It was a little past 1.00 a.m. when the last guests left the Menon party. Sharmila
and Ajith were known to host excellent parties; the food, alcohol, music,
ambience, and everything else were always different and talked about. This party
of theirs was no different. Ajith had invited a couple of his University friends for
dinner and drinks. Sharmila left no stone unturned in ensuring that everything
was perfect and just as Ajith liked it.
“Thank you so much Sharmila. We haven’t had such a relaxing evening in forever.
The food was delicious. And you have such a beautiful home,” said Nisha as she
stood at the door bidding the hosts goodnight. “Our pleasure really,” replied Ajith
all smiles. “Thank you for coming. We should do this again,” replied Sharmila.
Feeling content with all that was done for the evening, Sharmila turned to Ajith
and smiled. “That was good. Everyone seemed to have had a good time. I have no
leftovers either, which means everyone liked the food as well,” said Sharmila.
“Good job, lady!” Ajith said as he smiled and walked into the bedroom. Sharmila
decided to leave the tidying up for the morning. She was exhausted with all the
work that she had done since morning. Her trusted aide Lekshmi would come in
at 7 a.m. and that would lead to the house getting back in order.
Sharmila filled two bottles of water for the night and entered the bedroom. Ajith
had already changed and made himself comfortable in the bed. She started
removing her make-up when Ajith said; “Good you wore this saree tonight. If you
had worn what you had kept out instead, it would have looked so dull.” “That
saree was also such a pretty one, Ajith. If I had worn it I am sure you would have
liked it. You only bought me that one also,” Sharmila replied, a note of tiredness
in her voice.
Ajith always wanted to have the last word in so didn’t give up on the
conversation yet. “Come on Sharmila. There is no denying that what I chose
looked amazing. There is no way you would have looked this way if you wore
that other one. You looked regal in this,” he said. Some way of complementing he
has, thought Sharmila as she nodded and smiled at Ajith. The last thing she
wanted was a full blown argument at 1.30 a.m. “Absolutely Ajith. Your choice is
always impeccable,” she said as she went into the bathroom to change.
By the time she was changed for the night Ajith was fast asleep. She lay in bed
thinking about the first time Ajith mocked her choice of dressing. Barely a week
into the marriage, Ajith and Sharmila were invited for dinner at a senior
colleagues house. Sharmila decided to wear a peach saree and looked absolutely
divine in it. It was decided that Ajith would meet her straight at the venue after
work. The moment Sharmila walked in and Ajith laid eyes on her she knew
something was amiss. Even before pleasantries could be exchanged, Ajith said,
“That’s a flattering colour on you but I don’t see that as a night colour at all
Sharmila. Also, the gold chain and bangles are a bit too much.” Sharmila turned
all shades of crimson; she had expected Ajith to tell her she looked good, or
atleast tell her the saree wasn’t alright in private, not in front of three other
people, one of whom was the hostess for the evening. Seeing her pained face, the
hostess came to her rescue and started asking her about where she had bought
the saree. That one memory was etched in her heart forever. In that one moment
he managed to crush her.
Twelve years, that was how long Sharmila and Ajith were married for. Ajith was
a self-made man who rose quickly in his profession and with that growth his
arrogance also grew. Sharmila, on the other hand came from a family that gave
her all luxuries when she was growing up. She agreed to the arranged match
when her parents told her about how well their horoscopes had matched. She
wasn’t a rebel and didn’t find anything wrong with Ajith after meeting him twice.
It was a wedding that was the talk of the town for months after it was over as
well. Sharmila was pleasing and had a very alluring charm about her, Ajith
matched up to her in every way possible. He was charismatic, witty, and
extremely successful. Children were never a part of the larger scheme of things
for him and nature sided with him. Like all other things that she accepted, she
didn’t push this either. When the tests came back saying neither of them was in a
great position to bear kids, she just accepted it and let it go.
What people didn’t see and sometimes chose to overlook was his overbearing
nature. He always had to be right, always needed to have the last word. Sharmila
and Ajith were able to happily co-exist because she never got into arguments
with him. She let him run her life as he wanted to. Over the years she also learnt
his whims and fancies. She supported him.
