Broken families were like broken and dried branches of trees. They strayed away from one another on the dusty ground yet a gust of stormy wind was capable of bringing them close and overlap on each other as if they were still one.
Sathi, Arun and Puchki sat far away from one another on the hall-sized room of their 3BHK flat in the heart of the city. The flat had been newly furnished with the best teak wood furniture. It included a rare splendid couch set with intricate designs. Two single blue couches were placed side by side with a handful of distance in the middle. The big couch capable of accommodating three persons was laying on the opposite side. Puchki, the 8 years old girl, sat on the big couch with her dolls. She had been trying to fix her mini dollhouse for quite some time. Once she was placing the chairs and the table on the center. After a few moment of reconsideration with fluttering eyes, she was changing their positions and shifting them to the right. She wasn’t sure how things would look the best in that miniature house. One of the single blue couches was occupied by Arun. Like a true man of the house he was busy reading newspaper with an intense look on his face. Sathi sat on the other single couch a little away from Arun. She was gazing outside through the window towards the skyline with a blank expression in her eyes.
Suddenly, a soft muffled cry of Puchki broke the silence of the room.
Sathi quickly regained her senses and asked, “What happened, my girl?”
“Nothing.” Puchki replied without looking at her mom.
Arun slowly removed the newspaper from front of him. He folded it neatly and kept it to the side table. He spoke in a calm manner. “What’s wrong?”
“My doll is crying. I have broken its house, her home.” Puchki tried hard to fix the roof of the miniature house by places the two pieces of broken plastic side by side. “Now it’s broken like our home.” She started crying loudly.
“Our broken home?” Arun spoke with furrowed eyes.
“Will you please be quiet? Can’t you see that Puchki is crying?” Sathi yelled at Arun and gave him irritated looks.
Sathi quickly moved towards Puchki and sat on her knees. She sat on the floor and pulled Puchki to the edge of the sofa so that they could see each other’s face properly. They sat face to face. Sathi rubbed Puchki’s tears with her agile fingers. She asked her daughter with concerned expression, “What do you know about us?”
Sathi’s voice was almost inaudible as she uttered the sentence.
“Yesterday when Granny visited us she said I broke this house. You two quarrel because of me all the time.” Guilt clearly showed up in her creased forehead.
Puchki’s innocent words brought tears in Sathi’s eyes. The little girl was clearly unable to understand what was going on between the adults.
“No, my dear, you did nothing. I and your dad don’t fight at all. We just talk loudly, very loudly.” Sathi tried to pacify Puchki.
“Mama, you’re lying. Last night, I heard you were telling papa that you will leave the house. You said you will take me along. Am I so naughty that papa doesn’t want me to stay here anymore? Will we stay back if I become a good girl?” Puchki poured her heart out before her mom.
Sathi brushed her fingers against Puchki’s cheek and said nothing. Instead she dashed out of the room and walked to the balcony. She was in no mood of enjoying fresh air even though the wind was carelessly messing with her hairs. She dialed her mom’s phone number in her mobile.
“Hello,” said a weak and feeble voice.
“Mom, what did you tell your granddaughter yesterday? I am separating with Arun because of Puchki? You know how much we both love her.” Sathi shouted at her old mom for feeding nonsense into a child’s brain.
“Sathi, these days you are getting angry at a drop of a hat. Learn to control yourself. I am an old woman. I don’t like getting dragged into a couple’s fight. You two were screaming yesterday like hell had broken loose. I might have said something just like that to Puchki to make her keep quite. I didn’t intend to cause pain to anyone. At this age I expect some peace from these dramas. I hope you to understand that.”
Sathi pressed the disconnect button in no time. She too was in no mood of hearing lecture lately. Sathi’s mom too put the receiver of the landline phone down in resignation.
Sathi walked back into the hall-room in loud and long steps. She was furious. Her cheeks were glowing red in anger. Yet she wasn’t sure whom she should talk to in order to calm herself down.
