My protagonist this time is a woman who probably made some wrong choices in life by letting her mother influence/ dominate her. She feels that today in hindsight but at the time of making the choices it all seemed just right. This is the story of a woman and the invisible umbilical chord that kept her in shackles.
Rhea was a child much adored by her parents. She had no siblings so their attention and focus was only on her. Her mother, in particular, did not want her to be deprived of anything in life be it money, ambition or love. She wanted her to excel in everything that she did and especially in her academics. She closely monitored every aspect of Rhea’s life from her academics, her food, her clothes, her friends to her extracurricular activities. She played an extremely active role in her daughter’s life. And in fact, never allowed Rhea to have any independent views. It was always as though Rhea knew that her mother knew the best and she had to just follow her instructions.
While still in school Rhea became friends with this happy go- lucky guy, Siddharth who was in her grade. He was quite the opposite of her which probably was the reason why she was drawn to him. Though she loved her life, her parents but sometimes her mother’s pushy, aggressive nature got to her. Sometimes she also wanted to be like other children of her age who despite not being the toppers of their grades were happy and led carefree lives. She, on the other hand, was always stressed about her grades, her classes and her mother. Siddharth or Sid as he was called came from a similar background as her but was calmer, fun loving and relaxed about things. He made her laugh and look at things from a different perspective. She loved being in his company.
Sid also liked her though he found her to be a bit too serious at times and sometimes quite boring. Many times he felt that Rhea let her mother bully her and she was too much of a ‘ good girl” But then she was a friend and they did have good times with each other. He enjoyed ragging her about her serious and uptight ways. He liked the fact that she was helpful, caring and extremely loyal and he could depend on her for a lot of things. Being a carefree person, he never cared much about school work or teachers which would get him into trouble many times. But she would always be there to bail him out. So in a way, they balanced out each other’s lives.
Time flew by and before long they had finished school and it was time to join college. They ended up going to different colleges. But even though they could not meet as often they still continued to be the best of friends. By then even the parents knew about their friendship but it wasn’t such a big deal. By the time they finished college Rhea being the fiercely ambitious girl that she was wanted to go abroad to a top school to pursue higher education. Sid was happy to be in India. The physical distance, however, did not affect their friendship in any way. Whenever Rhea was in town, they would meet up and spend time with each other.
Gradually it seemed that they were growing on each other and couldn’t do without each other. After college, Rhea started working in the US and since she could not always come back to India, Sid would go and meet her. By now Sid had also started working and maybe because of Rhea ’s influence or otherwise had become extremely ambitious himself. Their conversations were all about their working lives, how they could excel in them, about current affairs and the worlds they lived in. They found each other’s company very stimulating and rejuvenating.
The respective parents were not oblivious to this relationship and could sense that there was something deep that was keeping the two together. Of course, Rhea’s parents had by now started looking for a match for her and the first person that came to their mind was Sid. When they mentioned this to her, Rhea was taken completely by surprise. She was fond of Sid no doubt and a large part of her life revolved around him but…. marrying him… she had never thought about that !!!
But the more she discussed this with her parents, the more the idea started growing on her and she realized that she would actually love to marry Sid.
But would he also be open to the idea?!?! That was a million dollar question!!
It was, in fact, a bigger shock for Sid when Rhea broached the topic to him. Yes, Rhea was a wonderful friend, she was his ‘Go To ‘ person but getting married to her….. in fact getting married at all .. was not something that he wanted or was ready for!! His response was a big ‘No’. Rhea was quite disappointed but she did not give up hope.
She decided to give some time to Sid before broaching the topic again. Her mother waited for about six months for Sid to come round but when he did not, she decided to take matters in her hands.
She called up Sid’s mother to propose the alliance. She managed to convince her saying that since they had been together for so long, it was only natural that they should now be getting married.
Having managed to convince the parents she now decided to talk to Sid. They had met each other many times before in school and whenever he had visited them. She sat him down and explained to him how it was right for the two to tie the knot. She felt that since they had known each other for so long, shared many common interests and got along very well, they could be happy with each other.
This convincing on the mother’s part and the constant prodding by Rhea had the desired effect. Sid felt that this was the right thing to do and though not immediately, agreed that they would get married in the future. Rhea was over the moon and so were her parents. Though Sid was very clear about getting married only two or three years down the line, Rhea and her family went around telling all their friends and family about the alliance. Since the two were part of the same social circle, they now started to be seen as a couple. Sid was not too comfortable with the idea of being seen as someone about to get married but he went along with Rhea.