Sharmila needed a good nights sleep after the hectic day she had had. She slept
well and was awake by 6.00 a.m., her usual time. She enjoyed the time she got to
herself in the mornings. No noise, no chores, just time to sit and enjoy her cup of
coffee. That morning she decided to play some music as she sat in her balcony
sipping on the coffee. Kishore Kumar’s voice singing ‘Kya Mausam Hai’ wafted
into the balcony. This immediately put Sharmila in a good mood; she had another
long day ahead. The entire cutlery from last evening had to be put back carefully
and the house needed to be brought back to order.
“Got up from the wrong side of the bed, is it?” boomed Ajith’s voice. “I don’t
understand how this Kishore Kumar was so popular. Just antics, no singing at
all,” he continued as he switched off the music system. Sharmila on the other
hand absolutely loved Kishore Kumar’s voice. Taking cue Sharmila got up from
the balcony and headed to the kitchen to start the day’s work. “I enjoy his music
Ajith,” she said slowly as she walked past him.
It was a little after 7.30 a.m. and Lekshmi hadn’t arrived yet. The house clock
could normally be tuned to her arrival, she was always there at 7.00 a.m. every
morning. Lekshmi had worked in the Menon household for almost 8 years now
and was as good as a family member. Sharmila trusted her immensely and often
left the house under her care and supervision when the couple travelled.
Sharmila waited until 8.00a.m. to call and check on her. Her husband answered
the call and said she was unwell and would be coming in late. “She could have
called and told me that. I have been waiting for an hour for her to come. Where is
she?” Sharmila asked in annoyance. “She is sleeping, madam. She will come,” he
said before cutting the call. Irritated with the state the kitchen was in, Sharmila
started cleaning the mess and putting away things from last night’s dinner party.
“Where is my blue striped shirt, Sharmila,” shouted Ajith from the bedroom. “It
must be in the ironed clothes pile. Can you please pick it up from there, my hands
are dirty.” Sharmila said. Five minutes later Ajith shouted again, “I cannot find it
anywhere and I am getting late. I need to wear that shirt today. Why is it so
difficult to find things here.” “Coming coming, give me two minutes,” Sharmila
said as she washed her hands and wiped them on her pyjamas.
Ajith was standing with his hands on his hips with a towel wrapped around his
waist. He looked like a lost puppy but had the temper of an angered bull.
Sharmila looked around and couldn’t find that particular shirt either. She then
went into the other room and opened Ajith’s cupboard and started looking there.
“Is this the one you are looking for?” she asked holding up an ironed blue-striped
shirt. “YES, but you said it was in the ironed clothes pile,” muttered Ajith. “All you
had to do is look around a little Ajith, you would have found it,” Sharmila said
smiling. Ajith wasn’t in a mood to reciprocate the smile. He did say thank you
though. “Breakfast is ready, I am going to lay the table,” she said as she left the
Breakfasts were sacrosanct in the Menon household, Ajith believed in having a
hearty meal in the morning before leaving home. With Lekshmi not being that
mornings breakfast was a quickly put together one. Sharmila in the little she had
in the kitchen had managed to make idlis, cut fruits, squeeze a tall glass of orange
juice, and had the coffee ready. Ajith sat down to have his breakfast and after
serving himself three idlis started looking around for something on the table.
“Your fruits are in the bowl, Ajith,” said Sharmila. “No, I am looking for the
chutney,” he said. The one thing that Sharmila hadn’t made he wanted. “Oh, I
didn’t make chutney. I’ve got the molagapodi (chutney powder) here,” she said
hoping he would be fine with that.
“Come on Sharmila. You know I like my breakfast to be perfect. It’s the one meal I
eat at home and that sets the tone for the day. One day of not having your man-
Friday around and you are lost,” he said in complete disregard to the hurt he was
causing Sharmila. “It will take me a few minutes to make some coconut chutney.
Let me quickly make it,” she said going into the kitchen. Ajith waited till she was
done and ate his idlis only with the chutney. “These taste really good, the idlis are
so fluffy and good Sharmila,” he said as he polished off three more idlis before
reaching for his glass of juice.
Once breakfast was done, Ajith was ready in five minutes for the day ahead. “You
have a good day Sharmila. Will see you by 8 this evening. Love you,” he said as he
left the house. He was gone before Sharmila could even respond to what he said.
