Snowstorm is blasting away! Trees and cars on the street are barely visible.
Dharani is sitting by the window and watching the blast. “Thank goodness it is Sunday,” she told herself for the fourth time. Or else, it would have been a hell of a ride to work. She is brooding over the argument she had with her husband Dinakar last night. It is still raw in her mind. Her eyes turn towards the bedroom. There, he is sleeping like a baby; not a care in the world as far as he is concerned. It is getting close to nine. There is no sign of waking up anytime soon.
The snowbirds are heading south announcing the arrival of winter in their own language. They form a sharp cone, like soldiers in a drill session; for Dharani, it is a sight to watch. She watches them every year; the fascination never ends. She turns her eyes to the squirrels on the yard. They are busy collecting nuts and transporting them to their abodes at the base of trees. Somewhere she has read that they would collect them just enough for one winter. Wonder why humans do not have that kind of sense. Man is called rational animal. But then, who said that? Man, of course! Only we have to certify ourselves! Maybe the birds and animals are laughing at us for being so full of ourselves!
The day Dharani set foot in America, it is a fond memory. Her husband doted on her and she was elated. He kept asking, “What do you want?” “What would you like to have?” “What is your wish?” and provided it on the double. He bought new furniture and new window curtains. He was proud to show off his new wife, introducing her as “my missus.” She could not help thinking, “Wow, what a great love he has for me!”
He tells her ten times a day that she is gorgeous and that she, in her new sari, is blinding him. He repeats, “I love you” as if it were a tirumantra. One day he even asked her why she does not say she loves him. “Do you not love me?” he asked.
Dharani laughed casually, “I don’t know. Maybe because we don’t use that kind of language back home.”
Lady luck smiled on him at the same time as his better half joined him in America. A huge project fell into his lap. He flipped over. “All this, because of your luck. You must have worshipped the gods with gold blossoms in your previous life. That is why you have been blessed with a genius like me,” he said, inhaling air into his lungs and expanding his chest.
Dharani laughed happily.
All good things do come to an end. Dinu’s project ended. After that, he had a couple of other projects. Two years went by in a jiff. Currently, he is waiting for another good project. The word “good” is notable. After two big projects, he is in no mood to accept small projects. He is determined to accept only the projects that could put his abilities to the best use. He is waiting for that colossal project.
Dharani’s thoughts are traveling in a different direction. At first, she did not mind. As the time went by, a tiny fear has started sprouting, grown into branches, and now stood as a huge tree in front of her eyes. It is frightening. When Dinu passed two or three projects, it did not bother her. She even seemed to have understood his logic. “Of course, who would not want a job that is challenging to his abilities?” She told herself. Days, weeks, and months went by. Now it is getting scary as the time “he is unemployed” is stretching to new length each day. The thought that it actually decreases his prospects for big projects is chewing her up. Her heart is writhing inside with the question, “Why Dinu, who claims to be a man of unusual talent, cannot see that?”
One of those days, Dinu received a call from a Microsoft subsidiary for an interview. Dinu did not go.
“Why?” Dharani asked, narrowing her eyes. Anybody else would have jumped at the prospect.
“That manager and I attended the same school. He does not have even a half of my IQ. Why would I want to work for him? Absurd,” he said.
Dharani was surprised. He did not even go for the interview; he is already speaking as if he had gotten the job! She did not say it aloud though. After four weeks or so, he received another call from another company and again he disregarded it. Why? Because the CEO in the company is his friend’s brother. He went to Colorado for an interview but dismissed it as stupid job. His reason: he did not like the neighborhood where the office is located.
Dharani is getting more and more worried by the minute. She wonders whether he has any interest in work at all. As the saying goes udyogam purushalakshanam [Work is a characteristic of man]. Nowadays, not only men but women also are not whiling away their time sitting at home and clipping nails. How could anybody sit around doing nothing, as if he hung his head on the hook like a shirt?
