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Amrita Rajpal



Amrita Rajpal


The Dichotomy

The Dichotomy

9 mins 615 9 mins 615

It was 12.30 at night .The pitch and volume of the people talking was steadily increasing. Uma was waiting for it to reach a crescendo. Judging by the time, it shouldn’t take too long,. They had been at it for nearly one hour. She hoped it would not end in the same way it had the last time. With that thought in mind she pulled up the bed covers to her chin and squeezed her eyes shut. Better to grab as much rest as she could when it was possible. She was drifting into a warm languorous sleep when suddenly she heard the crash. Her hand immediately went out to hold her 9 year old son to prevent him from waking up with a start. He was oblivious to what was happening. The room door opened and Raja strode in. His eyes were feral and his face was puffed with anger. In 2 large strides he crossed the room and reached for the car keys mumbling under his breath that he would show them. In less than a second he was gone. Uma knew that it would be a long night now. She sat up in bed, her hand still resting on her son’s stomach. She could feel his steady breathing beneath her hand. It was so peaceful, so undisturbed. In a minute they would all be here in her bedroom. She tried to rub the sleep out of her eyes.

Elder Chachaji (uncle) came in first. His mouth was filled with betel leaves and tobacco. He had been masticating the concoction of tobacco and betel leaves for some time and now it became a watery paste which was frothing against his lips and threatening to spill out from his mouth. He asked “Did he tell you where he was going”. Little bits of red liquid trickled out from the sides of his mouth. What he said may have been hard to decipher for just anyone, what with him having to maneuver his tongue and mouth to prevent salivating along with the additional task of getting words out of his mouth, but Uma had been married in this house for ten years. ”No”, she replied. Just then the younger Chachaji (uncle) entered. Sleep and fatigue set Uma’s mind wandering. Unintelligible thoughts started invading her consciousness. She became cognizant of the fact that elder Chachaji’s kurta and younger Chachaji’s kurta were starched and sparkling white. She imagined Chachiji (aunty) entering and holding both their hands and pulling them up and proclaiming ‘My family whitest’, like the popular washing powder advertisement on TV nowadays.

“Did he tell you where he was going” Chachaji asked brusquely interrupting her thoughts and she bit back a hysterical giggle just in time. Composing herself she attempted to look pained and troubled. She shook her head in denial. Just then her mother in law entered. Her statuesque body looked regal and majestic. Her demeanor reeked of nobility and breeding. She came and sat on one edge of the bed. “All of you are troubling him. Why don’t you leave my son alone? Give him his share. Give him what his father worked for these many years. ”Despite being 75 years of age her voice was firm and strong. She looked every bit the matriarchal head of the family. Both the Chachaji’s ( uncle’s) looked at each other. “You know we are happy to give him a share but he cannot get it if he doesn’t come to work. It wasn’t only your husband that had worked for all this. We have all put in our sweat and blood. He can come and work and share the profits. But we cannot give him anything if he doesn’t work.”

Uma had been through this metanarrative so many times, she almost mouthed the words of both her mother in law and Chachaji. A wave of sleep danced over her head threatening to engulf her. It had been a very long day. She sat up straighter in bed trying to ward of the messengers’ of slumber by keeping upright. She opened her eyes wider. She saw her mother in law and Chachaji’s staring at her. She was sure they must be wondering at the kind of woman she was. After all who would want to sleep when her diasporic husband was drifting about in search of inexorable justice? She looked down and made her face look suitably sad searching her mind for something to say. 

 She opened her mouth but no words came out. What could she say that had not been said before. Her mother in law walked out of the room with her back ramrod straight, wiping her eyes. Uma rubbed her eyes, pinching them together tightly hoping that she could make them squeeze out a few tears and live upto the image that was expected of her as a devoted and understanding wife. But her orbs had the barren and parched look of a dehydrated desert. Both the Chachaji’s left the room telling her that she was to inform them when he came home.


