Limited freedom8 mins 218 8 mins 218
“Thank you for waiting, Ramu.”
“No problem, Madam. Good morning.”
“Good morning, Ramu.”
Ramu was the regular office cab driver who dropped Chitra, Swapna, and Kumar to and from home.
Chitra was always a few minutes late in reaching the office cab every day. Ramu, Swapna and Kumar never minded.
Chitra, Kumar and Swapna traveled together for almost 2 years now. They had become good friends. Kumar, initially, would pull Swapna and Chitra’s leg testing their general knowledge during the morning commute. The two ladies though, in a course of 2 years, had turned the tables around. They now challenged Kumar on a diverse set of current affairs. It was fun. They put him on a spot.
“Are you okay, Chitra?”
“I am okay. Thanks, Swapna. Oh! I forgot to have my breakfast. “
Chitra immediately saw the text from her parents reminding her to eat her breakfast. This was a routine. She replied in the affirmative and gobbled a cold sandwich.
“Water, dear? “ Swapna offered some water.
“Sure, thanks, Swapna.”
Chitra was married for a year and a half now. She was anything, but a happy newly married woman. Chitra was Swapna’s next door neighbor too. Perhaps the walls were weak or may be the screams were too loud. Chitra and her husband fought almost every day. Last night the argument was quite a heated one; it had clearly gone overboard. Every morning, Chitra looked stressed and intensely worried.
Swapna too was married albeit for 10 years now. Hers was a happy marriage. Of course, she had her share of low points, squabbles, disagreements and not-so-great phases in her decade long married life. Nevertheless, Chitra’s case had reached a certain extreme which was dangerous. It was far from a normal marriage.
As Chitra and Swapna walked to their locations at work, Swapna mustered courage and requested Chitra if they could speak. Chitra knew Swapna wanted to ask about her troubled marriage. Chitra liked Swapna. Chitra pursed her lips though, in a slight hint of hesitation.
“Treat me like your elder sister, dear.”
Chitra’s face brightened as if she gave up all her inhibitions and felt ready to welcome Swapna into her little personal world.
At the tea house
On the way back home, Kumar was alone in the cab. Swapna chose a table for two at a popular tea house in a quiet area, not very far from their homes.
Swapna ordered in 2 cups of green tea and a plate of French fries.
“How is everything going, Chitra?”
“I do not know where exactly to start, Swapna Di.”
Swapna felt a strong surge of emotion hearing the address “Di” because Chitra had actually accepted Swapna as family now. It felt very assuring.
“I had an arranged marriage. I did spend considerable amount of time with him. I had mentioned to him that I wanted to work post marriage; I was brought up as an independent and a strong woman. He readily agreed. I shared with him that, I would be taking care of my parents post marriage too. I clearly described my goals, responsibilities and dreams too. So did he. “
Swapna was all ears.
“Everything changed drastically immediately after the marriage. Cold wars turned into ugly exchange of words and accusations. Everything revolved around “money.”
Swapna raised her eyebrows in surprise.
“The expectation from my in-laws is that I give them an account of how and when I spend my money. Every penny that is. Anything I buy for myself or for my family or even to gift my husband, they blame me for “wasting my money” and give me painful smirks. It feels very bad.”
“Initially, I chose to blissfully ignore. I would be this meek person who only blinked when they shouted at me, demanding money. During the honeymoon, my husband asks me for my debit card and the pin. I gave him. I did not mind, we just needed some extra cash. One week later, at the dinner table, he shamelessly shared my last account balance with his mother, as if he was reporting to her and most importantly, meaning to let me know he was not guilty about it.”
“This is mean!” Swapna raised her voice.
“I was deprived of all the happy times that a newly married couple enjoys, Swapna Di. Every conversation I have with the husband eventually led to questioning about what happened to all the money I had earned prior to marriage. I do not get any value for the investments I have made – after all, they are my choices. He expected me to keep hard cash so he decided how I would spend! His sister did the same when she got married?”
Swapna could not agree more.
“How bluntly my husband and his family tell me that I must be grateful they allow me to work. I owe them all the money, they opine. What if a woman asked him about all his earnings? As a couple, we are supposed to have an “equal marriage” wherein both have the authority and say in financial matters. I am definitely not the one who would slog all day and live like an illiterate in financial matters. Hence, I raise my voice, Swapna Di.”
“You know, Chitra. There are still so many barbaric minds out there who believe they can threaten a woman once she is married because she and her family would be bound by the sanctity of the marriage, irrespective of how she is treated. It doesn’t matter for a man?”
“I have disagreed many a time when they ordered me to pay the loans for their house- well; it is under someone else’s name! I am supposed to not lift my head, nod without a word and let the monthly EMI be debited.”
“That will make you a great daughter-in-law.” Swapna could not bear to hear such erratic behavior.
“Swapna Di, all I got in return for raising my voice is, pointless explanations and rude excuses each time I proposed watching a movie or having a quiet dinner with my so called husband.”
“When I once mentioned how I someday, would love to build a cozy home for my parents, the husband, his sister, his parents pounced on me like I have committed a crime. They reprimanded me and abused me for days, leaving me in utter shock. They let me know that, if I ever wanted to save my marriage, I had to leave my parents and forget them forever. My sister, who was the other daughter, could take care of them. If I did not budge, they left me an ultimatum – that I would be thrown out of the house as well as their lives.”
Swapna had started trembling by now.
“Of late, all the fights are because, I wanted to take care of my dad’s health. He has been suffering for months now, due to a stubborn back ache that returns frequently and I want to get him treated in the best way. Loud screams and howling is all because I agreed to “pay” for my “own father’s” “medical treatment.” Can you believe this, Swapna Di?”
Swapna Di could not believe, she could not even imagine what she heard. She was left in tears. Chitra was not only tortured but also treated with absolutely no self-respect.
Swapna squeezed Chitra’s hands.
“I am alright, Di. Not to worry. I am a strong girl. My parents have worked day in and day out to ensure my sister and I got the best upbringing and best education. All my success and accomplishments are merely the result of their sacrifice and hard work. I owe them my life! You think I am someone who would give up if a few strangers (she did not refer to her new family as “family” – they did not deserve one bit) came and told me, “you are married, hence an outsider in your parents’ life?” I am clearly stronger than that. “
“Yes, Chitra. I am extremely proud of you. I have to share this with you. I too had broken off my engagement several years ago. I requested and informed during my courtship, that my parents would live with us just like his parents would. He assumed he could change his stand, post the engagement. He threatened to break off the engagement if I did not take back my “demand.” Many relatives believed, we, as a bride’s family would give in. I pondered about it for a few days. I realized one truth- If he who was absolutely convinced that his wife should take care of his parents and called it her sacred responsibility, but could not fathom his own responsibility for her parents as a son-in-law, if he shamelessly planned to kick his wife’s parents out of her partner’s life, he is the last person I would even want to talk, forget spending the rest of his life with.”
“Today, I am with a wonderful man. My parents and his parents are with us. We all live in harmony. I am proud of my decision, Chitra.”
“Thank you, Di. I am determined to fight for what is right, Di. A daughter is and should indeed be happily taking care of her parents. It is not simply a son’s job. A wife too should be allowed to make her own financial decisions. It is not blindly a man’s cup of tea. If someone advises me against supporting my parents and living my dreams, in order to save my marriage and live like a door mat in someone else’s life, I will choose to happily move on in my life. I am not begging for any “limited freedom” on offer.“
Swapna Di smiled and promised Chitra whatever support she would need in her journey.
A woman is a complete woman when she embraces and empowers another woman wholeheartedly. The two walked out of the cafe having had a meaningful time.