A life in Clothes is a five part autobiographical series I did in support of the slutwalk Delhi to illustrate what it can be like to live in a male oriented, judgmental world.
When I married for the second time. I thought I was older, wiser, I was making the right choice. However, in hindsight, I realize I lack any sense for what is normal, hence I am not able to see warning signs for when people may not be so good for me.
When I returned to Mumbai, and met an old friend, it was a comforting feeling of touching roots again, in a place that had started feeling alien to me. Instead of turning right around and heading out of the city again, I chose to find a way to settle in it. This friend, among the oldest I had among mountaineers was a comforting whiff of the outdoors in a cement jungle.
I thought he was necessary to surviving in a city. He thought that I was attractive and exotic enough to be a good partner for him in business. I wanted to continue working in the outdoors. And I fell into a kind of love that can destroy mercilessly as it holds you immobile.
There were warning signs everywhere. Big glaring ones. Orthodox parents whose wishes were paramount. No problem, I thought. I’d lived rural. How orthodox could it be? Well, it could be very, very confining. My entire personality was submerged in some kind of a new identity I could not recognize. Small rules, easy to adjust. Small responsibilities, easy to take on. Small things that were offensive, easy to avoid. Before I knew it, I was someone else. Someone I didn’t like.
Far from being in touch with the outdoors, I found that this new life didn’t include it at all unless we were earning from it. My role was to play the ignorant woman in the outdoors, while wooing clients to bring business. I took to facilitating learning groups, and found a new direction of growth that enriched me.
But I couldn’t escape the know-it-all critic watching every move. What should I do, how I should deal with clients, how I should budget, how I should facilitate, how profits should be spent… I was the proprietor of a business I didn’t own. My actions increasingly got overruled by him, useless business decisions were insisted on because he thought they were better. A new narrative began “You are so clever, you do things I could never do, but you must channelize your potential” and the person who couldn’t understand what I did was apparently clever enough to channelize it. Whatever that meant.
The facade of high voltage adventurers stayed for a while, but I was now the ignorant office partner while he was the outdoors partner mentoring me. My experience was shoved aside as irrelevant, which increasingly became apparent as his view of it as a flaw – I was living in with a man when it happened.
While none of my history was hidden from him, it was now narrated as his rescue of me from a life of shame. Increasingly alcohol was becoming a bigger problem in our lives, with him being irritated with me in public, which I found so offensive that I stopped going out. I became responsible for communicating with his parents, whom he didn’t get along with. I became responsible for paying all the bills in the home, including his phone bill and petrol expenses, because he worked for our business. The business never took off that well. I ended up paying from my pocket to avoid conflicts.
When I had my son, shit hit the fan.
Till then, I was working in partnership with him, supposedly, though most of the home was run from my considerably higher income from consulting. This stopped with the birth of our child. And with it stopped any respect I got.
I was now the target of a lot of frustrated anger over lack of money, though my expenses were always covered by me, the running expenses of the home were always covered by me. What had stopped were his phone bills, petrol expenses and his ability to find work. I should make it clear here, that we had always taken on our own freelance work all through. He had too, to the point of refusing better paying work for our clients in favor of that offered by a buddy. I was officially the bird in hand, but I was already in hand, and to be ignored.
His alcoholism grew the more unemployed he got, which in turn led to his increasing temper and inability to respect people hiring him. Soon he lost a lot of work, which made things worse. Nightly attacks of verbal abuse became the norm when he got home high on alcohol, and proceeded to vent on us. I got increasingly frustrated with my inability to protect my son from this nuisance. I was paying increasing bills with lesser money, and he then started getting angry if he saw me anywhere near a computer (I earn from writing).
My son developed the habit of waking up in the middle of the night and to date doesn’t sleep well till early morning. Hours after my husband has crashed to bed, drunk. He blames this on me spoiling his habits by keeping him near a computer all the time. He ha developmental delays.He declared me to be the cause. He stopped giving any money at home, and no matter what I did, the reply was always a taunt. The taunts were increasingly public.
I started disengaging from everything. I got criticized in public, I stoped going out with him. I got criticized for going out, I stopped going out. I got criticized for the taste of food I cooked, I stopped cooking food. I got abused for objecting to a mess made after I tidied the home, I stopped tidying the home… till I do nothing. I escape online, I engage with my son, and I avoid the world completely.
Last year, I left home, but instead of moving in with friends as planned initially, I gave in to my father’s invitation to stay with them. Another mistake. Within 24 hours of my arrival, the insults started again. I got bullied into returning to him, while he was told that I really wanted to come back. On my return, the first thing my husband told me was that he hadn’t changed a thing and was still the same man, so if I wanted to stay, I should behave.
In the meanwhile, his parents decided to sell the home we are living in and to move to a cheaper locality and keep the balance money, since neither sons provide any money at home, and I stopped being able to provide for two households once my son was born and income stopped. While initially the mother in law had said she would provide for me and get me a separate home if need be, when the time came to buy, she did not. The writing on the wall was clear – she didn’t want the shame of the two of us living apart, so she had sold the security from under my feet hoping that this would force me to not leave, even when she saw the behavior of her son and disliked it.
On his part, the husband gave me clear ultimatums. If I wanted to live in the new home, I’d have to live as he dictated. By now, nothing I do or say is acceptable. Nothing is told to me without a taunt attached. On my part, I have become so disinterested in the home, that I have all my clothing on the floor of the bedroom in a mess for a month, because I started packing, but couldn’t decide if I wanted to live on my own or move to the new home. Rather poetic a metaphor for what happened of my life in the marriage. Taken out for some purpose, stagnating in a limbo.
And I am finding my solutions, because I woke up. Late, but better than never. It is time to start living again, or this autobiography ends because what follows will be a depressingly mundane story that will be too tragic to ignore, and too boring to write.
I must find me.