I was finally going to be able spend more time with my sister
I was ecstatic! My nomadic life as an army officer’s wife was now taking me to Mumbai, the city where my sister lived. Life in army is special. There is no city where we are strangers, nor a place where we don’t have our army family with us. But here it was different and for the obvious reason.
I have known her since the day she was conceived. That’s because we shared the same space for nine months kicking and pushing each other till I kicked her out ten minutes before me to win the privilege of being the youngest in the family. But thankfully we were not identical. In fact, there was nothing common between us. I was the gentle breeze, while she was a cyclone. I was a shy, obedient and quiet girl and she was just opposite of whatever I was. The only thing common between us was loving parents and a family dominated by the ladies of the house.
Time doesn’t fly. It passes with the same pace. But yes, when life is good it feels like it flew away. Our life too moved quickly and before we could be bored of each other’s company we were in colleges. She went to study economics and I choose literature.
We chose different paths
With dreams in our eyes, she to become an IIM graduate and I to pursue research, we started our journey. In final year MA she got married to an engineer working in a government organisation and me to an army man and we moved on with the flow of life. I was not at all surprised that finally she belled the CAT and joined a reputed institute to pursue her studies. However, she was shocked when I told her that I am aborting my dreams and career plans to be with my husband.
Time passed and life moved on, so did we. She graduated, got a great offer in Mumbai and reunited with her husband after 2 years of long distance marriage.
I was happy when she told me about the swanky car they bought, when we were still moving around in our Maruti 800. I was happy for her when I heard that they had bought a beautiful lavish apartment in a plush locality while we were still counting and saving money to buy a small apartment for us. But I was definitely not jealous of her. She had worked hard for it and has earned it. For her there was nothing in my life to feel jealous about.
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Then we moved to the same city
I was content with my life, moving from one part of the country to other, not only visiting but living in the remote locations which I would have never thought about if not a part of the army. In fact, soon I forgot that once I too had a dream of being financially independent.
Busy living life, we hardly met after our marriages. What we knew about each other was mostly over our weekly calls on Sundays and holidays or through our parents. It was no secret that she was earning more than her husband. After all, she has specialised in finance and worked in a multinational company, while her husband was a government servant who was still waiting for the 6th pay commission.
Before joining my husband who was staying in the mess till our luggage arrived, I went to stay with my son with my sister for a couple of days. It was an opportunity for us to be in the same house after a long time. I went there with simple plans to chat and go for ‘retail therapy’ like we did before our marriage. To live the dream of someday taking a stroll in the park, watching our kids playing together, bitching about in-laws or life in general, remembering our childhood and boring our kids with the stories of it… the ordinary wish we once had.
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Then I discovered the truth
But reality was different. Though she had taken leave from office, still she was constantly on the phone or her laptop. Once away from gadgets, it was the child’s homework, managing the maid, meeting the demands of her in-laws and serving dinner to the family… Leaving our conversation in the middle she rushed to attend every call, official or family. And I watched her toiling and waited to even have a decent meal together.
Fed up of her busy schedule, I planned an outing for us, just the two of us. “Tomorrow we will go out for lunch and then show me your city,” I passed my order at the dinner table.
Next morning I overheard her conversation with her husband. She was asking him for money to buy gifts for my son and me.
“There is no need to waste money. Already you will be paying for lunch. Still if you want to give her something, check the store. I am sure you will find something there from the leftover Diwali gifts we get.” It was her husband.
“She has come with gifts for everyone in the family, even for your parents, I want to… please…”
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Peace is more important than money, you know
The ‘us’ time we were so looking forward to spend together was washed in silence. We were sitting quietly at a corner table of the restaurant, silently waiting for the food. Finally I gently placed my hand over her hand and pressed it.
I looked at her, but she was avoiding eye contact with me.
“I am sorry, I heard your conversation. You don’t have to… there is no formality between us,” I said calmly, breaking the stretched silence.
“But I am shocked that in spite of being financially independent, in fact earning more than your husband, you have to ask him for money? What kind of independence is this?” There was anger in my voice. “I don’t earn, still I don’t have to ask my husband for money and he will never ask me where I have spent the money from his salary.”
She was still avoiding eye contact.
After a long pause she said, “It’s for peace…peace in the family.” She looked into my eyes. “You have to be really careful with ‘the male ego’. You can’t hurt it.”
I have my own identity, though
“It’s not the money which makes me happy. It’s my work and recognition I have earned that gives me a sense of independence. If having control over my money makes him feel manly and happy then let it be.” She smiled amidst tears.
“What men sacrifice for peace in the family is a couple of drinks and a few more hours with friends. What women sacrifice is our personal happiness, dignity, self-respect, life…and in my case the control over my money too. Sometimes I feel jealous of you and the life you are living. But then I think about my career and my profession. At least I got the opportunity to pursue my dream. Maybe it was for the money, but he encouraged and supported me to make a career.”
“Maybe it was for the money, but he encouraged and supported me to make a career.”
After a long pause, she said: “I am happy that I have an identity of my own. I am known to the world by my name and not just as Mrs. Roy.” And she winked.
Something snapped within me. What? I couldn’t understand.