Manik said, “Listen to me, this is not an arranged marriage. It is a compromise. A compromise that one bears all through his life, just because there is nothing else you can do once you are married to her. You can do nothing – no matter how different you are… no matter how much you hate everything she does… no matter how much she irritates you… you will have to pretend that you care, pretend that all is well, pretend every little emotion because you have neither time nor energy for fights every day. When there is nothing to look forward to, at home, the woman tries to forget her life in kids and kitchen and the man spends extra hours at work, just trying to stay away from the chaos. Is this the life you are talking about? In the end, it is just reduced to duties, responsibilities, and sex. All of them – forced!”
Nandini heard clearly, each and every word of the last part of the conversation and took almost an entire minute to come to terms with the fact that Manik was actually saying all this to someone.
For a moment, she even thought that it could be a mistake. But it was not. She had heard every word very clearly. Before she could process it for its relevance or context, she had tears in her eyes.
After spending a beautiful night with her, all he had to say was, that it was forced?? And that too… he was speaking to someone else, not her…
If he really meant what he said… then, his long working hours at the office were an excuse to stay away from home… that he had to pretend that he cared, pretend that he tolerated her while hating almost everything about her…
Was she so wrong in judging someone? It can’t be true…
The way he looked at her never appeared like any pretense to her… the way he talked to her and took care of her was so affectionate… Was she wrong in reading all that?
She realized that she been an idiot in terms of relationships and it was, once again, proved today…
Did she see in him what she had always ‘wanted’ to see in a life partner? Did she imagine him to be an ideal husband, as she had always dreamt about getting married to someone that caring and adoring? So she created an image of him and believed it to be true?
His concern, his talks, his teasing… was it all fake??
He was pretending all that to avoid noise and chaos?? And to avoid everyday fights?? It made sense today. He kept talking about how she was his ‘duty’ and ‘responsibility’… he was clear about everything in life and he had once said that he didn’t even consider marriage as an important part of life. Work came first for him. He didn’t want unnecessary stress at work and since she was giving him space at work, he thought it was his duty to take care of her needs…
And she had started thinking that they got along so well with each other… that they shared an amazing camaraderie… It was all because he was making efforts to make her comfortable so that he was at ease…
Shitttt!!!! Why did it always happen with her?
Something was definitely wrong with her… once again, she had been too quick to believe… too soon, she had developed deeper feelings for someone who possibly didn’t even care if she lived with him or not…
She might have appeared so desperate and such a loser that maybe it was evident in her behaviour … so he didn’t want to break the bubble for her…knowing that the poor girl was hurt in relationships before… so he put up a pretense before her that he cared.
It was all her fault…
She wasn’t even ready for a relationship… why did she agree for marriage? To get into another complicated relationship… this time deeper in mess than anytime before…
She was doing fine in Mumbai. She should have focused on studies and career. At least it would have saved another heartbreak for her.
I have always wanted to be everything for my husband… but certainly not a compromise or a burden…
In an attempt to fight with her tears, she held a thick lump in her throat that started paining. She pressed her lower lip below her upper lip and leaned by the wall.
Manik had been pacing around the living room at an easy, slow speed. He was still speaking when he turned around, only to find Nandini leaning by the entrance of the small corridor connecting the living room and the bedroom. She had her arm tucked to the wall of the corridor, hands folded across her chest, neck tilted questioningly and eyes fixed on him.
He stopped speaking, The look in her eyes and face said that she had heard what he had said. He was speechless and too shocked to react immediately. Softly, he just murmured to Cabir, “I’ll talk to you later!”
Feeling absolutely awkward and feeling like hitting himself, he tapped the phone in his palm and stammered to find proper words so that he didn’t goof up again, “Nandu… it’s not …like… what you are thinking…”
She smiled slightly, with her eyes glistening through the tears that she tried to stop from falling down and succeeded in holding them. “Listen Manik… with me… you don’t have to pretend anything…Don’t be this kind to me.”
“No….no….no… you are getting it all wrong…” Immediately, he took fast steps and marched towards her, held her shoulders warmly and softly, “These are not my views… no… I mean… yes… I was saying it… but…”
“To someone else?? You should have talked to me!” She was totally miffed about it.
“Exactly! That’s the point. If it is about you, I’ll talk to you…but it is not about you…” He showed him the screen and went to last received call list, “See… I was talking to Cabir. His parents are forcing him to marry a girl he hasn’t even seen…or met even once… so, I was telling him about…”
“The reality of arranged marriages??” She raised her chin up, staring into his eyes, so painfully that he nearly shuddered.
