The second memoir, Love, Trauma & Individuation, is about my marriage. Unlike most Indians I did not want to chance an arranged marriage. I wanted to make sure I married a right person who would help me heal. Unfortunately, I had jumped from frying pan into the fire. The next 18 years of my life were even more tragic than my childhood. Under the influence of Indian culture, I found it almost impossible to divorce him. It is a unique story where on one hand I was extremely successful in my career, I continued to endure an abusive and exploitative marriage.
It was in the year 1984. I had graduated from Regional Engineering College (REC) with an undergraduate in Electrical Engineering. I lived in Faridabad, near Delhi, employed in the computer department of Escorts Ltd, a heavy engineering company located in Faridabad. I had been diagnosed with Duct Papilloma, which, at the age of 23, meant nothing, except that I needed to go thru surgery. So I admitted myself for surgery at a local hospital, called Sukhda Hospital, in the plush suburbs of Pamposh Enclave, in New Delhi, where Deepji lived.
The surgery went thru without any problems. Drifting in and out of anaesthesia after the surgery, I remember Shakdhar, a friend from REC, Deepji, Billoo Bhaiya, Pappoo Bhaiya, his wife and their mother in the room that was too brightly lit for my dilated pupils. I remember Kuckoo didi, Deepji’s wife, was not there for she was preparing for her surgery at All India Medical Institute, New Delhi, for jaundice. She was terrified of the surgery. To my amazement, all of them were terrified of her jaundice and the impending surgery, when it really was a minor procedure, as minor as mine.
They seemed terrified for me as well. Solemn faces looked down upon me as if I had just walked back from the dead. I hadn’t been scared. It had been a simple procedure, but their faces looked like shit. I remember feeling touched by their concern, also feeling somehow superior to all of them for being so unafraid of death and dying. Little did I know then, that my lack of fear was actually tragic, for I had nothing to lose. No one would mourn me. I had been thrust into this world all alone, and my journeys had been solitary. For me, betrayal was a synonym for the word family. Death would have been as much of a relief then, as it would be now. But in that time and space, I was proud of my foolish fearlessness. Bravery. Courage.
Lights. I wanted the lights out. They were hurting my eyes. Someone turned off teh lights. The faces receded to the background. All of them sat quietly in the dark. Someone whispered “Call the doctor,”.
“I am in intense pain,” I said.
“The doctor is coming,” someone said.
I remember a pleasant faced doctor came within the next few minutes. I pointing to my bandaged right breast which has been cut open during surgery that morning, and had a hose attached to it to drain out the puss. He signaled to the nurse who went away and returned with a sedative that she pumped into my arteries thru the IV. A cool feeling swept thru my veins settling into my body.
“There, this will help you sleep,” he said, “call the nurse if you need anything else, or are uncomfortable,” he said. The cool warmth permeated all across me. Thank you, I said from the bottom of my heart. The angel of mercy had been by my side, on my side the whole time, even against the throng of guests that I really did not wish to meet. A haze began to settle but even thru that haze, I could feel a dull pain inside my right breast. Much later, thru that deep fog, I heard someone ask me to have my dinner. I must have refused.
“I’ll leave it on the table for you,” the soft and dreamy voice said, “have it when you wake up.” The fog subsumed my senses again.
I awoke quite suddenly. It was pitch dark, except the LED lights on the equipment left behind in the room. Something did not feel right. The hair on my arms was standing on end. A chill permeated thru the body. I felt inexplicably terrified, and shivered in the dark. Had I had a bad dream? Women always have a sixth sense, the consequence of a larger, thicker Meduala Oblangata than men, which allows them to switch between left and right hemispheres much quicker than men. It has an evolutionary advantage of helping them protect the young ones from danger. I felt danger nearby. What could it be? I tried to move ever so slightly. The sharp pain shooting thru my right breast made it impossible to move much, but I became aware that I was holding something in my hand. I tried to yank my hand away in fright but another hand gripped and prevented mine from moving, and my hand remained in proximity to the warm fleshy object. The fog hadn’t lifted completely, but the revolting touch snapped my senses back to anxiety. A hand curled over mine, pulling my reluctant fingers apart and forcing them to curl around the warm, fleshy cylindrical…..object. Unshed tears jumped into my eyes as I struggled to withdraw from his penis.
“Sameer, no!” I tearfully implored, confused, and frightened beyond my wits, and revolted by his insensitivity. I was in the hospital. He had locked both my wrists to prevent me from pressing the button that would summon the nurse.
“Shhh…” he said, as his free hand moved my hand up and down the shaft. I should have screamed. I would, now. But I was 23 year old then. Frightened. Confused. Engaged to marry the man who was raping me at a time when i was most vulnerable. And utterly embarrassed and ashamed.