Dharani could not do so. She joined the workforce within a year after she had landed in America.
Since she had a master’s degree in biology, she tried to get into Ph.D. program in an American university. She was told that she needed to study a few M.Sc. courses first. Unwilling to repeat the courses, she started looking for jobs. Her prospects were quite good in Minneapolis and Chicago but she did not want to move because it would hurt her husband’s work. Of course, she had seen couples living in different cities and commuting for weekend get-together but she was not interested in that lifestyle. Therefore, she took a part-time position as a customer rep in a local bank. No, it was not a dream job; not something, she was dying for. She took it only to escape from the house-arrest condition within the four walls. The Bank manager recognized her talent soon enough and made her full-time supervisor within six months. The income is good.
Dinu is not like that. It is not in his nature to settle for anything but the top position. The day Dharani told him that she was taking a position at the bank he was displeased. He said, “I would never settle for such a crummy job.” In his mind, that was the worst of the worst lot.
Dharani is upset. The entire situation is annoying. This man recites I love you mantra endlessly yet does not care how I feel in reality. He is not even looking for a job. What am I supposed to think of him? Given the current economy, even those who have jobs are worried sick about keeping them, and here this man is hoping that somebody comes looking for him and hand him a high rank position on a silver platter.
Dharani is reading today’s newspaper. She sees a job in the classifieds and says to her husband, “Did you see this?” pushing the paper towards him.
It ticks him off. He flips. “What’s the matter? When did it come to this? You’re looking for jobs for me? Are you saying I am incapable of finding a job for myself?” he shouts.
Dharani is taken aback. “Did I say you cannot look for it by yourself? I happen to see it and so asked you if you saw it,” she says coyly.
“What made you think that I did not see it?”
“’Cause the paper has arrived just now and I picked it up first.”
“Why don’t you say what is on your mind? You think this is fun for me, I enjoy goofing around like this, right?”
“Why do you put words into my mouth? Did I say that?”
“Well, then give it to me straight. Come on. Does it bother you that I am in your face all day? You may think so now. Just wait and see. After I land a dazzling position, and get too busy to be home, you yourself will complain that you hardly see, if at all. To speak the truth, do you know how many women are wailing that their husbands are hardly ever home?”
“Alright. It’s my fault. I will never speak again.”
Dharani goes into the next room. As they say, one word begets another—that is the way with the words. She is trying the best she could to be patient yet the issue is piercing her heart. Yes, family life is meant to be “for worse and for better”. It also means talking openly and freely. How can she put up with him when he is distorting every word she speaks? He keeps asking her what she wants. Does she not also want to know what he wants and help him to achieve that goal? What is wrong with her wanting to help him?
Her mode of thinking is plausible all right but she is lost as to how to convey it to him. Here in America everybody says, “Talk, talk.” How can she talk when he is in no mood to listen? Does it not take two to “talk”? If one person is willing to talk the other must be willing to listen as well. And that is the problem. It is not in his character. It just is not in him to listen.
Dinu calms down after an hour or so. “Poor thing. She is a simpleton, no street smart,” he tells himself and comes back to her. He says coaxingly, “Look, how can I take it if you act like you don’t believe in me?”
“Did I say I don’t believe in you?” Dharani says softly.
“Think about it. You know what Dinakar means. The Sun, who submerges the world with his brilliant rays and wakens, right? That is who I am. A day comes when a big company realizes my brilliance and invites me to help them. Then you will tell yourself, ‘I gave him hard time only because of my stupidity,’” he says laughing loudly.
Dharani does not find it amusing. He seems to believe it with all his heart, for all she could see.
“Okay, I agree you meant well. I am sorry I raised my voice. It will never happen again,” he apologizes and reassures her. He also suggests that she should go in and change. He wants to treat her to a fancy dinner at a high-class hotel.
She goes in and puts on her favorite dress—milky white blouse with light blue flowers and matching pants. She returns into the living room.
