“Why have you brought me along if all you wanted to do was chat with those random chicks on Facebook all day?!” Durga flung that question across the hotel room at Tanuj, “Is this why you begged me to marry you?” When Tanuj continued to ignore her, she burst into tears and rushed into the bathroom. She looked into the mirror as she contemplated over Tanuj cajoling her to say yes to arranged marriage. “We’ll be together. I’ll love you so much that you’ll forget that it was an arranged marriage … ” he had said.
Durga raised her questioning eyes to look at herself in the mirror: Am I not good-looking enough for him? Or is he just tired of me within two days of marriage? Her eyes widened with fear, and she splashed her face with cold water, trying to jerk herself out of her worried state. Her eyes roved the washroom as if searching for some sort of assurance, but only spotted a towel on the rack above the bathtub. She reached for it and buried her face into its soft texture.
Durga and Tanuj had arrived two days ago in Nainital on their honeymoon. However, throughout the flight and the stay till then, Tanuj had completely ignored Durga. Durga had tired herself out asking him questions about it, always getting irrelevant answers in monosyllables. When she asked him who he was busy chatting to he’d named random friends. This had only resulted in Durga going into a deep melancholy, and she was left constantly pondering over whether she had hurried into the marriage. Her outburst had made its appearance only because they were supposed to meet Tanuj’s brother in an hour’s time, and Tanuj had been ignoring her requests to him to abandon his cellphone and get ready.
As Durga got dressed into a salwar kameez, and applied sindoor in the parting of her hair above the forehead, she observed him laughing at something he had just read in his phone. “Sandeep and his wife had called to inform that they are going to be delayed by another hour. Do you want to go out for a walk till then?“, she asked calmly, goading herself on in the attempt to start a conversation. “No, we’re anyway going out with them. What’s the need?“, muttered Tanuj as he connected his phone to a charger and went into the washroom to take a wash.
Durga couldn’t hold herself back as she tiptoed to the charging point and picked up Tanuj’s cellphone. The wallpaper, which during the wedding was a photograph of her during the mehendi ceremony, was now a picture of a busty, semi-naked model rolling in sand. It was this change that led her to swipe and open the chats on Whatsapp. She flipped through flirtatious conversations with a few girls. Well, that’s okay! Even though his flirting with them while ignoring me on our honeymoon is bad … she bargained with her own conscience as she feverishly exited the chats. She was rushing to put the phone back when her eyes fell onto another open tab which was a folder containing around fifty videos. Curiosity won over her instinct and she opened the folder. The first video which seemed to have been shot on the phone itself was dated two days prior to her wedding with Tanuj. The snap of the bathroom door made her jump, and her fingers brushed the play button before it fell to the bed.
As Durga stepped back from the phone as it played a video of Tanuj with an elder woman in what looked like a shady motel room with peeling paint, she was wheeled around by stone cold, wet hands. Tanuj pulled her towards himself with one hand gripping her arm in an iron grip. Durga barely caught sight of his angry eyes before he landed a blow onto her right ear. “Who do you think you are?” he asked in a cold voice as she fell on the bed, “Bloody slut! Spying on me, are you?” Durga brought herself to sit up with ears ringing, “You are the one who’s sleeping with other women! And You dared hit me? If my parents come to know …” before she could finish the sentence, a slap stunned her. A second of silence followed before she gained her senses and grabbed his throat to stand up. He effortlessly loosened her grip and slapped her again, and again, and again … till she collapsed to the floor in a heap.
“You’re just jealous of that other slut, aren’t you? Wait. I’ll teach you a lesson so you wouldn’t dare touch my phone again.” smirked Tanuj as he dragged her on to the bed and pinned her to it with his own weight. He bit down onto her shoulder. Durga grit her teeth to stop herself from screaming in pain. He stopped biting and landed another blow on her face. “Scream! Or it will get worse” he growled as he again dug his teeth into her flesh. Durga adamantly pursed her lips, and bit her tongue. When she screwed her eyes shut in pain, she pictured her parents’ happy faces. Scream! Survive this so that you can go back to them! ordered her mind.
She opened her eyes wide and let out a piercing scream which was immediately muffled by his hand. “Good. This should teach you a lesson,” he growled as they both heard frantic knocking on the door. He hurriedly straightened his hair, motioned her to tidy herself up in the bathroom, and opened the door. “We heard some shouting. Were you two fighting?” Sandeep’s voice trailed in through the hallway. “Of all people, you definitely know how married couples get into their tiny squabbles. Come on in bhabhi” Tanuj ushered his brother and sister-in-law into the room. “Durga, Bhai and bhabhi have come to pick us up for dinner. Get ready, quick”, he called out with a hint of menace in his voice, before adding a comment to the guests, “She’s a bit shy..” Durga applied generous amounts of concealer onto her collar bone and swollen cheek, and put on her makeup.
A feeling of doom and shame dawned upon her as she exited the bathroom to greet the guests. Ashima, Sandeep’s wife, gasped on seeing her. “What’s wrong with your face?!” she exclaimed, as Sandeep glanced at Tanuj and muttered through his teeth: “So this is why I heard her screaming, Tanuj? Hitting a woman! Really shameful …” “It’s nothing much bhabhi,” Tanuj addressed Ashima as she hugged Durga, “she drank from the minibar and had to be brought back to her senses.” Ashima pulled Durga’s face towards her and gazed into her eyes searching for an answer. A tear rolling down her cheek, Durga dropped her gaze and pulled away, applying the slightest pressure with her hand on to Ashima’s palm before loosening her grip on it. Understanding the gesture, Ashima bestowed a glare upon her husband to stop him from commenting further on the matter. “Ahem, yes. We have a reservation waiting. Let’s leave for dinner,” ventured Sandeep hurriedly to an approving nod from his wife, and held the door open for all of them.
