by Radha Chitta
As Sunitha bid goodbye to Suresh, only she realized it was the end of a chapter. Memories flooded her mind as she boarded the train.
They had met at the engineering college cafeteria. He had offered to pay for her order after she realized too late that she forgot to bring her card. Friendship developed and didn't take long to blossom into love. They were attending the same classes, working together on projects and loved spending time with each other. On graduation day, Suresh proposed marriage. Sunitha wasn't ready for marriage yet. She wanted more out of her own life. She wanted to study further, make her mark in the world. She told Suresh she wasn’t ready to play the role of a traditional wife yet. “But you won’t have to, Sunitha!”, he retorted. “We love each other. Ours will be an equal partnership. We will have no expectations of each other. We’ll be great together”. But she wasn’t convinced. She finally agreed to live together for a few years before tying the knot.
Sunitha received admission from IIT-Mumbai, so they rented a cozy little flat close by. Suresh took up a job which allowed him to work from home. This was convenient as their flat was in a remote place and traveling every day to the city would have been a hassle. Sunitha appreciated what he was doing for her.
The first few months were magical. He walked with her to her college in the morning, and was waiting at the door for her when she got back. They then cooked dinner together and talked about their day. Love was in the air all the time and love is blinding.
Unfortunately, when a couple lives together, reality doesn't take too long to set in, and when reality shines a light you can see things that were not visible before. There were just tiny issues, they always are. Suresh was sloppy and didn't care much for cleanliness. From Sunitha’s point of view he didn't seem to care at all. He would lie in bed all day while working so the bed would be a mess by the end of the day. His unwashed lunch plate would be lying on the bed too.
“Can you atleast take your plate to the sink?”, asked Sunitha one day.
“Ya ya I’ll do it”, he said, and the next day he did. But that was all he did. It didn't occur to him to wash his plate. This irked her but she kept quiet, thankful not to find his plates lying on the bed.
She then started observing that the activity of cooking dinner in the night wasn't, in reality, done together. It was her doing all the work while he just stood there talking.
“Can you peel this potato?”, she asked one night while cooking.
“How?”, he replied.
“What do you mean ‘How’? Just peel it”, she said.
“I don't know how to do it! '', he replied.
So she showed him how to peel a potato, and he learned.
That was the first time Sunitha felt like she had become a mother to a 25-year old man. And it wasn't a happy feeling. She let it pass.
The next night Suresh did not join her while cooking. “I’ve got to prepare for a meeting tomorrow. Let me know when dinner’s ready!”, he shouted from the bedroom. Sunitha was already tired after a long day of classes and Suresh’s statement sounded like an order to her. She cooked dinner quietly in resentment.
It slowly began to dawn on Sunitha that this was not an equal partnership that was promised to her. She was taking on the major load of household responsibilities. Her only options were to either nag Suresh until he did something or do it herself. She more than often opted for the latter. The few times that she nagged him to do something, he got angry and sulked in silence like a sullen teenager. He would give her the silent treatment until she apologized to him or placated him. She wasn't prepared to be a wife or mother, never mind the mother of a 25-year old teenager but that was essentially what she was turning into.
When they were in college together, they would go out with their friends to parties. They would go out for date nights. Now, Suresh had become a couch potato. All his colleagues worked from home too so all their social events happened online. He showed no interest in meeting Sunitha’s friends. Every time she called him, he would say he was busy. If she complained, he would retort with “I’m doing this job to support you! Do you think I enjoy working at odd hours and not going out? If I change jobs, I will need to travel to work and we won’t be able to live so far away from the city”. Except she didn't feel supported.
Sex became mechanical too. She no longer enjoyed it, and gave in to his wishes almost all the time. One night when they had a tussle, she thought she would placate with some make-up
sex. She got dressed up in only lingerie and went up to him, only to find him pretending to sleep. She nudged him. “I’m tired. Trying to sleep.”, he said. She didn’t know whether to feel dejected or amused at the fact that he was trying to punish her by denying her sex.
All this stress took a toll on Sunitha mentally and emotionally. Her work suffered and her professors often gave her disappointed looks. She pushed beyond her limits but there is only so much one can push oneself. The brilliant girl who joined IIT with dreams of greatness just barely managed to graduate and land a job in a software company in Mumbai.
They moved to a place in the city. While she commuted every day for work, Suresh continued in his old job working from home. He often talked about changing jobs now that they were in the city, but he kept procrastinating. She encouraged him the best she could, hoping against hope that things would change once he changed his work. After almost a year, he took the plunge and joined another company. But it only got worse for Sunitha. Now that Suresh had to commute for work, he contributed even lesser at home. It didn’t seem to matter to him that Sunitha was also commuting and working the same as him.
Life drudged on for another year just the same. It was four years since they started living together. These four years had turned Sunitha into an exhausted, resentful short-tempered woman. And then the call came. Suresh’s mom called him and asked him to visit her in Chennai. He asked Sunitha to tag along so he could introduce her to his family. So off they went.
“Hi! Ma”, said Suresh, as soon as they arrived at his family home. “This is Sunitha, my friend”.
Sunitha wondered about being referred to as a friend. But she decided to let it go. She was welcomed with suspicious looks. Everyone seemed to understand what “friend” meant but no one said anything. The next day Suresh’s mom came up to him with photos of five prospective brides. “The Pandit gave many more photos but we shortlisted these five girls. If you don’t like any of these, I will show you the rest.”, she said. Suresh said nothing.
“Suresh! Why didn’t you say anything? Why don’t you tell her about us?”, Sunitha asked after Suresh’s mom left the room.
“It’s not that simple!”, said Suresh.
“What is that supposed to mean? We are going to marry each other right?”, she demanded. She could feel her temper flaring and tried very hard to keep it under control.
“Well yes! We will but it’s all very confusing right now. You are so angry with me all the time and I can’t seem to make you happy no matter what I do. I need to do some thinking”, he replied.
But Sunitha had heard everything she needed to.
The next day she told Suresh she got a call from her boss and she had to go. She boarded the train back to Mumbai bidding him goodbye. After she reached Mumbai, she packed her bags and moved into another flat. She left her final thoughts in a letter:
You will probably call me heartless for leaving this way. You probably do deserve better than being left with just a letter. But at this moment, I am too heart-broken and hurt to be able to have a proper conversation with you. Your last words to me were that you need to do some thinking. I did some thinking too. Yes, I’ve become an angry person and I can’t seem to be happy whatever you do. If I was in your position, I wouldn't have married me too. There is probably no point delving into why I turned out like this. Let’s just say I wasn't mentally or emotionally prepared for the life I had got into four years ago. I was expecting the equal partnership that you promised but I didn't understand the meaning of “not having any expectations of each other”. I should have realized at the time that those two sentences were contradictory to each other. You cannot have an equal partnership with no expectations. When you mean to be equal partners, you have to expect your partner to do their part. You have to expect to become part of each other’s worlds. Instead, our worlds drifted apart. You expected me to take care of you without explicitly stating it. You may not have realized it yourself too. And I took on the responsibilities that our society puts on the role of the wife, without wanting to. Its neither your fault nor mine, I think! We just haven't seen a real equal partnership, and we don't have it in us to create one. All I know is this is not what I envision my life to be. I appreciate everything you have done for me and every way you have changed for me over the last few years.
Thank you and goodbye!
With true love