Rhea’s mother was someone who had not been able to work herself when she was young as her husband had had a transferable job. But she definitely wanted her daughter to continue working even after getting married. Moreover, she wanted that both Sid and Rhea should share all responsibility after marriage. She had ensured that Rhea should never consider herself to be less than anyone, least of all to a man!!. In fact, the notion of feminism and its necessity was firmly entrenched in Rhea’s head. Even as a schoolgirl she had been a strong advocate of women’s rights. And this conviction had only become stronger with time. Sid had always been aware of her views but it had never bothered him much. In fact, he had always taken all this with a pinch of salt and made fun of her. But what was now gradually becoming clear to him was that Rhea was going to carry these ideas into their marital home. She was very clear that after marriage they would both share responsibilities equally and she would not be solely responsible for anything just because she was a woman.
Sid was quite okay with all this, to begin with, but what he started realizing gradually was the extent of influence that Rhea’s mom had on her and how in the garb of feminism she was actually trying to absolve her daughter of all duties and responsibilities after marriage. Since he had started interacting a lot with her parents now, he figured that her mother knew about all their conversations and their content. Everything he discussed with Rhea was known to her mother. Also even if she agreed to something with him she would change her mind the next day. This he realized was because she had discussed it with her mother. Thus from things like where they would live after getting married to how many children they would have to which bank they would have an account with, her mother had an opinion on everything which would then become Rhea’s opinion. It was as though he was constantly having a three-way communication.
After it became a bit too much he decided to express his concern to his own mother. His mother obviously could make out that Rhea’s mother was in the habit of controlling Rhea’s life and was not likely to give up even after they got married. She told Sid to have a word with Rhea’s father. The father was very understanding and promised Sid that he would speak to his wife. But Sid realized that no matter what anyone said or did Rhea’s mom was not going to budge. In fact, her involvement in her daughter’s life started increasing now.
Sid and Rhea had decided to live on their own after getting married. But whenever they went around looking at apartments, the mother would go with them. When they finally zeroed in on one, she wanted to impose her views on everything from the colour of the walls to the kind of furniture they would buy to even the brand of their TV. Sid though a happy-go-lucky person was no pushover. All this interference was getting to be a bit too much and he was finding it difficult to keep his temper in check. He had figured by now that asking her to back off through Rhea was not working. So he decided to catch the bull by its horns. He had a candid conversation with his future mother in law. She tried to justify her stance by saying that since Rhea was her only child she was extremely attached to her. She even tried to get some sympathy for herself by saying that she had nothing but only her daughter in her life. The bottom line was that she wasn’t going to stay away.
The final straw came when Rhea was asked to go to New York by her company and her mother told Sid to quit and accompany her for support. She felt that since Rhea’s job was better than Sid’s it made sense for him to quit and go with her. In fact, she had the nerve to tell Sid that his kind of average jobs could be found anywhere. They were available a dime – a – dozen. Sid was livid with the mother and daughter duo. He decided that he had had enough of this and was n’t going to take it any longer. He decided to break up with Rhea and bring an end to his problems. He did not like what he was doing but there was no way that he was going to sign up for a lifetime of control and interference. This was a big shock especially for Rhea who could not understand why he was doing this. She tried talking him out of his decision but he would not budge. She tried meeting him, tried telling her parents to speak to his but nothing worked. Sid and his parents did not want to go ahead with the alliance. The anger and resentment that had been building up inside him had now found a vent.
Rhea did not want to give up the new assignment nor did she want to give up the relationship. But it was pretty clear that she couldn’t get both. Her mother advised her to think about her career and move on. She was quite sure that Sid would follow her daughter. In fact, the daughter was also sure about that.
So with a heavy heart, Rhea boarded her flight. Somewhere she was hopeful that Sid would follow her. But that didn’t happen.
As she started her life in the new city away from everyone and especially away from her mother gradually she began to view her life very, very objectively. She could now see that her entire life had been a life designed and programmed by her mother. Most of the times her own wishes and desires had got squashed and she had done things to please/appease her mother. She had never had any independent views and in the light of this, she could now also relate to Sid’s views, his feelings and his anger. She could see that her mother out of her love for her and her over-protectiveness had managed to push Sid away.
This new independent lifestyle also made her realize how incredibly liberating and peaceful it was to live on her own. In a way, she was her own mistress not answerable to anyone and for once not even to her mother. Though her mother visited her once in a while she could not come and live with her as she would have loved to because her father was now not keeping too well.
Life moved on. Through her common friends, she learned about Sid ‘s marriage. The news left her with a huge sense of loss but there was nothing that she could do about it… She was now in her mid-thirties and her parents were getting quite worried. They wanted her to get married but she just couldn’t find the right person or maybe she didn’t want to.