Now was the difficult part. It was only 1pm. She had a long night to pass. She sat up leaning against the wall and hugged her knees to her chest willing her eyes to stay open. What would it look like if someone came and saw her, the wife sleeping in the midst of a family feud while her supposedly ‘wronged’ husband had left home in rage in the darkness of the night? This was a joint family where twenty people lived in the same house. Everyone was interested in everyone else’s life for various reasons. If anyone came to find out about Raja and found her sleeping they would call her callous and cold blooded. Appearances had to be maintained and pretenses had to be kept and to do that on this dark cold night she had to keep herself awake. She felt her back start to throb due to her awkward position and repositioned herself to get more comfortable.

She wondered at her situation. Her husband was fighting with his uncles for his share in property. He didn’t want to work and they didn’t want to give him his share. She had nothing to do with this. Yet she was part of this drama and had to perform the role of the dutiful concerned wife and the others would play the role of the loving family and her husband would play the role of the angry young man.

She decided to contemplate on something to keep herself awake. It had to be a thought of a critical nature to jostle her out of her need to sleep. She played around with the thoughts in her head and decided to let the dice fall on something that would affect her deeply. What could be frightening in this situation? She let herself think of Raja. What if in a fit of anger he drove rashly, which he normally did anyway and there was an accident? What if he didn’t come back? She tried to visualize the scenario. The white sheet covering his body on a stretcher in the large verandah of the bungalow. A sea of people wearing mourning white surrounding him. She tried to feel something. After all it was only natural for anyone to break down if such a calamity had to befall them. She felt an emotional emptiness. Her thoughts took her back to when she was in the 10th standard. She had been reading the book ‘Love Story’ and she had mentally embodied the role of the protagonist. At that time she had tangibly felt the cancer eating into her body . She had heard the angels of death calling her. Time was running out. Soon she would have to take leave of her love and her life. She had gone and locked herself in the bathroom, lest anyone see her and think she was mad. In the confines of the bathroom she had sobbed bitterly for hours. She had wept for the man who loved her. The life that they would never have. The loneliness he would face. She searched for those feelings now. This was reality. That had been a flight of fancy. She felt no such thing now. There was no emotion left in her. Just fatigue.


And then came the horrifying thought. What if the tears refused to come out then? What would people say? How would she explain it? She started thinking of all the tragic movies she’d seen. Could any of them trigger her in such a way that would make her tears would pour out. But the thought of remembering anything was exhausting.

 This was not working out. She would have to set her mind on something more practical. She started thinking of what she would carry for lunch the next day. There were lady fingers in the refrigerator. She wished she could cook them right now and save time in the morning. She was awake anyway. But it would look so silly if someone saw her in the kitchen cooking lunch at 1.30 in the morning.

Suddenly she felt someone shaking her shoulder. Totally disoriented she opened her eyes groggily. Elder Chachaji was staring at her in disapproval. “You went to sleep? He hasn’t come home as yet? Don't you care at all for your husband”, he asked in disdain. Everything came back to Uma immediately. There had been an argument . Raja and his uncles had fought. Raja had left home in fury. He had still not come home. She was supposed to be concerned and anxious Oh my God, she had fallen asleep. Her worst fears had been realized. Now everyone in the family would talk about how heartless she was. She sat up straight. Keeping quiet. As usual there was nothing to say. Chachaji walked out in disgust.

Uma saw the time it was 5.30. She looked down at her son and lovingly stroked his head. Her head and body were aching from lack of rest . She went into the kitchen and made the lady finger vegetable for lunch. She started packing lunch for herself and her son dreading the thought that if Raja did not return soon she may have to miss work. What would everyone in the family think if she went to work and he hadn’t returned? But how could she just take leave when she liked. She had a responsible position and she had to pay school fees and god knows how many expenses. But on the other hand how would it look, the wife going to work while the husband was missing. Just then she heard the door bell ring. A wave of relief washed over her. He had come. She could go to work. She went to wake up her son for school. Her mother in law met her in the corridor. “Raja is sleeping in my room. Don’t wake him. Poor man, he must not have slept all night. God knows what stress he’s going through. He’s just gone to sleep. I’ll wake him late in the afternoon to give him lunch”.


Uma walked on, she had to get her son ready for school and get dressed for work. As she was leaving for work she looked at her face in the mirror. She touched up the dark circles under her eyes with concealer and saw a woman with a perfectly made up face, scarlet lips and high heels. She had two meetings in the morning and looked every bit the professional who had her life totally under her control.

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