When I was young 1 thought Ammi was very lucky. In fact I was a little jealous of her. I say a little because of course she was my mother and I loved her but she got to have all the fun. She got to go with daddy everywhere.
She went with him to parties and dinners. She went for plays and watched actresses dressed in glamorous costumes saying their lines. She listened to recitals by accomplished musicians, all of which she did with daddy. Daddy said he liked to take her because she was very pretty and looked very nice standing there next to him in her pretty, plain sarees. Yes she always wore sober colored sarees.
“Mummy why won’t you wear that bright blue saree daddy gave you for your birthday? It suits you so well.” I asked, but she just shook her head, rather sadly, and stared out at nothing. Even though Ammi was very pretty she had sad eyes.
I thought she was very lucky because when they came back from these outings they went straight into their room and closed the door. On some days Daddy used to come and kiss me good night before they went to sleep. Sometime he used to read me a story as well. Of course, Ammi too used to read me stories every night except on the days she had to go out with daddy, but I liked the sound of daddy’s voice. It went boom, boom when he read the bears part in Goldilocks and soft and creepy when he became the big bad wolf in Little Red Riding Hood.
Ammi’s face used to be all red and swollen the next morning just like mine after playing in the park. This made me angrier and I used to pinch it making her wince in pain. But 1 did not care, wanting to hurt her some more. I thought Ammi was lucky because she got to play with daddy. Daddy never had much time to play with me. Sometimes when we went on holidays to the beach then we would swim in the water for hours. Ammi used to not come because she said she was scared of the water and did not like to wear a swimsuit. But I knew this was not true. I had seen pictures of her in the photo album posing by the pool in a lovely multi-colored bikini. But I did not say this because I wanted to spend all the time with daddy, so I let her sit there under a tree her face shaded by a wide straw hat and sunglasses reading a book.
Now l am grown up and go to cocktail parties, office dinners, concerts, product launches and what not. I stand next to Nimal and keep smiling and shaking hands with people I don’t know.
I hate it. I suppose if I knew them it would not be so bad but I just look down and don’t catch anybody’s eye in case he/she starts talking to me. Because if they do, then it will be a provocation and Nimal hates that. He will then say that I’m attracting attention, which is not good for his position. He must not have his name tarnished by frivolous behaviour at any cost, he says.
Standing next to him wearing all the pretty clothes he buys from expensive boutiques when he goes abroad is not my idea of fun. Especially when I don’t get to talk to any one except some director’s frumpy wife but I know that’s safe. I try to blend into Nimal’s smart effervescent personality for it saves a lot of trouble. Looking insignificant does not bother me now but it makes me think a lot. Then my eyes get sad too, like Ammi’s. Nimal likes order. He gets mad when things don’t go his way or big deals do not work out. Most times he says it is my fault. Like what I was wearing was not right or that I got too familiar with whomever. He gets jealous if anyone talks to me; he wants me all for himself. It was very romantic in the beginning—to be loved so much.
Even at traffic lights when we stop I look straight ahead so as not to catch the eye of the adjacent motorist. Nimal says that’s provocative. He would then get down and start a fight with some innocent stranger. Looking ahead saves us all the embarrassment. I remember now how insignificant Ammi had tried to look. I remember her not using any makeup and tying her hair up in a bun at the back of her neck and daddy used to pull it down and tell her to keep it loose. I go to the salon every month and get my hair styled in the latest fashion because Nimal likes that. He wants me to wear clothes of his choice, all designer-labeled ones. If I don’t, he says I’m criticising his taste. The accusations are exhausting. They can go on and on, well into the wee hours with my every word of protest either twisted or misconstrued.
Once early in the relationship I had innocently substituted his choice of saree with some thing more convenient. Meeting up with him, I was left to wonder most of the evening, why I was in the dog house. My excuses got me nowhere and I was greeted by a blank silence instead.
Now what had I done wrong?
Hope everything went well with that important deal, I ventured, playing with the food on my plate, meeting a cold stare for a reply. What could it be, I wondered. Hurrying in and out of ‘the ladies’ to check if the lipstick had smudged or the mascara had run.
What was the matter? Had someone dared take a pot shot at him? Scrabbling around my head for reasons, I found myself gripped in the steel vice of his fingers as we hastily made good-byes. I remember putting up a fair bit of fight. I had a right to choices as well.
The saree was not what I wanted to wear that day but to Nimal it was an infliction on his ego. I had defied him. But I was determined: I remember stubbornly not giving in. He was just being a spoilt child. I sulked too but not for long —eventually he won. The cold spells during the day coupled with the physical pain at night broke me.
He could be caring and sympathetic afterwards. Gently treating all the bruised places on my arms, legs, face and breasts. He cried like a baby, kissing my feet and asking my forgiveness over and over again; begging me not to ever leave him. Telling me how empty his life would be and where would I go. What would I do without him and how much he needed me.
Bending my head down in reverence I offer the pink lotus flowers at the Buddha’s feet. Closing my eyes, but the prayers don’t reach my lips. I still think Ammi is very lucky. She is past all this. She cannot feel it any more. She is free of choices.