This is the second part of the story - Bedroom Politics. You can read the first part here.
The three friends – Mehr, Chitra and Sunaina – were sitting together at their favorite table, waiting for the fourth one to join their weekly lunch date. After ordering food and drinks, they started talking about the events of the last couple of months. The ritual that had begun in college had been going on for almost a decade, but with Meera’s pregnancy and subsequent delivery, the four friends were meeting after a gap of almost three months. A lot had changed in these past few months and each one had secrets that they wanted to share, stories that they wanted to narrate… But there was also a little hesitation, of being judged, ridiculed.
Finally, Meera arrived with a big smile on her face. She sat down and ordered for an Iced Tea.
“It feels so nice to be outside without the baby!” Meera exhaled.
“Aww… Don’t say that Sia is such a sweetheart. You should have brought her along,” Mehr said.
“She is a monster! Now with her birthday approaching, she is getting so naughty. Her nani has her hands full,” she sipped on her water, smiling proudly.
“How’s her father?” Mehr asked.
Meera sighed and looked at all the three expectant faces. She knew they wanted an update, and rightly so. All three had been there, especially Mehr, counseling her and supporting her every step of the way.
“He is fine. We are trying to work things out,” she said nodding slightly.
“I can’t believe you did what you did. I am so proud of you,” Mehr got up and hugged her friend.
Meera hugged her back, smiling.
“I had to do it… for Sia, for myself, for him. He had to understand that what he was doing was wrong. A relationship, a marriage, is between two people… and both of them should have a say. If something is making me uncomfortable, he has to understand.”
Sunaina, who was silent up till now, spoke up softly, “But, still it takes a lot of courage to walk out of a marriage.”
“I know, and to tell you the truth I don’t even know where I got the strength to just ask him to stop. I guess, the motherly instinct just woke up; it was much too strong then the wife one,” she shrugged at the choice of words.
With her hands in her lap, fingers entwined, thumbs rotating, she relayed the story she had told them a couple of times already, “That constant drugging was making me so weak and dizzy all the time… I couldn’t concentrate and with the added responsibility of nurturing the baby growing inside me, I was so tired. I knew, and he knew, it was obviously not good for the baby… and he did stop for a while but then it started again. I had to do something. I had to protect my little girl. I had to protect myself. So, I gave him the ultimatum - stop or I will leave.”
Sunaina, held Meera’s hand. She knew what happened next. Meera, herself, had narrated this story a couple of times… sobbing on the phone, crying when she went to meet the baby… but she also knew that Meera had to get it out of her system… every now and then. She needed confirmation that what she did, what she was doing, was right. Sunaina held Meera’s joined hands and patted them gently.
“You know what hurt the most?” she looked at Sunaina, with her big innocent eyes, filled with tears, “that he didn’t stop me… that first time. I was six months pregnant with his baby and he let me go; he let me walk out of our home. It made me believe for a long time that as if sex was everything; the only thing that mattered in our marriage. My self-esteem shattered, my self-image broke to smithereens.”
She untangled her hands and pressed a tissue to her eyes before the tears could make their way down her cheeks.
Sniffing and sobbing, she smiled, “I am fine.”
“But, I thought everything was okay between you too, now?” Chitra asked, concerned, handing her friend a glass of water.
“Uhmm… Actually not completely okay but we are getting there. He came to visit us in the hospital when Sia was born. He says that seeing her lovely daughter changed something inside of him; that he wouldn’t want her husband to do what he was doing to me. He promised me not to drug me again, to respect my wishes; to give me the time to heal and be ready for intimacy. He begged me to come home with him but I needed time, you know. I can’t just forget everything and start fresh. It’s been 11 months, we are getting to know each other… again. It’s kind of nice, but let’s see what happens next. For the time being I am enjoying raising my daughter and working at the school.”
“Don’t your parents mind? I mean you have been staying with them for two years? Don’t they urge you to go back to Rajan?”
“They are my parents, they understand that I need time to forget and move on.”
“You are lucky,” said Chitra, with a hint of bitterness in her voice.
“What do you mean?” asked Meera.
“I mean not all parents are ready to let their married daughter stay in their home,” she gulped down her scotch.
Sunaina and Mehr shared looks. Was it possible their guarded friend was finally easing up… letting them inside her mind? Mehr decided to take a chance.
