Sunday 17 June 2012

When the tide turned

Praniti and Shyom had fallen in love the day they met in medical college. They discovered later that despite their different backgrounds, both were toppers in their respective schools. This cemented their bond even more. Their classic pair, with its friendly ways and lovely relationship, was the toast of the batch.
Once postgraduation was over, they broke the news to their families. Her parents were initially uncomfortable, but seeing them together over time gave them hope she would settle down happily. Shyom’s parents were reserved, but seemed agreeable enough.
Praniti’s sister, too, planned to marry into another community. Her parents believed she was courting pure disaster. Their families were not only economically far apart, they professed different religions – one liberal, the other dogmatic.
Praniti had become a pale shadow of herself.
Digital sketch: Harjeet
It turned out that they had been vastly mistaken on both counts. Her sister was happily accepted and assimilated into her husband’s family. Praniti, on the contrary, ran into trouble with her in-laws right away.
Shyom had set up a small practice close to his home. He cared deeply for his patients, and had gradually built up a small but loyal clientele.
Working at a premier medical institute, Praniti had to leave very early to reach there on time. Both of them had taken cooperation from Shyom’s parents for granted. It was a big mistake, and her wedded life immediately snagged on her work timings.
Shyom’s mother sacked the daily help and refused to enter the kitchen any more. Praniti must cook both breakfast and lunch and clean the house before leaving. And she must be home in time for their evening tea and then prepare dinner, she demanded.
Shyom protested – mildly at first, then a little more assertively. He could not believe that his mother could be so mean and petty minded. His parents had been aware of her routine before they agreed to the marriage. 
His mother’s nastiness was making Praniti nervous.
“It’ll pass. Give her time. It’s the usual mother-son syndrome. She perceives you as an intruder, coming between her and her son,” Praniti’s close friend said with a knowing wink.
Praniti was not convinced, but decided to ride out any crisis. To her dismay, her father-in-law began siding with his wife, throwing tantrums on the smallest pretext. Shyom stood firmly by her side, but he wasn’t always there. He kept late hours to attend to his working-class patients, and barely woke up in time to bid her goodbye in the morning.
She was getting caught in a vortex: She was tired even before she took the chartered bus to work, and dreaded returning home. Without Shyom there to relieve her tensions, Praniti’s in-laws were becoming an emotional drag on her.
Her parents had warned her that in case the marriage failed, she would not be welcome back. They had tried to help a bit in the beginning, but retreated after things turned ugly.
Complaining was an option she chose not to exercise; thus Shyom was not aware of the full extent of the torture she underwent daily.
When she conceived, she thought life would get easier. It did not. There was no end to the cruelties heaped on her. The grandparents beamed at her newborn son, but would not spare even a smile for her. Matters did not improve when another child arrived.
Shyom was unable to mend matters. He was too busy keeping his practice running. Somewhere along the line he lost the script. A friend took him to a bar to drown his worries in a drink. He took to it like duck to water. He became more and more ineffectual by the day, and joined his friend to hit the bottle every night. So much so that it began telling on his work. His shaking hands made his clients jittery, and the clinic was no longer a paying proposition.
As the children grew up, Praniti was piled with more responsibilities. Attending to all their schooling needs apart, she struggled to keep their complaining teachers at bay as well.
To make matters worse, Praniti’s in-laws poisoned her sons’ young minds against her. They fed them with lies and insinuations about their mother. Much as she tried, she could not win them over. She had precious little time for them, burdened with her chores and somehow clinging to her job. The children were in their grandparents’ care all day, and Shyom had withdrawn into his own drunken world. He would sometimes beat her up at his parents’ instigation, even turning her out one night. She cried herself to sleep on the pavement, but was back on their doorstep next morning.
The same close friend advised Praniti many a time to walk out. “Hardly 34, and already a pale shadow of yourself? Why? You are such a good doctor, but… Quit all this and live for yourself,” she exhorted her.
But Praniti seemed incapable of tearing herself away from her tormentors. “I love my husband and children too much,” she would say over and over again.
One friend had turned him into a drunkard. Another called up out of the blue one day to say he knew of a job vacancy in an African hospital. Was Shyom willing to give it a try?
He applied for the job, and got it. Shutting down his clinic promptly, he left with not even a word of consolation for the wife he had loved so much. Perhaps he was not sure of what lay ahead.
Praniti was shattered at the turn of events.
A glimmer of hope shone through soon, though. Shyom called within a month to say he had not touched a drop of alcohol since he took up the job, and was arranging to bring her over, with their sons.
She could not wait to tell her best friend, who remained extremely sceptical. 
Praniti went through those six months as if in a dream. She still believed in her husband, and in their marriage which she had kept intact in the face of all adversity.
Shyom arrived as promised to take his family away amid his parents’ protestations.
When they visited India two years later, a happy Praniti dropped in on her dear friend.
The elder child had turned over a new leaf, was among the brightest students in class and determined to be a doctor, like his parents. His brother was no longer unruly, either. He had turned serious, set his heart on studying music when he grew up and was already taking music lessons.
All this was music to her friend’s ears. She sent up a silent prayer of thanks, for the tide had indeed turned.

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