They were the college crowd’s envy. Sahil was a familiar sight outside the college where Maya was a graduate student. He was not her boyfriend. On Maya’s eighteeenth birthday Sahil and she had a discreet registered marriage.
At that time I thought their love story the stuff of lovers’ dreams. She was fourteen and he a little older when they became a pair. How they met, how it all began, Maya refused to share. Sahil, too, was close-lipped. I pestered her with my questions about their early days. Once I told her exasperatedly ‘the devil is in the details.’ She giggled and replied ‘the devils should not know the details.’ I guess those beautiful memories were exclusively theirs.
Within a month of Maya graduating I received an invitation card to their traditional Bengali wedding at her ancestral house in north Kolkata. She looked beautiful and he the quintessential babu moshai.
Their first marriage anniversary happened and they were three. ‘It is a girl’ Maya told me, the excitement and thrill in her voice hard to miss. They named her Rini.
Then we lost touch for a while...
When I spoke to her next on the phone, there was worry – even desperation – in her voice. Her husband had lost his job and she was enquiring about job openings.
Trouble was making its way into paradise....
When Sahil was unable to get another, Maya grabbed the first job she was offered. She began working as a receptionist at a newly-opened hospital. Every morning she dropped their daughter at her mother’s place and rushed to work. After initial hiccups Maya had evolved, getting a grip of her job and managing her home in diificult circumstances.
The job hunt was taking its toll on Sahil. When we met at the hospital’s cafetaria she told me ‘He is turning bitter, seeking escape in alcohol. There is a growing frustration in him, but that’s understandable.’ Sahil was now dependent on his wife’s income.
Their love story was now becoming a nightmare...
According to her there wasn’t a specific incident triggering the downward spiral of their marital life. It started with questions being raised when she returned late from work. Accusations flew about extra marital affairs. Money went missing from her purse. Arguments became increasingly more frequent. And then it was not restricted to just tirades and arguments. Slaps, punches and kicks. The love of her life was now her tormentor.
Violence with women is not just about bruising. Maya didn’t even realise she was a victim of sexual violence, until her gynaecologist refused to give the green signal for an abortion. It was the sixth time and her health was seriously at risk. A few months later their son, Remo, was born.
I wondered why Maya, an educated urban woman, chose to tolerate an abusive husband. I often implored her to end the trauma. She would be evasive about it, giving reasons such as ‘abandoning Sahil would be wrong’, ‘he is in a fragile state of mind’, ‘I still have a soft corner for him’, ‘the kids....’ At times, emotionally overwhelmed, she would be at a loss for words.
Sahil never recovered. His drinking habits worsened, violence increased.
Then came the breaking point...
A friend of Sahil’s dropped by for drinks. After he left around midnight Sahil turned upon Maya. He taunted her ‘My friend comes here for you. You two are having a scene behind my back.’ And, ‘this bastard is not my son. His lousy existence is a result of your sexual escapades.’ As had happened so many times before, the verbal tirade was followed with physical violence. He dragged her by her hair into their bedroom, rained blows upon her, tore away her clothes. Red belt marks scored her skin as she made feeble attempts to shield herself. Then, to her horror, she saw six-year-old Rini crouching in a corner sobbing silently. Seeing her terrified daughter Maya ran from the room. She locked herself in the kitchen. In the sweltering May summer she spent the entire night there, writihing in pain, naked and humiliated. The pain she felt was not just physical, it seemed her very soul was afire. With the first light of dawn she reached a decision.
Their bedroom bore the telltale signs of the night’s ordeal. The saree she had worn to work the previous day was lying on the floor. She covered herself with it, picked up baby Remo, and quietly woke up Rini. Seven years after they took the vows Maya walked out, leaving her home of shattered dreams, never to return.
‘I bore the brunt of his beastly behaviour as long as it was confined to me. My daughter witnessing my humiliation was the last straw. I didn’t want her to grow up scarred. I compelled myself to leave him,’ she told me.
It was a life-changing decision.
My friend is lucky to have found another soulmate but she isn’t lucky enough to seal the relationship. Legally she is still Sahil’s wife. He has refused to give her a divorce. ‘I am tired of him. I have left things the way they are. Yes, sometimes I wish to settle down, enjoy the domestic bliss I once dreamt of. Rini understands me, maybe because she has seen my suffering. Remo doesn’t, he was too young then.’
Their love story was the stuff of lovers’ dreams, now they hate each other. I often wonder: How? Why? But why revisit old wounds, perhaps they are best left untouched...