After a long time, I went to watch a Hindi movie with my favourite actor in it. I live in America now and there are a few things from home that I can't stop craving for. As expected, Piku was good fun and I was roaring with laughter. That is until he said it- "This is my daughter Piku. She is not a virgin," boomed Amitabh Bachchan's voice through the theatre. The scattering of Indians around me laughed, and so did I- but a little consciously. That dialogue made me flinch. Sitting somewhere in the middle of America, I could not help but say "What if". What if my parents had been as open-minded about raising a daughter as Amitabh Bachchan was? What if they had given a thought to what purpose my marriage would bear, instead of just getting me married?
I was a good daughter- the best they hoped to have. I listened to everything they said and never broke a single rule. I could have had my fair share of puppy love and a dating life in my college days. But I was too afraid to even think of it. I was the ultimate "good" girl. In a generation of girls who were becoming "loose", I was the only hope that our sanskriti would survive. Yet, it was my life that turned out to be a tragedy in the end. I was ideal by every standard- beautiful, educated, just the "right" age, and a virgin bride. I waited till my wedding night to allow myself to be touched by a man. I wish I hadn't. It is the biggest regret of my life.
I was scared to death to talk to boys right from the time I was in school. My mother would constantly admonish me for interacting with boys, no matter how innocent it may have been. She kept saying that I would bring a bad name to the family. So, I kept my head down and studied. I topped the class most of the times, but by the time I made it to college, I had such low self-confidence that I couldn't even be around a male classmate. Words like "lab" and "group assignments" would give me nightmares. I felt terribly guilty and self-conscious if I was around any boy my age. I could not be comfortable around a man unless it was a family member or an elderly professor. But it didn't matter- I still did well in my studies and I was boyfriend-less. So my family's honour was safe.
Then came the day when I finished my engineering with flying colours and even got a job in a reputed MNC. So far, so good. And just like my family had hoped and expected, they found a groom for me in no time. For the first time in my conscious adult life, I found myself in the same room with another man, struggling to make eye-contact. We were left there to "get to know" each other. Amid all the small talk we engaged in, the most significant question I asked was "Do you read any books?", to which he said that he liked non-fiction more than he liked fiction. To me, it seemed like a sign of a well read man. I did not even have the smallest reason to reject him. My parents had already married us both in their heads, and I had never learned how to say "No" to them anyway. And that's how we were married.
Husband. On my wedding night, it was a heavy word weighing on my mind. I still have no idea how my family expected me to spend the night alone with a stranger. "He's your husband now," they said, as if it answered each and every question I had. Thankfully, the most intimate thing that happened that night was a conversation.
A conversation where my husband said "You seemed like the (good girl) type, but I had still hoped that you wouldn't be a virgin." I was shocked.
My face burned with shame and embarrassment and I had no idea what to say. I had lived my entire life doing exactly what my parents had expected of me, and the man I was supposed to spend forever with negated my existence in one line. Suddenly, I felt as if I wasn't good enough. I felt as if I would never be a satisfactory wife.
But my good and kind husband laughed off the look on my face and said "Don't worry, we have plenty of time to figure this out". In the days to come, he went on to assure me that he would help me discover my sexual side and I would come to enjoy it very much. He said we would share the best kind of happiness ever. That's what he said.
I HATE sex.
I wish these three words can do justice to all the bitterness I feel inside me. True to his word, my husband tried everything to help me "enjoy" it. Sometimes, with a little too much enthusiasm, if I may add. But nothing could make me appreciate what was supposed to be the most natural human thing.
I was revolted every time I felt his hands on me. It felt dirty and disgusting. Each time we did it, even with my consent and my desperation to make it work, I felt violated. Forget giving it, even receiving oral sex was nothing short of torture. Had he been my brother or my father, I could love him without any reservations. But I was stuck with a man who was nice to me, who had an unfortunately high libido, and I had to give him my body. My life was dark. I would constantly slip into depression because sex felt wrong. There have been times when I cried so much after having sex, that my husband would get scared that he may have physically hurt me.
