Ajay is in one of his passive-aggressive moods. He has been giving me the cold shoulder since morning and it’s frankly more inconvenient than upsetting given that mom and dad are visiting us for lunch today.
It’s five years since our wedding and it’s not that we can’t hide a good fight from others. We are used to acting normal even if there is tension simmering between us. But whenever I fight with Ajay, I’ve this lingering sense of unrest that manifests as physical pain in my stomach. I hate it.
Ajay doesn’t like conflicts and arguments, and so he avoids fighting openly. But he has his ahimsa type protests that come through in the form of mute gestures. Or sometimes, absence of gestures.
It’s in the little things. In how he places the morning coffee on the table than handing it over directly. In how he locks the bedroom door while changing after the shower. In the monosyllabic uhhms whenever I attempt to make a conversation and sometimes, even pretending to not hear me.
I am in two minds whether to let him fester or not. But, eventually, visualizing mom’s expression of displeasure when she figures out that we are fighting helps me wave the white flag.
“Let’s end this fight da, Ajay,” I say with resignation.
“I’m not fighting, Sowmya. It’s just that you’re too stubborn,” he says.
There he goes again, calling my full name in an uncharacteristic manner. A Tiny gesture, but it does the trick in triggering me.
“Just a matter of perspective, Ajay. I don’t see why we should have to tell them anything at all.”
“And I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to tell them…if, that is, if we’re firm in our decision.”
“I’m firm in my decision. But I don’t feel the need to convince the whole world about it.”
“They’re not the whole world. They’re your parents, and it’s important they’re on board with our decision.”
“What if they’re not?” I ask, defiantly, arms akimbo.
“Then, we talk to them…as much as we need to.”
“You’re being naïve. They’re not going to understand this, and we’ll just be in an unnecessary standoff. Let time pass and they’ll figure it out themselves.”
“Your idea is escapist,” he is now literally pointing a finger at me.
“And yours is completely confrontational. You don’t even like to fight with me directly. Why’re you so keen on picking up this fight?”
“You’re assuming there is going to be a fight.”
“I know my parents!”
“But you’re not giving them the benefit of doubt.”
“No, I just think some things should stay between the couple.”
And just like that, the noisy eruption between us turns into an uncomfortable silence. I can still hear the words—both the said and the unsaid—reverberating through the silence.
For a second, I think Ajay is going to break into a laugh as I see his lanky figure awkwardly perched on the sofa’s arm. But he doesn’t let the tension slip away. Instead, he seems to be sulking even more as he gets up to wear his shoes, his eyes intensely focused on his feet more than warranted.
“I’m going to office now. Will be here for lunch,” Ajay says and walks out of the door.
On the quiet banks of the Kurumban lake, Bhavani sat on a mound with her feet dangling and caressing the touch-me-nots. Wearing a pink silk saree and a tall red bindi, she looked radiant, in complete contrast to her sister, Kaveri, who was camouflaged in a pale brown cotton half-saree.
“It’s getting late, di. We should be going,” Kaveri cried in despair.
“I don’t want to,” Bhavani insisted like she had been doing for the last hour.
“Akka*, don’t be silly. The boy’s family will be here for the engagement in a few hours. Amma must be anxious by now.”
“You worry so much, Kaveri. I told amma we’re visiting the temple. She knows it’ll take time.”
“Still…I’m getting nervous.”
“In a few hours, my life might change completely. I want to just sit here for some time as just me. Is that too much to ask?”
“What do you mean, just me? You’ll always be you, no?”
“Is it really possible, Kaveri? Is it possible to be just me after marriage?”
“Akka, you’re overthinking. We all have to get married anyway.”
“But, why? Why should we?”
“My heart is just not in it. Getting married and serving your husband for the rest of your life…where is the fun in that?”
“You’re talking like that city girlfriend of yours, akka. We live in a kugramam*. What else can we do? We have to follow these rules…this is our life. It’s not all bad like you’re making it to be. Your mappilai* looks to be a nice guy.”
“How do you know he is a nice guy?”
“Can make out from the eyes and smile.”
“Silly little girl. If you like him so much, maybe you should get married.”
Both sisters sat watching the ducks paddling in front of them. A pretense of calm on the surface but battling a mountain of emotions inside.
The morning weighs on me, not like a heavy thud on my chest but more like a quiet murmur of a bee hovering near my ear. I know it’ll go away but I don’t know how to shake it off.
Ajay and I rarely fight over the big issues. Of course, we argue over mundane stuff. I get worked up about his leaving teacups all over the house, and his annoying habit of attending office calls while he is driving. He isn’t a big fan of my OCD for cleaning and hates my tendency to ignore him for hours once I get into a book.
