Salary matters


It was an ordinary Friday evening and I was almost done with my workweek. She knocked on the glass door, with a stony expression. I beckoned her in. A man followed her at an arm’s distance, with a vexed expression on his face – evidently her partner. I made them sit down. After a second of silence, she said, “Sir, we want divorce, on mutual consent please. Process it as fast as possible, and we’ll be so indebted.” Looking more at him than her, I asked, “What are your reasons?” “Incompatibility sir! Enough is enough!” she blurted. The man, with an expression ripe for a venting session, seemed surprisingly in control, and just nodded, and said, “Yes sir. Enough is enough.” I allowed a moment to pass, and after about a minute, he continued, “Why does she have to pin me down so harshly? I’ve lost the will to work, to enjoy the little pleasures of life. And have been obsessed by this one little thing, my bloody salary being less than hers. Enough!” he added, banging his fist on the chair’s arm.

“What’s wrong in my asking, sir? Am I not motivating when I ask him to buck up, and get ahead in his life, and earn at least as much as I do? What will society think?”

I asked, “So, you think society’s views are important?” She replied, “Yes! What are we, without society’s approval? I know they all say nasty things about our salary mismatch.”

“But aren’t you both comfortable financially, together as a couple? Isn’t that…” She cut me off, “No, sir! I earn 45000, and he’s just touched 40000!”

Related reading: 10 reasons why Indian couples fight

“Day in and day out, this is all I hear. Earn more! The very first thing I get to hear after I wake up is about my salary. I’ve lost my concentration at my workplace. I’m committing blunders. I may lose my job soon if she doesn’t stop and I cannot let that happen. All I want is a divorce so that I can live happily and on my own terms, content with what I earn.”

I take a deep breath, and ask, “How long since you were married?” “Monday,” comes the reply from both. “You mean, four days ago?” They just nod, seemingly ashamed. “How long have you known each other?” I ask. “Three years. Met through a common friend. We soon fell in love, and in a few weeks, moved in together.”

“So, your living together wasn’t so much of a problem for society’s judgement?” I had to ask that.

“No,” they both reply. “But the man has to earn more than the woman?” “Yes,” she alone replies. “Why?” No response. Awkward silence and a moment of eye contact.

“Sir, just take the case forward please and not try to counsel us or something. We’re individuals who are clear about our decision. We came to you only after we decided firmly. Please tell us what your fee would be, and get this going,” said he. She nodded. I said, “Well, if that’s so clear, I can take this further. But since it’s a Friday evening, and it’s time for me to leave for an extended holiday, please come back on Wednesday afternoon for further discussion.” They agreed, and got up to leave.

He left first, and shut the door behind him.

Related reading: Surviving the dark days of a marriage

She, visibly shaken, and eyes dimming, held on to the table, looking giddy, and lost control of her knees, and collapsed on the chair. I quickly held her shoulders, made her lean back, and offered her a glass of water. She said, “I am pregnant. Third month just started.”

I went out and called him back in. “Even I didn’t know it until last week, sir! She hid it,” he said. She explained, “I was waiting for his annual review for a raise, and wanted to share this good news. Now it’s all above my head!” and sobbed like a child. I held on to her hand, and gave her a reassuring smile. The next two hours, I did what I didn’t want to do: Advise. At one point, their ice thawed. She broke into tears, collapsing on his shoulders.

After a second’s hesitation, he held her tight and sobbed too. One hour of rambling, accusing, apologising, patching up and bubbles of silence later, they agreed to give their marriage a shot, and walked away, hand in hand. Of course, after paying me my usual fees.

(As told to Ram Kumar Ramaswamy)

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