Sonia is standing in her balcony with her evening cup of tea in her hand. Kunal, her husband, is not yet home, and the girls Ria and Ragini are out with friends. Like on most days, this is her time of the day when she is by herself, lost in her thoughts. This is the time when free from her mundane routine, she has the luxury of reflecting upon things, upon her life, upon the choices that she has made in life. And of late, this need to reflect has become more significant, thanks to Ragini and her prodding. She can’t help thinking, wondering about where she is today. Outwardly she is in a happy space living with her family consisting of her husband, mother in law and two daughters. She lives in a beautiful house in an upmarket part of the city. She has money, position and a good circle of friends. But is she happy? She doesn’t know. She knows she should be, but she can’t tell whether she is or isn’t. What she can tell however is that there is disquiet, this niggling sense of dissatisfaction, of things not being right inside her. It is not there all the time, but now of late, it is there more often than not. And she doesn’t know how to deal with it. She continues to get this feeling of being pushed and pushed to do things she doesn’t want to, and she knows she can’t do it any longer. She wants to break free. But break free and go where?? She doesn’t know. It is all so confusing, so overwhelming.
Her daughter keeps telling her to start thinking about herself and stop getting bogged about things that are not that important but somewhere Sonia is confused about what is important and what isn’t. She seems to be somewhere where her mind is clouded, and she can’t think clearly. Whenever she wants to do something that is purely for herself, she feels guilty; she feels as though she is being selfish. But of late courtesy Ragini, she is somehow being able to push aside all these thoughts and think for herself. And somewhere the disquiet is coming from the realization that most of her decisions in life have not been hers. She has got influenced, she has got carried away by emotions and sentiments, and she is regretting all of that today. Her daughter keeps telling her to learn to make her own decisions and not get influenced by anyone and definitely not by Kunal.
This has made Sonia ponder over her life. Has Kunal influenced her? As per Ragini, she is so under his influence that even if in a situation, she has a viewpoint that is contrary to Kunal’s, she eventually ends up doing what he wants her to do. Is it true that most or maybe all the choices that she made in life were not hers? They were the ones that Kunal made for her, and she just went with his decision. But why at that point did they seem to be her decisions when as she now realizes they weren’t really hers??
As she is mulling over all this, the doorbell rings and she knows that Kunal is back home. She goes in to welcome him. In a short while, the girls are back too. Soon it is dinner time and the entire family along with her mother in law who also lives with them, are at the dinner table. She feels happy seeing everyone around her engaged as they are in their banter, their leg-pulling of each other. Smiling faces, happy family. But why is she not happy? What is bothering her?
Sonia and Kunal have been married for close to twenty-five years now. They met while they were in college. They had been in the same class and had connected over their love for Economics. They had both been passionate about the subject and used to be forever debating on various topics with their Economics Professor. They usually were on the opposite sides though after a while they would end up being on the same team, which as she saw now was Kunal’s side. He had always had a way of convincing and persuading her, and she had always ended up agreeing with whatever he wanted or whatever he thought was correct. Why were all these thoughts bothering her today? She hadn’t questioned any of this before today, so what was different today. Different was that today Kunal once again wanted her to quit her job to look after his ailing mother and no matter how hard he was trying to convince her, she wasn’t getting convinced. The primary reason was that today she had a twenty-two-year-old daughter who was pushing her to think for her self, who was making her see things from a different perspective.
After finishing college, Sonia and Kunal had both decided to go to London for their higher studies. That had been Sonia’s ambition, and Kunal had liked the idea, and so they had spent the following three years of their life, first studying and then working in London. Those had been the best days of Sonia’s life. She had been independent, carefree and able to devote as much time as she wished to her work. Kunal had been around but more like a boyfriend who didn’t get to control most aspects of her life. She had rented an apartment with help from her father, had made a lot of friends and been very happy. As a person, Sonia was an extrovert who loved meeting new people and what is more people loved meeting her and talking to her. She could strike up a conversation with a stranger at a party and carry it on for the next two hours without either of them wanting to end it. This trait would initially amuse Kunal but later on started irritating him because he was the complete opposite of her. He was smart and intelligent but not much of a talker. He was a loner who loved spending time with himself, his books, his music, and didn’t care too much about being with people. He was an introvert who didn’t like wasting time as he called it on other people. And when he saw Sonia doing exactly that he didn’t like it and would make his displeasure pretty visible. But while they were in London, Sonia was able to ignore his views on this topic and be the way she wanted to.