“Is everything alright with you?” she asked Chitra.
“Oh yes! It has never been better,” Chitra answered in her trademark style, but with a wide smile on her face. They all looked at their usually silent unexpressive friend who at the moment was nothing short of beaming.
“Why are you all looking at me like that?”
An awkward silence descended on the group… broken by Chitra who began narrating her monologue in an even and unemotional voice.
“Tanay used to hit me… a lot. All the times when I pretended to be clumsy, or say that I had a nasty fall down the stairs or I just slipped in the bathroom, it was because he was angry with me; because of something I did or didn’t do. The hitting was his preferred way of showing displeasure,” she took another sip of her drink.
The friends, who were aware of Tanay’s temper tantrums, had no idea the situation was so bad. Chitra has always portrayed a rosy picture of her family… a loving husband, adorable daughter – a picture perfect family indeed. The cracks were there for everyone to see, but none of them ever questioned her respecting her privacy. The few times they did ask, they had been rebuked by Chitra who insisted that everything was as it should be. This was the first time she was sharing about her personal life, in so much detail, in an explicit manner, and none of the friends wanted to disrupt her stream of consciousness.
“Recently, there were some problems at his work so he was generally in a foul mood. The monster that was reserved for my nights was rearing its ugly head in my daughter’s nightmares too. From a loving and caring father, he was turning into something else, a strict disciplinarian if you can say that. He used to get upset with every little thing that was out of place; if Suhana would make some noise, he would yell at her; if she asked him something, he would just storm out. He said that he had a lot of thing on his mind. Like, we don’t. Anyway, he never hit her… no, that ‘privilege’ was reserved only for me. So, even when Suhana made him angry with her questions or actions or whatever; it took almost nothing for his temper to flare that days, it was my fault and I had to bear the brunt of it,” she smiled sarcastically.
She looked in the distance without seeing anything as if looking in her past, seeing her little girl’s scared face with tears streaming down her face as her father towered over her tiny frame, yelling at her for sitting on his lap when he had just arrived from work.
“I could see she was scared of him. Then, one day, she accidently broke a picture frame that one of his friends had got from Paris. All of us knew he really loved it. So when it broke, my daughter’s heart broke with it. Looking at the shattered pieces on the floor my poor daughter was scared to death. She was shaking and crying bitterly. I tried to soothe her but to no avail. Then, suddenly, she looked up at me and whispered, ‘Will papa hit me too now?’”
A lone tear dropped from her long eyelashes into her scotch glass. Nobody said anything.
Chitra wiped her eyes and spoke again, “That ‘too’ made me realize that what I thought was happening behind closed bedroom doors was ingrained in my little girl’s mind. She was deathly scared of her own father. It made me realize for whom I was tolerating all of this for… the beatings, the humiliation? What kind of image of a woman, a wife I am portraying to my daughter… that of a victim? Of a weak woman who can’t even stand up for herself? Of someone who should bear the torture of her husband, however, unreasonable? My daughter had started to think it was okay for her father to hit me, to hit her? She will grow up one day and God forbid, she is in an abusive relationship, she would think it is alright? That’s how it is supposed to happen? So, instead of my reasoning that by tolerating all this I am providing her with a nurturing and loving environment; my staying in this abusive marriage was doing her more harm than good. That ‘too’ made me realize that enough is enough.”
“So, you left him?!” Meera inquired.
“No, we are still together.”
“The next day, we were sitting together watching TV, him and me. He was drinking and he needed peanuts, so I gave it to him. They were roasted and he wanted salted… So, he slapped me. As I lay there on the floor in a disheveled heap while he kicked me, I could see myself from my baby’s eyes. I could hear Suhana’s voice playing in my ear like a loop – will he hit me too now, will he hit me too now? I don’t know something snapped inside of me. I just got up and slapped him right back, with everything I had, really hard, right across the face. He stumbled and fell on the couch. I still remember him looking up at me as if he had seen a ghost. We kept staring at each other for a long time and then he just got up and went inside the bedroom, without saying a word. I think he could see the hatred on my face, the determination that I wouldn’t tolerate it anymore.”
She smiled, thinking about the memory - the bewildered look on her husband’s face.
