Subha Manoj

While I Was Away

The Married Man

Of the many secrets my heart holds, some the moon knows and some my tears – Subha Manoj
PC: Google Images

‘I will be leaving for Nagpur tomorrow. And unlike last time, don’t pack too many shirts. You know I will be back in two days. And how many times do I have to tell you to keep the newspaper in it’s place!’ bellowed Shiva. His eyes roved all over his life’s biggest investment; a 2 BHK modest apartment in the outskirts of Pune.

The house shook as Shiva thundered around finding faults in everything. Poorna felt her underarm sweat, and she could feel her blouse give away the faint odour of her sweat. She glanced at the two children sitting at the dining table, with their noses deeply engrained in their school textbooks. She knew they were not studying but if there is anything which calmed Shiva down during one of his showdowns was to see their kids ‘studying’. She muttered a quick prayer under her breath thanking God for such thoughtful kids who had already learnt to live a life that made their father happy.

The day had been spent the way every Saturday had been like for the past fifteen years. Poorna serving hot tea with two rusks to Shiva who liked to dip the rusk in his tea till it was precariously hanging at the brim of the cup. And at the right moment, he would slurp a big chunk of the rusk into his mouth followed by couple of big sips of tea. This was followed by a detailed newspaper reading, when it was expected from Poorna and kids to be as silent as possible. This was followed by the nearby temple visit and then he would sit with the kids to teach them till lunch time. Math and Science were given undivided attention. ‘There is nothing in English and Social Studies! Any idiot can learn it. It is logic and science that rules the world.’ Poorna spent every third Saturday evening making chicken fry and rotis; Shiva’s meals for the next two days that he spent in Nagpur for official matters. This would be then packed neatly in Horlicks bottle and a steel lunch box.

Poorna waited for these two days of the month, when she could exhale deeply. The rest of the days, her breathing was shallow, just like the role she played as Shiva’s wife. She wished for guts to ask her husband why he had to be upright at all times, not giving in to the simple joys of life like stretching legs on the coffee table and lean back on the sofa or waking up late instead of 5:30 am or having an occasional Maggie instead of poha four times a week; the list was endless. Shiva was the quintessential Indian married man: the man of the house.

Shiva got down from the train, and walked towards the auto stand. He had a faint smile on his face and no one noticed the song he was humming. He turned the key and entered the neat room which would be his abode for the next two days. He didn’t have much of time, but he was used to it now. He quickly went to the bathroom and gave himself a nice clean shave. It helped that he didn’t grow a moustache. He ran his hands along his cheeks. Satisfied, he smiled. And then he opened his suitcase. He took out Poorna’s saree, blouse, jewellery; a modest pearl necklace and a few bangles, some basic make up and ofcourse the big red bindi. Almost half an hour later, he stood in front of the mirror. Someone else stared back at him. It was not Shiva, it was a beautiful woman…almost. Kohl rimmed eyes, a big red bindi, maroon lipstick , an impeccably fitted wig, neatly draped saree and red bangles.

As he walked down the road, he felt liberated. He could feel the light mist, the nip in the air as he walked through the footpath. With no particular destination in his mind, he walked. He could periodically sense a few eyes on him, but that didn’t bother him a bit. This was not new to him. All he did was look back straight into their eyes. There, that’s it. That’s all it needed for them walk away hastily. These monthly two days were his catharsis. A city where no one knew him, and he was a completely stranger to the fastness around him. These two days, he was miles away from the man that nature had rendered him to be. There had been moments when he had laughed at his name. Shiva: Ardhanaarishwar. Yes, he had lived up to his name. But it had costed him a lot. And his mind went to Poorna. His wife, his naïve wife. Every time he shouted at her and bickered for the silly disorder in his house, he knew he was just trying to pay attention to the mundaneness around him, so that the magnitude of his misery did not slap him hard.

He thought about his ten year old self trying to wear his mother’ saree and being slapped, his father kicking him when he was twenty because he had used his sister’s make up and finally stepping down from the stool which would have been the stairway to moksha, until he realised that he was a coward who would have to live a life of a man trapped in his male body.

When his mother begged him to save the family’s respect and get married, he knew he was fighting a lost battle. Thus Shiva, the husband was born. The quintessential Indian man who would marry, pro-create and fend for his family. And behind this façade, he will die a sweet slow poisonous death as each day passed by. He will wait patiently for the day when he would be released and he could be someone else. Not just anybody else, he would be a woman who could throw her head back and laugh seductively, who could know the pain of bringing a child into this world, who could feel the breeze in her long tresses and the tickle under her feet. Till then he will be Shiva: The Ardhanaarishwar, yet the married man.

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