Quiet, No More! Fiction

- Shweta Tiwari

The stealthily approaching darkness made the clouds look like a blotchy canvas of some amateur artist. As the stars began to glimmer in the lap of the dusk-laden sky, the towering buildings surrounding her house seemed in a state of drunken stupor. Clad in a negligently-pleated, pink saree, Debrati quietly stood in her plush villa and vacantly gazed outside the window. Her countenance vouched for her mind being filled with umpteen disparate thoughts. Subodh’s coming late from office was not unusual anymore but somehow it made her anxious, every evening. This day too would be like any other she thought but she waited for him earnestly.

The train of her thoughts was interrupted by the blare of Subodh’s car on the main gate. Nakul opened the gate, creating ample space for the car to glide in. After five minutes, Subodh entered the living area and sprawled on the squashy leather chair placed adjacent to the antique teak table. He carelessly dropped his office-bag on the floor and heaved a sigh of relief. Debrati offered him a glass of water but not without noticing his disheveled hair and crumpled white shirt. He immediately followed the first rule of the daily routine by refusing to drink it. The second being his abruptly rising up from the seat and heading towards the bedroom. “Shall I lay the dinner?” Debrati asked, having already prepared herself for a negative response. “I have eaten in the office. I am too tired to talk. Good night.” Subodh said as he strode towards the room. Tiny blobs of tear surfaced in her eyes but she immediately wiped them. Debrati put back the glass in the kitchen and tiptoed to the chamber which always managed to give solace to her distressed soul. She opened the door of the magic room, switched on the light and a faint smile escaped her lips. A colossal bookcase stationed in the extreme right corner of her home library, greeted Debrati. She affectionately ran her hand on the books which transported her back in time, when she was not married to Subodh.

Debrati was the only child of the Banerjee couple who despite being middle class professionals pandered to all the needs of their daughter. A docile child and an obedient daughter, Debrati willingly complied with all the decisions that her parents made for her. As she grew up, she developed a great liking for literature and even her parents created no obstruction in letting her peruse a course in English. An immaculate academic record in graduation fetched her scholarship adequate enough, to continue her post-graduation and M.A. was shortly followed by an Mphil degree. Her parents’ jubilation knew no bounds when she got a teaching job in the University of Delhi. For the first time, Debrati had felt self-sufficient. She had extensively read about the importance of being independent but its implication had been understood only after procuring a job. Debrati was not one of those English graduates who oscillate between Feminism and Marxism. She was an ordinary girl who simply wished to relish every moment of her life.

Apart from being happy for their daughter, her parents also feared her swiftly fleeting youth that lead to a paucity of eligible suitors. “It’s high time that you get serious about marriage, dear.” Mrs. Banerjee said to Debrati who was deeply engrossed in typing an email on her laptop screen. She beamed a comforting smile at her mother, “Why do you worry Ma? Things will happen when the right time comes.” The right time finally arrived when Indraneel Bagchi, her father’s best friend proposed his son’s match for her. The son was none other than Subodh. A formal meeting was fixed between the two families. Among the exchange of sweets, occasional glances that Debrati-Subodh stole at each other and a few dim-humored jokes of their parents, the date of their marriage was sealed. Even before Debrati could process what was happening around her, she found herself sitting next to Subodh in a festooned car, bidding adieu to her parents. After a week of their marriage, Subodh’s parents too returned back to their ancestral house in Kolkata, leaving them behind in Delhi.

The marriage trailed smoothly for about six months but soon both Debrati and Subodh discovered that there was a broad chasm between their personalities. Debrati was an accommodating wife, lacking an individual opinion. She reluctantly yielded to Subodh’s urging her to quit her job. “I am a senior manager who can very well afford all the whims of his wife. Why do you need to do menial jobs here and there? I feel demeaned.” He had said to her. On the other hand, Subodh was an astute executive who was very competitive in life. Initially, the moments of discord between them were tackled in the bed, but all explored and done, Subodh gradually became incurious. She blamed his unresponsiveness on his excruciating workload but soon his irritable temper stated the contrary. Subodh began to stay in the office even after the working hours. Evading eye contact and avoiding a conversation with her, became a part of his habit. On her persisting to confide in her, the reason behind his changed behavior, he unsympathetically told her one day, “We are very different Debrati. I don’t see in you, the partner I was looking for.” Mustering all the courage, she asked him, “Where did I go wrong?” “Well, forget it. You can stay in the house but in my heart, I am not sure.” replied the man. Since then, Debrati was bearing her vicissitude with silent martyrdom. Often, she used to mull over the probable reasons of his losing interest in her. After all she spoke, ate, dressed and lived exactly as he liked. Sometimes doubts of him having an extra-marital affair unsettled her but she use to quickly gather her sunken spirits and console herself, “Oh this stupid mind thinks too much. He loves me. We are just going through a rough phase.”