“So, the abuse has stopped?”
“Kind of. This happened couple of months back. He hasn’t hit me since then. He does get angry now and then and I know it’ll take time. He can’t go from 80 to 0. He has finally agreed to join anger management classes, so that’s another positive step in the right direction.”
“So, it just stopped? You hit him and it just stopped?” Sunaina was confused.
“The next day, we had a long talk… actually a couple of long talks. I told him about what his daughter thinks of him, what I think of him… How I feel when he insults me for every little thing; hits me because of a bowl of peanuts. I showed him the marks, the welts, the bruises on my body. He looked grief stricken, ashamed. He couldn’t even look me in the eye. Even though, he promised not to lay hands on me again, but you can imagine a man like him, prone to severe temper, being hit by a woman, who according to him should be a weak submissive creature. He bruised my body but I bruised his ego. I didn’t want to take any chances, so I moved out for a couple of weeks and stayed at a hotel. But, he came around. I think he missed Suhana more than he missed me, but that’s fine.”
“Are you sure he can be trusted? Are you scared?”
“I don’t know, but, I am not scared anymore. He knows if I can hit him once, I can do it again. Maybe it was just me standing up to him, challenging him… that was what was needed.”
“But, why didn’t you go to your parents. Why in a hotel?” Meera asked innocently.
“Because everyone’s parents are not as understanding, as welcoming as yours Meera. My mother knew about the abuse for a long time. You know what she told me? That I should adjust; I should not make him angry; that it was my fault that my husband had to resort to such means. Can you believe that?!”
She shook his head angrily.
“And when I went to them afterwards, she refused to let me stay. According to her, a husband’s house is the wife’s house. When she realized what I had done, she was flabbergasted. She was worried that Tanay would leave me. Apparently, in her eyes and mind, there is nothing worse than a divorced woman, not even a physically abused and mentally tortured one.”
Chitra laughed a hollow laugh.
“Why didn’t you tell this to any of us?” Sunaina asked.
“I don’t know. I was worried you might judge me? Me, the strong, independent editor of a leading magazine, being kicked and punched at home. I was embarrassed. I am sorry.”
“You are strong and independent. You have nothing to be ashamed off. You did a brave thing… for yourself and for your daughter. We all are proud of you.”
Chitra smiled and ordered for another drink.
Sunaina who was listening the tales of both the women silently, decided to share her ordeal with her friends too.
“Listening to your stories, I am inspired to share mine as well,” she took a deep breath.
“What happened to you?”
She closed her eyes and mumbled, “The swinger couple I told you about last year, that was me.”
“OH MY GOD!”
“How could you?!”
She opened her eyes and looked at her friend’s faces – replete with shock, sympathy, and a little bit of disgust.
“That’s why I didn’t want to tell you. You guys can be so judgmental!” She went silent.
The three friends looked at each other and were a little ashamed and horrified when they saw the expressions on each one’s faces mirroring the other.
After a pregnant pause, Meera spoke up, “We are sorry. We are not judging you, we are just concerned. Are you alright?”
“Now I am. But I was not for a very long time. The whole experience and then keeping it a secret was taking a toll on my mental faculties. I dreaded weekends. I hated seeing Amar going into a room with someone else’s wife; I shuddered at the touch of an unknown man removing my clothes. It was all horrible.”
She shuddered again.
“Then why did you do it?”
“For my family? For our children? Amar is a wonderful father… I didn’t want to take their father away from my children,” she said sobbing silently.
“So, you still go?”
“No. And Amar and I have been separated for six months.”
“What about the kids now?”
“They are too young to understand anything. I don’t want them to hate either of their parents. They still meet him on alternate weekends. They just know that mom and dad do not get along anymore. I suspect they believe that it is a temporary thing and one day we all will be together, like old days.”
“I doubt it. I mean how can you get over something like this? How can you erase these kinds of memories?”
“How did all start? Tell us everything.”
“It started around two years back. He asked me to go to one of these parties just for fun… to see what goes on behind closed doors. Then from a monthly, it became a fortnightly an then a weekly affair. At first, we just used to go and make conversation and talk… like any other party. But, then the expectations started. People wanted us to participate. He wanted us to participate and –“
She drank from her drink.
