The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, March 9, 2003

Life Ties

When the protector turns into the protected
Taru Bahl

PRIYA was a small-town girl with stars in her eyes. In fact, she was the ’son’ her parents never had. A trouble-shooter from kindergarten days, she applied her mind scientifically to every problem and arrived at logical conclusions. The trait helped her retain her sanity later in life.

She and her husband Arun had done their computer engineering together. However, love blossomed only when they started working together and the articulation of the feeling too was first initiated by Priya. Arun knew he was low on initiative and was a good follower who could take instructions, carry them out and develop functional strategies along the way. He lacked the enterprise of a forerunner but, fortunately, he was conscious of his limitations. He therefore did not resent the other person taking on the more aggressive role. So when he married Priya, she ended up doing not so much because she wanted to wear the pants but because circumstances willed it so.

When Arun started getting frustrated with his job, they both dabbled with the idea of setting business together. While Priya had apprehensions about setting up shop as she was content and secure with a steady income that comes from a structured job, she gave it up to reassure Arun and to stand by his side. They set up an IT solutions company which, to begin with, undertook the tiniest of computer-related jobs. Their capital was small and resources limited. Neither of them approached parents or friends for loans because they wanted to make it entirely on their own steam.


Priya’s parents were exerting pressure on them to solemnise their relationship but Arun was unable to muster the courage to tell his parents. After waiting for nearly two years, Priya finally gave him an ultimatum. Pushed into a corner, he responded by grudgingly fixing a meeting between the two sets of parents. Fireworks ensued with both parties getting agitated over the nitty-gritty of the marriage ceremonies. The wedding was shelved and the couple in question were back to working together. The demands of their work did not leave them any time to mull over anything which was not related to the business. When things still did not move and Arun’s parents’ efforts at terminating their business partnership intensified, Priya took up the cudgels and set a deadline. She even took him to the courts to see how to get a registered marriage and finally made him settle for a simple Arya Samaj wedding in a temple with a few friends as witnesses. They both went back to their respective homes till Arun could take her home with respect as his wife.

Patterns of behaviour don’t change and as the months flew by, Priya realised that she would have to do something. Swallowing her pride, she mobilised support in the form of Arun’s aunts and uncles with whom she had developed a fairly good rapport and went to his parents’ home. They initially refused to accept her as their daughter-in-law but after much brouhaha the marriage finally happened. The couple set up home.

By now, Priya had no illusions about the kind of person her husband was. While there was no love lost between them, the roles had been clearly demarcated. She was to be the one who would aggressively procure business orders, woo clients, negotiate the best possible financial deals and get them to sign on the dotted line, Arun would step in stage two by taking over and servicing and maintaining the contractual tie-ups. Whenever trouble brewed or things went out of control, it was again Priya who would have to use her natural abilities to manage the crisis and diffuse the situation. Arun would just side-step and withdraw from the scene. On the domestic front, she was expected to don the mantle of the typical wife— cook food, look after the kids and subjugate herself to her husband and in-law’s needs. She did so spontaneously because of her middle class values and upbringing.

The business grew and prestigious tie-ups were put in place. Priya had her every waking minute booked. Her cell phone rang incessantly and she drove from one place to another overseeing all the big and small details. There was no way she could even think of taking a break. She recalled how she had taken off for three months when her second son was born and the business had taken such a severe beating. When she had come back, the finances were in a mess, the office records were incomplete and important clients hassled. She knew she was like a candle burning at both ends. She also knew that if she had to leave the business for her children to inherit, she would have to put together a system by which things happened without her constant intervention. She would have to devise a method either by finding another trustworthy partner or by grooming her existing team to help relieve her of some of the burden she was carrying. She didn’t want to break down because of sheer fatigue.

At 35, she already felt as if she was burning herself out. She had begun to get sluggish. She also had this craving desire to enjoy some of the wealth she had created. Moreover, she knew that her kids would soon grow up and she had to find moments to be together with them before it was too late. She wanted to do things she liked, take holidays and even put up her legs and relax with the confidence that things would get taken care of. When she saw other men playing the roles of providers, protectors and nurturers and their wives basking in their tender loving care as if it were the most natural thing on earth, she felt a sharp stab of regret.

But she dismissed such thoughts whenever they arose and instead dwelt on the fact that she had her emotional freedom which was priceless. Her husband had allowed her to find a special place for herself under the sky and claim it as her very own. He trusted her abilities and did not thwart her desires, though he was a victim of his conditioning and trapped in the maze of his own insecurities. He was acutely aware of his limitations, just as he was conscious of her strengths. He had accepted it long ago that his persona was inextricably linked with that of Priya’s and in the eyes of society he was the so-called ‘man around the house.’ This realisation, however, did not in any way diminish his sense of self. She knew that she would have to learn to live with her condition and not let bitterness cloud the gentle aura of love which hung over her family.

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