He looks and says, “Nice,” but the tone says, uh.
“What? You don’t like it?” she asks.
“You look awesome in the maroon dress,” he says. He bought it on one of those occasions—when a man feels obliged to bring a present to appease his wife.
Maroon is not her favorite color. “I wore it last week when we went to visit Prakash. I’ve worn it so many times. So, I thought I would wear this for a change. Okay, I will change. No big deal,” she goes in.
Deep down at heart, she wishes, “Why can’t he say, ‘No big deal, you don’t have to change.’ If he is so particular, why not buy another dress in the colors I like?” She even mentioned it once.
“What do you mean? You don’t think my selection is super?” he asked.
Dharani changes into maroon color dress and returns. “See how stunningly beautiful you are! The people at the hotel will forget to eat, watching you,” he says exuberantly.
“You and your silly talk,” she says.
The next day also Dinu continues to apologize repeatedly. That evening he says, “I will cook the dinner this evening. I will make eggplant fry, your favorite.”
“Never mind. I will make stuffed eggplant your way,” Dharani says.
“Let’s make both varieties,” he says jubilantly.
Dharani’s heart aches. No doubt, it is easy to make two dishes with the same vegetable. Would it not be nice if it is possible to wear two dresses at the same time?
She finishes cooking and sets the table. Dinu comes to the table. “The eggplant tastes soooo good. When you are angry, the dishes turn out tastier,” he says flippantly.
His words are exhilarating to her ears. Her food pleases his taste buds. The air clears for the moment.
Then a day comes when Dharani musters the courage to say to him, “You obviously are not interested in working under anybody. There are no companies that can offer you a position commensurate with your qualifications. Why worry that nobody recognizes your talent. Start your business and prove your brains. Then you are your own boss plus you will be the man that can provide jobs for a couple of others to boot.”
The words shock Dinu. He jerks his head like a goaded cobra and gapes at her, narrowing his eyes. He wonders, “Is she saying that I am good-for-nothing bum? Is she making fun of me?” He is furious.
“Shut up,” he shouts at the top of his voice.
Dharani shakes like a tender mango sprout. Her heart races. She has never seen him so irate. She has never thought of him even capable of that level rage. Frankly, she has never seen in all her life anybody blasting off like that. Her parents had always been very gentle with her. During her childhood, when her father had been exasperated, all he would say, “You are so stubborn. What am I supposed with you?” and nothing more. When her classmates at school said something like “My father would flank me alive” or “My mother would beat me up”, Dharani could not believe that such things could occur in real life. At school, her teachers had just loved her. She had been a model student.
Dharani stares back. Blood rushes from the bottom of her feet to the top of her head.
He thrusts his face into hers and says, “I don’t need your advice. Understand? Never talk to me like that again.”
She pulls away from his face and shudders. The globe whirls around in front of her eyes. She hurries out of the room.
Dinu drops the coffee cup on the table and whizzes out. Coffee spills over, stains the papers on the table and the carpet underneath.
He returns at midnight, after wandering around aimlessly for several hours. He has cooled down by now. He apologizes to his wife again and again, “Sorry, terribly sorry. I am soooo sorry. Even I didn’t know that I possess anger that intense, nit until now.” He also promises her that he would never let that happen again.
“Okay,” she says.
At work, Stella notices that something is bothering her. Dharani seems to be miles away.
Stella is a new rep, joined just a few days back. She likes Dharani and often seeks her help in work. She has heard a lot about Indian culture and is curious about our ways.
“Are you okay?” Stella asks Dharani.
Her kind words blow on Dharani as a cool breeze; it is soothing. In that moment, it feels like Stella is the only person in the world who cares about her. Not that she has nobody. Back home, there is a host of them—mother, father, sister, brothers, and childhood friends with whom she had shared food and bed. Yet, in this particular moment, there is no one but Stella who would ask her, “How are you?” Well, there is one person but he does not think about it, or so it seems.