“Please! No!” is all I could say, but he simply locked both my wrists in his grip, and moved himself closer. I could feel the hair on his legs against my naked thighs, for I was still in the clinical blue hospital robe that smelt of disinfectant
“Let go, please!” I struggled. Pain shot down my right breast and filtered thru my entire body. I winced. “You’re hurting me, let go of me,” I said, more fiercely than before. But the resistance only seemed to excite him further. I felt his free hand slide into my gown, and up towards the breast that wasn’t injured. He moved closer, towering over me until I froze in panic. Even a slight movement of my breast felt like a dagger being turned inside of me, and I froze in anticipation of pain, turning my head away from his penis which was now against my check, rubbing against my cheek and slowly making its way towards my mouth. I felt bile rising up my throat and was glad I hadn’t had dinner. Humiliation paralyzed me into an inertia which I would feel everytime he repeated such acts over the next twenty years. I couldn’t move – the surges of pain were unbearably severe with the IV needle compounding the pain and so, I helplessly lay there like a dead body, feeling his hand reach out for the healthy breast. His fingers curled around it in a vice like grip. I remember feeling grateful it was the healthy breast, and he hadn’t fancied the one that law all cut up and sewed up.
“You’re hurting me Sameer,” I began to sob, slowly at first, and then quite loudly, as tears fell from my eyes and seeped into the pillow under my head. He didn’t speak. My eyes had gotten used to the shallow light of the LED bulbs on the equipment monitoring equipment in the room. He was bending over me, his face quite close to mine. He wasn’t even looking into my eyes, nor at me. His eyes were intently focussed on his hands that were rubbing his penis against my lips with one hand, and holding my breast in the other hand and moving them round and round in mechanical circular motion with the other hand, alternating between compressing my left breast, and releasing it, twisting it, turning it, pinching my nipples till they hurt like hell, thrusting the penis that was hanging from his body, towards my face, and when I turned my face away, it would land up in my ear. He didn’t mind that and took to shoving it in the hole in my ear.
As I struggled, his face contorted into almost a snarl as his face grew intense and focussed in trying to break my resistance. His eyes had a glint that scared the crap out of me. His breathing was uneven, and I could see, smell and almost taste the sweat on his brows and forehead. His body hair had been stuffed into my mouth, and I could feel the follicles in my mouth that I tried to spit out. All of this disgusted me even more so I closed my eyes and submitted myself to the rape. Every bit of the struggle felt like a dagger in my right breast, and the needle on my hand, twisting this way and that with every thrust from him, made me silently scream in pain until I was exhausted and turned limp with a mixture of hopelessness, helplessness and pain. Ive always had a very high threshold of pain, but today it was being tested to the max.
Eons later, when presumably he had had enough of my left breast, he stopped and pulled his hand away. Thank God its over, I said to myself, but I was wrong, for he had merely stopped to recharge and for change in posture. He released my hands that he was holding by the wrist, pinned my hands by the side of the bed and mounted me until his penis was at my breasts. He released my left hand enough to mush the two breasts against each other and slid his penis in and out of the slight crevice between them. My shame forgotten, I screamed with pain, weeping inconsolably. Mom!!! Mom!!! Mom !!! my heart screamed every time he thrust himself in and out. I tried to focus on the face that had always stared out of my Mom’s photographs. The golden hair, the hazel eyes. So much like mine. Had my father raped her too? Is this what relationships were like? I tried to imagine what my life would have been like, if only she had lived. I tried imagining myself in Germany, far far away from where I was, if my father had lived. I wanted to lose myself in my imagination but the reality was too harsh to escape. Tears flowed uninterrupted, like a balm on my pain.
Suddenly there was wetness on my breasts. The fluid stank and I almost gagged with the stench. His head slumped forward and his penis grew limp.
I was 23, innocent, and gullible, and this is how I would first find out, experience and learn about male erection, ejaculation, and how babies are actually made. I had not even seen it in a movie.
Suddenly there was a knock on the door. The nurse had heard my muffled screams and had come to check on me. Sameer tore himself away with alacrity making me wince in pain again. He got off the bed and into his clothes.
“Are you ok maam,” the voice accompanying the knocks on the locked door asked. I tried to respond but no voice came out from my throat. Everyti=hing was painfully frozen. The fluid on my breast…..almost as wet as the lubricant for ECG and Echo test had been the previous day….continued to stink.
“Just a minute ma’am, she’s in pain, and I’m in the bathroom, I’ll be there in a minute,” Sameer said, shoving his pants on quickly, dragging the white sanitized sheets to wipe away the stinky fluid carelessly until it spread over my entire abdomen, throwing the bunched up sheets on my body to cover my shame. I longed for the safety and comfort of the blue hospital gown that smelt of chlorine and had seemed so scarce earlier. The crime scene has to be cleaned up before he opened the door. Sameer then quickly ran to the bathroom door, flushed the toilet, and then ran to open the door to our suite with perfect calm and poise, with his head tilted to one side, and that winning smile he has for the ladies.