Anyways after spending four glorious years in London Sonia had to move back and six months later Kunal also followed suit. As she had known once they moved back, the parents started pushing them to get married. Even at that point, as she now saw it, Sonia had been fond of Kunal. She had liked him, but she hadn’t been in love with him or anything like that. But Kunal apparently did love her, and between him and her parents, everyone managed to convince her to believe that she loved him too. She could now see that it had been mainly his idea and she had just fallen in with it. She remembered that though she had liked being with him and spending time with him, she hadn’t been in love with him. Anyways giving in to everyone’s wishes she had decided to tie the knot with him and had started her new life.
Kunal had been a loving and caring person who never made any unnecessary demands on her. She could continue to focus on her career as much as she wanted to, but everything by and large had to be the way he wanted. They had taken an apartment on rent which she had loved the moment she had seen it. But everything about it, the way they had done it up, to where they had sourced everything had all been his decision. She had gone along with him as it had all seemed fine to her. Two years into the marriage and they had decided to start a family. Though Sonia had wanted to wait for at least another year, Kunal had thought otherwise. He had told her that there was too much pressure from his parents, and since she wasn’t getting any younger, they should go ahead. And so Ragini was born a year later.
Kunal was a fantastic father who doted on his daughter and spoiled her rotten. He loved taking care of her, bathing her, feeding her and changing her nappies. Though his mother always had an issue with his changing the nappies, he ignored her. Even if Sonia had to travel on work and leave Ragini behind he never had any objection, he would adjust his work schedule, or he would get his mother to take care of the little child. When Ragini was two years old, Kunal’s father suffered a major heart attack and needed a lot of care and attention. Since his parents had thus far been living alone, Kunal had decided that they should move in with him as he was their only son. Though Sonia understood the need of the hour, she wasn’t too comfortable with the idea of her in-laws moving in with them. But obviously, she had no choice. On his part, Kunal tried to put rest to all her apprehensions by telling her that with a young child at home and with both of them having tight work schedules it would be good to have his parents around.
So the parents moved in, and Sonia started facing issues at home. She was never able to put a finger to what exactly was the issue, but every now and then something went wrong. Sometimes it was Ragini not being looked after well, other times there was an issue with the food, at other times with looking after the house. The thing was that no matter what the problem was the reason for that issue was the fact that Sonia was not able to devote adequate time to the house. She was always made to feel by the mother and son that she had fallen short and wasn’t capable enough. She clearly remembered one particular instance when Ragini had fallen while playing outside and badly bruised her face. Sonia had been at work at that time though Kunal had been around. But when she had reached home, she had been made to feel terribly guilty, and her mother in law had blamed her saying that that is what happened when the mother did not have time for her children. She had looked at both of them in a bewildered sort of a way wondering how was she to be blamed for an accident. And if she was responsible as a mother, then what about the father?? Did he not have any responsibility? But she had kept quiet and taken Ragini to her room to sit with her.
But as a result of that and many other such incidents, Kunal started believing that Sonia because of her work was neglecting her duties towards her family and home. He felt that she wasn’t capable enough to handle everything and needed to sort herself out. Sonia remembered the first time they had had this discussion, and she had looked at her husband as if he had gone mad. Wasn’t this their home, their family and their child. How was it that none of them were any of his problems? But apparently, the responsibility was more hers than anyone else’s!! Anyways taking everything in her stride, she moved on trying to juggle, trying to balance various aspects of her life. And then one day she discovered that she was pregnant for the second time. Though a little hesitant about going along with the pregnancy, she got convinced by her husband to do that, and thus Ria came into their lives. A second child brought a lot of joy and happiness into their lives but also brought more responsibilities and a greater sense of guilt for Sonia.
