By BnB (Battered, not beaten)
It was one week into my marriage with the person I loved. Everything about the life I had entered seemed rosy. Each morning, I woke up happy. I had moved back to my beautiful home state of Kerala, after I met the man of my dreams at a gender-sensitisation workshop.
I had married him, and my parents disapproved. He seemed perfect, someone who espoused the equality of the genders. Someone with whom I could enjoy an occasional cigarette or a drink. Though I wasn’t a drinker or a smoker, I got a high out of being a rebellious, non-conformist. I felt like I had found someone who liked every rebellious bone in me, which the world frowned at, and it made me ecstatic.
I believed I had proven my critics wrong. People told me I was a fool to think that husbands could treat their wives as equals. But the person I married, let’s call him H – for husband – was anything but traditional. He was a widely read non-conformist and progressive, someone who believed in creating an equal world.
But as a week-old bride, I was the one who made coffee every morning, out of love though, not some wifely obligation to my equality loving husband. I also swept the floors, made the food he loved, made our bed, washed the dishes, and ran the washer before heading off to work. Long honeymoons were for those who had typical weddings. Not us, surely. We were people with progressive ideals, who even married only for legal reasons, and for the sake of our families, who may have otherwise wanted a large, traditional wedding.
We were supposed to be an example of an equal marriage. We would share everything between us, we promised. We would support both our families, we agreed.
Yet, his mother was our responsibility, he said. When I asked why, H said, because well, she had always been staying with him and I was the one moving in with him. Nothing patriarchal; merely practical.
One evening, H brought home a bottle of beer and suggested we enjoy it in the dark, listening to Kishore Kumar in the background. The south-west monsoon had set just a day ago and it was pouring heavily outside.
After placing the beer bottle close to where I was sitting, H went to turn off the light. I shifted to get slightly comfortable. A long day of work at both the office and at home was giving me a terrible backache. H didn’t believe in hiring domestic workers because he believed in dignity of labour. We should be able to take care of our own stuff, he said, and so I made sure all the work in the house and outside were attended to.
Just as I inched away from the couch, my hand accidentally knocked off the bottle. It fell down and broke into several pieces.
Oh shoot, I said and smiled at the spilt beer, with the naivete of a newly married, deeply-in-love bride. But H, the equality-loving progressive idealist, bellowed a loud obscenity from the bottom of his throat, and turned on the light so forcefully that the switch box almost rattled for a good minute after.
“What the f*ck have you done, you wretched, sicko!” he screamed, again.
I flinched like someone had smacked me on the face. I looked at him and mumbled an apology, half in disbelief, half in fear. It was only a Kingfisher, not even a Budweiser or a Heineken that my friends used to lug by racks. Nothing I said could assuage his anger.
I quickly got up, fearing he might say something worse, and slowly started picking up the shattered pieces. I then tried to clean the floor with an old rag. That seemed to infuriate him even more.
He began throwing some plates into the sink, and then went into the bedroom and slammed the door shut. Loudly. The pouring thunderstorm paled in comparison.
Not knowing what to do next, I mopped the floor clean and made sure not even a piece of the broken beer bottle was to be found anywhere. After some time, he emerged out of the room, poured himself some brandy, lit a cigarette, and smoked, gazing into the night rain. I had by then washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen. I went to bed.
Soon enough, he came in and without even uttering a word, or asking for my consent, proceeded to penetrate me. He lasted for less than a minute.
This is just one incident from my 15-year-old marriage, which ended a year ago. A marriage that doesn’t have any evidence of physical abuse. A marriage that has so many more stories, some worse, some not so much.
My body bears no marks of the violence inflicted on me, but my mind and heart have been bruised so many times, in so many ways. Ways that may not convince the courts of this land to punish my perpetrator. Ways that may not convince even my children that their father is a monster.
The only question people may have for me is, “Why did you stay?”
Most days, I'd say, because I didn’t know better. Other days, I'd say, I don't know.
Today, I write this for women getting into relationships, to keep their eyes always open, and to never, ever stay in those that are even mildly abusive.
Mild never stays mild; it becomes moderate at first, chronic later, and finally, severe.
Like Nina Simone said, "You've got to learn to leave the table, when love's no longer being served", and as Bell Hooks reminded us, "Love and abuse cannot co-exist."