It was supposed to be a bright and cheerful morning. The sun was finally peeping from behind the clouds and there was a warmth that seemed to melt away the winter chill. Cars crunched out of the driveways, wives stood waving at the door with a big bright smile. Life seemed perfect. The one thing that they forget to tell you about perfection is that it is all superficial. Everything seems perfect in suburban America. Big houses, big cars, children going to reputed private schools, husbands with fancy jobs, strings of pearls, solitaires, designer shoes… It all seems perfect. In reality, it’s all boring and mundane.
When I married Ranjan, I hardly thought he was perfect. But I thought his smile made everything seem perfect. Silly girl, me. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was doing it for his smile. He brought me to America. I didn’t love it as much as I was awestruck by the country. Women wore fashionable clothes (it was fashionable to say ‘fashionable clothes’), their hair was so colorful. It was sometimes golden, sometimes red, sometimes a deep brown but it was all smooth and shiny. Men dressed really fine too, and the ladies held men’s hands in public. I even saw many women kiss their men in public. Back then I had assumed they were their husbands. I had never kissed a man, until Ranjan kissed me on our wedding night.
These pretty women and their pretty men drove fancy cars. I only knew they were fancy because I had seen Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna drive them around in the numerous hindi films I had watched. I remained awestruck by this new world my husband had brought me into. I busied myself buying nice things for our new flat, no, our apartment.
Ranjan had been clear he wanted me to be a good wife, but soon, I came to understand that his idea of a good wife was quite different than mine. I was being the good wife my mother had taught me to be. Ranjan’s idea of a good wife wasn’t somebody who cleaned around the house, cooked and made sure his things were in order. The good man appreciated all these things, but he wanted something more. His idea of a good wife was somebody he could show off, somebody who had a career, somebody who could have more to do than figure out how ferment the batter for idlis in the cold, cold winter.
I blamed Amma, when Ranjan told me I wasn’t being the good wife he wanted. The next day, I signed up for classes at a local college. Americans were lovely. I spent most days studying hard to be a good wife. Apparently I did well.
I woke up at 4 am to cook breakfast and complete all chores before we both set off for work. I spent the whole day working hard, before driving back home. I would stop at the grocery store to pick up groceries. I spent the evenings cooking dinner. Some days, I’d be lucky. Ranjan’s colleagues would be throwing a party, so no dinner to cook. I loved those evenings. Those evenings would give me a chance to dress up. And then Ranjan would see me and say, “I must have done something right to have found a wife as pretty as you.” I loved hearing those words. I loved spending the evening by his side, being his perfect wife. His good wife.
Ranjan got promoted. He realized his American dream, it seems. “Reshma, you see when I came to this country a decade back, I wanted it all. I was a student, and I knew nothing. But I knew what my dream was. Now, we can finally afford that house in the upmarket neighbourhood where my boss lives, I can afford to drive a Mercedes and I can afford to have children because I am sure I can afford to send them to Harvard, Yale or whichever Ivy league school they want to go to. You can stop working now. We can start a family. This is my dream, Reshma…” and he hugged me.
I hugged him back. You see, I was a good wife. But something felt wrong. I didn’t feel happy. As a good wife, it was my duty to feel happy for my husband. He is my family. This is his dream. But I couldn’t help but wonder what my dream was? What had I been doing all this while? I had been a hardworking woman who was loved at her workplace. I was a good wife, who made her husband very happy. But was I happy?
What was my dream? I was brought up to be a good wife. And my family had given me away the moment they tied my pallu to his uparna in the mandap. Our lives were tied down to each other at that very moment. Every thread of my existence was wrapped up around this man.
This man whose smile I had loved, rarely smiles at me anymore. His ambition was a beautiful house, a beautiful car and a beautiful wife. He has it all. But do I want this? It is too late to ask that question. The pallu and the uparna have frayed, but their frayed threads remain deeply entangled in each other. I have accepted his dream as mine and I have been living it.
So yes, it will be a perfect morning. I will stand on the porch as my husband drives out to work. I will smile and wave at him. It is easier to play along than disentangle.
Picture by Kaurwakee. Check out her pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/kaurwakee/