fainted on the other side of the door, the opposite side to her fallen husband.
Next morning, the gleaming sunlight, and the rumblings of the cat searching for food, woke Shanti up. With a thumping headache, a swollen head, and shaky memory Shanti slowly realised, she may have lost a spouse.