She opened her bleary eyes when the cat, all seven pounds of squirming flesh, climbed onto her belly. Squinting into the sunlight streaming in from the open window, she discovered that she was now the weary possessor of a pounding headache, and at some point, had managed to lose both a tooth and a spouse.
Running her fingers lazily through the cat’s thick, soft fur, Mira lay back in bed and let the defiance of her body to move an inch triumph over her acceptance of the morning and the memory of the past twenty-four hours. While her head pounded, it was not a patch on the way her heart hurt. As she glanced to her left at the empty bed next to her, a tear streamed down her cheek.
Mira and Dhiraj Chowdhary had been married for eleven years. To say that it had been a smooth ride throughout would be a gross miscarriage of the truth. Nothing about the union of these two people had been ordinary, right from the beginning. A little over thirteen years ago, a young, eighteen year-old Mira Malhotra (at the time) had been driving home from her best friend’s place in Bandra in Mumbai, enormously hungover after a wild party. All she wanted to do was douse herself in big cups of coffee and dollops of ice cream and get in to bed in the hope of extinguishing the beating of hell that her head seemed to be receiving mercilessly.
Instead, as if on queue, her car began to sputter and then the engine shut off and the car came to a stop by the side of the road. It was 8 AM in the morning when the skies were only just beginning to reveal the first rays of the rising sun and the roads were largely empty.
Just when she had finished groaning and pacing up and down wondering what to do, her knight in shining armor pulled up next to her in a shiny motorbike to save the day.
The rest as they say, was history. Dhiraj Chowdhary fixed a broken down car one morning, unaware of the fact that this act of kindness was to earn him a girlfriend and eventually a wife after a two-year long dating period.
The wedding affair itself had not been without its fair share of obstacles. To begin with, Mira’s orthodox parents had not been the most approving of her choice of spouse. The motorbike-riding, long haired and unshaven Dhiraj whose under-whelming job was as a Car Salesman had not found any favors in the Malhotra household. But the adamant and deeply-in-love Mira’s decision had prevailed and the begrudging senior Malhotras had been left with no choice but to surrender to the whim of their only child.
As Mira reflected on their beginnings on this bright sunny morning, the light seemed very different. As if suggestive of the devastation that had taken place this weekend and a final blow to the happier light in their relationship’s formative years.
It all started with Dhiraj’s perpetual habit of forgetfulness that was the epitome of irritation these days in Mira’s life. For the past year her husband, not the most organized of human beings, had started to forget a lot of pertinent, though seemingly minor things that had begun to irk Mira. From forgetting to pick up the flowers she had ordered to forgetting to get the groceries, or simply forgetting to call the plumber, they mostly resulted in only minor upsets but the number of these upsets had been going up and in recent times, had resulted in many an argument and even larger shouting matches.
This weekend, however, had been unforgivable. It was Friday afternoon and their five-year-old daughter Diya was at school while Mira was busy with important work meetings. Being an architect, she was immersed in two big projects simultaneously. Dhiraj had promised to pick up their daughter from school, drop her home with the babysitter and then run and do the groceries for the party they were throwing later in the evening for Mira’s birthday. Mira was looking forward to the end of the week after an unusually exhausting few days.
She was on her way to a client’s office at the other end of town when she got a text from Dhiraj. “Heading out to meet some of the guys for some tennis. Will pick up Diya after.”
She glanced at her watch. There was time. “Okay”, she replied and got back to work.
Two hours later Diya’s phone rang in the middle of her meeting. It was Diya’s school. School was over and no one had come to pick her up. She was crying. Diya glanced at her watch again. Dhiraj was a half hour late. “We will be there soon!” she promised and hung up. She tried Dhiraj’s number a few times but there was no answer.
She panicked. “I’m so sorry but I have to run. Can we pick this up later?” she pleaded with the client who was looking visibly unhappy. She flew out of the building, got in her car and raced towards Diya’s school.
A rage was building inside her. She knew she couldn’t think about it right now or it would explode.
Picking up and consoling a howling Diya forty-five minutes later, Mira reached home. Furious now, she left Dhiraj many messages and then went for a long shower. She suddenly remembered the groceries. As she picked up her car keys again, her phone buzzed. It was a text from Dhiraj. “So sorry! Got caught up with something, hope you managed to get Diya. I’ll do the groceries on my way, leaving now.”
She replied with a simple, “Don’t bother.”