I was never privy to the secret giggles of my other married female colleagues. There were some things I could never discuss with them and so I deliberately distanced myself from them. My parents and my in-laws could see that I was struggling, but they could never understand what was wrong because there was really no marital discord. We were just like any normal couple who went out once in a while, understood each other, had minor arguments, and had sex... unfortunately.
But for whatever sympathy they had for us, the struggling couple, they had just one advice that I was doomed to take: Have children. Baaki sab theek ho jayega.
This time I struggled even harder to accept what was happening to my body because I believed that if we had a baby, we would become even closer as a couple, and surely then sex should become better? And with that hope, I conceived a couple of months later. Being pregnant was my most liberating excuse to not have sex. I needed rest and taking care of, right? Besides, I had a terrible time with nausea and morning sickness in my first trimester. It wasn't easy. I was supposed to be glowing with a life I made that was nesting inside me, but I was sick all the time. Even this wonderful experience of becoming a mother was not agreeing with my body.
I miscarried at six months.
I had lost every reason to be alive. The little light that was shining through was permanently eclipsed. My depression came back worse this time. I couldn't take it anymore. Our marriage was in tatters and I was enduring the worst kind of domestic life. I made my husband suffer with me. I would accuse him of being insensitive and fight with him venomously. I did not allow normal life to resume. We were never the same dysfunctional-but-keeping-it-together couple again.
Thankfully, we did not take long to come to terms with the fact that our marriage wouldn't work. We faced severe opposition from our families, but we knew it was a lost cause. Even though he was severely disappointed, we parted amicably and with mutual consent. And in divorce, the man I struggled to call husband finally showed such understanding towards me that I couldn't help but love him a little more.
All my life, I had protected the honour of my family and suddenly, I was the black sheep that had brought them badnaami. Some people started vicious rumours that I was having an extramarital affair, that I was always a difficult wife. I earned my "bitch" label in more than one language variety. I had to endure all this shaming and name-calling. I had to put up with my own parents' resentment, and they wouldn't even let me live by myself, even though I was grown woman who had seen all sorts of ups and downs in life.
Becoming a complete workaholic gave me some sort of relief. And it finally paid off with an opportunity to work in the US. I took it without giving a second thought about what my family might say again. This time, I said "No". I said a strong "No" that made them threaten that they would sever ties with me if I left India, but nothing they did could stop me. Moving and starting a new life was not easy, but at least I had a shot at a fresh beginning.
I don't want to commit the heinous crime of advocating "Western culture", but one of the most important things that I have learned and observed here is how women are not stuck in a taboo atmosphere when it comes to choosing the men they want to be with. Sure, you'll almost never be wrong to assume that a woman has engaged in premarital sex, but the question is not about morality. I keep thinking that these women are so fortunate to have discovered early on what they wanted from a man, from their love lives or sex lives, and even from life itself. I envy young girls who interact with young men with ease. I keep going back to my own college days and early twenties and compare my socially fearful self to them.
Someday, I hope I can stop blaming my family and the backward mindset with which they raised me. I was never a fully socially functioning person, and was always afraid of being a woman. I was guilty about my femininity and I dressed as shabbily as possible. My sexuality was so repressed that it ruined my marriage and wrecked not only mine, but my ex-husband's happiness also.
Sometimes, I want to pretend as if I was never that girl. I want to make my past disappear. I have done "odd" things like eating beef and wearing thongs to feel different. This is something I would have never done in the past. But there is one thing I did that made me a little less like my former self... I went to a salon to get my hair cut. The person who cut my hair was a man. It felt strange that the fate of the long, thick hair that my mother had plaited all my life was literally in the hands of a strange American man. And I let him chop it all off.
I felt an eerie sense of unburdening as I lost all my hair. It was as if my life was losing its tinge of tragedy, and finally beginning to progress. Sometimes, that's all the change you need to turn your life around.