It was in May that I first caught sight of the anklets. Initially, I stopped to look because you seldom see anklets displayed in a jeweller’s window. But then I fell in love. They were so prettily worked, so unlike the usual South Indian patterns with which I’d grown up. I did a hasty calculation. If I played my cards right, I could get the husband to get me those for our anniversary in July. There was enough time.
And so there was, but I hadn’t calculated on the joker in the hand I’d dealt myself. The husband. Who belongs to that tribe of men that seldom thinks of anniversaries, and birthdays, till they loom large in front much as the iceberg must have done before the Titanic. Fourteen anniversaries have gone by since I married the man, and I still thought each year, ‘This year will be different.’ There’s no limit to a woman’s optimism.
For the next three weeks, I raved about the anklets, talking of them to Amma in safe hearing distance of the husband. A few minutes later, I’d sigh and say, ‘We’ve been married almost fourteen years. Can you believe it?’ Not the slightest flicker would light up in those brown eyes I’d once swooned over. The man had obviously never played word association games in his life.
At the end of June, I asked the husband lightly, ‘Darling, what shall I get you for our anniversary?’ If that didn’t provide the cue to talk anklets, nothing would, I thought to myself. But the husband looked up from his newspaper and frowned at me, ‘I rather think we should not waste money this year on anniversary presents. The house we are building is getting to be quite expensive, a little sacrifice wouldn’t hurt.’ I was in despair. I wanted those anklets.
Ten days later, he was in a better mood. ‘Shall we go out for dinner on our anniversary?’ he asked, abandoning his Free Cell game on the computer. He’d just had ten straight wins and set himself a new record, so I plucked up my courage. ‘I saw these lovely anklets,’ I began. ‘Would you like them as an anniversary present?’ he asked. I heaved a sigh of relief and nodded vigorously. Battle won, I thought to myself.
The countdown to the anniversary began. Every day, I asked the husband his schedule in the morning. Two day before the anniversary, he replied, ‘I’m really busy today, I wish you’d help me more with the house.’ I hastily abandoned the conversation — it was taking too uncomfortable a turn.
Anniversary day came around. No flowers, no cards, no presents. ‘Another one gone,’ I thought bitterly to myself, looking at the husband opening his presents. But then he looked up and said, ‘Shall we meet for lunch and go and do your shopping?’ The smile returned to my face. But half-way through lunch, the husband’s mobile phone beeped. It was the son, wailing, ‘Dad, my debate has been rescheduled for tomorrow, and I haven’t even got it written.’ The husband looked at me. Feeling expansive after a huge meal, I said, ‘Let’s go back to him. We can do the anklets another day.’
By the time we’d heard the son go through his thoughts about whether teachers were better or computers for the eleventh time, it was almost ten o’clock at night and my expansiveness had worn off. No dinner too, I thought resentfully, as we got into the car to take the son to his teacher, who was waiting to hear his debate speech.
While he was there, the husband took me to the local flower wala, and said, ‘Why don’t you choose yourself some flowers?’ I was spoiling for a fight by then. ‘Can’t you do even that much by yourself?’ I asked. ‘Well, how do I know what flowers you like?’ he asked in his most reasonable tone. Fourteen years, I muttered to myself, as I picked out the best of the drooping rajnigandha at the stall. The husband came up with six red roses. I looked at him scornfully. He knows I hate red roses.
Two weeks later, we went to Jaipur. It was the husband’s brother’s birthday, and we were helping the sister-in-law choose a present for him. We passed a silversmith’s shop, and I asked her airily, ‘Isn’t that where we got that necklace for you?’ and glanced at the husband. He was busy fiddling around with the car stereo.
At the next halt, I asked the sister-in-law again, ‘Where can you get anklets here?’ The husband came to life with a start. But the sister-in-law intervened, ‘Oh, I have a very pretty pair that I don’t wear. I’ll give them to you.’ And when we got home, she did. They were very pretty, but a nice South Indian pattern that I’ve worn all my life. The husband grinned at me, ‘Well, you’ve got your anklets, haven’t you?’ I should have known when I married a Jain!
First published in The Financial Express in August 2001.