16 October, 1989.
I am finally free to sit down and put my thoughts on paper. Work and the wedding arrangements kept me busy throughout the year. It feels strange and alien now, coming back to my journal. Growing up, my journals kept me company. There was no one else to talk to or interact with. My one true friend who knew and kept all my secrets was my journal. I guess everything is different now because I finally have a real friend. Someone I can confide in and trust with my life. Someone who happens to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I can't even believe my luck! A year ago, a chance meeting (it can't even be called a meeting) with a beautiful girl turned my otherwise hopeless existence into something full of love and happiness. Seeing her that day at Nagarajan's house was a sign of good luck for me! I landed my first job and the privilege to be hers. And today, I'm married to the love of my life. It's been two months and I can't believe it. I can't believe that it's been just two months of togetherness and at the same time, it's hard to imagine that two whole months flew by so quickly! Seems like it was just yesterday that I saw her walking towards the Mandapam, decked it her silk saree and traditional ornaments.
"It's all so new to me. And it makes me feel loved and cared for."
Latha is a kind soul. She's the perfect wife. She wakes up early in the morning and makes me breakfast. And what's more, she even packs lunch for me. I don't have even a single memory of taking packed lunch to school, college or work. Amma never did that for me. I don't even recall the last time I had breakfast before leaving the house in the morning. It's all so new to me. And it makes me feel loved and cared for. It's always the little things. The (understandably) strange thing is how poor Latha is finding it hard to cope in this household. You see, she comes from a family where everything is prim and proper. Their house is spick and span, everything is always in order and everyone seems to have a routine. And then, this poor girl walks in to live in my home. Here, nobody bothers with even a proper meal. Nothing is exceptionally clean. And there's really nothing about this place that could make her feel at home. I remember how on her first morning here, she woke up early and went to the kitchen to help Amma with fixing the breakfast, only to find out that nobody was up. She waited till about 10 a.m and finally asked me what she had to do to get some breakfast because as it turns out, there weren't even any ingredients to make a proper breakfast. She was probably appalled when she realized that this is how it was going to be. In fact, Amma gave her the shock of her life by sending me to fetch vegetables for lunch at 1 pm, only because she realized that this was Latha's first day in our "home" and didn't want her to see how dysfunctional we really are as a family. We finally had "lunch" by around 4 p.m that day. I should have known. I should have warned that poor girl. I should have softened the blow. But she's quick to catch up. The next morning, she borrowed money from me, walked to the market close by, got her ingredients and made breakfast for the whole family by 9 a.m. By the time I started going back to work after my leave, breakfast was always served at 7:30 a.m sharp, complete with two flasks full of coffee and tea respectively for the people in the house who prefer to wake up late. This was not appreciated by my stingy parents because wasting money on extravagances like coffee and tea was not ideal. But I decided to buy her the raw materials anyway because I knew how a sense of order and discipline was important to her. The best part is how she times everything so perfectly. She told me that she enters the kitchen in the morning as soon as I get into the shower. She fixes breakfast in no time because she's very organised. She starts preparing the tea/coffee for me when she hears me step out of the shower and serves everything piping hot by the time I come down for breakfast. I love and adore this woman!
"With things being so perfect in this house for once, and with my parents actually beginning to enjoy the tasty meals prepared by my wife, I couldn't imagine what could go wrong."
She's unbelievably respectful and kind to even my parents who I believe, are incredibly annoying and frustrating to live with. The only time she complained to me about them was when my mother tried to make things even more difficult for her in the kitchen. You see, we have a gas stove as well as a traditional firewood stove area in our kitchen. Firewood is easily obtainable in the area where we live. And we have to pay for gas in order to use the gas stove. It's not hard to imagine that two stingy people like my parents were probably quite content without a lot of excessive cooking taking place in the house for more than one reason. With things being so perfect in this house for once, and with my parents actually beginning to enjoy the tasty meals prepared by my wife, I couldn't imagine what could go wrong. Until one day, we didn't have enough gas to run the stove, and hence, all the cooking had to suspended for the time being. It was my parents' responsibility to pay for the gas cylinder and book one in advance so that such a situation could be avoided. Latha initially thought that my mother had forgotten to do it whereas I knew that she'd deliberately waited for this to happen. When my wife approached her mother-in-law with this issue, she was greeted with silence and a shrug. I didn't even know how the kitchen worked all these years so I had no clue about what had to be done to fix this. For days, poor Latha had to use the firewood stove although I tried my best to bring food from a hotel close by. Finally, my parents declared that they wouldn't pay for gas and that expenditure also landed on me. This was probably the icing on the cake for my wife. I knew that she held resentment against them for all the drama and heartache they caused in the events leading up to our wedding.
We were engaged for about a year and that is unheard of in our society. No sane family allows their daughter to just dangle on a loose thread of hope for so long. Thankfully Latha put her foot down and said that she would marry nobody but me. Otherwise, I'm sure I would have lost her with the indecency shown by my parents. The reason why our wedding was postponed for about a year is that my parents suddenly realized that I could be a source of extra income to the family. After having landed a secure job, my monthly earnings could make life a lot easier for them. Not that they would start spending on basic human comforts and necessities more than they already do, but I guess some people are never satisfied with what they have. My marriage would mean that they wouldn't be at the liberty to do so anymore as I'd be a family man myself and hence, more inclined to spend my money on the "new girl" who walks into my life. They tried lecturing me on how it was the duty of a faithful son to care and fend for his parents who took a lot of pain and efforts to raise him. Apparently, I was who I was today because of the opportunities that they provided for me as my parents. However, I only remember going hungry for days as a school kid, surviving on the packed lunches that my friends shared with me, walking for hours to all my classes and working part-time to pay for extra tuition. I am only thankful to them for two things.