When she came in, I lay limp and aghast in the bed, my half closed tearful eyes glazed and vacant, my arms outstretched helplessly. Every inch of my body was throbbing with pain, shame and disgust. The IV tubes had been yanked away from my hand. She readjusted the IV, adjusted the sheets to cover me properly, and without asking, she injected a dose of sedative into the IV, then came around and put her hand on my forehead.
“You dont look good! Are you ok?” she asked with concern, “would you like something to eat?”
“No,” I tried to say, and then shook my head slightly, tears running down my eyes.
“Oh you poor thing. The first day after the surgery is always the most difficult. I have given you an extra dose of the sedative, it should stop the pain, and help you sleep,” she said. Sameer stood in the background. I didnt want him there. Or anywhere.
“Yes, I want to sleep,” I said, “I want to be alone in the room,” I said. She looked surprised, and then looked at Sameer, who appeared completely poised and gentleness personified. My request was not new, for I had said the same thing immediately after I had opened my eyes earlier that afternoon. “The light is getting into my eyes, and I want to be alone,” I had said when I had seen so many faces looking at me earlier that day. She wasnt very surprised.
“She has been twisting and turning in her sleep. Probably a bad dream,” Sameer broke in like silk, explaining away everything – the yanking of the needle, the half naked body lying on bed without sheets, the muffled screams, and the tears running down my eyes. He was looking at her with a soft gaze. A half smile stretched across his thin lips – a smile that was meant to created an illusion of dimples on his cheek. The smile he reserved for young girls and women around him. The smile that attracted young and girls and women to him instantly. The nurse wasn’t any exception. She smiled at him and nodded her head, “she’s going to sleep well now,” she said, “there’s enough sedative to knock a horse off,” she said.
“she told me that she was finding it difficult to sleep with me in the room, so I was getting ready to leave anyway. Take care of her,” he said, and then turned around to look at me.
“Bye,” he said walking up to the head of the bed and gingerly touching my forehead with his hands and letting go when I flinched, “I will see you tomorrow…actually later today….after work” he said, looking at his watch. I distinctly remember wishing he would just vanish from the face of the earth. I would never miss him.
“You are so lucky. You have such a caring fiancée ! And so good looking too,” the nurse said as he closed the door behind him and left.
“what happened?” she asked after he had left, turning her attention towards me. I looked blankly at her. “I don’t remember anything,” I said as I looked away, hoping for the blessed fog, “just don’t let anyone into my room until daylight,” I said. Many times since, I wonder why I didn’t protest louder, scream louder, or have him thrown out. In the few years that followed, I felt I had done something wrong by not protesting more vehemently, but later, as time wore on, I realised that any protest would have met with indifference. Others would have rushed in to cover up, like they did when I told them, or when I told the attorneys and judges about it. They all formed a male sorority around Sameer and spent the next twenty years covering up for him, until he ate away the life of my children in a similar manner. And even then, they all stood around me, vilifying me, defending him. Sixth Appellate District even had the gall to say – in F071888, and F084120, that such crimes were constitutionally protected under Sameer’s first amendment rights.”
Immediately after she had left, I rang the bell and summoned the nurse back.
“I feel sweaty and dirty, I want to take a shower,” I said to her. She shook her head. “Its too early for a shower, no shower for the next three days, I will just turn the A/C higher, so you don’t feel sweaty,” she said and left after cranking up the Air Conditioner.
Soon after the doctor’s visit next morning, Deepji came to the hospital to visit me at around 10:00 am, with home made breakfast that I was too broken to eat. I pretended to eat a bit when he insisted wondering if I told him what had happened to me over the night, would he take any action against Sameer? I didnt think so. I had no faith in any of them. Later, when I narrated this incident to my aunt, she had refused to allow me to break off my engagement. Many years later, when I narrated a multitude of such incidents of rape to her, she had simply silenced me. “Don’t tell anyone,” she had said, “no one will believe you and even if they do, they will support Sameer over you,” she had added. I remembered feeling outraged. I hadnt believed her, and had disclosed it to a few other family members. They just shrugged it off, as she had said. It had outraged me again, because I have always been principled, idealistic. I learnt a lesson in reality when my children were repeatedly molested by him between 2003-2008. I asked, I begged, I implored for help but no one came to help us. Not even the mandated reporters. The demented and brainless menfolk, guardians of public, guardians of law like Davila, Zayner et al, even my family members, all stood around him, encouraging him cheering him even when he admitted, in his own words to the custody evaluators, to the police, and to the Court, that he had been “rubbing lotion on children’s genitals for over four years” everytime he met them, without there being any demonstrable or clinical need for such “vigorous and everyday rubbing of the genitals”. The demented and braindead gang cheered him while his children faced long hard roads to medical and psychological recoveries, some even helping him obstruct their medical treatment as I struggled with the symptoms of sexual abuse. The only bit of decency came from a female evaluator, who granted me sole legal and physical custody, and recommended supervised visitations for him. But teh demented judges intervened to help him cover up the abuse.
