The husband ventured into married life with an unshakable set of tenets that he’d expound to me on a regular basis: Wives take over a man’s life, wives distance a man from his family, wives keep a man away from his friends. I was fifteen years younger then and much less experienced in the ways of men and matters – I can think of no other reason why I did not retort, ‘So why didn’t you stick with the family and friends? You shouldn’t have ticked the box that said Marriage.’
Having travelled a bit along the marital road since then, it’s I who seem to have lost all my friends; the husband has every last one intact, if the hours he spends each night on email are to be believed. But the tenets are still with us. Over the years, I have taken his friends to the doctor, taken them shopping, got up at unearthly hours to pick them up or drop them, travelled three figure kilometres to have lunch with them, even tolerated inane conversation from their wives, but I remain the suspicious outsider, always to be watched lest I breach the wall that is boyhood friendship.
Recently, when a friend came to stay, the husband hissed at me, ‘You’d better behave. No clever remarks,’ – the husband’s hissing abilities are truly remarkable – ‘he’s been through a traumatic time.’ I duly warned Amma and, since Amma is no respecter of hisses, explained, ‘The friend’s wife’s just left him. The other guys are coming to provide him moral support.’
Amma and I dusted out our best mournful expressions – and the bedroom upstairs. I came home early on the Saturday as instructed so that the car could go and fetch the Broken Heart. Who arrived wearing pink Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt that read, ‘The World… According To Me’.
On the first day, he looked at the stairs, edged with books the family can’t bear to let out of their vision. ‘Are those books climbing up?’ he asked and cackled. Ha, ha, I thought, as I cleared up the books the next day.
After the second day, Amma took me into a dark corner and said, ‘You’d better take some leave.’ ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘That man keeps going out all day,’ she said brokenly. ‘Yesterday afternoon, when I was trying to rest, I had to get up four times to open the door for him.’ The next day, I opened the door seven times, while the husband remained in office, working blissfully. But I had to keep this friendship – and this marriage – going, right?
The next day, Broken Heart sat me down in another corner and looked earnestly into my eyes, ‘Your husband is working too hard – far too hard. You should give up your job and help him organize his work. He is a creative person, and creative people don’t like to be shackled by routine work. Wives must support their husbands.’ If I hadn’t laughed, I would have cried – and lost a husband. BH looked wounded anyway. So I explained that my job enabled the husband to pick and choose projects and pander to his ‘creative abilities’. There’s little point in explaining to a man – especially one who’s graduated from an IIT – that women have creative needs too, and not just of the nappy and soother kind.
Two days later, the other friends arrived. A week of riotous living followed as the boys’ club in the upstairs bedroom did a ‘regression to college days’ act. The air was thick with smoke. Amma and I sat downstairs trying to lip-read each other, while music and cackles of laughter wafted down to us. It did not help that the cable operators had gone on strike, we felt strangers in our own house.
The son lived his life on the periphery, interrupting his homework to go and gape at the big boys upstairs. Admiration was writ large on his face. Luckily, there was a parent-teacher meeting that week and the maths teacher had asked to see me, or he would have turned to me and asked, ‘Mum who?’
Home after a series of diatribes from the teachers, I was treated to another from Broken Heart, ‘Children have delicate souls. He is expressing himself through his handwriting. If it is bad, then he is expressing a mental trauma. You must find out what is troubling him.’ I threw caution to the winds to reply grimly, ‘He has no mental trauma that won’t be cured by a whack on his backside.’ BH looked pained and withdrew into his shell. The husband glared at me – I could almost see further hisses stored away in his eye for me.
Well, the friends have departed. And I am waiting for the showdown with the husband. They say the great comedian Groucho Marx’s wife left him because he told one joke too many about her. Dear St Groucho, I’ll say ten rosaries, only keep my marriage intact after this piece is published!
First published in The Financial Express in August 2001.