“I did… for him, for our marriage. To add some spice to our boring sex life,” she smiled sarcastically.
“I never enjoyed it though. The idea of casual sex never appealed to me. To each his own, I guess.”
“Then why did you go? Why you just didn’t stop?”
“Because he was a wonderful father, a caring husband. Or I thought so, then. I didn’t want to break our family. I just thought it was a weekly chore that I have to accomplish. I never used to think, I never allowed myself to feel anything. Until, I found out I was pregnant.”
Silent tears made their way down her face.
“And I didn’t know whose baby it was,” the lively giggling Sunaina broke down in front of her friends. Chitra and Mehr immediately got up and hugged her. Meera held her hand and offered her a glass of water. Sunaina drank the whole glass in one go. Chitra wiped her tears. Mehr stroked her back.
“I am fine. I am fine.”
“When I told Amar that I was pregnant, he was as shocked as me. It suddenly became my fault… for not insisting on protection, for not taking pills. He asked me to abort it. When I refused, we got into this huge ugly fight. The worst we ever had. And he said something that jolted me. He said, “if they can abort my baby what is the problem with you?’ And I was stunned. What kind of a marriage is this where the husband is impregnating other women and the wife doesn’t even know whose child is she carrying? I was disgusted with myself, with him. Is this the relation I was trying so hard to protect; the marriage for which I was tolerating everything? And was it worth it? What will I tell my children that I don’t know who the father of their step-brother/sister was? Because Amar had outright refused to give the baby his name.”
“So, I walked out... From his house, his life. I went to my parents who thankfully were more accepting than Chitra’s. It took a lot of courage but after a few weeks when they realized that I was not going back, I told my mom everything. As expected, she was scandalized. My father, on the other hand, was really supportive, surprisingly. He told me I could live with them for as long as I wanted.”
She smiled, with tears still clinging to her eyelashes.
“It’s been six months and I haven’t spoken-spoken to him. I don’t even know if he still goes there or someplace else to spice up his sex life. We talk about the kids’ schedule; about the pick-up and drop time; about the weather but I guess he suspects; and I surely know that this is as far as it will go. There is no chance of reconciliation… not for the kids, not for the family.”
Sunaina took a deep breath before continuing, “There are some times when you have to put your self-respect, your happiness first and this is one of those time. I am a mother and I love my children but I am a woman first and I just can’t forgive him for what he made me go through.”
“What about the baby?”
“It was a false positive. When I went to the doctor, he confirmed that it’s a false pregnancy.”
The three women looked at Sunaina with admiration. No one said anything, no words were uttered. They silently held hands to let each other know that they were together.
“Let’s make a pact to tell each other everything from now on. No more secrets, no more suffering silently. We have to be each other’s strength,” Meera said.
“No more judging,” added Sunaina.
All of them nodded.
“Well, in that case, I have to tell you guys something too,” Mehr began.
“What?! Not you too. Ranvir is such a nice guy.”
“Yeah, he is. Uhmm… I can’t get pregnant,” Mehr looked at her empty plate.
“Oh but we thought that Ranvir didn’t want children.”
“That’s what everyone thinks and that’s what makes him so great. When he found out that I can’t conceive, he told everyone – his family, my family, our respective friends – that he doesn’t want kids. So, I could be saved from everyone’s taunts and scrutiny… at least for a while. It was his way of protecting me I guess,” Mehr shrugged.
“That’s… nice,” Meera said.
“Yeah… So, what I wanted to tell you is that we are planning to adopt!”
“Oh my God, really? That’s great!” Chitra gave Mehr a side ward hug.
“I know… we have submitted all the documents and have had one round of interviews, some formalities are still pending after which we will be able to bring a baby home.”
“Your families okay with this decision?”
“At first they weren’t. There were talks about family tree and genetics. Her mother cried that who will take the family name forward. There were lots of tears, lots of arguments but he handled everything. And they have agreed, not completely, but I am sure one look at an innocent smiling baby and they’ll get there.”
“So you are getting a girl or a boy?”
“I want a boy, he wants a girl… we might have to adopt both if we don’t settle on one soon.”
The women laughed together, enjoying the rest of the meal in their shared knowledge that whatever life throws at them – the good, the bad, or the ugly – they had the power in them to handle it, to make it right.