The rage inside her had grown and turned into a seething ball of fury. Mira could, for the first time, feel the languishing thread that had become her marriage and she knew if this continued, the thread would snap. But she couldn’t let her parents have the last laugh. This was her choice and she had to somehow see it through.
The evening passed in silence when Dhiraj finally got home. He followed her around the house like a puppy trying to apologize and explain that his friend needed some urgent assistance which had been the cause of the transgressions of yesterday but Mira was too angry to even look at him, let alone respond. Eventually he stopped trying.
When the guests arrived, Mira and Dhiraj behaved as if nothing untoward had transpired in the last twelve hours but they avoided speaking to each other as much as they could.
The next morning Mira was woken by the sound of a phone call and Dhiraj’s voice murmuring into his phone. He hung up briefly and came and sat next to Mira on the side of the bed. “Babe, I’m so sorry for yesterday. I will make it up to you, I promise. I’m just going for a run. Will be back soon.” He kissed her on the forehead. Mira nodded without meeting his gaze and pulled the sheets over herself again. She was tired and drifted into a deep sleep again.
Her phone rang again at 12 noon. Diya had come into her room with her dolls and climbed on her stomach. Kissing her daughter on the cheek, she answered her phone. It was her mother. Her father had had a heart attack and was being rushed to the hospital. Her heart pounded in her chest and she lost her voice. She managed a muffled “I’m on my way” and hung up. Grabbing Diya, she hastily put on her shoes, grabbed the car keys and dialed Dhiraj’s number from the car. No answer.
The anger from the previous day returning, she flung her phone aside and kept driving.
In the hospital, she barged into the room that had been allocated to her father, with Diya in tow.
Seeing her father strung up to what looked like a gazillion tubes, his body looking unusually frail and different, Mira couldn’t help herself. She broke down and cried. As her mother leant forward and hugged her, she gently asked, “Where’s Dhiraj?”
“I have no idea, Ma.” And then she cried some more.
“He’s going to be alright, darling. Don’t worry. The doctors said he will be fine.”
They all spent the whole day together in that hospital room, sitting in silence while her father rested. The doctors wanted to keep him for observation for the night.
Mira returned home at 5 PM in the evening with Diya. As she walked into the house she saw Dhiraj sitting in the living room, legs crossed nonchalantly, loudly discussing football with a buddy on the phone.
Something inside Mira, like the thread that had reached the final, frivolous sliver of its strength, finally snapped.
Shutting Mira in her room, she came back to face Dhiraj who had now got off the phone and was asking her where she was.
“I want a divorce.” With a calm voice she delivered the blow as she set about picking up Diya’s toys from the floor and packing things into two suitcases.
“What are you talking about? Come here…lets talk…..”
“Don’t touch me and I don’t want to talk! Because you are never around, Dhiraj! Do you even know where I have been today? Do you even answer my phone calls? My father had a heart attack!”
Mira had unleashed her fury that had manifested itself in the form of screams that were emanating from her entire being, not just her mouth.
A shouting match ensued that only reaffirmed the fact that there was no room for course correction. There was no coming back from this space, this ugly turning point in their marriage. No matter how much Dhiraj’s screams of defense turned into pleading sobs for second chances and empty promises in the heat of the moment, it was all to no avail. Desperate to make her see reason, he clasped her arm tightly and tried to pull her towards him. “Just listen to me, damn it….” But Mira was quick to respond and pushed him so hard that he fell on the glass table that shattered on the floor and took him down with it.
In a rage of his own now, Dhiraj bounced back up and instinctively, delivered a fierce blow on the side of Mira’s face. The blood rushed out instantly.
Shocked and crying now, Mira stared into Dhiraj’s eyes for a long time before quietly turning around, packing up some of her clothes and Diya’s belongings, picking up her daughter and walked wordlessly out of the house. This time Dhiraj did not stop her.
Jolted out of her thoughts of the events of the weekend by her parents’ cat who had now decided to jump off her belly and run off, Mira looked around her childhood room in her parents’ house where she was living for the time being with Diya.
Yes, the light in her post-war world felt very different from the light that used to stream into their own, loving home, pre-war. It was lonelier now, and less sonorous.
The pain in her gums returned as she was reminded of the tooth she had lost as a result of the blow to her face by her husband’s hand. Her husband had hit her!
She couldn’t believe that any of this was real. And yet here she was. Her parents had been right all along. She had lost and they had won.
As she finally heaved herself off the bed, she crossed a side table that held a framed picture of Dhiraj and her on their wedding day. How happy they looked.
She removed the picture from the frame, tore it in half and threw it in the bin as she made her way out of the door.