Debrati was jolted out of her reverie, as the clock struck twelve. She locked the door of the room and went to bed like a vanquished soldier.

Next morning, a series of clamorous sound woke her up. She slightly lifted her head and saw Subodh packing his clothes and other items in a valise.

“Are you going somewhere?” Debrati sat up with a start.

“Yes, I have a meeting with a few clients in Bangalore. I forgot to inform you yesterday.” He said, simultaneously putting essential toiletries in a kit.

“What if I would need something?” her throat chocked again.

“Why have we hired Nakul? He will take care of it.” Subodh looked at her, explicitly indicating that he wasn’t keen on answering any more trivial questions.

“Are you going alone?”

“Obviously, what else do you think?” Subodh picked up the luggage and said goodbye to her.

After Subodh left, she got up apathetically and began to attend to the domestic chores. “Do you need any assistance ma’am?” Debrati was making breakfast for herself when Nakul’s voice gripped her attention. Nakul was a slender young man in his early twenties, employed by Subodh as house-help. He looked after everything, ranging from purchasing vegetables from the market to bank work of Subodh. Owing to the deplorable financial condition of his family, he worked for Subodh’s household for five thousand rupees a month. With Subodh’s help, he was also perusing a diploma in professional accounting. Whenever the pangs of loneliness stressed Debrati beyond measures, Nakul’s company came to her rescue. He used to keep her engaged by talking endlessly about the rising price of onion, home remedies for a better digestion, his village in Shobhabazar and so forth. “No I will manage it but I would need your help in tidying the study today.” Debrati replied with a smile. After sometime, both of them were in the study room, dusting and rearranging the books.

“Sir is very lucky to have you as his wife. You are not only pretty but highly educated also. I too want to marry someone like you ma’am.” Nakul naively retorted. “I wish Subodh thought so too.” Debrati muttered under her breath. As Nakul was cleaning the shelf he came across a thick stack of sheets, he read the title page “The Joy of Living”. Not sure of what to do with it he asked, “What is this? May I throw it?” It was Debrati’s first creative venture that she had dreamt of getting published someday. She controlled her indomitable urge to tear it into shreds and said “It’s an impotent piece of writing which at some point of my life, I thought, was a novel.” “Who decided that? Did you approach any publisher?” Nakul asked. Nakul’s question benumbed Debrati. She stood motionless and thought that two years of her married life had been spent only in assuring domestic tranquility and that she had completely forgotten her own aspirations. Subodh trivialized them but they mattered to her. Why had she become blind towards them? Why had she not considered the option of sharing her script with a publisher? Why had she quit her job for a man who is not even affected by her presence? Why had she lost her self-confidence? “What should I do with it?” Nakul’s shrill voice penetrated her ears once again. “Give it to me.” she plucked it from his hands hastily.

Three days had passed since Subodh had gone. In these three days he had called her only once.
Debrati upbraided herself for forgetting to ask Subodh when he was returning back home. She called him but he disconnected the call. Assuming that he might be busy, she decided to call on his office’s landline number.

“Good afternoon. Matrix Power Limited.” An effervescent female voice answered the call.

“Hello! I am Subodh Bagchi’s wife. He is off to Bangalore. Could you please tell me when is his return scheduled?”

“Let me check ma’am. Please be on the line.” The receptionist replied and played a flute solo.

“Ma’am it’s not an official trip. Mr.Bagchi has taken a week’s off for some personal work.”

Debrati was stunned. She disconnected the call without saying anything further to the lady. The question “Why did he lie?” reverberated in her mind a million times. “Is he actually…” Debrati shuddered at the thought of Subodh having an illicit relationship outside marriage. Subodh returned after a week and seemed normal as ever. “How was the meeting with your client?” Debrati’s eyebrows furrowed. “Fine” Subodh said shrugging his shoulders. She wanted to tell him about the conversation she had with the receptionist but she chose to keep quiet. As days rolled into months, the antagonism between the two swelled more and more. That day, Debrati’s asking him about the frequent withdrawals of money from their joint account infuriated Subodh to an extent that he delivered a resounding slap on her face. “It’s my money. I will do whatever I want.” he said in an aggressive tone while Debrati stood bewildered, tears dribbling out of her eyes.

Everyone adhered to same old routine on the next day. “Also note down one kg sugar in the list.” Debrati dictated to Nakul, the items, she needed for the kitchen. “I will get all the grocery but only if you let me keep the change ma’am.” Nakul protested. Debrati laughed and nodded her head. He returned back from the supermarket after two hours. Though there were two humongous bags in his hands yet his face scintillated with excitement. “What happened Nakul? You look very happy.” Debrati asked out of curiosity. “Of course I am. I was coming out of the supermarket when sir’s car crossed my way. Ashima madam was also there. I waved at him but he did not notice.” Nakul enthusiasm went down. Debrati went close to him and asked “Who is Ashima?” Nakul who was putting vegetables in the refrigerator offered a quick reply, “She is sir’s friend. She used to pay him a visit almost every day before he got married to you. I don’t know why doesn’t she come now?” Nakul said giving a dramatic twist to his hand. Debrati drank several cups to tea to ward off her headache or to be precise to dispel a series of doubts erupting in her mind. She did not talk much to Subodh that day and almost a month passed since this incident.