Sonia had to join work at the end of the maternity leave by when Kunal had decided that she needed to choose between her family and career. He kept trying to convince her as to how, as a mother, she needed to be around her children, how it was her duty to look after every aspect of their lives. He warned her that if she failed in doing that, then she would be responsible for whatever went wrong with them in future. Now Sonia was not a dumb person and not likely to get influenced so easily. She would question Kunal and ask him why the children were only her responsibility and not his too. She wanted to know as to why she had to give up or sacrifice her work for them. Why couldn’t it be him? But of course, there were no answers. It was all about her being a mother, a wife and therefore responsible for everything.
Gradually as she could now see, she started believing that she had to be a perfect mother and a perfect wife more than anything else. Any other role, especially that of a working person was not as important as those two. So she started becoming negligent towards her work life. By doing this, she was not only able to spend a lot of time with her children and watch them grow, which gave her a lot of happiness but she could also keep peace in the house. Her husband was pleased whenever she took time off to be with her family. But she had to pay the price for all this. Her work life started to suffer as she was unable to give enough attention to it. Life became complicated. Whenever she was at work, she worried about her children, and whenever she was home, it was the opposite. She was forever caught in a dilemma and could not see any way out of it. Her husband and his family pulled her away from work; her parents wanted her to think about herself. She didn’t know what to do.
She was an educated, modern woman who could not imagine sitting at home to look after the house and hearth but she felt terribly guilty when she could not be a part of her children’s lives because of the work. The situation was reaching a point where she needed to decide. The act of managing, of balancing everything was taking a toll on her. And then the happenings of one morning proved to be the catalyst. That morning she woke up to find that both the kids were down with fever and cold. Ria, in particular, who was just three at that time was in bad shape with a very high fever. Both were cranky as was to be expected, and Kunal and his mother were far from being of any help. Kunal made it seem as though the children had fallen sick because they were not well cared for and were neglected. Sonia had an important work meeting, but how could she leave the children. No one was stepping in to help; the children were bawling their heads out, and Sonia was fed up. Not being able to think clearly, at the spur she decided to quit her job. The moment she said this to Kunal, he jumped to help her type her resignation letter. He didn’t let her take any time to think. Her mother in law also chipped in to say that that was the best decision for a mother and before she could even think, the mail to her boss had gone. The reason cited by the husband was a family emergency, and since she had good relations with the boss, she did not have to serve the notice period also.
The next few days were spent in nursing the children back to health, and then….. the enormity of what she had done hit her. It happened on the day the kids went back to school, and all of a sudden Sonia realized that she had nowhere to go. Kunal had gone to work, her in-laws were busy in their life, and she had nothing to do. She tried to get busy with the household chores, but they held no interest for her. She tried to deal with the situation patiently for the next six months but just couldn’t deal with the idea of being a housewife. Once the children left, she had nothing to do, and she started feeling that she was wasting her time and deeply regretted having taken that rash decision. She blamed Kunal for pressurizing her and forcing her to quit by taking her on the guilt trip. The two of them started having frequent fights over this. Eventually, Kunal suggested that she should take up a job in the school where he wanted the kids to study. Since the school was a prestigious one, getting admission there was not easy, and he felt that if Sonia could volunteer to teach there, not only would the children get admission but they would also not be required to pay any fees. How convenient!! Though Sonia hated the idea of teaching, she agreed because she also felt that the job, on the one hand, would enable her to work and on the other would enable her to be around her children.
