The nadaswaram was being played with utmost precision and perfection, women were all decked up in their best collections of dharmavaram pattu saree, men were all in their exotic best in their sparkling white n white shirt n dhoti, small girls were in their exotic best with their multi-colored traditional half-saree with jasmine adoring their young and long tresses and the whole atmosphere was gala at its best. It was the perfect traditional wedding set-up one could ever wish for…
Preethi was getting married to her distant relative Prem. Prem was not only a distant relative but also a childhood friend of Preethi. The marriage was nevertheless an arranged-marriage. Prem was working for a small company as an Engineer. Preethi had just finished her graduation in Commerce and was full of dreams of a happy wedded life.
When the Muhurtham time arrived, the archakar shouted getti-melam---getti-melam and with the perfection of a symphony, all the musicians sitting across started trumpeting their nadaswaram and tabla with a high pitch and Prem tied the “thali” around Preethi’s ever-inviting neck. While Preethi was all smiles and tears, Prem was all smiles whilst bundle of nerves. The rituals went on for another hour and the couple was set free to move around.
Preethi went into the bride’s room in the mantap and met with all the relatives who had arrived from near and far-off places and hours flew by the minutes and days flew by the hours and months flew by the days. Any progress? Any progress? Questioned near and dear ones started asking Preethi. Did you check-up with a doctor? And what not – all sorts of assumptions were being made adding to the mental agony for Preethi.
It was Prem and Preethi who knew the reasons. Prem mentioned that since he was not very well off – they could have a child when he was fit-enough meaning when he gets into a good job with a good salary. Preethi agreed.
After a year or so, Prem moved into a better job with a better salary. Their happiness knew no bounds. They went for their real honeymoon to Ooty for a week. Preethi went to all those temples which she had visited earlier, to pray for a better break for Prem, to thank all those Gods now.
As months passed by, Preethi felt it was the right time to get into a new home of their own; de-linking Prem’s aged parents all alone. She justified saying it was the right time to set up a family of their own – disconnecting the dependence of Prem on his father. For this proposal to go nuclear, Prem disagreed saying he wanted to have a fat bank balance. Preethi never agreed to this – saying a small loan at this stage would not seem such a big burden.
Preethi instead of convincing Prem and father-in-law, protested vehemently. Neither Prem nor his father could understand her motivation to go nuclear. Preethi confided in me that she enjoyed very little freedom at home; she could not understand Prem the extent she liked; she mentioned that even to go for a weekend movie, Prem would invite his parents; she had to labor at home with the daily chores; she felt constrained when her college friends wanted to visit her for a day or two – because her in-laws protested; never a day passed by without a stinker of a comment on her cooking; in short she felt out-of-place. She never felt the homely feeling that she enjoyed at her parents home.
On repeated pleadings by Prem, Preethi mentioned that Prem’s brother and his wife were making nasty comments about them being dependent on his father. In actual, Prem was the one who was taking care of all the household expenses. So the impression of Prem and Mrs. Prem depending on Prem’s father’s pension was just a false-notion. Despite Prem’s pleadings for couple of month’s time, Preethi, never agreed.
On getting a loan from a bank, Prem and Preethi, moved into a rented apartment. As days passed by, life in the new nuclear home became monotonous. Preethi lost zest in life for unknown reasons and that reflected in her cooking and other household chores. Despite Prem asking for reasons, she never replied straight. She started yelling at Prem. Prem was confused. Prem adjusted to the new scenario with the greatness of a true sage and moved on. When there was food at home, he had – without protesting on poor-taste or poor-quality of preparation.
I wondered what else Prem could do. Now when I asked Preethi – she was my schoolmate and we have been together for more than a decade now – she never replied straight. But with me and our other common friends, she showed no change. She was as bubbly as she has ever-been. But the problems in marriage showed up in her sharp reactionary comments and attitude in life. But she did mention that the way she chatted for hours with Prem before marriage, was missing now. She mentioned that she had expected that she would be chatting more with Prem after marriage and the quality and content of chats would be much more deeper and more meaningful. She wondered whatever happened to that. Words were not there to blurt out; neither were they finding any topics of mutual interest to discuss.
When I asked Prem, if there was any problem in marriage – “Problems? No, No way.” Prem was as charming as he has ever been. But for some strange reasons, the charm between Prem and Preethi, vanished for reasons not known to the outside world.
