What they said

by Jonaki Ray

They said that you look like your mother, but you are shorter and have a darker complexion. She was a catch in her heyday. Even now her hair and skin are so good. You, on the other hand, are running around on the sports ground all day as if a bull is chasing you. Still, thankfully, you are not dark—merely the shade of honey when it’s poured on warm toast. Of course, it’s better to be short than dark. That would have meant that most men would never give you a second glance. It’s all very well for some actresses to say, ‘Dark and Lovely!’. Have you ever heard of them getting the lead roles in a top movie? You should really take better care of your figure—eating all those jalebis after exams is going to make you fat, and will add to the pimples already there on your face. Also, what’s with that frizzy hair? Why don’t you try a keratin treatment at one of the salons near the market? Get rid of the glasses also, and tell your parents to get contact lenses for you.

They said that it’s time you got married. Yes, you are doing well in college, but it will be good to start looking for someone. These things take time. And if you have found someone already, after all, you are studying in an engineering college with so many young men around, tell us. It’s alright as long as he’s a Hindu, and from the same caste. And if not, then, what are you waiting for? Start searching, or ask your parents. After 26, a woman starts losing her looks. It gets harder and harder for her to find someone, and if you study too much, you are not going to find someone at all. Who wants a wife more qualified? Your parents have agreed for you to study more if you wanted, but don’t you want to get a job, earn some money, and find someone of your own? Didn’t that college friend propose, but then tell you at the commencement ceremony that his parents wouldn’t agree with his choice, and he is going for an arranged marriage? It’s better to go with whoever your parents found for you. After all, they would make the right choice, and find someone who will not hurt you.

They said that you are the best jamai the colony had ever seen. Tall, with degrees from the best schools and colleges, a job at a leading MNC. Yes, you have also got into those places, and have a job in a similar MNC. But, look, he’s allowing you to work after you get married. He’s so supportive and liberal, and cares for you so much. He has asked you to let him know where you are, all the time. That’s because he knows how unsafe this city has become for a woman. He is concerned for your safety. His parents and your parents agree on the match, in fact, everything matches. They want a wedding that will be shandaar—they are not asking for a dowry, just that everyone respects the effort your family and his family has put in. After all, you don’t want people blaming your father for being a kanjoos in the years to come, do you? A car, a trip abroad, preferably Maldives or Bali, for the honeymoon, the best banquet hall in the city—his family is welcoming you into theirs, so this much needs to be done.

They said that he doesn’t insist that you wear saris every day, or keep the chooda on the whole year. How considerate and caring! All you have to do is move into a house that is built already and contribute to the EMIs. At least you didn’t have the hassle of searching for an apartment, or deciding where to live. Or how to decorate. Buying furniture, deciding where to put the paintings, vases, or photographs takes so long. It’s all done for you already. Down to the shampoo, conditioner, and towels in your bedroom. He always makes sure that you get to the office safely and leave on time, and are always with women colleagues in the cab. After all, no matter how educated a man is, his niyat could be bad. It’s good to have another woman with you, and not take chances with a male colleague or driver. Getting a cab driven by a woman, or letting you drive the car your father gifted is not a good idea. Do you know how crazy the traffic gets in the rush hour? You could easily get into an accident, or damage the car. Women drivers are the worst, everyone knows that.

They said that you don’t have to stay home and cook. Only wake up before everyone else in the mornings, and make chai, toast some bread, and cut fruits. Sometimes, in the evenings, if the maid isn’t in, you have to goondo the aata, and make the rotis and dal. Your saas is so supportive as well—always making sure you have everything you need and the dishes are in the right place in the kitchen, and she comes every few minutes to check that everything is alright with you. As a result, she gets so tired by the end of the day. Naturally, sometimes, she gets upset when you are not quick enough. That day she threw the hot karchi at you because her BP had spiked. She’s home dealing with the kitchen, the house, and the maids the whole day, while you get to dress up and swan about in the office. And your husband didn’t shout that much. He immediately took her to the bedroom and called her doctor, leaving you to finish up in the kitchen.

