The music playing on FM radio, as I drove down Indira’s flat, was “Desi Girl” (literally a song about native girl, and how you won’t find anyone like my native girl, anywhere in the world).
The idea that the nakharas of desi girls are unparalleled in the world is highly suspect. No I wasn’t going back to native charms, I was leaving Uma to go back to Indira who had newly acquired a FB profile, where she was posting her photos in the latest western clothes, updates about her visits to spas, and hair stylists, snaps of pastas and enchiladas she was cooking at home; Indira whose father owned a, now prospering, packaged foods business; and all this with an additional promise of freedom from unmitigated feminism of the likes of Uma.
I was excited to be going back to Indira, and I thought I had the right expectations — after being away for four years, I was prepared for Indira to seem less like the person I had lived with, and more like a person I knew only as an internet friend: casually familiar, but really unknown.
Our reunion was success by any metric. We went to movies together, shopped in malls, entertained old friends (always side by side — our new found intimacy on display) and our families (with smiling faces), bought a new SUV, furnished the house with designer curtains, modular kitchen, and a state of the art home theater.
And yet, six months later, I found myself thinking — not whether to get out of the relationship again, but how.
A week later, I was back with Uma.
Anyone who’s commented on Indira’s FB wall, has commented, at some point, that there are two or three Indiras: the naive Indira, the emancipated Indira, the ferocious Indira. Maybe they stop at three because it’s difficult for others to imagine more.
Early on, all that seemed true. I’d see the naive Indira who accepted me back joyously, being taken over by emancipated Indira, who would question me unlike before, who, ultimately, being taken over by ferocious Indira who would contradict me in public, or ask me to shut up.
But then the multiple Indiras vanished, and a dull, everyday Indira surfaced. I stopped noticing her old self, her new self, and the contradictions therein. Within weeks, I was routinely telling her what food I wanted, when my socks needed to be in washing machine, and clothes ironed, and when the bed needed a change of sheets. I had learned to shower her with praise when she cooked continental food, and bring home flowers and chocolates, when I crossed a line, and she wouldn’t talk to me. Everything was familiar, normal, unremarkable, as it should be; I was living with Indira.
Then it started to go wrong.
My marriage to Indira wasn’t a love match, but rather arranged by my parents, without even asking me what I wanted. So I had not really seen Indira as a human being, just as someone who my parents had arranged for me. Like one arranges a job for someone incapable of finding one.
Three weeks after we were back together, I noticed, for the first time, that Indira sweated too much, all the time. That despite her numerous trips to spas, and beauty clinics, she rarely looked like the photos she had uploaded on Facebook. I started calling Uma again. One must have backups.
Within two months, I had stopped bringing in the roses, and chocolates. I had learned my lessons after accidentally listening on the other line, her boasting to a friend that she faked anger to garner my attentions all the time. It only spoils them if you give them too much attention. Besides, they’re all attention whores.
In three months, I had my first bed rage incident: I forced her to do it, using my strength, and the power of societal norms, when she complained for the fourth night in a row of a splitting headache. I wasn’t going to let the ferocious Indira to control the naive Indira.
Then when she contradicted me in front of our driver, I shouted at her and asked her to shut the fuck up. My driver looked at me with new found respect. I don’t know how Indira felt, as I couldn’t look into her eyes.
I confessed about these changes to a friend who assured me it was fine really, and that we would have a fabulous life together, if we both kept on doing the small things right, not thinking too much about such one off incidents, all too common in relationships.
But I had no doubt if our relationship could be successful. I knew it could be. I hated what I was becoming.
I struggled, I regressed, I improved, I tried learning from others — except so many seemed (to me, not to them) worse off: a public abuse here, a not so subtle inquiry about our sex life there (I’m still furious with myself for answering), tips on how to keep my women “in her place” everywhere — it just didn’t stop. And Indira was becoming more assertive, dominating, giving back to me every now and then, like a closet feminist who has come out after all those years.
And so it goes.
In any breakup, there is this moment when a person who was a part of you just an instant ago becomes a surrealistically familiar stranger. After that moment, inertia and denial can only delay the inevitable.
On my last night with Indira, I held her tight, and cried; I knew this second goodbye was final. When I first left Indira, I left her for Uma. When I left Indira again, I left Indira and went back to Uma.
Why do I feel better with Uma? Maybe because I chose her, unlike Indira who was chosen for me. Perhaps the artificial stability of arranged marriage had made us take each other for granted, never having to think about the other person as person, and we ended up suffocating each other. We masked the faults of other, romanticizing them with platitudes handed down by elders, but those faults surfaced once I started thinking. Perhaps Uma and everyone else has some of those faults, too. But with Indira, I could see them glaring out at me, like those intimidating Hindi soap vamps whose closeup occupies all 60 inches of wall mounted Plasma TV, in HD, with a deafening background music to complete the horror.
Partly, it’s worse with Indira, because I expect it to be better, given our forced union long back.
Indira’s naivety is still glaringly obvious. But couple it with a new-found feminist ideas , and in double quick time, the western dresses or the Rs. 800 worth haircuts start losing their charms. Maybe Indira is naive because of her conservative upbringing under a brute of a father, and an equally ignorant mother. Maybe, as she mingles with people at her workplace — well rounded, articulate, confident — she will be a better person. I know she will be. I’ve just resigned myself to the fact — that I won’t be a part of that future.
I’m glad I went back to Indira, and I’m glad to be back with Uma. Life has come full circle but the center has shifted. I didn’t go to Indira to find stable relationship, but I did find it; I now know where I belong. As Laozi might have said, sometimes the journey of a single step starts with a thousand miles in the opposite direction.
(As I left in my old car for Uma’s apartment, FM had an English classic hour on, and I settled back to immerse myself into Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman”. Finally digging it, after all these years
Note: This blog is a piece of pure fiction, and any resemblance to any other non-fiction pieces such as “Why I Left India (Again)“, are totally accidental. But then accidents do happen. Especially when your intentions are not very clean.