Many people came to visit me at the hospital in those three days before I was discharged. They came, and left. I went into isolation, unable to talk. They thought I was in pain. I was. In many kinds of pains. Deepji slept the nights in the room. He had been uncomfortable letting Sameer stay for the previous night, he said, but had given in when Sameer had insisted. Sameer, on the other hand, had planned the jerking off well in advance, it seemed. I would learn over the next eighteen years that such helplessness in victims excited him. I always wondered if he suffered from necrophilia.
Sameer did not return for remainder of my two days at the hospital. I was grateful for his absences. My body was, and felt dirty despite repeated chest wipes, despite regular trips to the bathroom. I was glad he was missing for many days. I could not have been able to handle his presence.
I remember believing that wedding ceremonies are like pilgrimage, to Amarnath, or to Mecca, depending on one’s faith, each carried out with integrity, ethics, and devotion. I had no reason to believe anyone associated with this union in my family, or his family, would not feel the same. I was naïve.
Three weeks before the wedding in Jan 1986, when all our guests had arrived or were scheduled to arrive from all over the world, a list arrived in the form of letter that Sameer handed to me during one of our after office meets at the local Pizza Hut. A list of items that his parents were demanding for wedding. Beds, bedding, utensils, sofa set, electrical appliances, gold jewelry for certain relatives, 105 boxes of sweets to be sent on every time, on three different occasions, 12 baskets of fruits on each occasions, 3 sets of formal clothes, suits, shirts, ties, undergarments, shoes, socks and a designer watch for Sameer, two diamond rings for Sameer, three sets of formal clothes, shoes, socks, designer watch etc, each for his parents and for his sister, 23 carat gold jewelry for his mother, grandmother, and sister, one set of formal clothing for all relatives that were to attend the wedding, or those that were not attending the wedding, Rs 500 at least, stuffed in envelopes, to be given as gifts to each of the 300 wedding attendees, and others who were invited but could not attend the wedding…….it went on and on and on.
I felt as if someone had rendered a karate chop to my guts, struggling with bitterness, anger and betrayal. Coffee, and pizza felt like ashes in my mouth. Sameer looked absolutely composed, as if this was the most natural thing in the world to do. In his world perhaps, with his background perhaps, with his set of parents perhaps. But my world was more progressive, ethical, uncorrupted, and humane. The list was dehumanizing, an instrument that objectified me, slapped me, and reduced me to nothingness because of my gender. I felt he was extracting from me a price for the right to marry him. This was all it was. A price I had to pay for the privilege of calling myself his wife. I was sure that when I gave the list to my aunt, my entire family would feel that he and his parents were a bunch of cavemen dressed in gaudy, expensive suits, because, after all, his parents were, in fact, selling their son off to the highest bidder. I was ashamed at what I had chosen to get married to, or to get married into. For the first time in my life, and what would be probably the last time in my life, I was ashamed of the choices I had made in choosing him for a husband.
We did not talk much. I took a bus and returned home, feeling drained of emotion and vitality.
At home, I waited until my aunt was in the kitchen. I went upto her, and handed her the list. She took it absent mindedly. But when she saw what it was, she dropped the spatula, held the paper in both her hands, like one holds to a prison sentence prepared by a criminal court judge. She began reading it intently, registering the shock. I felt a sense of shame enveloping my being. Existential shame that may be a part and parcel of every orphan child who has to depend upon strangers for its existence, its well being. It arose from my forehead, bathed over my eyes, and cheeks, and seared down my breasts, belly thighs and toes. What had I done? What had I done? What had I done? These words reverberated in my head, creating an unending and deafening noise.
“I did not expect this from an educated professor,” she commented, after a long silence, referring to Sameer’s father.
“I was shocked too,” I said.
“Did Sameer give this to you?” She asked.
“yes, I met him after office today,” I said.
“You should have looked into his background before you chose him,” she said. “This is just so insulting, I would never have allowed my daughter to marry into such a family,” she said.
The same old familiar sense of shame. Head to toe. I wished I could just melt into the floor. I had done something wrong all over again. What have I done? What have I done? What have I done? I struggled to do something with my hands, but they just fell limply by my side.
