Trapped in a Web
One last trip to the bathroom before he leaves for work. He is torn between anger and concern – can I manage on my own? Why did I have to do this today of all the days. Then he drops a bombshell. “Can’t even ask mother to come. Dad’s anniversary tomorrow.”
I wobble a bit. His father is no more? I stop the torrent of thoughts from flooding me. Why didn’t he tell me of his father’s death! How could he keep it from me... for a year!?
Now I understand why his mother hasn’t called me in all these days. Now I understand from where his deep-rooted anger emerges. But I cannot understand why I am to blame. How I alone am to blame. Why did he not share such a momentous news with me?
“I will manage,” I try to sound strong, indifferent. But my voice is shaky. I am shaken.
He stops to look at me for a second. I look down, unable to meet his eyes anymore.
“What’s come over you?” He sits down next to me and touches my cheek. The voice melts me.
I take his hand in my trembling hands, and say, “Karthik… Why are we like this?”
His eyes linger on mine. He says slowly, his voice bitter, “We? Don’t blame me for this! After breaking everything that we built? Not just us…my sister too? And you have the cheek to ask, why we are like this?” He gets up abruptly and leaves.
Karthik! I want to call out but bite my tongue. He is gone.
Everything that we built, emotion by emotion, moment by moment…
I ponder over the past few days and slowly it dawns on me that there is nothing left of our marriage. I thought we had crossed that bridge, but old wounds reopened and here I am, prisoner in my own house. Oh Sukumar, were you my last chance at breaking away?
Soon after marriage, the balancing act began – between work, home and my need for ‘me’ time. I felt claustrophobic at times, and would find strange pleasure in catching his eye above that of the rest of them, smiling at a private joke, laughing quietly in the room...making love silently. At times, I wanted to put my feet up, leave my hair loose, watch something I liked, read whenever I wanted. But there were people, all the time, at home.
Once Uma got married, I found that I had no time for myself or Karthik. Endless stream of visitors came to keep my in-laws’ “loneliness” at bay. Then there were Usha’s children – always around. They loved Karthik, and kept him occupied till their mother or father came to pick them up.
Uma announced she was three months pregnant soon after. Her mother was thrilled, and so were we. I was at breakfast when my mother-in-law sat down and said, “All my daughters got pregnant within three-four months of marriage. Even Sudha.” Sudha was her older daughter-in-law.
I smiled warmly. “Really! All of them?” I wanted to add cheekily, quick work, but restrained out of respect for age. She was upset with me now. She said scathingly, “More than a year now, don’t you think Karthik will want one?”
“I never thought of that!” I said, my tone bordering on sarcasm. What business was it of hers! But I had also got an opportunity, so I said pointedly as I got up, “I am sure they get more time with their husbands.”
After that morning, direct and indirect attacks from my in-laws became the order of the day. If I had expected her to get the hint and call less people home so that I could get more time with Karthik, it didn’t work out. She either didn’t get the hint, or my hinting at it pushed her to the other extreme.
By the time Uma came home for delivery, I had got into a routine that even I couldn’t understand. Did I even sleep on some days? Having never encountered malice, I was ill-equipped to cope with her strategy of keeping me on my toes.
I didn’t know how I could get out of this without upsetting the cart, how I could put her in her place. I was scared to upset Karthik. He had become the pivot around which my world revolved. If he hoped that by balancing between his mother and me he would appease her, he had the opposite effect, and he had no inkling of that, sadly.
But couldn’t he see me drowning between increasing pressure at work and her demands at home? I barely had time to breathe. When year-end audit began, I was as good as dead. I didn’t have time to sleep, I barely saw anyone at home and caught up with Karthik very briefly at work, always breaking off conversations because I had to respond to some query. He was also under tremendous pressure to meet revenue targets, and to keep up with the expectations he had created with the previous year’s performance.
I think I was in an emotional limbo. One day, I came home and went straight to bed. I lay down and was grateful when Karthik came to bed early and turned to me, hugging me. But when he tried to get intimate, I pushed him off, irritated that that is all he could think. “Oh please! Can we hold the making babies project for the moment!” I said rudely, all the anger of the last few months rushing out of me. I regretted it the minute the words came out my mouth, but was too stubborn to apologise!
He turned away, angry with me now. Both of us were tired, and suddenly, every small thing seemed big.
Though my body craved for sleep, my mind was fully awake now, taking stock. I wanted out. I could take it no longer. We were physically together, but emotionally, there was no connection.
After that, I avoided giving in to the temptation of coming home early. We didn’t chat online at work either.
But, when auditing finished, I had to, of course. No reason to hang around at work when all lights were being switched off in my department. Developers worked at all hours, as usual. But my staying back would have raised questions, especially from Shelley, who could see the subtle change between Karthik and me. He wore his displeasure on his sleeve – avoiding me at work.
That was a long period of silence between us. And since our timings were different and he travelled quite a bit, we did not go to work or return together.
I don’t know what came over him. He stopped sitting out with his family. His mother started nagging me that I had turned him against them. One evening, unable to bear it any longer, I went in to my room. Karthik was reading the paper. He did not look up.
“Your mother wants to talk to you,” I said.
He still didn’t look up but just mmmed. I snapped. “Look, you have a problem with her, you deal with it directly. Don’t drag me into it.”
He looked up, silently put the paper down and went out of the room. I sat back, tired. I washed up, finished dinner in silence, almost cut off from the rest of them.
Increasingly, I felt this way – cut off.
When I reached home finally by 8 one Thursday evening, after dallying behind to talk to everyone I met on the way, Usha’s son rushed to me. “Aunty, what is barren?”
I frowned. Thinking it was part of geography lesson, I explained. He looked uncertain. “But then, how can a woman be barren?”
I smiled tightly and ruffled his head. “Whoever taught you the word, didn’t they explain the meaning?” He ran away, nervous, to Uma’s room.
I went to my room, feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders. What can words do to you if you already feel dead? Can they hurt you any deeper?
I had expected Karthik to be home. But I realised that nowadays he went missing often. I switched the light off after changing and went to bed without dinner.
I was trying hard to sleep. It was becoming difficult, though I spent most of the time at home in bed. Alone. When finally Karthik came in, Uma followed in a rush. She said in an angry whisper, “Anna! This evening, Kalpana manni…” and I couldn’t hear the rest as the two stepped out to the balcony adjoining my room.
I heard animated conversation. Uma left and Karthik entered the room slowly, latched the door softly, changed and lay next to me, away from me. We lay awake but made no move to turn to the other. At some point, he sighed, turned away from me, and slept. Have you turned against me too, Uma? What did you tell him to make him so upset with me? I felt weary.
I left early for work the next day, not wanting to see anyone.
I didn’t log onto my chat and I didn’t check mails. If someone needed something urgently, they knew how to reach me. I took up some filing work that I had been postponing for long and kept at it with maddening meticulousness. At lunch, I avoided Shelley, pretending I was going out for lunch. I went out and walked the streets for a while, the heat notwithstanding.
I returned an hour later, and went back to my filing.
“Karthik was looking for you,” one of my colleagues’ said.
I thanked him for the message but did nothing about it. Finally, I was forced to log on because Narendran called to ask for some detail. I wondered if Karthik had suggested that.
The moment I logged on, Karthik’s message leaped up, “Was looking for you.”
I wanted to ignore, but typed a simple, “Oh.”
“Didn’t anyone tell you?” he asked.
“Yes, they did. But I am busy. And I will be offline in a minute. Bye.”
I logged off after mailing the detail to Narendran.
I left early, unable to take it any longer.