He sighed. “Err… no…not all… I was talking about ‘some’…arranged marriages…”
She smiled, and spoke in a calm, unruffled tone, “But…I didn’t hear anything like that. You were talking about the concept in general. Moreover, talking to a friend about something that you had just 10 days back speaks about what you think about it. He called you for an opinion as you just had an arranged marriage and you gave your vote against it…”
It was painful for him to see that she was slowly going from questioning him to being calm about it and trying to understand him. He hated it. She just asked him about what he was talking to someone on phone. She should question him, ask him to explain why he felt so about her, fight with him… but no… she was now trying to understand the scenario.
Why??? Why did she have to behave so understanding about everything, every time???
For once, can’t she just fight with him???
He knew that it was going in the wrong direction and he couldn’t afford that. The last thing he had ever wanted was to hurt her. The last thing he had ever hoped for her was to understand him and keep understanding him, even when he hurt her…
It was getting so so so frustrating…
After the night they spent together, they should have been cuddling in bed. Instead, they were talking about something that wasn’t even their issue, first thing in the morning. He didn’t expect the morning to start on this note.
“Nandini…listen… yes, he called for an opinion… yes, I gave it against arranged marriages… but what I was speaking wasn’t my thinking about every case… not about us…”
Once again, she spoke in an understanding and calm tone, this time touching his arm slightly, “Manik, it’s okayyyy! You don’t need to explain more… Didn’t you always have that opinion? You spoke about it to me before marriage. I always knew it. You don’t have to speak otherwise, just to make me feel better about it…just because I heard it now. I remember the entire point behind our marriage…”
He interrupted her and nodded vigorously, “No…no…no… no… Nandini… please listen… just listen to me once… our marriage is different. We are different…”
“How??” She stared at him pointedly and straight that he was left speechless for a moment.
“Because… I… ” He stopped himself before he spoke more. He wished he could tell her how much he loved her, how she was on his mind all the time, how he had begun to alter his lifestyle, his routine, his likes around her… but he couldn’t do that…
Things were going so wrong and the direction their discussion had taken was so difficult that it didn’t appear too encouraging to confess his feelings at this moment. Definitely, it will backfire on him. She was going to take even this as fake, assuming that he was saying this to avoid the accusation on him. She would never believe it that he loved her.
And what if she didn’t feel the same…what if she rejected his feelings… it would become more awkward… Also, he couldn’t blurt it just like that. He needed a little more confidence than this sticky situation.
She frowned, waiting to listen to more and raised her brows. “I ?? … I …what??”
She was not angry, not upset, not disturbed anymore. She had just accepted it and nothing hurt him more than this. She didn’t fight with him. She didn’t fight for him. She didn’t create a scene. She didn’t even silently misunderstand him so that he could have got an opportunity to pacify her and explain his situation.
She went one step ahead, talked to him about it and was now trying to understand him!!!
“I… ” He tried again when she prompted him, but couldn’t say it, “Nandini… you need to believe that I care about you… I … I mean… why do you think that all that was about you?? Do you really believe that I can say all that? How could you?? You know me…”
“Since 10 days!” She reminded him.
“Yeahhhh…” He sighed, “But… “
“Manik… I have a request! Can you please do something for me?” She nearly pleaded.
“Yeah… anything… please tell me…” He had no idea what to do to make her feel comfortable with him again.
“Please… please… Manik… I don’t want you to do something that you don’t believe in, just because you are married to me. That’s all I want!! I understand that you never believed in a marriage arranged by parents… I didn’t believe in it too… But we talked about it and thought that we could manage and got married. The entire fulcrum had to be on space and independence to do your thing. You don’t need to do anything to make me feel special. It’s not your duty or responsibility to make me feel at home. I’m not a teenager… or a starry-eyed juvenile to live in a bubble of fancy dreams. I know the reality of our marriage. We were always very clear about us…”
He was irked by her constant reminder of their arrangement of marriage. He was frustrated and angry. Unable to hold his anger, he asked, “Is that why you are not angry? Is that why you don’t say anything when I work extra hours at work? It hardly matters to you whether I am home or at office. Is that why you don’t ask questions anymore?”
“Yes!” She spoke determinedly, looking into his eyes, and murmured, “Each and every condition and rule that we made before marriage has been very clear to me. I remember the deal very well. It has always been crystal clear to me…”
So it was all about the deal?? And he thought that they were beyond it, long back!!!
She appeared to be hurt and disturbed initially. But quickly, she had overcome that setback. She was completely normal by now. She was even smiling.
He had been terribly worried that she will misunderstand the entire thing and fight with him, be upset with him and won’t talk to him. She actually did get upset but he couldn’t explain his stand properly. And now, it wasn’t needed anymore. She took it as a normal response from him and even understood it.