“I don’t…….want to…..marry him,” I said, slowly, and reluctantly, mustering my courage, and conviction.
My aunt quickly composed herself. She softened her stance and her tone, “he will change, Bittoo,” she said, “all men change after marriage, they soften, and let go of their mothers,” She said that I just had to wait, that I must wait. Could a man who seemed to lack any emotion, who seemed so numb inside, so greedy, so needy – could such a man really change? I wanted so much to believe that he would change, but at 25, I did not have the insight, the knowledge, or the time to wait. I did not want to waste my youth, as my childhood had wasted away. I simply wished to call off the wedding. Again. And told her so. Again.
“Its too late now,” my aunt said. “Over 200 people have assembled, from all parts of the world, to attend your wedding next week. More are invited locally. There is nothing you can do, you cannot, you just can not call it off, if you do, you will carry the stigma and shame all your life, no one will marry you” she said, sternly. She got lost in her thoughts, as I stood there in the quietude of the kitchen, enveloped by the smell of Rogan Josh, and my own shame and self doubt. What had I done? What had I got myself into ! My being was filled with noise, the noise that arose from inside, and wouldn’t recede.
“Well, she said, “there’s really nothing we can really do. We’ll just have do the numbers again, and somehow accommodate this,” she said, “do you know where we can get all this?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “I don’t know Delhi that well.”
“Maybe we should ask Masood,” she said.
Masood, Zahoor, Vaqar, and Pradeep, my classmates and friends from Engineering College, had arrived a month ahead of my wedding, to help with the wedding arrangements. Without them, my aunt would have been lost in Delhi. They helped arrange everything, and always made me felt loved and protected, helping me laugh and making me believe. In their presence, and when they were around me, and thru them, I felt strong. What I did not know at the time was that once I was married, they would withdraw their protective umbrella, because, in their mind, I had Sameer. But I never really did.
“Connaught Place has some furniture retail shops,” Masood informed my aunt, “they are expensive, but I don’t know anywhere else to go”.
“At such short notice, we don’t have the time to look for alternatives. We must go tomorrow and pick out the furniture at least,” my aunt said, “and we’ll try to finish all we can.
Next day Masood took us to Connaught Place, while Vaqar, Pradeep and Zahoor handled the arrangements at home and at the wedding venue.
We spent the whole day, and a lot of my dead father’s life insurance money, buying things that we hoped would satiate Sameer’s mother. Since the wedding was just a week away, all the things were to be directly delivered to Sameer’s home. My aunt accumulated cash in an envelope. It was for everything that they had demanded, but we were unable to provide due to time constraints. She intended to give it to my father in law at the wedding, in satisfaction of the remaining items on the list.
But Sameer and his parents had schemed for more, much more, as the events leading to the marriage unfolded. Five days before our wedding, Sameer informed me that he had given all his savings to his dad, and he did not have funds to pay for our honeymoon. Could I please arrange to pay for it, he asked? Unless I came up with the money, we would not be able to go for a honeymoon, he informed me.
Once again, I went to my aunt, laden with shame, and guilt, and informed her of Sameer’s demands. My aunt offered to pay, but I felt resentful“after all that list, he should pay for the honeymoon at least.”
“We’ve already paid them so much,” she said. “This is for you, for your own benefit, he should have paid for it but well, don’t be so rigid, let it go, you’ll remember the honeymoon all your life” she said. My cousins, and uncles all reiterated the same, placing their hand on my head, in blessings. “Be happy” they said, “never put money before your happiness,” was the gist of their advice. And so, next day I took a packet of Rs 10,000 in cash to office, and asked Sameer to meet me. I also told him I would take a salary advance which would bring our total to Rs 13,000. To further reduce expenses, I booked a week at the holiday resort available thru our workplace, in Covalam. Sameer was expecting me, and happily collected the money. Rs 13,000 for 3 weeks, was a very big amount, and we could afford to live in 5 star hotels all thru. Sameer informed me that he would buy the air tickets. I was so grateful to my family.
The following week Sameer returned to see me, and told me he had booked train tickets. “Train?” I said in dismay. “No one goes to their honeymoon by train. Besides, it will take three days to reach.”
“Well, mummy said it was not enough. She wants some South Silk sarees for her and Geetu, and there was not enough for that and air tickets”.
“But Sameer, she and Geetu took my bridal sarees a few weeks ago. Then they received 2 sarees each as per the wedding rituals. Why do we have to buy sarees for them on our honeymoon ?” I protested
“Why do you argue about everything? Why can’t you let go, we have to buy Sarees for all women in the family, not just my mother and sister!”
“Because it is unfair Sameer, we only have ONE honeymoon in our life. Why does my family have to pay for this stuff? We can buy the Sarees later!” I said.