Arun had again taken the newspaper from the table and started flipping through its pages. He was engrossed in scanning through the lines. It seemed he wasn’t even ready to miss the advertisements printed on the paper.
Sathi gave a sideward glance towards Puchki. She was again back to playing with her doll. She had stopped crying. She was trying to tie a saree around her doll. Obviously, she didn’t know how to do that either. Sathi feared Puchki might start sobbing again. She didn’t want to see her daughter guilty for her and Arun’s separation.
Sathi went back to her single couch by the window. She again looked at the sky and tried to follow the slow movements of the clouds. Their myriad shapes distracted her for a while. But soon a voice brought her back to the real world.
“Sathi, I need to go out. I have some work. Do you need any household item?” Arun asked in a formal tone.
“Since when have you been doing marketing? I have been doing that for all these years. I took care of this home for so long. I can manage the last few days too.” Sathi retorted.
“I asked you a simple question. You need not answer to that in such a harsh tone.” Arun tried to maintain his composure.
“You always ask simple stuff. I always make things complex. That’s what happens when you start disliking everything about a person. You hate talking to me these days,” Sathi said.
“There’s nothing to talk. If I talk about office, you get irritated. If you talk about household stuff, I get bored. All you want to talk about is daily soaps I have no idea about.” Arun pointed out a clear difference in their attitudes towards life.
“If I didn’t forget, all you wanted to talk about since the first day of our marriage was cricket scores. How interesting is that!” Sathi answered in a mocking tone.
“Oh! So, now, our marriage is breaking apart because I watch cricket.” Arun replied in high-pitched tone for the first time.
“Mama! Papa! You both are fighting again. What have I done now?” Puchki screamed and then broke into tears. She was clearly still blaming herself for her parents’ quarrel. Whatever Granny told her unconsciously got deep-rooted in her mind. It left a lasting impression on her brain. And if truth be told, her parents didn’t yet have time to clear her confusion. They were busy in their newfound hostility towards each other.
Arun moved a step towards Puchki. He was about to sit by her side and pat her back. He might have talked sense into her. But Sathi’s words made him aggressive all over again.
“Our family is not breaking because of some tv shows or cricket matches. It’s shattered because you have no time for us. Your daughter has only seen you shouting at me because you have huge workload and I disturb you with trivial household matters.” Sathi stopped for a second before speaking again. “Puchki is blaming herself for our quarrels. If she develops some psychological issue in future, you are to be blamed. You quarrel with me. Not me.”
This infuriated Arun. He looked at Sathi with blazing eyes. Yet he did not speak. He sat down in the sofa beside Puchki. “Does it hurt you when we quarrel?” He asked in a soft tone.
“You both are bad. I hate you two.” Puchki yelled at him. Tears flowed down her cheek but they went unnoticed by the quarreling parents.
Arun hastily rose from the sofa. He was fuming in anger. “Sathi, just see what your adamant attitude has done to Puchki. She doesn’t blame me for our fights. She hates us both equally.”
He took a deep breath before proceeding further, “Why do you exactly need to leave this house? Your independence, your dream to do something in life, is more important than a happy family. Am I not earning enough to sustain the three of us?” Arun struck the right chord at last. The real reason behind their decision of separation was the universal question – if a woman should be a housewife or a working woman.
“You work to earn money. I want a job to walk out of these prison walls and breathe some fresh air. I am tired of mundane chores. I want a life of mine own. Moreover, I have degrees and I want to make use of my hard-earned education. Puchki too has grown up. So, there’s no problem if I spend a couple of hours in a workplace.” Sathi tried to talk rationally for the first time in days. Her explanation explained how much she still wanted her marriage to work out.
Arun took a step towards Sathi who was now standing by the window. Her unkempt hairs were brushing against her face. For a moment he wanted to bridge the distance between them and remove the strands of hairs from her face. Hesitation stopped him as always. “I never tied you to this home. You were always a free bird. I never stopped you from doing anything. Not even from applying for a job. I had a working mother. I know how much a child needs her mom. So, I always wished you to stay at home till Puchki is old enough to do things on her own. I don’t want her to feel lonely if we both go out for work.” Arun too tried to talk things out.