Dharani’s heart mourns quietly. “I am okay,” she says softly, lowering her eyes.
Stella waits for a few seconds and says, “Almost lunch time. Let’s take early lunch.”
Dharani says okay, and gets up. They both sit down in a corner in the coffee room. The room is empty. Other members have not come yet.
Dharani narrates the last night’s events briefly and says, “I don’t know what to do. He is young, at the prime of his life, very well qualified, and yet sits at home doing nothing. It is several months now. I can’t understand his attitude.”
“In your country, wouldn’t they consider it incompetent for a young, educated man to sit idly at home like that?”
“I am not saying that is always the case. I think it is the same in your country too, I mean two generations back. Man is the breadwinner and woman the homemaker. Things are changing in India too. Probably, my grandmother would have called him a bum and told him that he should be ashamed to live off of a woman’s earnings. In my mother’s time, she started working and my father helped her, nominally though. Currently, men are participating actively in domestic chores. However, there are no separate accounts like in this country, not yet anyway.” Dharani tries to explain the situation in India in general terms. Things seem to be getting clearer even to herself as she spoke.
Stella ducks the issue of the state of affairs two generations back and says, “Here in our country nobody sits at home doing nothing. They find some job, one way or another. Nobody sits waiting for somebody to come and hand over a job on a silver platter. In recent times, the stay-at-home dad trend is growing. That happens only when they have children and the wife has a better job than the husband. Even then, the husband finds some kind of work suitable for his skills.”
Dharani is quiet for a few seconds and then says, almost mumbling, “I apologized.”
“What did he say?”
Dharani shakes her head. “He keeps telling me that he loves me.”
“Well, mere words are nothing. It should show in action too. If it rained, the ground will be wet, doesn’t it?” Stella pauses and then adds, “I would suggest counseling.”
“No, that certainly is not going to work,” Dharani says quickly and then adds, ‘He thinks he is the greatest genius on earth. How can he agree to seek help from somebody else?”
“He will learn,” says Stella.
Dharani nods. Both return to their desks.
After she is done for the day, Dharani heads home but not in a mood to go home straight. As she drives past Lake Mendota, she pulls over, and gets out of the car. She sits close to the water, watching the sailboats on the horizon, children playing in the water while parents are standing nearby and chatting … The entire scenery is quite comforting. Nevertheless, she is beset with distressing thoughts. Last night, as they were about to go to bed, Dinu said, “This is all only for you, only for your sake. Don’t you see, this is all for you.” She can’t help wondering. Is this all really for me? Is this what I wanted in life? What did I want in life? Really! What would have happened if I had not come to America? I would have become a Reader in some college by now. I would not have to wash dishes and clothes as I am doing now. Additionally, I would have attained a better status in society. So also, more money and the comforts money could buy. … And then? Can’t say. Then again, what have I accomplished here? I took a job, which has nothing to do with my biology education. They offered me the position because of my master’s degree, not because of the knowledge I had acquired in a specific field.
At work, in the early days, one of her coworkers asked, “What does your husband do?”
“Nothing,” she replied casually.
“Nothing?” her coworker was shocked.
Dharani looked at her face and realized that the joke was lost. She quickly corrected her statement, “I mean presently. He is an engineer. Just finished one huge project and waiting for another. I mean he is in between jobs.”
“I see,” said the coworker, “So, you’re wearing the pants at home.”
Dharani turns pallid. Later the colleague apologized for being rude. For Dharani, it was hard to ignore it all the same. In the following few weeks, she heard her colleagues make casual conversations about their husbands:
“Tom was sitting at home doing nothing, you know. I told him I can’t take it and threw him out. Who wants a man like that?”
“My husband has been a couch potato for quite sometime. I am making him do all the chores, including driving me to and from work. Let’s say I am the husband.”
“Good for you! Why marry a man who cannot take care of you? Might as well get a dog.”