“Just let it go Madhu. Do as my mother says for now. I’ll take you for a luxurious second honeymoon within a year from our marriage,”
“Promise?” I asked
“Promise” he said, “and oh, by the way, seeing how fond you are of photography, can you also ask your family to buy us a decent camera?”
“Don’t you or your parents have one?”
“Sameer, a good second hand camera, like Ashai Pentax, costs over Rs 3000. Just an added burden on my family. Why don’t you buy one?”
“I already told you I have my savings to my dad, I don’t have anything to buy it with. If you don’t mind not having photographs of our honeymoon, that’s ok, we can go without a camera,” he said. He knew very well I would never agree. It really bothered me that he was using my likes and dislikes as a means to extort more and more out of my already constraint budget. But there was nothing I could say at the time. It was one more relationship that “wanted” something from me. And it hurt so, which made me lack the courage to protest anymore. So I quietly looked away, hiding my tears. But he kept looking at me, and then away, as if he had something more to say.
“Is there anything else you want to say,” I asked, after a while.
“Yes,” he said, averting his gaze from mine. I didn’t say anything, just waited for him.
“My mom doesn’t want to pay for the photographer and videographer for the wedding,” he said, slowly, knowing how much the photographs meant to me.My heart felt so weighted that I could not even utter a word. Tears that I was attempting to hide, flowed freely. I simply looked away from him, pretending to be engrossed in an unknown young man standing at the reception desk.
“Its only Rs 1600 Sameer. Surely your family can afford that much?” I said when I had caught my breath, “especially when I am paying for the entire wedding, honeymoon and everything else” I said.
“My mom said no,” he quietly said.
We had already planned our own photographer, and videographer, but I wanted a second set, to pick best ones for the joint album. To get our photographer to take their pictures as well would almost double our expenses. I just felt weighed down to a breaking point. “I should definitely call off the wedding,” I thought to myself. I should have allowed myself to act on that thought, it would have saved us and our children a lifetime of misery.
Instead, my aunt approached Vaqar, my friend from College, and a photography wizard. And thru him, she managed to acquire a brand new Ashai Pentax K1000 camera within the next few days, which was ritually gifted to Sameer during the wedding ceremonies.
While his father engaged in small talk, his mother gave me the silent treatment during the ride to the train station. I asked her if she was upset, and she said, “this was the time we all should have gone travelling together as a family, but you took him away from us.”
“Do you wish to accompany us on our honeymoon?” I asked with genuine surprised.
“I don’t want to go with you on your honeymoon, but we could have travelled together to a nice place, all of us, as a family, instead of you going off on your own, and wasting so much money” she said. “you don’t have parents, so you just don’t know how one relates to their parents,” she said.
That taunt about not having parents caused the familiar dull ache in my heart, and a flush of shame thru my body. Looking back now, I am not sure why I felt shame, but I did, always, every time someone brought my lack of parents into conversations. It was said to me as if thee death of my parents had somehow infected me with an unmentionable, infectious disease, or had handicapped me, or even mentally retarded me in some form, making me inequal and inferior. Like I had leprosy, or worse, something that necessitated isolating me, keep me away from comfort and warmth, and concealed from the rest of the world.
I remained quiet out of shame, and a misguided deference to Sameer. But I knew that the money was not her son’s to waste. It had been a gift they had demanded from my family, to pay for the honeymoon. My family would not have been obligated to fund her vacations. And it was amazing that she, in her late fifties, did not understand the economics and the dynamics.
My mother in laws, brother, and her sister in law, Sameer’s uncle and aunt, Sudha Aunty and Jagdish Uncle, came to meet us at the train station as well. Sudha Aunty sensed the tension and remained by my side, supporting me at all times, cracking small jokes, trying to break the ice. “Have you heard about mothers who want to accompany the newly wed couple on their honeymoon” she laughed as she nudged my mother in law “Bhabhiji, why don’t you go with them on their honeymoon!.” It was ironical, because she was utterly unaware that my mother in law had actually wanted to do so, and she didn’t think the joke was funny.
“You must write to us everyday” my mother in law instructed Sameer, as the train slid off the station. Sameer nodded in compliance.
We shared the box/coupe with four other men, who brought in their families from the second class compartment as soon as the train started. It was like a chicken coop of Kentucky Fried Chicken, suffocating and claustrophobic because we shared the small coupe with eight others. For all practical purposes, there would have been no difference if Sameer had instead booked us in second or third class compartments, or booked a ticket on a passenger bus. The train took a good part of three days to reach Bangalore by which time I already had loads of regrets about being married to him, and being on the honeymoon.
