1. Get married too young. Forget finishing your Master’s, forget becoming a professor like your father. None of that matters because it’s the seventies in India and a Promising young man (studying engineering!) from a Very Respectable (wealthy) family saw you at the park and was so taken with your beauty, the braid of your hair grazing your butt, the swath of belly visible between your sari folds, that he asked his friends about you, and they asked their friends, and eventually his parents called yours. A meeting was arranged and, just like that, so was the rest of your life.
2. Remove yourself from suffering. When you want to weep into the tail of your sari as you make chai for your husband, the Prominent Engineer, before he goes to work, or in the evenings, hovering over the stove so his dinner will be warm whenever he comes home, be it eight p.m. or two in the morning, soaked in whiskey and violence, when he slaps you for the food being cold or too spicy or not spicy enough, or even worse, when he doesn’t pass out drunk after eating but drags you by your long hair to the bed and climbs atop – remove yourself. Think about your mother’s village, the green rice fields that you and your brothers would run though. Remember the sun on your face.
3. When the children come, first a boy, then a girl, name the girl after the Sanskrit word for ‘protection’ so every time you call her becomes a prayer.
4. Pray more. Visit the temple everyday, your son’s hand warm in yours, your infant daughter swaddled on your back, the press of their bodies against yours itself a sort of prayer. Buy three garlands of jasmine and two boxes of sweets to leave at the altar. Ask the priest to bless you, his sure hand on your skull and his low chanting giving you the brief illusion of safety.
5. Accept that you are alone. When he gets a visa for Canada, you of course, go (think of the children! So many opportunities there!). In Canada, call your father, your favorite brother and his wife, the physical distance freeing you to speak of your terrible unhappiness, the marks he leaves on you and was starting to leave on your son. They cry. They say they’ll pray for you. But they don’t offer to buy plane tickets for you and the kids to come back. So, hang up, gently, and sit alone with devastation.
6. Lose your faith. Take down the small statues of Ganesha and Lakshmi that you’d put up oh-so-carefully at the new house in Canada. Stop performing puja, stop dropping to your knees and bringing your forehead to the floor. Stop putting the red bindi on your forehead, the third eye to protect you from evil. Nothing can keep you safe anymore.
7. Eat more. Once he’s snoring, sneak to the kitchen. Pile the rice and rasam high on your plate. Have two servings of palgova. Chew noisily. Gain weight. Watch disgust narrow his eyes and be thankful when he no longer reaches for you at night. Your children are thankful too: more of you to hug, a fleshy reassurance. He hasn’t killed you yet.
8. When he finally gets sober but stays mean, when he sneers at you for depending on him for money, work up the courage to look for jobs for the first time in your life, at thirty-five years old. When you’re hired at a bookstore, be overjoyed that your English degree wouldn’t go to waste after all.
9. When, one Sunday, he wakes in a rage that is stoked by everything – you rushing to serve him chai, you offering to help with the taxes – give up. As the sky starts to bruise violet, say and do nothing. And when even your silence enrages him, when he threatens to divorce and leave you destitute for the hundredth time – this time, say yes. Relish his features rearranging in shock. Don’t think about your bank balance, or how you’ll support yourself and your teenage daughter on your tiny salary. There will be many sleepless nights for those worries. For now, call your son (how proud you are of him, doing his Ph.D. in physics at only twenty-three). Cry when he offers to send you part of his stipend. But say, no, you’ll be Fine – because you will.
STORY IMAGE PROVIDED BY AUTHOR.