It still gives me chills to think about the events in the following year. A year filled with happy occasions and weddings in the family. In his family. Occasions and functions I still attended as his wife, representing him, covering up for his absence. Occasions when my children and I were expected to smile and have a jolly time with everyone. Occasions when I had to sneak into bathrooms and shed a tear or two when I couldn't possibly cope with all the fake smiles I was forced to share with people. All I wanted to do was curl up in a corner and stare into the darkness that threatened to occupy my very being.
It was the year when he started making public appearances with her. Nobody in his circles had ever interacted with me. So it must have been easy for him to pull it off. I even heard that he sometimes introduced her to people as his wife. Probably to the people who already knew that he was married but had never met me. It was getting more and more difficult to survive the pain. I'd wake up one morning intending to be productive and then the maid or watch-man or some random person would inform me that he was in town, making me realize that we had truly drifted apart to the extent that he didn't even care to make an attempt to meet his children anymore. Our children, who were the last threads that linked me to him. And that would make me stay in bed the whole day, without the slightest will power to even feed my body.
It was also a whole year of us not having a means of survival. It was pitiful, shameful and miserable. My children, who were used to luxury from a very young age, were trying to cope with hunger for the first time in their lives. He was adamant to not send us even a single penny. For a whole month, I tried to convince myself that this would change. He surely wouldn't starve his own children. What kind of a father would do that? What kind of a lesson was he even trying to teach me? The more hungry we were, the more it dawned on me that he wasn't going to send us money after all. Once I had used up all the resources left, I finally confided in my mother-in-law. She was more of a mother to me than anything else. She was appalled at the revelation. She kicked up the dust and confronted him. Demanded that he feed his kids. And soon, she was also on his list of people he wouldn't respond to. For some reason unknown to me, the only member of the family that he maintained active contact with was my father-in-law. My father-in-law who loved his grandchildren and pleaded with him on their behalf. He essentially did the same thing my mother-in-law did. Except that he didn't get shoved into his list of haters in the process. I wondered why. And it all became clear to me one morning when I sensed reproach in their tone to me. They knew about what happened when we last met. And they were understandably not very impressed with the idea of their son being physically tormented by his wife. It's justified, I know. I still don't know how I'd react if I found out that my son went through the same at the hands of his wife. Anyway, the minute I realized that tables were beginning to turn, I made a mental note that I wouldn't accept any more money from them. I know they care for the kids. Deep down, they might even care for me. But I was sure of just one thing. No more sympathy money would be accepted from people I couldn't completely claim as my own. In these dark times, my parents and siblings tried to help as best as they could, mostly by attempting to plead with him, only to be insulted in return. I don't come from money. I couldn't expect them to make much of a difference to my life financially. And I didn't want to ask anyone for help, either.
I still can't spell out what I was feeling at the time. I was more numb than I'd expected. I was more dead inside than in pain. I just wandered around the house like a ghost after the children left for school. Sometimes, I'd snap out of a weird day-dream and find myself perched on the railing of my balcony. Sometimes I'd be on the floor. I never knew how I got there. I could never remember what I was day-dreaming about. It was a time when I realized that maybe, if I didn't have the kids in my life, I wouldn't have made it this far. I can see myself ending it all way back. The children were my sole reason to exist. They were all I had and I'd never entrust them with anyone else. I just had to make sure that the weird sinking feeling that started somewhere in my chest and ended in the pit of my stomach, pulling my innards into a tangled mess inside, should never be allowed to consume me. I was dangerously close, and I knew I had to save myself.
Within a few weeks I understood that my mother-in-law was back to her normal self. She said she was going to be with me throughout. And I truly commend her for the strength she has shown so far. Being able to cast aside one's own child to be there for someone they hurt takes strength. Nonetheless, I was thankful for all the eye openers. And I stuck to my decision to not accept help from anyone. The only problem was, I had no clue as to how I would help myself. It's easy to decide that you'd be strong and never ask for help. But it's difficult to go about it.
It's only when I was making Maggi noodles for the kids one evening, that I realized that things were pretty bad. Things were very bad. My son asked me if I could add some extra veggies in his Maggi and I actually said no. Because we couldn't afford to. My children were eating Maggi for dinner! The sole food item that is famous for being single people's source of survival. Cheap and easy to cook. And I couldn't even do a little extra for them, considering how broke we were. On that day, in my kitchen, I started thinking. I realized that I'd have to pay their term fees soon. I'd have to get them new clothes at some point as they were growing children and would outgrow all their clothes sooner or later. I'd have to pay for school trips, tuition, birthday parties and what not.
It was on that day that I started thinking about everything that landed me in this position today. I was a strong woman who reacted when she found out that her husband hadn't been faithful to her. But I was a strong woman in a man's world. A world where I was taught from the time I was a mere child that I was to be married some day, and that I was to learn to be a good wife and mother, and a good daughter-in-law to my husband's family. I was raised to learn to cook at a young age because that's what good girls do. I was raised without being taught the importance of a good education because I was to be married off anyway. I was told that husbands cared for their wives and wives cared for their children. I still remember how I took up English Literature for my degree in a small college, in a small town, merely because I wanted to keep myself occupied till I got married. The trend 15 years ago was for girls to get married soon after their graduation. Very few women wanted to pursue a career and I was surely not one of them. Even before getting married, or even getting to meet my future husband, I was already in love with him. I was in love with the idea of being in love. That's what my society taught me. That's what Bollywood and all those Tamil movies taught me. I looked forward to meeting my knight in shining armor, my Prince Charming. The idea of a damsel in distress appealed to me.
When I look at the girls today, I'm glad to see a difference. Times surely have changed for the better, I guess. Parents do emphasize on the importance of a good education. There are fewer house-wives than before. Girls are told that they should work hard and study well so that they'd have a career when they grow up. They're made to believe that a career was to be their future. I made a promise to myself and to my daughter that she would only have to worry about a career. That becoming independent should be her only concern. She should first get a job, and then marry someone of her choice. I would advice her to forget the wedding bells and try to be best-friends with her husband. Her life would be different from mine. And mine wouldn't end like this either. I would set things right in my life. I would rise from the ashes and secure the lives of my children. I promised myself. A promise I intended to keep. For, it was time for me to be a truly strong and independent woman, and it didn't matter that I was living in a man's world.
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