In Bangalore, Sameer checked us into a sleazy hotel, the kind where prostitutes brought their clients for a brief sojourn. The counter clerk looked me over, disrobing me with his eyes. He probably thought I was a new one on the block, and he I felt blood on my cheeks, and wished Sameer had taken me somewhere more respectable. Inside, the room and the bathroom were threadbare and sterile. The only piece of furniture was the uncomfortably hard bed This was how we were starting our life. . This was my honeymoon, for which my father had paid from his grave. My face fell but he took no notice.
“Sameer, we already spent the first three days in a train, without any privacy. I would have preferred a nicer hotel,” I said.
“We don’t have to stay here for long, so why waste money,” Sameer said. “We’ll stay in good hotels in other places,” he said.
In the evening, we walked around the poor and run down neighborhood, had dinner at a hole in the wall. There was a new guy at the reception, but he too looked at me with eyes that made me cower and hide behind Sameer.
The night was filled as unfulfilling – Sameer was disinterested in intimacy. And I held back again, trying to figure out if there was anything wrong with me. Maybe I should not have argued about the hotel. Maybe he was upset, and this was his way of showing that he was upset.
We explored Bangalore. And Trivandrum, Covalam, Mysore, Kanya Kumari. Thru the lens of my Ashai Pentax camera. It was the only thing that kept me happy, and I was poured all my energies into it. And it was the same everywhere we went. He would check us into the cheapest sleaziest of the hotels he could find, hotels where my family would never have allowed us to stay. Hotels where prostitutes gestured towards him, telling him they had better wares than I had. Hotels where the staff would approach him as soon as I was out of sight, and offer to introduce him to other women, or to multiple women for an orgy. Hotels infested with a pervasive smell of booze, crawling cockroaches, and ants. We always ate at hole in the wall places, or at places where women were picked up. Sameer seemed to enjoy the attention, and from his perspective, his refusal to pay a hooker during our honeymoon should have made me feel “special”.
For a little less than three weeks, we lived like room-mates. Friends during the day, and complete strangers at night. I found it difficult to sleep. My eyes stung with unshed tears and I felt choked with emotions – emotions that I concealed with repeated trips to the bathroom, while he turned away from me and slept thru the night, oblivious of my state. Every night, he spent an hour writing letters to his parents, lying about how grandiose our honeymoon was. I joked that we were not on a honeymoon, he had won a raffle and he had brought me along as a fellow traveller, because he did not have many male friends. He laughed and agreed. And squeezed my hand and said “you’re my best friend”. We went on shopping and spent three days, and most of the Rs 13,000, buying south silk Saaris for his mother, his sister, and his aunts and cousins. Immediately thereafter, Sameer insisted that we must return to Delhi. “But what about the 4 week honeymoon that you had promised me and my family? I asked.
“I want to go home; both of us are unhappy,” he said. This was in reference to my grumps about the hotels, and the lack of intimacy. I felt a familiar sense of shame wash over me again. All my life, I had begged for love, for money, for shelter from others. And now, it seemed that I was destined to beg for love and intimacy in my marriage also. It was demeaning, and shameful. Perhaps, as my grandfather, and my aunt had always said, it was all my fault. I remained silent.
“This is how it is, all guys are the same, not just me,” he said, when I discussed lack of intimacy. “There’s something wrong with you, you always want to be hugged, held, or more. Why can’t you enjoy the trip, instead of being such a nymphomaniac!”
Nymphomaniac? Is that what I was? Self doubt assailed me all over again. We had been in a platonic relationship, and later dated for 5 years, I never asked for physical intimacy. We were engaged for 2 years after college. I had wanted him to hold me, to hug me, to kiss me but he had refused, saving it for after marriage. Now, we had been married for over a month, and he seemed to loath my touch. Was I really asking for too much? Maybe this is what marriages were like. Maybe I was a nymphomaniac. I felt a familiar sense of shame creeping up all over my body. Yet another label, yet another stigma. What if he complains to my family and tells them that I was a nymphomaniac? I must not let him do that. I must never let him go back to my family with complaints. I could not bear any more denigration. This was meant to be a new start for me. I must not allow a spill over to my past. But I was also genuinely confused. What about all that they showed in the movies and books?
“That’s just bullshit”, Sameer had repeatedly told me. “You’re stupid enough to believe in that crap. Movies are unreal. Everything there is unreal. It’s a make believe world and stupid girls like you believe them. This is what it is. This is how real marriages are. You are a nymphomaniac, that’s all”
Slowly, over the next three weeks, my husband, unable to consummate a normal sexual relationship, lead me to believe that my needs were excessive. That I was a nymphomaniac. That sex was not necessary in marriages. My touch revolted him. It broke my heart, and every night brought home the shame of being labelled a nymphomaniac by my new husband, that there was something wrong with me. It slowly began to dawn on me that I would have to spend my life in such agonising pain of desires, and that there would not be any relief whatsoever. And there seemed to be no release from this overpowering emotion. I had never experienced this before. And by the third week, I had a firm belief that there was something wrong with me. I began to reflect on my background, to get clues on what made me into a nymphomaniac. There seemed nothing, except the fact that I had been deprived of love because my parents had died in my infancy. And in those three weeks, I grew to believe that my nymphomania was the consequence of parental loss. I attempted to come to term with the new self doubt and self shame arising from my past. Could I ever escape my past?