“What about my loneliness? I stay at home all day cooking for you, and waiting when Puchki will return from school. I wait when she will fling her little soft hands around my neck and hug me. I pine all day for a goodnight kiss on the forehead. At day’s end, you return home, throw your bag on the bed, eat dinner and sleep on the other side of the bed. It seems we are strangers.” Sathi tried to explain further, “I need some job to keep myself engaged. I don’t like to feel sad and abandoned all the time.”
“You can try gardening? It will keep you busy while we are away.” Arun suggested with glittering hope in his eyes.
“I thought we were having a real discussion. For a minute it seemed you were actually reconsidering your decision. But now this ‘gardening suggestion’ brings us back to square one. You clearly have no idea what I want from life or what I feel these days. I just don’t want to take your permission for every little thing I want to do in life.” A flashback came before Sathi’s eyes. Early into their marriage, one winter day, Sathi craved for ice cream. The ice cream van was passing by while they were out for a homely picnic. Arun’s answer was a clean ‘no’. HE DIDN’T WANT HER TO FALL SICK. Was it his concern for her health? Or did he just think he would miss his office if he needs to take care of Sathi? Sathi’s head was spinning with these questions. She suddenly sat down on the single couch all over again to stop herself from falling.
“You want to do a job because you think being in a workplace is fun. You have no idea how hectic it is to live upto a boss’s expectations. Those file works are no child’s play.” Arun retorted this time.
“But going to office is fun for you. Remember, the last time I caught you giggling and smiling with a bunch of colleagues? You were cracking some joke on typical housewives and their peculiar demands. It did hurt me, badly.” Sathi was fuming in anger all over again.
“I was just being cordial with my friends. And who doesn’t crack jokes on wives and stuff? I was being normal. I didn’t want to hurt you. You shouldn’t have tiptoed into my office room and overheard my conversation. That’s damaging in any relationship.” Arun rolled his eyes as if he clearly knew how suspicious Sathi was.
“I didn’t silently walk in just like that. I took permission from the office guards. Moreover, I went to your office because you forgot to take your lunch pack that day. I didn’t want you to remain hungry all day.” Sathi explained by pointing a finger at him. She forgot that it was a bad manner.
“There’s something called canteen in a office…You didn’t have to go.” Arun spoke in a stern voice.
Sathi took a long breath to regain her tranquility. “I am sorry. I am sorry for everything. I don’t want to fight over our past anymore. I just want my freedom from this chaotic life. Please liberate me.” A few drops of tears trickled down her eyes.
Seeing Sathi cry, tears welled up in Arun’s eyes as well. He still cared for her. “We can still try. Things would be okay if you try to understand me a little.” Arun spoke softly.
“Close your eyes. Just try to imagine the two of us. Do you see us laughing together when Puchki does some mischief? Or do you see us sitting on two single couches wide apart from one another in a huge hall-room?” Sathi suggested.
Arun closed his eyes. He could see nothing. There was only darkness and black hues before his eyes. In that moment he knew everything was over.
Arun opened her eyes and stared fixatedly at Puchki. Sathi too keenly observed her daughter. A flood of tears flowed through their eyes as they saw Puchki was still busy playing with her dolls. She had no idea how her life was about to change forever in a few days time.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Broken families are quite common in modern life which has its own peculiar complexities. A workaholic husband (Arun) can’t be blamed as he earns solely for the well-being of her family. The wife (Sathi) can’t be blamed if she feels bored at home or wants to do a job. A grandparent (Granny) can’t be blamed if he or she wants some peace at old age. They normally don’t want to take sides in a couple’s fight. They expect the couple to compromise and stay together no matter what. They are usually known for their indifference. Lastly, the child (Puchki) can’t be blamed either if she fails to understand the complexity of a marriage. A child usually ends up depressed as he or she blames himself or herself for parents’ broken marriage. Herein lies the four versions or sides of a broken marriage or a broken family.
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