Trespassing: Hansa Deep

Hansa Deep

Translated from Hindi by Patricia Wood 

In the home of a small and happy family, there was every type of luxury. There was much more hidden in those nine letters: 'happiness.' That everything-ness within which one could never find satisfaction. This word is so greedy that any effort to fill it is futile in the face of a never-ending more... more... These poor people are stuck, toiling for every "more" of this "more," when there is no limit to "more." It rolls on like this, one thing after another, as if the one following produces the next. It's incessant: this train never stops.
Any family can certainly look happy, but that wasn't actual happiness. This characteristic seemed always questionable in this family, too. They were three: husband, wife, and a third wheel. The son-in-law and the mother-in-law both thought of each other as unnecessary. And with those two, the daughter, Renée, felt pretty much like the shuttlecock in the game between them.
Patricia Wood
As such, there was much to be shared and discussed, but among Rubin, Renée and Marcheline gaped a vacuum of the unsaid. The three of them were uniquely rich personalities. So, they would often barge into brawls under their shared roof--Renée, the daughter of Marcheline, and Rubin, the son-in-law. One might expect that when three of them were earning well, happiness too naturally could have paved its way from three directions. But unfortunately, not! Only their fretting and the nagging of each other encased their lives. In the blink of an eye, a mountain would be made out of a molehill on the tiniest of matters, and the egos of the three continued to clash. In the tug-of-war among the three mulish and difficult beings, the peace of the humble home was pulled to shreds. 
It did not matter who was doing what, when and how. What overrode everything was who was going to add that little bit 'more'. In Rubin's mind, Marcheline was part of a package deal in his marriage. Like a buy-one-get-one-free offer. Whether he was for it or against it, there was no option for him to deny the offer. It was a precondition of the marriage that he accept Marcheline, as she had no one except Renée to take care of her.
Rubin was so captivated by the fragrance of love at that time that he could take on anything, even the impossible plucking of the stars. And so it was the smallest of compromises for him to accept Marcheline in those heady honeymoon days. He thought it would be great to have an older woman in the house who could support Renée. After just a few days, Rubin begun getting annoyed at how Renée and Marcheline were perfectly in tune with each other. He soon felt worthless, ground between the two stones of the mill. So often, Marcheline would announce her decisions and out of respect Rubin would have to oblige her. Renée, too, had been used to dancing upon her mother's tune for years. This was nothing new for her. But it was difficult for Rubin to fit into the new set-up, and hence he was left with no option except to continue adding his flattering agreement to everything.
Quite naturally, chiming in 'yes' felt sweet for a while; with the passing of time, it became vile to say 'yes' to everything. And finally, there came a day that his sense of complete disagreement began to show plainly on his face. This created a dilemma for Rubin and he felt helpless in that moment, knowing if he declined to obey Marcheline, Renée would turn on him. He felt like a horse whose reins were being pulled by Marcheline and Renée in the direction that suited them. The neighing horse soon rose to revolt. His silent mutiny suddenly surfaced for the first time one day when they were having his favourite dish. Rubin tried to serve himself a large helping, but Renée snapped, "That's more than enough! Just look at yourself."
Rubin looked at himself. It seemed to him that all this home-cooking was a mockery of health. He grimaced painfully at Renée as if to say, "Please, at the very least, don't take away my freedom to choose what I eat!"
"Yes! Why not! However delicious the meal may be, one should eat as per the size of his belly," Renée sneered sarcastically.
"Hang on, I'm not so fat that I should not be allowed to eat as I want."
"Oh, what rubbish you're talking, Rubin! Go and look at yourself in the mirror. If you do not control yourself now, you will certainly put on more weight."
Rubin disliked such unwelcome needling about his eating. Although he was coping with their intransigence on other issues, he now felt wounded by this kind of setting limits at the dinner table of his own house. How bizarre it is to prevent someone from eating! How could a 'house' be called a 'home,' where one is restricted from having food according to his own wish and taste. The one thing Rubin longed for was delicious food. It was something for which he wouldn't even mind sweating for hours.
Rubin left the table without eating, leaving his wounded feelings unsaid for the moment. But Renée and Marcheline had grasped the gravity of the situation, that it wasn't usual for Rubin to leave like that. He was angry, yes, but there was much more to the anger this time. Marcheline had the support of Renée and was pleased that her daughter valued her opinions. It suddenly occurred to Renée that what had happened to Rubin wasn't fair, but as usual, she thought to appease her mother. She had her own complaints about Rubin: "He's worthless when it comes to household chores. Am I not running the household even though I have a full-time job? My mother also comes home tired, but doesn't she still manage the kitchen? It's only the lethargic Rubin who comes from work, collapses on the sofa and starts to snore." Fixated on their own busy schedules, Marcheline and Renée were oblivious of the sting Rubin was feeling.
