Sriya retired on the sofa, after her routine evening shower. End of another busy day. Her home was a cozy one on the 12th floor of a calm, securely gated community. Faint radiance of diyas and string LEDs streamed through the curtains of her low-lit hall. The festive mood of Diwali was evident in the air. This weekend evening, and her forthcoming office holidays added to hers.
Humming unknowingly the antara of “Ajeeb daastan hai yeh”, she lazily got up and stood leaning on the balcony railing. People on the lawn looked jubilant, prepping for tomorrow’s celebrations. She opened her playlist. Soft music started flowing and filled the void of her house.
As the breeze brushed her hair, Sriya walked inside. She switched on her guest room lights. Over the cupboard was a sealed carton. Holding it, she came out, and sat on the thickly carpeted floor of the hall, leaning against the sofa. Unfolding it carefully, she picked up the beautiful acrylic colored diyas. Blue, yellow, red… all studded with beads, mirror works, filled with dust…Ani…Anirudh…
Sriya and Anirudh’s marriage was an arranged one. A hurried arranged wedlock. “Baba wants to see me settled, before death takes him away”. There was terrible desperation in his voice.
On later meetups, she learned that Anirudh’s father had survived first stage cancer.
During their first meeting, Anirudh’s mother, Parvati, extensively boasted about their family’s illustrious past, Anirudh’s achievements. A woman carrying the ghost of her past wearily, without a care to upgrade her skills for a wiser future… Sriya’s family didn’t want to delay the prospective match. Sriya was confused; she wasn’t sure if she was making the right decision.
She wanted to meet him a few more times. And they met. Anirudh complimented her often, met whenever she requested. His presence was charming, crowned with wry wit, touches of sarcasm. Sriya also came to know, that his marriage with his long-term, academically bright girlfriend, was called off; due to his family’s disagreement on the girl being dark-complexioned, and that her caste didn’t rank high enough to the esteemed high-caste family of Anirudh’s. This revelation was particularly disturbing. But his convincing attitude and confidence won her over. Everything was so dreamy. She shunned all her worries, and instincts. She seemed to have found someone who understood her so well. They got married within 2 months.
The marriage rituals were still in swing, and the newlyweds needed to stay back at Anirudh’s ancestral house for a few more days, before packing off to Bangalore. Anirudh was generally away the entire day, desperately insisting to be intimate, during the long nights. Sriya wasn’t prepared for getting close physically, so soon. “I think we need some time, to know each other more”, Sriya said; to which he frustratingly agreed. There was a strange coldness about him. There were frequent “I love you’s” blurted out, which rarely reflected in his eyes. She sought time for an evening stroll, late-night casual chats, which rarely happened.
There was an abrupt transformation of Ani’s amiability into one of stifling arrogance. He started repeating the petty post-marriage complaints of his parents; about the gifts presented from Sriya’s family being of low quality, her not being fair-complexioned enough, and others. Sriya felt extremely irritated and demotivated. However, she decided to maintain her calm. “Maybe its post marriage stress, it will subside”, she thought. She had seen honesty in his eyes. She was starting to love him.
The confusion, coldness, lasted longer, and forever. They spent a lot of time, furnishing their home, back in Bangalore. However, he preferred to spend his evenings with pegs of rum, prime time news, that was taken over by loud western rock music, as the night deepened. His unwinding spells began quite earlier in the day, during weekends. Their evening balcony filled with the heaviness of his frequent cigarette smoking getaways.
“I don’t think you should return from the office with your colleagues, on bikes”, “Why are you so late coming from office?” were Anirudh’s regular controlling measures in Sriya’s life. “Because I love you and worry about you,” he defended his controlling attitude. Otherwise, he didn’t care. He frequently gaslighted her and doubted her character. Sriya spoke to his friends, without avail. His hidden addiction problem had surfaced by now.
While all uncomfortable discoveries were in play, sometimes, all of a sudden, whenever he needed her physically, he swept her off her feet and was as charming as ever. He had no consequent guilt.
Sriya was completely confused and living in an illusion, by now. She started doubting her reality. She didn’t tell her parents, suspecting a possible biased outlook towards the entire situation. She couldn’t tell her friends, from whom she had already gotten cutoff, post marriage.
She took an appointment with a renowned psychotherapist, without Anirudh’s knowledge. During her conversations with the therapist, Sriya let her heart out. Most of the sessions lead to her incessantly crying. After a few sessions, when she was able to compose herself, she was told that Anirudh was playing games with her. He had a narcissistic personality disorder. And that he definitely needed therapy, to stop himself, before he finds another target.
After a series of emotional attacks and defense moves, Anirudh finally agreed to visit a therapist. “You are making our relationship complicated”, or, “You think too much!”, “Everything is fine, nothing is wrong with us!”, “you are plainly influenced by western marketing strategy, of mental illness” were his regular attacks. But she needed to use her mind now, much more than her broken heart.
Also, she needed a divorce. Sriya informed her parents about her resolution.
Anirudh had sessions with the doctors at NIMHANS. They unraveled his traumas of childhood sexual abuse, monumental expectations from family, common dilemmas in almost every middle-class Indian family, who have little scope for a folly. His parents pampered him on his success, and shamed his failures. It turned out, in the therapy sessions, Anirudh was always aware of his meanness towards Sriya, however, felt no remorse, in playing mind-games with her.
Doctors explained to him that he needs extensive counseling, and his issues could be resolved with time, support, and effort. His personality conformed to 90% of symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, which led to his addictions and manipulative attitude.
Sriya’s world was crashing in front of her. Somewhere inside, she still loved him though. “I will not remain a toy in his hands, anymore”, she often muttered, crying to herself.
6 months later, they divorced, on mutual separation grounds. Sriya denied any claims to an alimony and released her share of their mutually invested property. Many of her friends wanted her to file a case against harassment, but she realized it would make things difficult for both of them, in terms of recovery. An alimony felt like a humiliating presence of her experience.
The counseling sessions were beneficial to Anirudh. He almost got over his addictions. Nevertheless, Sriya knew their relationship was over. She had made up her mind.
Another year had passed. Sriya was already staying in a locality far from Anirudh’s. It felt, that she would never be able to get over her feeling of emptiness, hopelessness and her incessant crying spells. She wanted to get away from all of it. After a few trials, she got an opportunity to do her Master’s at the University of Edinburgh. She left, without informing him.
A few months later, Anirudh went on to pursue his Ph.D. at MIT. He had made peace with himself as well.
Sriya dusted the diyas, with a faint smile reflecting on her eyes. The dust was reminiscence of her struggle and newfound peace. Anirudh and she had bought the diyas, on their first Diwali together. She placed them carefully, and lit them. Magnificent pastel lights from the earthen lamps,cleared away the night’s shade.
After the university football match, Anirudh laid down, on the ground, and looked at the starlit emptiness above him.