She looked up at the clock and dialed Lekshmi’s number again. This time she
answered. “Lekshmi, what is this? You know we had guests last night. The house
is a mess. When are you going to show up?” Sharmila asked. “I’m coming didi.
Should be there in another 5 minutes,” she said.
Five minutes later the doorbell rang and in walked Lekshmi looking tired and ill.
“What happened to you? You were fine when you left from here yesterday,” said
Sharmila. “Sorry didi,” she said and walked into the kitchen to start cleaning the
dishes. Not wanting to indulge in talk now Sharmila left her to her work and
started tidying up the living area; fluffing the cushions, pulling out bits and
pieces of food and tissue from nooks and corners. An hour later the kitchen and
living room were back to looking neat ad tidy.
Sharmila walked into the kitchen to make tea for Lekshmi and herself. As the tea
was brewing, Sharmila looked at Lekhsmi and asked again, “What happened to
you?” Lekshmi didn’t say anything for a few seconds and then said, “same story
again, didi. He got angry about something that I cannot even remember now and
beat me up. Yesterday he was like an animal,” she said showing Sharmila her
scalp where there was a deep gash. “Oh god, Lekshmi. That looks terrible. Have
you seen a doctor? Did you get it cleaned? It will get infected if you just leave it
that way,” Sharmila said in panic.
“He broke a bottle on my head. I thought he would stop at that didi, but no he
was uncontrollable last night. Punched me in my stomach, pulled my hair,
mouthed such cuss words. And I still do not know why he did it all,” she said in
tears now.” Sharmila was shivering just hearing all this and wondered how this
girl puts up with it every week. She walked up to her and gave her a hug. Though
only a help in the Menon household, Lekshmi was like family to Sharmila. She
treated her like that and felt a personal sense of jolt every time something like
this happened to her. “Come, lets have our tea and then let me call and get an
appointment with Dr. Chadha for that wound of yours,” said Sharmila. “What will
I do if not for you didi,” said Lekshmi with folded hands.
As she was pouring the tea into the mugs, Sharmila looked at Lekshmi and said,
“Why don’t you leave him Lekshmi. This is what he does every week to you. What
is it that is holding you back?” Sharmila knew what Lekshmi would say; this
conversation between them had played out many a times in the eight years she
worked there. Sharmila was expecting her to talk about how when he wasn’t
drunk he was a ‘good husband’. He cared for the children, worked hard to
provide for their education, and even put aside some money to buy them all gifts
on Diwali every year. His biggest vice was alcohol; ever so often he would get
drunk and come home to beat Lekshmi. This was perhaps the first time that she
had come to work with such a bad injury.
What Lekshmi said stunned Sharmila. “Didi, I have immense love and respect for
you. May I ask you something?” she said. “Ofcourse you can,” said Sharmila.
“What is it?” After a few seconds of thought Lekshmi decided to go ahead and
speak her mind. “Why do you put up with it?” Sharmila wasn’t sure she followed
what Lekshmi asked her. So asked her, “Why do I put up with that Lekshmi?”
“Didi, my husband beats me black and blue after he drinks. The marks he leaves
are there for everyone to see and comment on. But what you face is no less.
Everyday you put up with what bhaiya says to you. I see how you want to react
but just keep quiet.” Sharmila tried to say something to her; she was angry that
Lekshmi would say this to her. She was overstepping the boundary. Not wanting
to hold back now, Lekshmi continued, “Didi, I have worked here for very long. I
understand everything that goes on. Just being beaten is not abuse. What you
face is also abuse didi. You chose to ignore it and live on, and so do I. We are both
foolish in our own ways. We both are looking to hold on to the niceness that
these men seem to have,” she said.
There was silence in the kitchen. Sharmila didn’t know what hit her from where.
She knew that there was truth in what Lekshmi had just said. Over the years she
had become a passive partner in the relationship. From choosing what she wore,
where they ate, what she did with her time and life, he decided it all. She
wondered then how so much had changed, when she had become this person
who was so unrecognisable now.
“We lead very similar lives didi. The difference is I wear the marks for everyone
to see and you carry them deep in your heart.”