But then fate always has a role to play. Like a bolt from the blue Sanjay came into her life. Sanjay, a quiet, reserved guy worked in the same building as Rhea. She bumped into him in the elevator a few times and being fellow Indians they started talking to each other. They started meeting after work and gradually became good friends. Then one day he just proposed to her and she accepted without giving it much thought. Maybe it was the pressure from her parents or the pressure from the fact that most of her friends were married by then. And then she did something that she had never done in her life. She decided to get married to him without informing her parents about the decision. The only people who attended the wedding were Sanjay’s sister and her family and some of their friends.
The earlier experience with Sid had instilled this fear in her head that if she consulted her mother, she would have a hundred things to say and the relationship would never be able to take off. So, therefore, she informed her parents a week after getting married. Her mother was of course completely shocked and very, very angry with her and took the first available flight to see what Rhea had done. She wasn’t too happy with the choice but couldn’t do much about it. She stayed on for two weeks but realized that Rhea was not too open with her about most things. That was quite a shock for her as she was used to Rhea telling her everything about her life. She even tried to get close to Sanjay but he was just about cordial with her and very, very formal.
With a heavy heart, she decided to go back. Rhea dropped her off to the airport but was quite detached and it seemed that she was quite relieved to see her mother leave.
Rhea was now totally focused on giving her best to her marriage. Sanjay was quite easy to live with though he did not share a lot of Rhea’s interests. She loved going out, meeting people, going shopping, movies but he did not care much for such things. He was a quiet person who could sit in a corner of the house and not bother about anything. One day she made plans to watch a movie followed by dinner with some friends but when she told him about it he just refused. He just didn’t want to go !! She had no choice but to cancel because she didn’t want to go without him. Even at home, he was generally quiet and did not have much to talk about. Though they had seemed to have quite a few things in common when they were dating but somehow now things were different. At such times she couldn’t help missing Sid and wondering if she had done the right thing by marrying Sanjay… He was caring, he was loving but somehow it wasn’t the same for her as it had been with Sid. She knew that it wasn’t fair but could not help comparing the two men. On the surface, everything seemed fine but it wasn’t the same. Still, she managed to push herself to make things work.
A year and a half into the marriage and Rhea conceived. She was absolutely delighted. Sanjay took a while to get used to the idea but eventually came round. It was quite evident to them that Rhea’s mother would have to help them once the baby arrived but Rhea wanted to delay her arrival as much as possible. Her life was peaceful, everything was going well and she did not want anyone to disturb that.
Her mother came in the last month and she could sense that Rhea was keeping a distance from her. She was there but yet not there. All her advice and suggestions were not accepted immediately like it used to be earlier. Rhea would listen to her but then do what she thought was right.
After the birth of her daughter, Rhea’s mother went back. Life was very difficult for Rhea as she had to look after the child, the house and her work. She was always torn between her responsibilities. Being terribly ambitious she hated sacrificing her work but she had to do it whenever her daughter needed her. Life was a constant struggle and there wasn’t a moment’s respite for her.
Sanjay wasn’t much of a help and she was pretty much on her own. He wasn’t a great father either and never spent too much time with their daughter. Even with Rhea, there wasn’t a lot of warmth in the relationship. He largely lived in a world of his own which revolved around his work, his books, his gym and his music. He couldn’t really be bothered about her, the house or the child. He wasn’t very demanding either and just couldn’t understand why Rhea had be hyper all the time. He was casual, he was relaxed which drove Rhea nuts but he wasn’t going to change for her. Household chores or responsibilities were not really his cup of tea and nothing was ever a crisis for him. Rhea had no choice but to accept this state of affairs.
So this was now her life, a life with a man who was there and yet not there…..a far cry from her intended life with Sid…. she missed Sid’s enthusiasm, his zest for life… She missed Sid……
What she had envisioned about her marriage had not really come true. She had always thought that her husband would be someone who would actively, willingly be there with her. Someone who would fight with her, argue with her, laugh with her, cry with her and then make up with her, not someone who was there and yet not there… Many times she thought of leaving him but there wasn’t any particular reason to do that and then she definitely did not want to deprive her daughter of a father. So then …. what was the answer… She realized that the answer lay in a stoic acceptance of her life the way it was, the way it was going to be.
But why had this happened?? Why had her life turned out the way it had ?. Where had she gone wrong ?? Had she paid the price of being a good and obedient daughter?? Had she allowed the invisible umbilical chord to control her life?