So she took up the job and though she hated it to begin with gradually she got used to it. Not only that with time, she also started enjoying it. She discovered that she had it in her to share her knowledge with others, and had a flair for talking and being friendly by nature, she could develop a rapport with her students. She also started taking an interest in the administrative part of her job, and in a matter of a few years, she managed to make a place for herself in the school. She was popular with the students, and the authorities relied on her. So though not her first choice, the work began to grow on her and she started enjoying it.
Time went by, the children grew up, and life was good. Kunal continued to grow professionally. He had become quite senior by then. Sonia too, had risen in the school hierarchy and become pretty indispensable. Though happy with her life, she did miss her corporate life and couldn’t help wondering where she could have reached if she had continued to work there. Though she wasn’t part of the corporate world any longer, she would get nostalgic about it and loved getting into discussions with Kunal’s friends and colleagues whenever she met them. But then reality would strike, and she would get back to her school life. But what surprised her was that ever since she had taken up the teaching job at the behest of her husband, he wasn’t very comfortable about telling people about it. It was fine when they were with people who knew about, but whenever they met someone new, he wasn’t very keen to tell them about what she did. This behaviour was in sharp contrast to when she had been in the corporate world. And if she mentioned it to him, he would dismiss her observation as being a part of her imagination. She was sure that it wasn’t her imagination working overtime or anything like that, but he would try to convince her that it was just that.
The one thing that she felt happy and content about was the fact that her girls were growing up to be smart, intelligent, young women and she felt proud when they did well in their academics and other activities. It gave her a sense of great satisfaction to see that her sacrifice had yielded good results. Out of her two daughters, Ragini was the more sensitive and caring one with whom Sonia could discuss everything under the sun. As a mother, she had always tried to be an approachable and understanding parent who was not only always available but was willing to share anything and everything with the girls. The fact that the communication channels were always open ensured that the girls could talk about their grades, boys, clothes, anything with her. And Ragini being the more sensitive one could many times understand her mother’s feelings even if Sonia didn’t say anything. Also, as a child, she had always been able to sense whenever her mother was upset about something. As a result, she had at a subconscious level learnt to understand the situations, the things which affected her mother. Also, over the years, she had realized that Sonia killed a number of her desires, wishes for the family sometimes willingly and sometimes perforce. And the force usually came from Kunal’s side. She had observed that many times when her mother wanted to do something like going out with her friends or family, he did not like the idea. And invariably he would cook up something which had to do with the girls or family time, anything to make it soft and sentimental and stop her from going out. He always took advantage of the fact that Sonia was an emotional person who would do anything for her family, and he would use that to manipulate her. She would get manipulated, and then, later on, she would feel awful for having ditched her friends or whoever it had been.
So the now, young girl could see that Kunal had ensured that Sonia had no life other than the life around him. Though not apparent to Sonia, it started becoming clear to Ragini as she began to grow up and become mature and perceptive. She felt terrible for her mother, and as she blamed her father for this, slowly and gradually, a resentment started building up inside her against him. She began to feel that he didn’t care or love Sonia; he just used her to his advantage. And what is more, this behaviour of his also played on her psyche where she couldn’t trust anyone because she started believing that no relationship was true. She started feeling that everyone thought about their gain or benefit in a relationship with no care whatsoever for the other person’s feelings or emotions or well being. And as a result, she felt very protective of her mother and would encourage her to start doing things that she wanted. Gradually she started pushing her to go out, read, sing whatever she wanted to do. She would convince her by telling her that they didn’t need her so much and were old enough to take care of things in the house if required. She would even fight with Kunal if he tried to stop Sonia.
As a result, since Sonia got a chance to be alone, to do things of her own will, her mind started clearing up, and she started being able to see through a lot of what her husband had been up to. It made her feel cheated and used and in a state where she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to spend a lot of time with her husband, yet they lived together. He was an integral part of her life. Then her daughters were also there. What was she to do? She was in a fix.