As it's not easy to see the brighter side of someone, it escaped everyone's notice that Rubin mops up the puddles of melted snow in the courtyard daily. Yet, the cup he forgets to pick up and put away after having his tea--that they can see, disastrously marking him as a worthless fellow. Everybody was sightless when he cut the grass in the hot sun, but that he left the mower in the yard--this they see, dragging him before the court as a criminal. Nobody could see him servicing the vehicles every weekend, but if any vehicle is found with an empty gas tank, suddenly he is visible, "You! Can we not expect you to do this bit for us?"
Rubin is worthless. He can't do this. He can't do that. The dusty lens of Marcheline and Renée's eyes could only see what they wanted to see. Bit by bit, a feeling of resentment kept piling up inside all of them. Marcheline was always suspicious about Rubin. And now, Rubin also drove towards the same conviction about Renée and her mother. Between the two, Renée never took Rubin's side. For her, her mother was always right and always would be.
And so, son-in-law and mother-in-law were geared up against each other. Because of this struggle, distance was bound to grow between husband and wife. Tension started to rise. The strained relationships became more constricted with each day. It naturally became suffocating – a suffocation that made it difficult for everyone to breathe. All day, Marcheline and Renée kept score - I did this, I did that. On their scorecard, Rubin's column stayed empty. To Rubin, his account was just that he had come home from after working hard for twelve hours--which was of no value to the two women. Both of them also went to work, yet after returning home they started with the housework. Cooking, cleaning, buying milk on the way home, etc. What neither of them realized was how much harder and more draining Rubin's job was, even though he had the same salary as them. Rubin's job was physically exhausting, and so as soon as he came home, he wanted to eat and sleep, which did not go over well with Marcheline.
Rubin's sonorous snoring from the living room couch would often echo irritatingly in her ears. And then when he sat down to eat, she would snap. It happened one day, then another, and soon it became an endless cycle. Rubin did not enjoy having his meal interrupted by dozens of questions and interjections. It was his habit to eat quietly. When his eating was subjected to interrogation, he felt awful. He was disgusted by showing of seeing anyone's half-chewed food, so he did not look or speak, and just kept eating with his head down.
This irritated both women – the mother felt it a disgrace to her daughter and the daughter, in turn, to her mother.
At times like these, Rubin would remember all the things that he did that went unappreciated, all the times he was bitterly snubbed. Even a small task like paying a bill or picking up a few things at the store. Not expensive, just small things. The bananas weren't ripe; the lemons weren't juicy enough; the table he cleaned had to be cleaned again. 
With his efforts more frequently tarnished, the stain on the relationships became more indelible. Layer upon layer, the stains grew darker. And because of those marks, the very face of the relationship itself became blurred and its very existence was in danger. That is what happened! All three of them kept searching for the real face of their loved ones, but it was now nowhere to be seen. Home is no longer home, it is a den of conspiracies and contempt. Now the only way out was for each to find their own space. 
Those who in their relationships search for happiness in happiness, lose it, and can never retrieve it. The happiness at the threshold of the house, too, looks for a place of its own. The sorrow of not being able to find the hidden happiness within oneself overwhelms the heart forever. Why did no one think: what is the reason for doing so much nit-picking of everyone in the house? Was Rubin's eating truly that bad? And was it really not possible for Marcheline and Renée to see his hard work? They cannot find in each other what they are not willing to see. 
And so one day, something happened that should never have happened. Their paths diverged and the home came apart. The background was altogether the same as any traditional story; only some of the text was different, and not even very much. The ending was also the same, only the meaning had changed, and not even very much.  Nobody bothered to ponder for a moment who had broken into whose house. The endless search for happiness began again; Rubin, his and Renée, hers. The marks of parting had barely begun to show when they started fading. As they got rid of the interference in their respective lives, maybe they found a strange pleasure--the pleasure of the victory of their egos. Who had trespassed into whose life remained unanswered--it was a question for which each of them knew the answer, except the trespasser.

(Dr. Patricia Wood is Professor of Geography at York University, Toronto, Canada) 

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