‘Gratitude’ is rarely the emotion any man would display to his ex. At least, not without a hint of sarcasm in it. Allow me to be an exception here.
No, don’t jump to conclusions yet. I have not forgotten those bitter moments or nasty remarks. That heartache would never be obliterated in this lifetime. Despite it all, I thank you today from the bottom of my heart. Believe me, my gratitude is genuine and so are my words.
What happened suddenly, you ask, after all these years?
Yesterday, it was my seventh marriage anniversary. My wife surprised me with a grand party at home. Once the toasts were done, she took the centre-stage, and rendered a heartwarming speech. With pride in her eyes and confidence in her voice, she said, “Arjun, you are the best husband a woman can ever have!”
Dozen grinning faces turned towards me, and then back at her. “Arjun, you understand me inside out, never forget birthdays and anniversaries. You never grow tired of my shopping like most husbands these days,” she joked. All guests broke into applause, laughing gleefully and cheering our love and companionship.
I gave out a smile. A smile for each one of my guests. A smile for my wife. But inside, a sudden pang of guilt began gnawing at my heart. Unwittingly, my mind wandered into those long-lost alleys of the memory lane which I hadn’t trodden for years. An unexpected bout of nostalgia poured in, and my conscience posed a question back at me –
Arjun, do you think your wife would have had the same opinion about you, had she met her husband 15 years ago? Would she have felt the same had she met the rowdy boy from a remote area of Rajasthan, a boy who knew nothing about love, companionship, and especially, about women?
Patriarchy was not something I had exercised consciously ever; I was just brought up in a certain manner that shaped my beliefs and ideologies. Since the time I learnt how to walk and talk, my growing environment imposed an unsaid rule: maintain distance from the fairer sex. My brothers and I grew up believing men and women were meant to be unequal, segregated. Happiness was confined within bike rides with fellow guys, cricket, football and everything that they generally associate with “manhood”. Any hobby beyond was looked down upon. But that was till you came in and showed me otherwise.
Can you recall how I had forgotten our first anniversary? You had wept like a child at my negligence, and most of all my placid countenance.
“You didn’t bring me even a stale rose!”
“What is there to whine about? This is such a small matter,” I had argued in my defense.
“It’s not the gift, but your indifference that hurts, Arjun!”
Your reply had left me puzzled. What indifference? What do women want?
Fifteen years is a long time, but now the depth of your words have sunk in, as I see those very same expectations in my wife’s eyes.
Do you remember our long-drawn sessions at the trial rooms of shopping malls? Oh, how I used to hate waiting as you relentlessly tried one outfit after another! The constant display of fuss over harem-pants and palazzos – or whatever they are called – drove me up the wall. I cursed myself. I cursed everyone around. What kind of passive cruelty on the masculine gender is this?
You know, my wife is just as finicky as you were, perhaps even more. She is dusky, few shades darker than you, and owing to this, she has this bizarre conviction that dark colours make her look less attractive. She is wrong, of course. But this odd complex renders her more vulnerable to my approbation. Every time she tries out an outfit, she walks out of the miniature trial room, waiting for a single nod of approval of mine. Now, I no longer curse, but simply smile for her happiness. Time has taught me to be patient about such trivial matters. In case my impatience gives away, I remind myself that she too makes her share of compromises to make sure I am happy. Just like you did.
Ria, oh, how you fumed when I made decisions about us without consulting you. Yesterday, when my wife stated how much I respect her opinions in every small matter, I felt guilty again. Were your expectations and behavior very different from hers? What if I had done all the same things for you that I do for her? Would we still be together? Delicate foreplays, lingerie for anniversaries, candle-light dinners – my wife loves them all! But she is blissfully unaware that her once-uncouth man had picked up these gestures from his former lover. You taught this rugged guy about the subtleties of life. Now when I look back, I realize, perhaps it was my inexperience that had made me insensitive towards you. You were hot-headed, temperamental and immature but was I any better?
Times have changed. Those bittersweet days are long gone, and we both have moved on in our lives. We make mistakes, and learn from them. Time ensures that we inculcate all that we need in order to survive in this strange world of complicated human emotions. I have learnt my lessons, and you have yours. I sincerely hope that you have found your happiness wherever you are, whoever you are with. Apologies for all the times I had let you down. Your temperament and expectations (which I despised back then) showed me the right way to a woman’s heart. Had it not been for you, I would have never known that many times, it is the smaller gestures that mean the most to a female heart.
On this note, and wishing you all the success in your own marital life,
No longer yours, but eternally grateful,
** This is a work of fiction. Copyrights are reserved to my name. I had submitted this story to the Anonymous Writer on Facebook, but the piece was rejected. Thus, it was put up on my personal blog. **