Preethi, are you upset that you don’t have a kid? - I asked mildly but in the straightest possible manner. She kept mum and never replied. When I fired the same question to Prem – “No. No way. When I cannot take care of my own needs and dreams, there is no way can I have a child” – was the straight reply. Did you convince Preethi on this aspect? – “Yes” was another straight reply. I wondered the reasons for the chemistry to vanish between them. All the elements of normal marriage were missing between them.
Prem was getting all the more frustrated seeing his friends and colleagues happily married and having fun in life. He felt that there was no fun in life without a good marriage and that there was an end to all problems. In this case, he thought the best was to get a divorce. Preethi also, apparently, felt the same – but never opened her mind on this contentious issue called “divorce”.
“Preethi, will you accept a divorce?” – I asked her. She thundered “What the hell? Are you trying to break my marriage? Do you have any vested interest in breaking my marriage? - And all hell broke loose. I did not pursue further in this matter and left her alone.
Prem was fed up with the marriage and he felt that there was no way he could continue like this forever. Hence he approached his dad saying he wanted to divorce. To his dismay, his father replied straight – “Take a vacation and come back. Everything will be alright”.
When Prem approached his mother – she passed away with a massive heart attack.
Behind Prem’s charming smiles were hidden all the dejections that one could ever have in a failed marriage. But none in the outside world could ever guess this.
Prem’s dad stuck to his position and said that problems in marriage are all common. Divert your attention from this issue for few days and everything will become OK. Prem was disgusted with this reply and vowed that he never would come back to his father seeking help or guidance.
Though embarrassing, very reluctantly he approached his aunt to help him. But in vain. When he approached his elder brother, he just laughed away the matter, saying – “Baby, c’mon you are too young to talk big things like divorce. It will be a shame on our entire family if you even mention the word divorce outside these four walls – imagine the depths of shame if you divorce – go go. Take a vacation and come back; everything will be alright.”
Prem, a shy and God-fearing person by nature did not have the guts to rock the boat, in a single mighty stroke.
Months passed by and the chemistry that existed between Prem and Preethi before marriage never returned – according to both Prem and Preethi. Prem felt highly disgusted and even thought of committing suicide.
Prem was cheerful as ever and when he invited me for a dinner – I agreed reluctantly. He took me to a five star hotel. “Why did you not invite Preethi?” “To hell with her. Don’t get her name here. I just came to relax and wanted to have a peaceful dinner – sans crowd.” “Ok… cool down. I bet you will have the dinner of your lifetime tonight” I cheered him. While having food…He cribbed – “I have cleared the personal loan; acquired a Car; acquired all the fancy items that I had dreamt for many years now; also acquired a small apartment of my own; but I am getting frustrated in life despite all these positives. I did not buy all these on my own volition – it was Preethi who egged me to each one of these. Now still she is not content and I don’t know what else she wants. Apparently she herself is confused. I feel like killing her. None in the family are coming to my rescue – no one wants to help me. I am frustrated.” Seeing him in a very dejected and charged up mood, I thought it was better he stay away from Preethi for the weekend for a change. So I invited him to my apartment.
In the apartment, passions ran high when Prem was narrating his sad stories. I was completely overwhelmed listening to his tragedy in life – when I came back to senses we were on the sofa au-naturel. I saw Prem deep in sleep. I slept back. The next morning, with a sense of guilt, I had my longest bath ever. A while later…“Prem…Prem get up – it’s already nine.” Finding no response from Prem, I shook his head…but his head was hanging with saliva out and…he was gone forever.
I was shattered to the core; carrying the unbearable pain in the heart and confusion in my mind; I went back to Kerala to be with my ever-loving parents; and stayed there for few years.
When I came to Chennai on an occasion, I thought of calling-on Preethi. There she was…sitting alone in a dark room, playing with a doll. “Preethi, do you recognize me?” Staring at me like a wounded tiger, she whispered – “Why am I alive. Kill me…Kill me…”. Clutching the doll she cried, “This is my daughter. Her father is Prem. Do you know?”
I called out “Sada..sada…” Came running my 9 year old daughter Sada…With tears rolling down my eyes, I was shattered beyond control and comprehension. Sada is the living memory of that portentous day with Prem…