But today, it feels like we’re in war and I don’t know how to resolve this one.
Not wanting a child was our mutual decision. Something we agreed on even when we were dating. Five years into our marriage, both of us have only become more determined to stick to our decision. But it’s not been easy with the families constantly enquiring us what’s happening. Ajay used to refer to these questions as “asking for bedroom updates” and it was even funny in the beginning. But, recently, with the conversations veering towards “Have you both consulted a Doctor?” and “Adoption is always an option,” it’s been getting on to our nerves.
For Ajay, the “hiding” feels dishonest. For me, it’s a personal decision that I don’t want to include others in. I don’t see the need for explanations and a debate over pros and cons. At some level, I’m even disappointed that Ajay wants to explain the situation to others.
The next few days were a blur to Kaveri. She tried hard to remember every moment, but she felt them fading away. Somehow, she knew that her mind would want to revisit these days…these moments a million times after. She wanted to record them, but she was finding that her memories were inconsistent.
How did I end up here? She found herself wondering.
At some point on the lakeside, Bhavani had convinced Kaveri to exchange clothes. She had said, she is going away to be just herself.
Why didn’t I stop her? Or did I stop her, and she didn’t listen? Kaveri couldn’t remember.
Bhavani had asked her to wait for an hour and then leave home. And Kaveri had sat there transfixed, looking awkward in the silk saree that Bhavani had worn before.
Why didn’t I come home running? Maybe then, we could have stopped her.
A week later, as Kaveri stepped into her new home with her new husband, she couldn’t let go of the feeling that she was about to live someone else’s life. But here she was, and she was going to make the best of it.
As amma and appa unpack their suitcases in the guest room, I heat up the lunch. Amma loves my pumpkin sambar and appa, my potato curry. So, obviously, I ended up making both. Ajay thinks it’s strange that I’m not closer to one of my parents. When he says that, I always wonder if he means I’m close to both, or to neither.
As I set the plates, I hear the bell ring, and rush to the door. Ajay is outside, leaning against the door frame, with a huge smile on his face.
“Someone looks happy,” I say.
“Yeah, I’m just happy to have the best wife,” he says.
“Yuk! What a cliché da, Ajay.”
“Life is shitty when I fight with you, and it’s even more shitty when we don’t speak to each other,” he says.
“That’s more original at least, but hardly poetic.”
“Seriously, Sow. I’ve been thinking about it and…we can tell them whenever you’re ready, okay?”
“Hmm…I’ve been thinking too …maybe we should tell them.”
“What? Is this a game in which you always say the opposite of what I do?”
“No, da. As I was cutting the potatoes today, I got an epiphany. That’s all.”
“Oh, really?” Ajay chuckles.
“Yeah, let’s just tell them and see what comes of it.”
That evening, we dropped the bombshell on my parents. Appa was livid and bombarded us with tons of questions. At the root of all his questions was the basic question—Why? This is one thing Ajay and I had decided not to explain. That was my terms and conditions. We’ll tell them but we’ll keep our reasons to ourselves. I felt I deserved that boundary, at least.
Amma was strangely silent though. That bothered me even more than appa’s reaction. What was she thinking? I had no clue.
By night, I couldn’t take it anymore, and asked her directly.
“Tell me, what’re you thinking, ma?”
“It’s not my place to think. This is your decision, no?”
It was the perfect reply I had wanted from her, but I was restless.
“Still ma, are you upset?”
She was silent for a while, and finally said, “I think…everyone should get a chance to just be themselves.”
As Kaveri locked eyes with her daughter, Sowmya, the memories from that day on the banks of the lake came back to her. Bhavani was not the only one who had made a decision. She had forced Kaveri also to make a decision—whether to run home or sit there for an hour, whether to give a chance to her sister or not. Kaveri wanted to believe that she had sat there out of courage, but in her heart, she knew that she had done it out of fear.
Thirty years later, Kaveri felt that her daughter deserved the same chance as her sister. Only this time, Kaveri’s decision came from a place of courage. And conviction.
*Glossary: (Tamil to English)
Akka – elder sister
kugramam – small village
mappilai – groom
Author : Ramya Srinivasan
Author intro: Ramya Srinivasan is a freelance writer from Bengaluru and a member of the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (WICCI) National L&D Council. Her short stories have been published in the anthologies The Mask (TMYS), Blind Turns, Kintsugi, and Skin. Her personal essay, The Dream is Still On, was published in the Chicken Soup for the Indian Entrepreneur’s Soul. A BITS Pilani and IIMB graduate, she worked as a techie with Goldman Sachs and Intel for twelve years before becoming a full-time writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.