One night when both Debrati and Subodh were sleeping, his phone vibrated. He picked it up from the bedside table, glared at the number and went out in the balcony. Debrati’s sleep too had been interfered by the rumble of Subodh’s phone. She got up and covertly followed him. “I have told you not to call at odd hours Ashima. What is it?” Subodh murmured but the exasperation in his voice was indisputable. He paused for a while to listen and then said, “We have had a discussion about this innumerable times. I can’t divorce her. Can we please talk about it tomorrow?” Debrati who had heard Subodh’s words, scurried back to the bed and pretended to be sleeping.

The next morning after Subodh left for work, she made a cup of tea for herself, sunk in an armchair and reflected on whatever she had overheard, the last night. An acute pain accumulated in the pit of her stomach, making its way through her chest and finally eyes. She wanted to cry till she splintered into bits. Debrati had acquiescently accepted Subodh’s domination not because she was ignorant but due to her love for him. She obliterated her own happiness, so that he does not label her as an anarchic wife. All she had demanded in return was fidelity. “He has been committing adultery. I can’t sit passively, crying like a schoolgirl. I will have to talk to him.” Debrati said to herself, feeling imbued with an unprecedented energy. However, the next minute her determination receded. What would she do if he apologized for his mistake? Debrati pondered and nervously shifted in the chair. “Forgive him.” Answered her heart, “Penalize him.” counter-argued the brain. In both the cases one thing was certain that despite being cheated upon, she wasn’t planning to abandon him. Subodh came back from office and looked at Debrati who did not dash to the kitchen to get water for him today.

“I am thirsty.” a streak of irritation played on his stolid face.

“Drink water then.” Debrati replied reclining more comfortably in the armchair.

“Get it for me.” He ordered.

“My importance in your life is limited only to pouring water for you, cooking for you, managing your house and yearning for your attention.”

“What do you mean?” Subodh was dumbfounded as Debrati had never spoken to him in an impertinent manner in the two years that he had known her. He failed to comprehend the reason behind her vexation. He frowned and asked her to state the cause of her annoyance clearly.

“We need talk about a few things that concern both of us equally.” She massaged her forehead and continued, “A single woman becomes a daunting threat to her family after a particular age. What better arrangement than marriage can be, to bridle her! She joins a new family hoping to be treated with care, so did I. I wish you probed my soul just like you felt this body of mine. You got so bored of me that I was nothing more than a piece of furniture to you. Subodh, your impassiveness destroyed me but still I tried to win you back. I spoke, dressed and lived as per your demand but I think that was my greatest mistake. To quit my job and modify myself for an uncaring man like you was nothing but a waste of time. Will you have an answer if I ask you what had I done to be jilted like this? You deliberately remained oblivious to my fears, sufferings and inner disintegration. You are a coward who imposed his follies and insecurities on his wife by saying that she wasn’t the life partner he was looking for. Which woman in the world would want to have a husband like you? Wasn’t I still trying? You were always secretive about both your past and present while I was an open book. Did nothing I say and do affect you? Before I question you about certain things, it would be better that you confess them yourself.” Debrati looked at Subodh to check for any sign of remorse or guilt but there was none.

Subodh’s fury was aggravated beyond words. He cleared his throat and clapped his hands, “What a splendid speech Debrati but I am more eager to know from where did you acquire the audacity to talk to your husband like that? I think I know. Has somebody been keeping you warm in my absence? Wait, let me frame the question more coherently. Have you been sharing your so called peeves and tribulations with some other man who has given you this fiery nerve? Speak up, you unvirtuous woman. You have an extra-marital affair. Don’t you?” Subodh yelled at her.

Debrati looked aghast at Subodh but instead of crying or offering a defense, she wiped her tears. She went to the study room without uttering a single word to Subodh and came out pressing her script, close to her bosom. She began to walk towards the main door. “Where are you going?” Subodh demanded. “I don’t know. To find myself, maybe.” Debrati replied. “Come back here, I say.” His lips quivered in anger. “I can’t. It’s too late now.” she said taking another step. “Debrati, if you cross the threshold of this house, remember, I will never take you back.” Subodh stuck to the last resort of threatening her. Debrati stopped and turned back, “Don’t treat Ashima like you treated me, Subodh.” Subodh went frigid and stared at her in disbelief. He stood like an incapacitated patient. His face had turned pallid. With breaths that were coming out in gasps, he called her name but she had already disappeared out of his sight by then.