They said that all couples fight, especially in the first year or so. The reason he’s asking you not to visit your parents so much is because you get tired due to the long cab rides, back and forth across the city. And your sister fills your head with nonsense like taking time out for yourself. She even asked you to leave your husband if you’re unhappy, and told you that you will find someone else, or be alright by yourself. Everyone knows how hard it is to be a single woman, and how the world treats her. Why should a few fights and quarrels lead to this anyway? What if he slapped you a few times and said you’re useless? He was really stressed because of the impending job interview. You have such an easy job. You just have to reach work by 8am and leave by 7pm (latest), and get promoted easily as well. You shouldn’t have answered back and tried to leave the room that day when he slapped and cursed you. Look at how he apologized and cried, and promised never to hurt you again.

They said he’s going to America, and taking you with him. It’s such a wonderful opportunity. A new life at a new place. You won’t have to deal with the in-laws, heat, dust, maids, traffic, or pollution. Until you get the paperwork, you won’t have to drive or work. Of course, he will get irritated when he comes home from a long day at work and after that hour’s commute, and all you want to do is talk or go out somewhere.  He’s looking forward to peace and quiet, and instead, you are pestering him with questions about your visa, or wanting to go back to India. You know that’s not logical—you have to wait till he gets his green card, and then you will get yours. It’s natural that his mother mentions wanting a grandchild in every call. His parents are ageing and lonely. And it’s true that having a baby before you turn 30 is better for both the mother and child. Buying a house and having a baby are the natural next steps and saying you are not ready for either of them is guaranteed to upset anyone. What is there to be ready for? Your husband was right to want to take you to the hospital when month after month went by, and you had your periods right on time. When you finally told you about the pills you had brought from India, he was right to flush them away, and call you a liar. You provoked him, but he did calm down when he saw the bruises on your arms, and felt terrible and apologized again, didn’t he?

They said that if he’s a bit rough with you during sex sometimes, it’s because he gets carried away. These are things that happen in every marriage, and why would you want to talk about something so intimate with anyone besides your husband? That too with someone you met a year ago in a foreign country? So what if she’s also from India, and the Indian friend living closest to you? Your husbands work together, and now her husband has spoken to yours, and the news will spread in their office. You know how Indian are…always gossiping! He was right to call you childish when he got back. Would you have liked it if he had spoken about you to other men? If you had apologized right away, he wouldn’t have started yelling, slapping and kicking you, and making you leave the house. Didn’t he let you in once you said sorry, and wasn’t he especially nice for the next week, giving you perfumes and a nice long-sleeved dress in wine-red, your favorite color? Didn’t your own aunt who lives on the east coast say that she went through similar adjustments?

They said you shouldn’t have lost that earring—it was 18K gold and had real diamonds. You should wrap that muffler more tightly and tie up your hair. Who gets an earring stuck in their hair or muffler and loses it that way? Obviously, he was going to get angry and tell you to look for it. It really wasn’t that cold outside—fresh snow means the temperature has gone up. And your hand was twisted just a bit. It couldn’t have been so much that you had to walk around clutching it in that dramatic way. Why did you have to tell that American neighbor that you had been locked out by your husband? Why didn’t you tell him that it was a personal matter and he shouldn’t call the police? These matters should have been discussed between you and your husband, and are not meant for the public. Now, look, they are taking him away in a police car, and his career will be destroyed. He is not going to accept this and will divorce you. You are going to be alone from this day on. Where will you go? What will you do? Do you know how hard life will be for you from now on? Why are you sitting on the neighbor’s couch, drinking hot soup, shivering, yet smiling?

Jonaki Ray was educated in India (Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur) and the USA (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign). After a short stint as a software engineer, she decided to return to her first love, writing. She is a Pushcart and Forward Prize for Best Single Poem nominee. Her work has been published in Poetry, The Rumpus, Southword Journal, Cha, So to Speak Journal, Lunch Ticket, Indian Literature (India’s National Academy of Letters), and elsewhere.

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