It had been a blunder. But he didn’t know how to begin to make her understand what she meant to him…
This marriage was no more a deal for him. And she was talking about conditions and rules!!! He had messed up the entire situation and now he didn’t know how to get through this murk.
Did she really mean it?? Was she still taking it as a compromise of a marriage? How to know what she felt for him?
What if she really felt like she had to be in this marriage because of the conditions they discussed??
To discuss it beyond this point was out of his capacity. Anything emotional and he wasn’t able to handle it. His mind stopped working and he knew that he had spoilt it enough to create more damages by speaking more nonsense. He was annoyed at himself, for not being able to tell her how much she mattered to him… at her, for still talking about rules… for not fighting with him because of those conditions and trying to understand him…
He raised his hands in air, “Great!! You know what… think whatever you want to think… you are right, I don’t need to explain myself… you only said once that there is no point in a relationship when you need to justify your actions and explain your stand. So, I’m not even trying to do that anymore… go and fancy your own imagination. I’m not defending myself. If after spending so much time with you, you still feel that I was pretending then go ahead…”
He dismissed the entire talk, leaving her stunned and speechless. Switching on the news channel on the TV, he settled over the couch and sprawled over it.
She went back to the bedroom and locked herself in the washroom. Inadvertently teardrops rolled down her cheeks. She hated to believe that Manik didn’t care about her. Everything about him was so honest and genuine. She had never felt even an iota of fakeness around him, ever. They shared extra-ordinary vibes. It couldn’t be that wrong. Maybe what he was saying was true. Maybe, she should trust him.
She decided to go and talk to him once again. She had to ask him what exactly he wanted to say when he said that their marriage was special and stopped twice at ‘I’… she wanted to know what he wanted to say at that time…
Manik was remorseful after talking to her so rudely. It wasn’t her fault. It was his fault. Entirely!!
She had heard what he was saying to Cabir. Instead of explaining properly, he had messed it more.
Did she really mean it when she said that she was serious about those rules they had made? Was she tolerating him because of that? Did she never feel anything about him?
He didn’t like it! He wished she had felt at least something for him. At least a fraction of what he felt, if not more.
His head started reeling due to the painful turn of events. He went to the kitchen to get lemon water when he saw salad on the slab and chicken in the oven. She had cooked something for them…for him, basically… but they never had time for that. Last night, they were too busy to think of dinner. They had skipped it for other things.
A wave of fuzzy warmth spread through him when he thought about last night. It had been surreal.
Okayyy…so she didn’t feel anything for him?! But there was hope!! She had cooked dinner for him. That means that she thought about his likes and dislikes too. He would try again. He would keep trying until he was tired…He had to make her think beyond the rules, and carve a niche in her heart…
He had been looking at the dinner when she entered the kitchen prepared to talk to him again. She filled the coffee machine with water and set it for a boil. He tapped his hand at the slab and asked. “You cooked dinner last night?!”
She took out a large mug from the drawer. She shrugged and smiled lightly, “Everything just got spoiled!”
He felt bad for her. He turned to her and walked to be near her. In an adoring, calm tone, he assured her, “Don’t say like that. We can try again.”
She nodded slightly and without looking at him, she asked in a low tone, “Can I ask you something?”
“You don’t need to ask!”
She stammered and fumbled with words, not knowing where to begin and what to ask him. But she had decided that she will ask him. She wanted to know if he really felt what showed in his behaviour, “Manik, actually… I was thinking… do you… I mean… what did you want to say when you stopped at ‘I’… twice… you say that you didn’t pretend anything. Does that mean that you…”
“I’ll ask directly – Manik, did you want to say that you have fallen in…”
She couldn’t finish it. It was too much to ask for. It was beyond imagination. Of course, he didn’t love her. No matter how deeply he showed that he cared. No matter how much he took efforts to make sure that she was comfortable. No matter how much he trusted her regarding money and expenditures. It was all because it made him relaxed on her part. His responsibilities were over with that. Of course, it was a pretense.
Deep in her heart, she wanted to believe him. She wanted him to say that all that she was thinking was wrong. He deeply cared because he was in love with her.
He understood what she meant with that half spoken sentence. But he didn’t understand the hope attached with that question.
Right now, he just thought that if she was living by the rules between them, she would certainly remember that one of the rules was to walk away if one of them fell in love and the other didn’t. It was pointless to declare one-sided love and pressurize the other to accept those feelings. It was unfair.
He was scared to lose her… he was scared to let go of her… She was the one and only, he had ever truly loved… She was the one who made him look forward to home, to something beyond office.
He quickly ruled it out. “No, I’m not in love with you!”
She smiled and turned her face away, as she closed her eyes for once. Then she turned back to him with the smile remained on her face. “Good! Because neither am I!”