Vaneet and I had met eighteen years ago at an office party. The attraction had been instantaneous.
We were both very successful at work, being very good at what we did.
The funny part is, seventeen years since, Vaneet has remained very good at what he does, perhaps has become even better, whereas I have just become this old, discontent hag who potters around the house the entire day without feeling the need to do anything or even understand why I need to do anything. I have taken to floating around the house, not in the etheric sense of the term but more as a ghost of the glorious past. These long XXXL-sized nighties available at the local clothes store around the corner hang ubiquitously around my not-so-small frame and it is not by pure chance that all the nighties, mind you, not just one or two, but all the nighties are white. They certainly fit the image that I seemed to want to project to the whole world. What I really didn’t seem to get was that no one cared, except me that is.
Every time Vaneet went away for an office trip (I am unsure about how many were really with friends) or the kids had sleepovers or parties planned, my nighties went back into the cupboard. A person who wore one white nightie at night to sleep in and promptly changed into another white nightie after a bath and yet another one for the evening was suddenly seen, by all curious neighbours, to be sporting these really snazzy outfits. The first few times, when I walked out of the house in these really jazzed-up outfits, heeled feet clanking on the pavement, a lot of curious heads turned. I could almost read the speculation in their minds. Surprisingly, none of it ever reached my ears. Perhaps because there was no source (read as maid) to bring it over my threshold or maybe because I never spoke to anyone in the first case.
But I could almost lip sync with the dialogue or sometimes monologues that were being conducted behind my back.
“Look at that sexy dress. That was the one I pointed out to you last week in the mall when we had gone shopping. But you wouldn’t let me buy it after seeing the price tag. It would have looked so much better on me!”
“What a shameless hussy! Her family is away and look at what she does!”
“Is that Ranveer’s mama? Quite a bomb yaar!”
“OMG! Does Ria know what her mom looks like?”
“Lucky Vaneet! That bastard has such a hot wife and yet…….”
I don’t need to really tag a name to a comment. They were very generic ones but I am sure you can easily classify them on the basis of gender and age group.
After a while, I did not see anyone outside appraising my looks. Perhaps they just wrote me off as a split personality.
Vaneet was usually away on trips and the kids being teenagers had their own plans most of the time. So the snazzy outfits came out of the cupboard that I no longer shared with Vaneet with an almost fast bowler like speed and the XXXL white nighties went back into hiding. In my mind, I began to term them as the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde wardrobes.
Vaneet was coming back from a trip tomorrow. No matter which part of the world he went to or how many days he stayed away, he always came back saying, “Yaar, Raina, kuchh accha banao na aaj. Acche khane ke liye taras raha hoon.”
And so I would trot off to the kitchen, clad in one of my many white nighties and make his favorite laccha parathas and guttu vankaya (an Andhra specialty that I had brought with me from my side of the family). Vaneet’s absolute favourites. The buttery layers of the laccha parathas had more power to send Vaneet into oodles of delight than I had ever had, even in our courtship days. The kids would have none of this “crap” as they called it, so the pastas and the pizzas were made for them in a more wholesome homey style.
If Vaneet or the kids heard of any of the rumors going around they did not show it. Maybe they did not care as long as there was food on the table and their work was done for them. Raina, Mom was just this aimless, fashion less, creature that floated around the house doing nothing.
As for me, I quite began to enjoy my little escapades or episodes of split personality. Call it what you will.
The kids were having vacations and they had been invited to their friend’s holiday home in Ooty for two whole weeks. Being just a year apart in age, they had a lot of common friends and though I piped up saying that they were too young to be doing such a long trip alone and away from parents, no one seemed to have really heard or seen me. So I went back into the room and waited for them to leave. Vaneet for once said that he would like to have a small vacation by himself and so he went off on a connecting-with-myself kind of a trip. For once when I waved goodbye to a family who never turned back to even wave their hands at me, my hands shook. Not in self-pity for having been abandoned but in tremulous excitement that I had a whole two weeks to myself.
So the first thing I did…..you guessed it right! I neatly folded the white nighties and put them away into the cupboard to hibernate for two weeks and out came the Mr. Hyde side of my wardrobe.
I began to get ready really early in the day and get out of the house all dressed up. Whatever be the agenda, I made sure I was always back before night fell. My own bed was too dear for me. How the two weeks flew past I really cannot say but when the family came back from their respective vacations happy and refuelled, I could almost match their exuberance for I felt happy and refuelled as well.
The soft buttery folds of the laccha paratha slipped through my fingers as I tried to stuff them in my mouth along with the rich guttu vankaya. Vaneet ate his favourites with gay abandon and appreciated my cooking as always. The children had their favourites waiting for them too.
I waited for Vaneet to finish his meal and then said that I had something to say to him.
Initially he did not pay much heed to my words but when I calmly repeated them, he turned around to look at me as I stood behind him. I could see him visibly gulp when he took in his wife of 17 years as she stood, sans the white nighties that had become almost a second skin and a second nature. He looked at her up and down and gulped down several glasses of water as if to digest what he was seeing. Raina all dressed up and the picture of confidence.
“What have you done to yourself? What is this dress you are wearing?”
“Isn’t it odd that you never asked me in all these years when I had just sunk into an apathy and into those lose fitting nighties!”
“Before you jump to conclusions, let me lay your suspicions at rest. No, I am not having an affair with anybody except with myself. I am not going out and having a roll in the hay if you must know. But I am having a great time for the first time in several years. I am discovering everything that I used to like, everything that I was good at. I am no good here with you seeing me just as a ghost who floats around or cooks. This is not my place anymore. You made sure that you left me far behind in our journey together. The journey that we promised several years ago to take together. I agree that I am to be blamed as well, for allowing to be thrust aside but I did what I did with love for you and the kids. Now, the three of you just do not know that I exist. Not a happy state of affairs is it?
You must have heard several rumours that I have been dressing up like this (pointing to herself) and going out in your absence. Do you remember that there was a time when you bought me these outfits yourself? That you loved flaunting me to everyone!”
“What are you saying? Are you leaving me……….”
“I will. But not yet. I do have a duty to my kids. But I have a duty to myself as well. To stay happy. I have been going out and rediscovering all the things that I used to love doing. I have been taking classes in painting and I have discovered that I am very good at it. I have made a few friends and we are planning to start a small studio together and I will be busy there from next month onwards.”
Vaneet had resumed eating his parathas, the brinjal falling clumsily out of his mouth as he stuffed huge morsels. But it was quite obvious that he wasn’t relishing it anymore. He had a pained expression on his face which said it all.
“I do know that our marriage has reached a point where we can just not look for happiness in each other anymore and I take my share of the blame as well. But I don’t want the marriage to be my funeral pyre. I have a life and I want it back.”
“You are not leaving then?” Vaneet looked up hopefully for an answer.
“As I said, not yet.”
The kids entered the dining room just then and they stood gaping to see their mother dressed as she was.
“I leave it to you to tell the kids what you want. I have to go get some paper work done for the studio.”
The kids stood there watching her as she went in to her room, picked up the white nighties from her cupboard and packed them into an old cover before walking out of the house. As she walked out on the pavement, heeled feet clanking on the cobbled street, she dropped the bag she was holding into the colony garbage area.