“There must be some problem. Or else, how can one not find a job for so long?”
“Maybe personality issue.”
“Guess so. Must be either lack of social skills, team spirit, or fear of failure.”
“Maybe, it is okay in India. Nobody here sits around waiting for somebody to offer him a job on a silver platter. One has to prove oneself first and then may be one gets better offers. Not by doing nothing, no way!”
Dharani is having hard time listening to these comments. How come her husband acts like he does not know that?
At home, Dinu is sitting in the second bedroom, converted as office room, and pondering over. He is agitating over the fact that his wife is unable to see things his way.
Don’t I know that her parents are calling me “a bum, and thinking that I am living off my wife’s earnings? To speak the truth, did I say I will not work? All I am saying is I am waiting for a job befitting my qualifications. What is wrong with that? Let’s face it. Won’t she jump at the prospect when I shine in my field? If I only wait until I get a job that can utilize all my strengths and capabilities, I shall shine like a star. And who benefit from that? She and the children we will have. Is it not right? If I accept a mediocre position now, what happens? How can I prove my abilities extraordinaire? Will I ever be able to recover from the damage the low position causes? Why can’t she understand how people interpret that kind of situation?
They would say,
“If you are really that smart, why did you accept it?”
“Why are you working in this low rank position for so long?”
“If you are really qualified, your company would have made you a director by now, wouldn’t they?”
Dharani does not understand all this. She does not even try to understand. Wouldn’t I grab any opportunity that is commensurate with my exceptional brain? He is convinced that his exceptional brains would be wasted, if he accepts a mediocre position. Then she will never know that her husband is amply gifted and he is the one for the next Nobel Prize award. She does not know that, unlike in India, here people do not care what I do with my life. Nobody is going to look down on me because I am not working.
Dinu is convinced that he is on the right path to glory.
It is past 7:00 p.m. Dharani leaves the shoes at the door and asks, “Had coffee?”
Dinu is in the living room reading today’s paper. “No.”
Dharani goes into the kitchen, makes coffee and returns with two cups. She hands one cup to her husband, and settles in the sofa across from him, with the second cup. “I phoned you that I would be late. You could have had your coffee,” she says.
“Thought I’d wait for you, to keep company,” he says without looking up.
Dharani looks at him. He is totally rapt in today’s events in the newspaper. Stella’s words are hovering in her head. The stark naked truth is taking shape and becoming clearer by the minute. She has to do something. Action is important. The intent must show in one’ actions. If it rained, it should show on the ground. “This is all for you, for you only,” Dinu says. Saying is not enough. Acting is just as important, if not more.
“Find any job?” she asks.
Dinu says from behind the paper, “I’ll get it. Haven’t I told you? Just wait.”
Then follows the same old argument. He says again, as always, “For whom do you think I am waiting for a great job patiently? I want you to be proud of me, proud that you have a great husband. This is all for you.”
This time the wife does not back off as before. She is calm but forceful in her tone. She says, “No, it is not for me. It does not look like it is for me. I am not feeling that way. You are sitting around without work only to please yourself. One hundred percent for your own sake. You are doing it to satisfy your own stupid ego. Nobody in this country sits around waiting for somebody to hand over a high rank position on a silver platter. If you want to do something for me, I mean really for me, get a job. Prove that you are capable of finding a job. Show it in action.”
Dinu, stunned, drops the paper. His livid face shows.
The wife continues, “I am going on a Caribbean cruise with Stella at the end of this month. By the time I returned, I hope to see you either as employed in some company or the owner of your own business.”
Dinu picks on the opportunity to change the subject. “Why Stella? Let us go together, you and me, on our second honeymoon.”
“I am going with Stella. By the time I return I want to see you either employed or as the owner of your own business,” she repeats firmly.
“You will see,” Dharani gets up and walks toward the kitchen royally.
(Translated by author and published on thulika.net, June 2009)