There is a woman who paints a familiar figure in my minds eye.
In her late twenties, cooking a morning breakfast in her kurta with her 18-month-old toddler playing around her feet.
She has been up since 6am to make sure there was enough hot water in the multiple bathroom buckets from the geezer; a vital morning ritual to ensure her husband had adequate supplies for his morning ablutions. A ritual if missed can provoke an explosive tirade that has on occasion become violent. The heaviness of her eyes is a contrast to the wary quickness in her steps.
Her days are spent watching episodes of TV shopping and soap opera’s, but her eyes barely even glance at the figures moving in front of her as she quietly eats in her bedroom, or absent mindedly lays a protective arm around her toddler to cushion his fall. A son born for the privileges of her dying mother in law, on the insistence of a family that believe her role to provide an heir to the family genealogy was paramount. Her mind is now weighed by greater anxieties, she is pregnant again now with the time for a home termination slipping day by day.
The evenings are a rush to clear her sons clutter of toys, to prevent the potential tirade from a husband who will return with expectations of a clean tidy house filled with the smells of cooked food, and piles of clean laundry being sorted into piles.
She has not left the house all day; on rare occasions she ventures downstairs in the dim dusk light, to the small playground within the “colony”. The colony a genteel description of the middle class ghetto of tall buildings surrounded by tall walls and armed guards, which many Indians now associate with their growing aspirations of a modern life.
Her other outings during the day are closely scrutinized; she attends the house of a neighbor for tutoring, but only when a family member is present at home. At other times she is driven to the local air-conditioned mall and escorted through its myriad shops as her husband surveys the latest technology and fashion.
Lucky, is what her in-laws call her. With equal praises of her temperament and quiet hard work they reinforce her role in the household. She is described as the homemaker, life giver, lucky charm, embodiment of good manners, and even a goddess. Her polite smile and detached presence betray no evidence of her trauma.
I have seen her quietly crying on a balcony as she stared out into the black night. Her argument had occurred behind closed doors, her trauma had been inflicted with an open hand, and even her grief was now hidden behind an outside balcony door.
Others had heard the raised voices, heard the sharp staccato of the slap, they had waited for a prolonged lull in the commotion before venturing out of their own rooms, but even then had only offered some lip sympathy to her, and nothing towards her tormentor. Worse on occasions where female relatives of her husband had witnessed the altercations, she was sympathized with words such as “even I am in terror of my husband, we have to be strong”. The implications are clear, there is no escape, and you must endure.
“You have seen nothing yet,” she had told me through tears that evening. She was right. Trapped in a relationship she could not escape with the life of her young son still so dependent on her. So many times during these pain filled conversations she would regret and be resigned to her life, for she was indeed trapped without money, property, or social networks that could rescue her. Shunned by her family following her ‘love’ marriage, she held the view of many women in her situation “we cannot go home”.
For her it was because her parents would not accept her back, for others it is the shameful social stigma that is associated with such an act.
Her life is not her own sovereign; it has been passed from the hands of her family to her husbands. This situation is only different from that of her ancestors by that of her clothing, makeup, and a tertiary qualification that is used as a mere adornment for her matrimonial advertisement with no further use intended post nuptial.
She is my regret, she is my sister-in-law.