1) They sent me to a reasonably good school and provided an above average education. (Achan was doing well at his job in Jaipur so all the stinginess hadn't crept in yet. He actually paid a good sum of money as school fees and also gave me the exposure of growing up in North India).
2) Achan recommended me to Mr Nagarajan who landed me a good position in a reputed company. (I was determined not to beg and plead but the office politics in most establishments made it impossible for me to get a job on pure merit. It's sad that this is how things work in this country)
For these two reasons, I will be eternally grateful to my father. My mother never provided me with the love, affection and comfort that I craved as a young boy. So I was not going to let them ruin my prospects of being with the woman I love because they think that they somehow deserve a portion of my earnings. Latha's brother consistently showed up at our place and tried to discuss the wedding plans with my father. All he did was be nice and amiable to my brother-in-law and finally extend the wedding date by another two months. I knew how her brother resented us for that. I knew how this was probably hurting my beloved. So I had to accept defeat and agree to pay a third of my salary to my parents every month. This was a kind of safety net for them. It also meant that with all the added expenditure, my wife and I wouldn't be able to rent a place of our own.
Latha probably annoyed some of the women in our family on the day of the wedding as well. First of all, my father refused to conduct a proper reception ceremony after the wedding. Generally, the bride's family hosts the wedding and the groom's folks conduct a reception at a hall or a hotel. Achan decided to conduct our reception at home. In this very house. Thankfully, Latha's family was decent enough to not say anything. But since it was on the same day as the wedding, a lot of my female cousins/aunts volunteered to get her dressed for the evening (because nobody was going to pay for a beautician in this house). To which Latha politely said, "no thank you" and locked the door behind her. In less than an hour, my beautiful wife was ready for the function. She handled her entire look for the evening all by herself. Refusing help from the over-enthusiastic females in my family was a brave thing to do. But you know how it is in this society. She was the outsider and she was new to the family. And she actually gave them a reason to pick on her. It doesn't affect us much but things are getting slightly tense for me. And it's only been two months. I can't blame Latha for any of this. I feel incredibly guilty for putting her through this. But I don't really know a way to escape from this fate. The only option is wait for a promotion. Then, I might be able to afford a place of our own. I can only hope that 1990 is a good year.
"They probably feel that she could have been married to a more successful person or to someone with a more decent family."
I can practically hear her exhaling a sigh of relief each time we decide to go over to her place. We spend some weekends at her house with her mother, brother and his wife. They are incredibly nice people and it's always a welcome break for Latha from working non-stop, taking care of my entire family's needs single-handedly. Latha never even once complained about her situation in my house. She never complains about how I can't provide for her in ways that her brother did. She's fashionable and talented and enjoys shopping. But with whatever meager amount I manage to save every month, I try to take her out for a movie or for dinner. I haven't been able to buy new clothes for her either. Whenever we go over to her place, her brother usually takes us out for dinner. He's a nice person and it's obvious that he dotes on his sister. I don't know why but it always seems like her family doesn't completely approve of the life she leads now. They probably feel that she could have been married to a more successful person or to someone with a more decent family. But I'm determined to make things better for myself and my wife. It won't always be like this. With the first opportunity, we will escape from my parents and things will get better.
One evening, when her brother took us out for dinner, he kept jabbing at me about my work and about how things were different for his sister. They were small jabs and I was sure no one else at the table even noticed how awkward it was for me. He would casually mention how his sister is finally repeating clothes these days as she was the kind of girl who never wore the same dress more than twice. Or he would talk about his business plans and how life was more flexible and comfortable for businessmen as opposed to salaried men who had to be careful with their spending. I tried my best to not take anything too seriously until the bill arrived. We were a party of five and had ordered a lot of food and desserts. I was curious as to how much such a meal would cost so I peeped in when he was looking at the bill. He noticed this and asked me in front of everyone present if I'd like to pay the bill. Then he burst into laughter. Everyone around me politely smiled and I myself managed to smile after having politely declined the offer to pay. Because truth be told, I could never afford to pay that bill. Not if I wanted to survive the next two weeks before salary day. I agree that I am probably a disappointment to him and the rest of Latha's family who think that she could have landed a more suitable boy. But I wish they could see how I do everything I can to make her happy. I worship her and care for her to the best of my abilities. I wish they could see how happy she was with me. Latha herself never complained about a thing. She's supportive, understanding and never asks to spend a single penny. I thank them for raising such an amazing human being. But I also wish they didn't hurt and humiliate me so.
"She made it known to her family that she wouldn't tolerate this kind of treatment of her husband at the hands of her loved ones."
It was naive of me to imagine that nobody had noticed her brother's jabs directed at me. That evening, before bed, my lovely wife cuddled up to me and sobbingly apologized for the way her brother had behaved that evening. The next morning, she packed our bags, smilingly bid goodbye to her family and left with me. It was obvious to everyone present that I had no clue about leaving ahead of the schedule. She made it known to her family that she wouldn't tolerate this kind of treatment of her husband at the hands of her loved ones. I couldn't feel more supported, loved and cared for. That woman is my rock.
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