From the time he arrived in Bangalore, Sameer wanted to cut the honeymoon short and go back home to his mom. I finally got it, that I was the only one who had wanted this honeymoon, living in the now and here, to preserve these memories for eternity. He was not interested at all. So, after trying so hard, and continuing to fail, I decided to stop competing with his fantasies of his mother. I say fantasies, because she was not even remotely as he imagined her to be. But, I agreed to return, cutting short our trip by more than a week. Sameer was so visibly and intensely happy that he splurged on a flight back to Delhi.
Being unloved is a feeling that I had been quite familiar with throughout my adolescent life. I knew what it looked like, and what it felt like. So I say with authority that I felt unloved on my honeymoon. Perhaps it was my destiny, I told myself with sadness.
Sameer had a newfound energy, and he chirped non stop on the flight back. And there we were, at Delhi Airport, with bags and bags full of expensive gifts for his family for which he had put me thru the indignities I suffered. And not a single gift for me, or for my family. And no offer to refund the leftover money to my family either. All this for a mother who did not even love him. I told myself I was being unreasonable. That he did love me. That he was just not so expressive. “But how can he express it to his mother, and not to me?” a little voice within me probed. I would simply keep silencing that little voice for many years to come and then, sadly, there was no going back.
The re-union back home was prophetic of all his relationships.
His mother, and his sister immediately grabbed our suitcases, and extracted their gifts without even asking for our permission to open the bags. I sat in a corner and watched him spin fabulous tales about our purported grand and luxurious honeymoon trip. He told them he missed them, and could not wait to return to them, and therefore had cut short the honeymoon. His desperation – that they acknowledge his love, and express care for him – showed. But they seemed to be only concerned with the gifts “Why didn’t you buy a bright colored saree for me, instead of a beige one,” his mother said. “The perfumes are not branded, I had hoped for someone nicer,” And “who is this suit for ?”
“This is for Guriya,” I said, “and this is for Veena Aunty, and this is for Yogesh Uncle and Rumpy,” I laid out gifts we had bought for others. These were Sameer’s uncle and aunt, and his cousins, those who had hosted and paid the wedding on behalf of Sameer’s parents, and in whose house we were staying, and were expected to stay for the foreseeable future, without paying rent.
“There is no need to give any of these expensive clothes to anyone. I will keep them for Geetu,” his mother said.
I was stunned. She had forced me to buy these clothes, saying that they were needed to repay her debts to the family. And now, she wanted to usurp the gifts. I think she had never intended to let us gift them anything. She had just used their name to make us buy more than one set of clothing for each one of them.
I looked at Sameer, alarmed. I would have liked to express our thanks to Yogest Uncle’s family for all that they had done for all of us. But Sameer shook his head silently, gesturing me to remain quiet. He then looked away, and I remained quiet, allowing her to collect all the gift and remove them to her room.
Sameer’s mother returned after storing all the clothes, and began her stream of complaints and suffering, about how Yogesh Uncle, Veena Aunty and Beeji were mistreating her, how terrible each one of them was. She was joined by Geetu, who was enmeshed and indoctrined to hate all their relatives. Our whole evening was spent hearing her spewing venom. And she continued complaining about the quality of gifts we had got for them, and why we hadn’t got better, or more stuff.
Despite all the angst accumulated on our honeymoon, I felt sorry for Sameer. It could not be easy for a man to tolerate a woman like that, especially in my presence. To own that his mother did not care for him, that she only cared about what financial favors she could get from him, and from those that surround him. It would not be easy for any man to admit that his father was unable to rein her in, to control her, that he was helpless, and impotent before her toxic character. I really, really felt sorry for him.
Tenderness swelled up inside of me. When his parents had left, I walked up to him, held his hand, and lead him to our room. I took great care not damage his fragile ego, an ego that was already shattered by the lack of concern shown by his family towards him, in my presence. Despite having a mother, he was as motherless as I was. Or probably more, because mine was dead and gone, whereas his was a festering wound. I remembered what my aunt had said – you will remember the honeymoon all your life. Yes, she had been right, I could never forget my honeymoon. She had also said that he would change over time. I tried to believed in that. There is nothing else I could do. I had to believe.
I was wrong to have believed.
 The wedding was in 1986.