(As told to Saurabh Paul)
I fell in love with the image he showed me
It all began with a crush in college: those furtive glances which suggest that two young people are fancying each other. Soon, familiarity grew, and not many days after, friends became a couple. I had a middle-class upbringing and he came from a better-off family. That was the time of my life when I had an imperative desire in me to be loved, or be in love, and he came along just around that time. A bit of attention flattered me no end.
“I love your long tresses,” he used to say, “Never cut them short.” I usually blushed in response.
It might have been a case of peer pressure – not many of my college mates were single. And I just hurried into things: plunging into marriage without actually giving myself the time to know my prospective partner. I had seen his best, or rather his ‘made-up’ part, before marriage, but not his other (and which I now know) ‘real self’. One fateful day, I got married, without the consent of my family. I had completed my graduation and had been working for about six months at the time.
Related reading: Which is better – love marriage or arranged marriage?
He changed me with abuse
Within a few days, to my anguish, I realised what I had got into. It started with trivial things – rice being overcooked, tea being not boiled enough, clothes being not properly pressed and so on – for which a verbal outburst came first, that later on sometimes took the shape of physical assault. Meanwhile, he had managed to convince me to quit my job.
“I am not taking this anymore, I am leaving,” I told him decisively one day. Then I encountered another facet of his character that was hitherto unknown to me.
He pleaded profusely with me. Falling on his knees, he cried: “How can you even think of leaving me!” Rather than being pleased, I was more confused.
“Who is this man that I have pledged my life to?” I questioned myself. Within a day or two, his violent self would resurface. He would often pull my tresses when under such a spell: the same tresses that he claimed he was so fond of. Whenever I protested vigorously and threatened to leave him, he would again relapse into the ‘apologising’ mode.
Whenever I protested vigorously and threatened to leave him, he would again relapse into the ‘apologising’ mode.
I got trapped into this vicious cycle – assault and apology, apology and assault. It was taking a toll on my nerves. I was ridden with anxiety; I started judging myself at every step, always asking myself: “Am I doing something wrong? Am I making a mistake?”
Was it a mental illness?
In desperation, I visited a psychiatrist friend. She asked me a few questions that I was never asked before:
“How was I brought up – was I conditioned to please everybody?”
“Was I used to seeing domestic violence in my childhood?”
“Did I suffer from inferiority complex or any disorder?”
The answers to these were definitely in the negative, but I was in such a state of self-doubt that I started pondering. Sleeping with him also had become another ordeal– I was not enjoying that at all, as it was only about him and I was only there to quench his desire.
I remember it was my birthday and I was combing my hair in front of the mirror. Suddenly, I noticed the reflection of my face in the mirror, and I was shocked and started sobbing in agony.
“What has become of me?” I asked myself.
“Was I not a happy, easy-going, fun-loving girl? And look what I have become in the few months of my marriage! Was I not brought up and educated to be independent? And look where I have landed!”
I failed to recognise myself in the mirror, and I am sure my family and acquaintances would have found it difficult to identify me in that state.
“Enough,” I said then, looking with determination at my own reflection, “I cannot be like this lady whose reflection I see in the mirror. This is not me. I have to get back myself, and now!”
Related reading: Story of how I ran away from my abusive husband and rebuilt my life
The mirror showed me my true state
Opening my almirah in rage, I flung a few clothes on the bed, and put them on quickly – not bothering again to look at the mirror to check how I looked – I knew I must have looked tired and lost. I had enough sense in me to pick up my purse, and other necessities. Not bothering to call him, I just dropped a note at the doorstep briefly saying: “I am leaving, do not bother to get in touch with me.”
Not having a better place to escape, I went to my parents, who were initially surprised to see me. I was estranged from them since my marriage, but listening to the torment that I had to go through, they supported me wholeheartedly. It was surprising to realise how people who really love you, accept you wholly and instantly forgive your acts that had pained and hurt them immensely! I was feeling ‘loved and blessed’ after a long time.
My parents were very supportive
“File for a divorce today, I will talk with a lawyer,” my father said that evening. He has always been the backbone of my life, and always taught me to be strong and self-dependent. My mother, though, was not sure, and kept sobbing every now and then at the misfortune that had befallen her daughter.
“You did not listen to us,” my mother said feebly, “Otherwise this would not have happened to you,” she sobbed and wiped her tears.
“Do not weaken her any more,” my father said tersely, “I can already see that she is not my brave daughter that had left me.” I could just feel the strength that his words brought me. However, I apologised to my mother profusely for my hasty decision in such an important matter as marriage.
That night I gathered courage to call up my estranged husband, and said: “I have left you, as by now you must be aware, and you will receive the divorce papers soon.”
“What is all this, Neha? I cannot understand this, am I so bad as to have been abandoned without any notice,” he started pleading. Realising that he was again getting into his ‘apologising’ mode, I wanted none of that. I quickly disconnected the phone.
He threw false accusations at me
A few days later, apparently after my lawyer had called him to speak about the impending divorce, he called me.
“I know why you have taken this step, you want a share of my wealth, my family wealth, I know too well. What else can you cheap and hungry people think of,” he shouted at me. I knew he was again at it, making me feel miserable and small, and thus vulnerable enough to be bullied and dominated. Staying calm, I replied: “I do not want anything from you as divorce settlement, nothing, but suddenly I have something to give you back. Look out for a parcel from me,” and saying this I ended the call.
When he opened that parcel, what he would have found in it was my long tresses. Yes, I had cut them off, and wrapped them in a gift box, and parcelled it to him. I made a statement by doing so, for in no uncertain terms I communicated to him that I had decided to get rid of him, period.
I also wrote a note along with my tresses that said: “Lest I should be reminded of you.”