“Reduce the fire and let it simmer,” Shanti instructed the cook. Just as she blurted out those words, she felt as though she was referring to herself and not the cooking vessel. She was simmering inside. Anger in her heart refused to die down.
She tried to bring her focus back to the boiling curry. Small bubbles would erupt and then would die down almost immediately. The slow fire prevented any spilling. Just like her anger, she thought again. She was fuming but not flaring. With all explosions covered under the lid.
She smiled at her choice of words, pushed the thought to the back of her mind and started with her preparations. At the end of two hours, she was exhausted from trying hard not to think and trying harder to focus on her work. Something inside her was burning, and she could feel the heat.
It was nearly two decades since she left behind everything to be a part of his life. All these years she made every attempt to adopt and adapt. New language, new culture, food habits, lifestyle changes and belief systems – she had brought so many changes in herself that at times she didn’t seem to match her old pics. She was a new metamorphosed individual.
Yet after so many years, so many changes and two teenaged kids between them – Shanti still felt like an outsider in his home, amongst his family. And however much she tried, she could not be a part of them. How could she, she was not born as one of them. She was an alien, new to their city, their language, their culture and their heritage. She didn’t grow up in those same lanes, celebrating their festivals, eating the same delicacies, singing the same songs, following the same rituals. And even though she made every attempt to be a part of all the above, she never really belonged there. Or so they thought.
Fitting-in was always a challenge. She constantly tried to maintain the delicate balance between his and his family’s expectations. He wanted her to be independent, they expected her to be dependent. He would say manage your career, they wanted her to focus on home. He treated her as an equal, they as secondary to him. He would seek her opinion, they would assume she has none. Her well-being was important, only because it facilitated his. And so she would quietly stand under his shadow, becoming his pillar of strength.
And as years passed, Shanti believed that she had learnt to move on. She was a true personification of her name – silent and peaceful. Without uttering a word she accepted all remarks and feedback. She never spoke back, shed silent tears, and then accepted her short-comings and ignored those of others. Erasing past memories, ignoring comments and complaints, accepting changes and muting the revolting thoughts in her head, she kept moving ahead. But today it was all coming back. Today was different. Today she wasn’t willing to accept anything. She couldn’t, even though she was trying very hard.
The phone call left her shaken. She remembered each word spoken. And they kept rankling in her head. For the first time in so many years, she thought it was her chance at proving her dedication towards his family and their traditions. It was her chance at organising the annual family feast. Over the years, being a silent apprentice of family elders, she had learnt even the minutest detail. And it was her chance of showcasing her skills. She had planned everything in her head. She had thought of ideas of making things interesting for kids yet retaining all traditional flavours. From the menu to décor to gifts, she knew exactly what was to be done.
But the phone call informed her that it was not to be. The eldest daughter was being called to replace the family matriarch. It was believed that she has imbibed these traditions well, having grown up among them. The family traditions were to be upheld. Any deviation from the past was feared to be detrimental to family welfare. So rituals couldn’t be compromised with. And someone born outside the boundaries of caste, language or religion was believed to not understand the relevance of these ‘family-traditions’.
Was it such a big deal? Shanti argued with herself. It was just another family gathering. Just another occasion for everyone to feel happy and joyful. She just had to do what she had done for years. She just had to be a silent participant, with everyone assuming her happiness in theirs.
Yet she couldn’t feel any joy. The alienation, though subtle, was there, was evident. This feast was becoming her fight to get her space in the house she called her own. The house which she now considered her world. For once she wanted to hear her own voice, in her own home. She wanted to own the house and wanted it to be a part of her. She wanted to break open the cage and breathe freely. Without feeling the burden of family expectations and traditions.
The fire was still burning and the curry was still simmering. Everyone had gathered in the house to enjoy the feast. Everything was as it was supposed to be. Everything as per the ritual, as per the tradition. Yet there was one person who had silently moved away. And for once, amongst all the noise, a silence was missed.