But she was sure that she needed space, some time out. She didn’t want to leave her husband, that was sure, but she wanted to put the pieces of her life together. She knew that her girls didn’t need her so much now, the house could also pretty much run on autopilot. She knew that professionally she had achieved what she could; there was no way that she could go back to the corporate world. Though teaching had never been her first choice gradually, she had accepted it and had started liking it. But now there was no way that she was going to give it up. If her mother in law was unwell, they could hire someone to look after her, and she didn’t have to quit to do that. She was clear about it and decided to communicate this to her husband. She knew it wouldn’t be easy. He would use his usual tactics[ as she now saw them be] to persuade her. He would get angry at first, then he would become soft, and then he would continue to convince her till she gave in. He was tenacious to a fault. But this time was different; she wasn’t going to give in. She had made up her mind.
So this is exactly what happened. Kunal, one day after dinner, asked her what she had decided and looking at him in the eye, Sonia said.,” I am not quitting.” Though Kunal could sense a change in his wife and her attitude, he wasn’t going to give up. So a few days later he took her out for dinner and once again asked the same question. But this time he was a little authoritative with her. But to his surprise, her response was the same. On the way back, he started getting emotional and telling her how all his life he had depended on her for everything and how she had always risen upon the occasion to step in and take charge. He told her that he appreciated her sense of duty and commitment and how that was evident in everything that she did. She kept listening to him without interrupting, but on this occasion, she could see that not only was her husband a tough negotiator but a very smart one at that. That was probably one of the reasons for his success in the corporate world. And of course, he was tenacious as hell. He didn’t know how to give up.
Since he could sense that his attempts were not yielding the desired results, he drawing upon her sense of duty told her that this time she had to live up to the role of a perfect daughter in law and give up the job for his mother. He said to her that it should not be so difficult as she didn’t like it much in any case. Moreover, to her surprise and shock, he added that the job wasn’t that prestigious and so quitting could not be a problem. So rather than wasting her time in a school, she should take care of a family member who needed her. To convince her he said that since the girls were also out of the school, she didn’t need to be there any longer. What the man was not realizing was the fact that the more he was trying to convince her the angrier she was getting but was only waiting for him to finish. She wanted to see the extent to which he could go to persuade her. For the first time in her life, Sonia was not getting emotional about anything. She was as detached and unemotional about the situation as it could get. As a result, she could clearly understand what Kunal was up to and what he had always been up to.
Once he had finished, he looked up confident and assured that he had done the needful. The only hitch was that this time he hadn’t been able to do that. With a clear head and oozing with confidence, Sonia ripped apart all his arguments, his contentions one by one. She told him that her decision was made and she wasn’t going to leave her job. She said to him that it was her sense of duty and commitment that prevented her from doing that. She told him that if she had a responsibility towards her family, then she had it towards her school too. And then once again looking him in the eye, she said,” Since it is your mother that we are talking about, why don’t you take time off from your work to care for her? Why should it be me?”
She went on to say that even though he felt that her job was not prestigious enough, she had no issues about that. She believed that educating the next generation was the noblest thing that anyone could do. And yes she hadn’t liked it, to begin with, but now she had begun to and enjoyed working in the school. So, therefore, leaving the job was out of the question. As far his contention about the girls not being there was concerned she told him that now more than ever before she needed to work. She was done with her parental responsibilities; the girls were old and independent enough and didn’t really need her. So, therefore, she needed to put her time to use, which is what she was now going to do. She went on to add that now with more time on hand; she was planning to join a book club and a salsa class because she had wanted to do it for a long time. And then she told him that she was forwarding the number of an agency to him which could help him to get someone to care for his mother.
By then, they had reached home. Sonia got out of the car, walked up to the lift, with her head held high. She knew that Kunal hadn’t given up, he would try again, but this time, for the first time in her life she wouldn’t give in.
Jaya KumraDecember 1, 2019
Loved reading this story. So true for so many women. Loved the fluidity of the language and clarity of expression. Sangeeta is a fabulous writer.
Sangeeta RelanDecember 2, 2019
Thank you so much Jaya🤗🤗