ETWA|Ch11b: A Well-meaning Misstep

Photo by Dan Wayman on Unsplash

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.

Meanwhile, Chanchal was feeling very accomplished at the end of her call with Sam. She was a woman making her own decisions. She had no choice but to make that call. That little girl had to know that she was not alone.  

In the evening, Siddu came home from work, angry. 

“Did you speak to my sister today?” Chanchal knew from his tone that this conversation would be a towering concrete wall to scale.

“Yes”, she warmed herself up.

“What did you say to her?” he was egging her on to take the leap.

“Whatever you asked me to”, she said with conviction, centering her focus for the run up.

“Are you sure? Did you tell her that she just needs to hang in there till she turns 18?” he provided just the momentum he needed.

Chanchal thought back to her call and realised how naive she had been. She was asking a hostage if the kidnapper was in the room. Obviously Amma was listening to their conversation and obviously Ammu could not tell her so. Though the gravity of the situation dawned on her, she decided to stick to her guns.

“Yes I did. And it’s true. You know that she is free once she is 18, right? I am so tired of your liberal facade.” she said accusing him of being two-faced.

“What do you want me to say? I’ll say it anywhere. Yes, I don’t mind anyone else being gay. But not my sister.” Siddu accepted graciously. Chanchal looked around her to an invisible audience, as if to say, see, didn’t I tell you so? 

“I will not have you or her bring down my family’s name.” This was not a new line of argument. It was one of his favourites in fact.

“I am trying to understand you here. What about this is bringing your family name down? Is it the sex? Then what about your ex-girlfriends then? How are they glorifying your family name?” Chanchal asked with as much earnestness as she could gather.

“What?” Siddu was truly unable to compute what his wife was saying. He felt that familiar urge again—to slap her across her brusque, loudmouthed face.

He felt that familiar urge again—to slap her across her brusque, loudmouthed face.

“If she is not allowed to have a girlfriend, how come you’ve had ‘so many’—your words, not mine?” she continued her line of questioning.

“Because I am a man. There, I said it. Happy? I am a man, and I know what to do with my freedom.” he said, trying to distract himself from the urge.

“What makes you think women don’t know what to do with their freedom?”

“First of all, Ammu is a child. Then, women are not brought up with the same kind of exposure as men.” he said triumphantly, suggesting that he had won the argument.

“Well, whose fault is that?” she rolled her eyes and looked around.

“Anyway none of this matters. I am not letting you mess with her future. I told you already that you can go back to your parents and do all this there.” he changed tack.

“Oh yes! You did. Because I am here only as part of your luggage and I can be sent back whenever you so please!” she said, her words dripping with sarcasm.

This time around, she was going to stand her ground. Why should she be the one to storm out of home. That too into that miserable weather outside? She was going to stay at home and ignore him.

She could ignore him but not her marriage. She didn’t know how her parents would react if she said she was having second thoughts about her marriage. Also when is it okay to ask for a separation. Is it as simple as ‘when you don’t want to live with the other person’? When does that moment arise? Is it when they leave dirty clothes on the bed everyday for two years and three months despite daily reminders? Or is it when they have fundamentally different views of the world? Why aren’t we taught all this in school?

Thinking through this was difficult. On the one hand, he didn’t hit her. Her in-laws treated her like their daughter. He didn’t have a problem with her working. He didn’t have a drinking problem. He wasn’t hell bent on having a boy child. It could have been so much worse. But then again, the bar is so low for men in a marriage. Siddu expected her to tow the line. To stay within the bounds of his worldview. If she disagreed with him, it made him mad. If she suggested a different point of view, he would scoff at it. What was the tolerance threshold for these traits? How much was acceptable? She was brought up as a girl and not a person to be able to make such decisions. 

She was brought up as a girl and not a person to be able to make such decisions. 

Whether in the UK or in Uruguay, for a literate and enlightened community, Keralites were probably the most regressive when it came to marriage and family status. She imagined a group of her father’s sisters and sisters-in-law sitting around at the next wedding in the family, talking about her failed marriage.

“Did you hear why Chinnu got divorced?” Kavitha the broadcaster, began. “I heard their wavelengths didn’t match”, she scoffed, answering her own question. The others laughed with derision.

“The number of children I had to make, to stoop to his wavelength!” said Shyla about her dead husband, the father of her five children.

“I stoop every night so that we can get through the day”, winked Padma who was famous for exaggeration.

“I know all the crests and troughs of his wavelength”, said Meena, the retired physics teacher trying to sound dirty.

“You mean when wavelength decreases, frequency increases?” Everyone turned to the oldest aunt Sujatha, who no one expected to join in. 

“What about you, Hema?” Sujatha asked the youngest aunt. “Marriage is a dirty business”, she said tilting her shoulder to one side like Mohanlal, appropriating his iconic dialogue about narcotics. The group burst into spontaneous applause and back-patting. Uproarious laughter erupted.

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Next Chapter|Ch12a: Are Eyes For Seeing?