Two Sides Of The Same Coin

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

room.

 

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.”

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