Purple and Red Scarf
A newly wedded wife is confronted with an earth shattering truth about her husband.
Beads of perspiration appeared above my upper lip and I could feel the contraction of skin as my forehead furrowed. It seemed inevitable yet I had spent days devising plans to make Taruna and her family give this visit a skip. When everything else in life is on a boil, relatives are the least trusted custodians of one’s carefully guarded secrets. My marriage happened (it was just a happening without ever a chance of intimacy or compatibility – the very fulcrum of a marital bond). A sudden fear and an uncanny feeling of being ridiculed gripped me as I turned my thoughts to Aneesh.
It had just been a year into marriage but the liability seemed eternal to me. An expressionist painting, of a drooping face in oil colours on a remote corner of the plastered wall in the living room, hung low as if it would descend into an abyss one day, ashamed of its existence. I wobbled my steps to the kitchen where lay piles of undone dishes and I started scrubbing them clean but what about the mess in my life? A confused mingling of shock and shame, fear and despair, bitterness and insecurity had overwhelmed me.
“Hello, hello… Do you listen to me Aneesh? Your cousin Taruna and her family are coming over to stay for a couple of days next week. Either make an excuse of your unavailability, else... See, I don’t want more mess around. Wait a minute . . . do they know? Does anyone in the family know?”
“Disha, at least don’t behave as if I were a moron. I shall talk to Taruna to postpone her plan for some time. I did not expect accolades for what I confessed but still wanted you to listen to me patiently...there had been a lot simmering inside me for years...Guilt and shame never let me open up to my family. . .but how long would have I stifled my breaths? I am different but am I detestable?”
“I know . . . I shall probably come to terms with it sooner or later but right now, I am feeling down in the dumps...to be honest. We shall sort a few things once you come back home.”
After yesternight, many drowned emotions had resurfaced and swam across like the quick waltz of fishes, somersaulting in a blink-and-miss fashion and I winced in retaliation. Why Me? Out of all, why did he choose to ruin my life only? Aneesh was working as an executive engineer with a well-known private firm and was earning handsomely well. The proposed marriage with him had seemed to be a promising one – a clean, tidy, secured societal pact...or to say, run-of-the-mill arrangement. Our first night had been an odd meeting between two strangers and I just thought him to be a little reserved. Unfortunately, for me, that familiarity never turned into a fulfilling intimacy. He would recoil at my slightest touch; he used the pretext of late-night meetings to avoid me; and we hardly visited his friends. My first gift to him after marriage was a purple and red hand-woven muffler, a carefully preserved artefact of my grandma’s era. This muffler was a way of handing over my past, present and future to this man. His eyes had seemed moist but at the same time, the warmth seemed amiss.
“Why can’t you behave normally with me? We are legally married...I have a right to know...” At times, I felt his silence had a meaning to it, and that words jostled with one another in his throat till he let them die another death. These were also the times when I found myself at the end of my tether. If we ever went to the market, I tried to correct his mannerisms to fit into the pigeonhole of a healthy, happy marriage. It never worked out...the cracks and gaps showed all the more as we tried to fix them.
“After all, you are a MAN...behave like one...hold my hand just as other husbands do.”
“Am I not educated? Am I ugly? Do I lack something? Then, what’s it? Why do you practise regularly to maintain a distance from me? Do I repel you? Please, don’t drive me crazy.”
“Nothing of the sort... I am just tired.”
Finally, the bubble of make-believe world was pricked by Aneesh. An unusual yet wacky encounter between us broke the hell loose. I was determined to find out what held him back. That day when Aneesh flung his briefcase and mobile on the sofa and went inside the washroom, I felt a surge inside and I picked up his mobile to pry into his personal space. As I scrolled the call record, a number repeatedly showed in his calls list. By this time, I had assumed, rather decided that he was having an affair outside. I had to find out the truth... but truths may not just be bitter, they may be grotesque just like the gaping mouth of the oil painting in the living room. Just then his phone rang, and the voice on the other side murmured: “Aneesh, why don’t you reveal to her who and what you are once and for all? It hurts to see you in distress...see you tomorrow...same time, same place...love you.”
And I stood there stunned. The foggy clouds of normalcy are still better than the Egyptian darkness, which threatens to envelop one in its ever-consuming oblivion. All these years, I had fought to disperse it but it crept all over me like slow poison. Aneesh had noticed me standing in a corner of the living room. An edifice built over a year had come crumbling down for both of us. Before he could make up his case, I had dashed to my room in a deluge of uncontrollable tears. Despite being a university graduate, this part of the society had always seemed removed from my cocoon. These things happen but not in my world or the world woven around me. The fateful night was spent reading literature and laws about homosexuality and I could surmise he was not even bi-sexual. His bi-sexuality could have held a bleak promise of sustaining a marital bond.
“Disha, I had wanted to tell you the truth about my sexual orientation but in a society where anything has the potential to be criminalized, how could I do that? Since my school days, I’ve had none around to guide me, to listen to me. I had become a prisoner in my own body...a sexual aberration to be loathed, to feel ashamed about. But believe me, I tried to feel attracted towards my classmates in college...I tried to feel good in your physical proximity but it just did not happen. I would not feel any tickle inside me... how would I have kept faking my identity to myself?”
“Did you share your feelings with anyone?”
“I did...with one of my friends in college but he turned white and withdrew from me that day on. Before our marriage, I told dad...he kept standing frozen... but after a while, regaining his composure, there was an announcement of my quick marriage which would absolve me of my sins. So, marriage happened as a measure of correction.”
“How did your Mom react to it? Did she get to know?”
“Papa had a long conversation afterwards with her. Next day, she patted me, held my hand and kept sobbing. I was shattered to see her in pain and forgot my own. She wanted me to lead a normal life...a life expected of all sons...to have a marriage bond and produce children. I was dismayed...the thought of being in bed with any woman was a far-fetched idea for me.”
“So you decided to ruin me instead... that’s what you did. What will I do? What will I tell my parents, my friends? How would I face the stigma?”
“Yeah . . . that’s what I am – A STIGMA.”
“I am sorry, I did not mean to hurt you.”
"It’s ok. I agreed to marriage after Mom refused to eat anything till I relented before her wishes. I seriously thought that I might turn into a reformed prisoner but everything went awry.”
“That’s why I have been an alien, an unwanted entrant in your life. But did you ever think about how I must be feeling?”
“Disha, believe me...I am not straight but I am a human. I also have emotions ...I can understand your trauma. Had you not attended the call, I would have told you within a few days. I met this man at a meeting held for and by homosexuals. I am so fed up of being forced into a double identity, I would never be able to identify with. No ‘sorries’ would be enough but still I am sorry.”
The word HOMOSEXUAL shook me from within. Aneesh poured his heart out that day, detailing each and every incident that had been a blow to his identity. I kept listening till my cheeks glistened with the glow of tear-shaped dew drops. We were to part...we had to...It was inevitable. I could not have lived with a man for my entire life who could not love me. It had been a struggle of a year for me to put up the pretence. For him...it had been a struggle for survival and identity since he came of age. The next evening was a decisive one as our lives needed some sorting, at least some semblance of sorting.
As I packed my bags the next day, my eyes glanced at the purple and red muffler as it winked at me from under Aneesh’s sheaf of shirts. I caressed it, neatly folded it and kept it in his drawer ...with a sticky note.
“Wear this muffler in the coming winters around your favourite red lambswool pullover.”
The artefact of a bygone era ready for a new beginning ahead, a new Aneesh and a new Me. . . .
All the best to us!