“So, how are your parents doing?”
“Well, they are fine, getting old. It’s just getting a little weird. I notice that my mom’s life is beginning to revolve around me more and more, as they are growing older.” Neal made another drink for himself and asked Rhea if she wanted one.
“I’m good for now, thanks. I remember your mom from high school, she used to be one of the coolest parents back then. Remember, she actually helped you pick out a present for my birthday when we were dating!”
Neal smiled at the memory. “Yeah, she is still pretty chilled out. I just want her to do something for herself, though. I want her to do what makes her happy.”
“Well, maybe she is happy. People are different, and want different things out of life. Maybe, she is content with where she is in life.”
“I don’t think so. I have been trying to get her drunk. I want her to break free, have an affair, do something crazy, whatever she wants to!” Neal was curious to see how Rhea would react to that.
Rhea was intrigued when she heard that. She couldn’t imagine any of her guy friends ever thinking or saying something like this. She wasn’t even sure if she would say something like that about her mother. “Do you think that will ever happen?”
“Well I’ve tried. She drinks a glass or two of wine, but that’s it.”
“No, I mean, do you think she will ever break free?” Before Neal could respond, Rhea continued. “My parents have a messed up marriage, I grew up seeing violence and abuse. I tried, for many years, to convince my mum to leave. I couldn’t fathom a reason why she would want to stay. A year ago, I finally had to accept that it’s not going to happen. It’s the hardest thing I have had to accept, and it still bothers me. But it’s the truth.”
Neal was surprised to hear Rhea bring this up. Even though he had had similar conversations with friends, he didn’t expect Rhea to openly talk about this. “It’s the same story everywhere. You get married and then have a child. Your life starts to revolve around them, you ignore everything that is wrong with the marriage because you are responsible for this kid now.”
Rhea didn’t expect to hear that. Neal’s parents had a love marriage which was rather uncommon in their parents’ generation, and she remembered Neal always talking positively about his parent’s marriage. Rhea had to remind herself that violence and abuse were an accepted part of many Indian marriages, love or arranged.
“In fact, it is a similar story for so many couples. I have had similar conversations with many friends,” Neal added.
“What surprises and annoys me is how abuse and violence is normalized in our society. Even though domestic violence is a crime, it is never treated like one. People don’t take it seriously or want to do anything about it, and women are asked to just adjust and stay married. Otherwise, log kya kahenge (*)!” Rhea sighed. “Have you seen the movie Akaash Vani?”
“No, I haven’t. What about it?”
“Well it’s a good movie, watch it sometime. I think this dialogue from the movie drives home the reality of abuse and the societal hypocrisy around it.”
Father to daughter, dekho tumhari vajah se hume kya sunna par gaya.
Daughter responds, kash main aapko bata paati ki aapki vajah se mujhe kya jeena par gaya. (**)
This conversation made Rhea see Neal in a new light. In all these years, she had not come across a guy who was open enough to discuss the issue of violence and abuse in marriages. It was a refreshing change to meet a guy who was willing to accept that it was a problem, and talk about it! Rhea hugged Neal and they were both content to be present in that moment.
* what will the world/people say
** Father to daughter, look what we have had to hear, because of you.
Daughter responds, I wish I could tell you what I have had to live through, because of you.