Dinner was a tense affair for all of them. As they deliberated over the menu, Ashima tried to make small talk, asking what all they’d seen in Nainital. “Haven’t seen anything yet. Though you know Bhabhi? Durga was dawdling around the room in a tizzy, when I had to slap her to bring her to her senses. After the fourth one, she couldn’t even get up. Now that was one sight I’d say I saw in Nainital … ” Tanuj guffawed. Ashimaa gave an awkward attempt at a smile, coughed, blushed, and glanced apologetically at Durga before lowering her gaze to her menu. Durga had closed her eyes and contemplated over her situation: what am I supposed to do? If I go back to my parents, what will the society and relatives have to say about this? There will be gossip and they’ll be brought to shame.
“Durga, Durga! Bhai is asking what you want to order,” Tanuj’s voice startled her out of her thoughts. She opened her eyes and keeping the menu on the table said apologetically to Sandeep, “I’m okay with whatever you want to order.” “Are you sure? Or do you need a drink for a start?” chuckled Tanuj before adding, “bring us the bar menu please.” Durga, now seething with humiliation and suppressed anger, glared at Tanuj. Tanuj looked back with challenging eyes and drawled “Just joking, everybody, chill! Let’s enjoy the evening …”
Are you ready to live your whole life like this? Do you think the society will come to save you whenever this monster will beat you up and treat you like trash? Hell with what people will say. You are not a loser. Do something! Get the hell out of here! Durga’s conscience goaded her. “If you’ll excuse me, I just need to use the ladies room, ” said Durga softly as she rose from her chair and headed for the ladies room. As she closed the door behind her in a cubicle, she exhaled with her back to the door. She shut the lid of the toilet seat, and sat on it. She buried her face in her hands and let out a sigh again.
“Durga, are you there?” Ashima called out as she entered the ladies room. Durga responded with a muffled “yeah, I’m just here“ Ashima walked towards the cubicle from which Durga’s voice had issued. She placed a hand on the cold surface of the door as if hoping that would console Durga, and said, “I understand your situation, Durga. Tanuj has always been a little violent. I’ve seen him get into one of his famous tempers. I only want you to keep yourself safe. Don’t irk him much. He has been pampered like a brat. No one has ever pointed out to him whenever he has been wrong. Since you don’t know, that’s the reason why we separated from the family.”
As Durga listened through the door, her expression hardened with resolve. She wiped her eyes, stood up, and opened the door. As Durga walked out with bloodshot eyes, lips pursed in a thin line, Ashima stepped back stunned. “Thanks for coming after me, bhabhi,” Durga hugged her co-sister, and continued, “Don’t worry. I’m going to take care of myself from now on“. The strength in her voice brought a sense of foreboding to her co-sister’s mind. Ashima shook it off, sent a silent prayer to the heavens as she hugged Durga back before leading her out, back to their table.
As they finished their food, Durga silently thought over and over about what she had planned to do. For her, living alone all her life with self respect appeared more important than living her whole life in shame and humiliation meted out by her husband. She looked up bus schedules on the internet in her cellphone, and finished booking her ticket for a bus back to Delhi by the time Sandeep drove them back to the hotel. Tanuj didn’t notice since he was busy talking to his brother. Knowing that she had barely half an hour to reach the bus stand, Durga, on reaching the room, rushed to the phone and dialed the number to the reception. She asked them to keep a cab ready for her while Tanuj listened on in stunned silence.
As she packed her bag, he dragged her away from it. “You think you can go back without My permission?” he growled as he dug his nails into her arm. The searing pain he caused, goaded her to react. With eyes flashing, she let loose the anger that she had suppressed all evening. It was as if he had unleashed the wrath of a Goddess as she hit him back right across the face. He lost his grip on her arm as he was taken aback with the sheer strength of her slap. “You bitch! You’re my wife. You are supposed to stay in your bloody LIMITS!” he shouted as he lunged at her. Durga fell to the floor and Tanuj pinned her down with his weight. As she struggled to drag herself away, hands flailing, he slapped her again and held her hands. “What are you without me? Nothing! You’ll be a laughing stock if you return to your stupid, spineless father” said Tanuj in a menacing voice. The mention of her father and the insult levied on his name enraged Durga. With all her strength, she flung her knee up and was rewarded with a sharp crack and a dull “Umphff” from Tanuj as he collapsed to his side, groaning. Her knee had hit his tailbone hard. Clambering to her feet, Durga slapped him again and pummeled every inch of whatever bit of Tanuj she could reach. “Don’t you dare come after me now!” she shouted. As a dishevelled Tanuj sat up in a daze, looking at Durga mutely, “I’m getting an annulment,” she muttered to him before slamming the door behind her.
She didn’t look back once as the taxi headed out. As the distance between her and Tanuj increased, the shame and humiliation he had loaded on to her throughout the evening seeped away. She almost laughed out of relief as she got off the taxi and boarded the bus for Delhi. I’m going home. I’m free, she thought to herself and let out a sigh, here’s to a new beginning.