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 the army is special. There is no city where we are strangers and neither 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 a quiet girl and she was just opposite of whatever I was. I really admired that she had financial independence and loved her job.
My sister chased her dreams I dropped them
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 college. She went to study economics and I chose literature.
In her MA final year she got married to an engineer working in a government organization and I became an army man’s wife and we moved on with the flow of life. I was not at all surprised that finally she belled the CAT and joined the reputed institute of IIM 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.
I was never jealous of her success
Time passed and life moved on, so did we. She graduated, got a great offer in Mumbai and reunited with her husband after two years of a 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 when 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. I had my independence, I was in a healty relationship and I was happy.
I was content with being an army wife, moving from one part of the country to other not only visiting but living in remote locations, which I would have never thought about if I had not been a part of the army. In fact, soon I forgot that once I too had a dream of being financially independent.
She earned more than her husband
My sister and I hardly met after our marriage. What we knew about each other was mostly over our weekly calls on Sundays and holidays or through our parents. There was nothing secret here that she was earning more than her husband.
After all she was specialized in finance and working in a multinational company while her husband was a government servant who was still waiting for the 6th pay commission.
I went to spend time with my sister in Mumbai
When we arrived in Mumbai my husband was staying in a mess and waiting for our luggage to arrived, so I with my son went to live with my sister for a couple of days. It was an opportunity for us to live 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 a stroll in the park, watching our kids play together, bitching about in-laws or life in general and remembering our childhood and boring our kids with the stories. I had very simple desires from our time together.
She was always on call at home, at work
But reality was different. Though she had taken leave from office, still she was constantly on phone or on her laptop. Once away from the gadget, it was child’s homework, managing 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 all day and I waited to even have a decent meal together with her.
Shouldn’t couples have independence even in a marriage?
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 a gift for me and my son.
“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…”
The final conversation
The ‘us’ time we were so looking forward to spend together was washed in silence. We were sitting quietly in a corner table of the restaurant, silently waiting for the food. Finally I gently touched her hand.
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 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.”
Matter of identity
“It’s not the money which makes me happy. It’s my work and recognition I have earned gives me a sense of independence. If having control over my money makes him feel manly and happy then let it be.” She smiled but the tears were still there.
“What men sacrifice for peace in the family is a couple of drinks and a few more hours with friends. What women sacrifice is personal happiness, dignity, self-respect…and in my case the control over my own money. 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. May be 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.