Every Thing We Are is a coming of age novel where Samyukta aka Sam learns that every thing we are is not always on display. This is my first attempt at writing a novel. I started this project as part of #NaNoWriMo2020 before I fell off the wagon. Hope you will read along as I get back to writing it. All episodes of this series are available on the ETWA page. Subscribe to my writing here.
For the first couple of minutes, she walked through the English winter in a blinding rage. When the prickly numbness poked through her outrage, she turned back to where their car was parked. Once the warmth of the heating enveloped her in its arms, she held the steering wheel and let out a low, long frustrated growl through her gritted teeth.
Too much. It was all too much today. Being married, on a dependent visa, with no job, in a foreign country and now this. They were planning to get that child married off. How will Ammu manage? She knew that as an adult there were times when she couldn’t handle being married. Right now, she didn’t know if she was putting pressure on her marriage or if the marriage was putting pressure on her. It’s always been the little things until now. How he glared at her when she swore, how he expected her to be a good cook, how he laughed at wife jokes. Were all marriages like this?
Was it too much to expect Siddharth to be on the right side of LGBTQ rights? Was she making a mountain of a molehill? How exactly did this issue matter in their relationship? In theory, she believed that it was possible for two people with differing opinions to live under the same roof. But her theory had discounted the inherent power structure in a marriage. You need breathing space to be able to disagree. How was she going to stay married her whole life? Was she to tow his line because she was married to him? If she didn’t have an income, do all the decision making rights in the family automatically revert to her husband? She had been collecting doubts about her marriage for a while now. But today her doubts bounced off the walls of her head like the stack of cards when you win a game of Microsoft Solitaire. She drove mindlessly until her muscle memory took her to Caffe Nero, a coffee shop she frequented.
When she got back, Siddharth had already left for work. He must be pissed that I took the car, she thought. When he brings it up, she made a mental note to remind him that it was bought with her savings. It was the least she could do to needle him for what he was getting her to do. She idled around the house, google searched ‘how to earn money on a dependent visa UK’, cleaned up and fixed herself some lunch. When there was nothing left to do but call Ammu, Chanchal calmed herself down with a deep sigh and dialled her number.
Imagine all the made up rules together are the sun and we are planets that revolve around it.
“Ammu, how are you?”
“I am so glad you called, chechi. It’s horrible here. Mama-Papa don’t talk to me. They don’t let me meet my friends or go out. I am trapped. They talk about me as if I were invisible or dead. They’re planning to take me to some guruji to ‘cure’ me. I think I will go mad here.” Sam was relieved to speak to her.
‘Aeey…don’t say that Ammu. I’ll make sure that no one cures you. Trust me, I know how you feel. When I was your age, I used to feel that I am an individual who could choose the life I wanted to live. We are also brought up to believe that, no? But the truth is that we are bound by society and its made up rules. That’s what keeps us from total chaos.” she said, keeping it vague.
“But society does change. It has to. Otherwise we would have all been stuck in the dark ages.” Sam countered.
“Hmm. Are you sure it’s society that’s changing?” Chanchal sharpened her argument.
“Imagine all the made up rules together are the sun and we are planets that revolve around it. And our lifetime is one revolution. But like the earth we also rotate on our own axis. What’s changing is our orbit around the sun. It makes us believe that society is changing. Take marriage for instance. Yes, divorce is acceptable now. But we still consider marriage to be sacred. Or women at work. Socially, yes, it’s acceptable for a woman to work, but that’s provided she takes care of her family first.
Ammu, all I am saying is this. Your love for Madhu might seem harmless to you now. Why should the world care if I love a girl, right?”
“Right…”, Sam agreed tentatively sensing a ‘but’.
“But that is not how the world works. This will affect your parents’ future, as much as it does yours. Society will brand them as bad parents who couldn’t keep their child in line. They will lose respect in their social circle. Their neighbours will speak ill of them behind their backs. And their extended family will forsake them. I am sure you don’t want to see your parents hurt. Chetta worries about you. He worries that your family will be an outcast if this news gets out.” Chanchal said, pouring all her bottled resentment into this task.
“You could get married as soon as you turn 18 in July.”
“No, I don’t want them to get hurt. That’s not my intention at all. I can go away to college and they will not be troubled by me.” Sam reasoned.
“This is not a problem that simply goes away, Ammu. Can’t you see that? There is only one way to save your family. It’s a bit extreme but it’s still better than being cured.” Chanchal swooped in for the kill.
“What is it?” said Sam, her voice perking up with hope.
“You could get married as soon as you turn 18 in July.”
“What? No! What are you saying? But I have to go to college.” Sam blurted out, unthinking.
“Come on! Marriage doesn’t mean the end of life”, said Chanchal, feigning high spirits. “You can still study after you get married. Once you’re married, your parents can breathe easy. And in time, everyone will lay off your back. It’s the perfect plan if you ask me”, she added for good measure.
“But I like women, chechi. I don’t want to marry a man”, Sam said, feeling this loopy conversation tightening around her neck.
“Well, that’s where society comes back into play, isn’t it? In our society, that’s simply not an option. Maybe in another 50 years it would be. But right now? I am sorry to break it to you. But there is no way that’s going to happen”, Chanchal waltzed into morbid reality.
“You don’t need to make a decision right now. But think about how marriage can make your life easier. If you agree to it, it will end all these knots in your life. Don’t think of why you shouldn’t get married. Think of how marriage will make your life easier”, she said matter-of-factly, spinning the narrative on its head.
“Chechi, I thought you were on my side.” cried Sam, in confusion and disbelief.
“I am on your side. I don’t want you to go up against a giant you can’t crack. It will chew you up, spit you out and make you wish you were dead. There is no winning against society. Not for a 17-year-old like you”. That final jab was meant to decimate any resolve Sam had left.
There was silence on Sam’s end. Chanchal continued.
“Ammu, I am on your side. But I really don’t see how you can pull this off. Your family is against you. You have no money. No employable skills or qualification to find work. Humpfh… You don’t even know if Madhu would want to leave with you. You don’t have access to your phone. Take 24 hours. I’ll call you tomorrow. If you can tell me a safe way to get out of home and live independently with Madhu, I will support you”, she said knowing very well that someone as mollycoddled as Ammu, with no real experience of how the world worked would not be able to devise a plan by herself.
She was right.
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