Knots of a Chain

It was Riya’s first Durga Pooja after marriage. She was excited and anxious all at the same time. She had gone along with her husband, Subhro, to her in-laws’ place in Delhi to celebrate this festival. Little did she know what was to transpire?

Riya wasn’t much of a favourite with her in-laws which really wasn’t much of a surprise considering she was Subhro’s choice and not his parents’. Any opportunity to humiliate her would be seized with vicious accuracy by them. If it wasn’t for Subhro their one and only son, they wouldn’t have in the first place let her enter their household even. Ten months had passed by since Riya and Subhro had been married but not a week had gone by without Riya being subjected to bitter words from them. But in all this it was Subhro’s faith in Riya that got her through and was her silver lining. Their bond was strong and no matter how much effort his parents put in breaking that, their love always came out on top.

Riya was a girl of today; educated and independent. She wasn’t one to take blows without retorting. However infront of Subhro’s parents she had to keep quiet as no matter what they did or said at the end of the day they were his parents. Well isn’t it the story around households? A daughter-in-law has to keep quiet and suffer in silence in the name of respect for elders and such system of beliefs?

Riya was tall, had dark brown eyes and lustrous straight hair that gave her an angelic appearance. She was respectful, though upto a sane limit, but that clearly wasn’t enough for Subhro’s parents. She was perfect for Subhro, the quintessential tall, dark and handsome lad. They made a very good pair; were in synch with each other but that was irrelevant to them. Everything was perfect in their lives except for the constant fight for acceptance of Riya by her in-laws.

Since it was her first time at Subhro’s place for such an auspicious occasion after marriage Riya had taken lots of presents for her in-laws. She wanted to do everything possible to make them happy, because she knew that Subhro’s happiness was linked to theirs. On the eve of Sasti as Riya was busy preparing sweets in the kitchen there was a storm brewing outside in the living room. Subhro’s mom, Usha couldn’t find her gold chain. She rummaged through the cupboards and every possible place she could have kept it but couldn’t find it.

‘Subhro I cannot find my gold chain’ said an agitated Usha.

‘Maybe you kept it somewhere else Mom like you always do. Relax and search again.’

‘You think I didn’t search. How can the chain go missing just like that? Someone must have taken it’ an exasperated Usha retorted.

‘Mom who would have taken it? Apart from you, dad, me and Riya there is no one else here so there is no question of it being stolen’ said Subhro. He could very well figure out what was going to come next.

‘Riya must have taken it’ said Usha bluntly. Yes what Subhro feared for was now out in the open. His mother has blamed Riya for it.

‘Why will Riya take it mom?’ Subhro could only manage this much when his dad, Shankar, spoke.

‘So you are now siding with your wife and not your mom. You think your mom is lying?’ Subhro’s dad had a foul temper. His rage would be visible just from his eyes. It was scary and there was no way any sort of argument would cut across him when he was in that state of mind.

While all this was going on, Riya oblivious to what was about to come her way, was struggling with the sweets. She had not once before spent so much time in the kitchen. She never had to and she had always imagined she wouldn’t have to in the future either as she could always afford to hire a help. But she was wrong, inspite of help being there she had to do all the chores as that was what was expected of the daughter-in-law. She would often ponder about the hypocrisy of the society. Toiling in the kitchen and the house made one a good daughter-in-law; how ridiculous was that?

‘Riya, Riya get in here’ shouted her father-in-law. She wasn’t used to people yelling at her and for a moment she froze in fear wondering what could have happened now?

‘What did I do now?’ she thought!

‘Yes Dad. What happened? said Riya as she ran and entered the living room. Subhro, his mom, Usha and Shankar stood there with grave expressions on their faces.

‘Did you take my chain?’ asked Usha.

‘Chain? Which chain? And no I didn’t take anything Mom.’ It didn’t take Riya even a moment to understand that they were accusing her of stealing something. After all that she had seen over a span of ten months, it wasn’t a surprise that this was happening. Infact she was curious why it hadn’t happened before!

‘If you didn’t take then who would? Before you came none of the things from our house went missing. It has to be you. Riya if you need anything you should ask us, why steal. Is this what your parents have taught you?’ said an infuriated Shankar.

Tears rolled down Riya’s eyes. She was being blamed for theft. While being spoken to like a criminal she looked at Subhro. He stood there, all quiet without even looking at her. She felt hurt and betrayed. She felt a rush of temper run down her spine being insulted in the manner she was. As Usha and Shankar went on and on about how it must be Riya who had taken it, Riya felt violated. It was like they were ripping her off her self-respect.

It was more than she could take. Maybe they were just saying this because it had gone missing and since it had never happened before they found it reasonable to think it was Riya who had done it. But was that fair? Certainly not by Riya, she was Subhro’s wife, a member of their family and this was not the way for them to treat her. Finally she shot back. Perhaps she shouldn’t have but it was too late for any retrospection.

‘I didn’t steal anything. I never do. I earn enough to sustain myself. Infact I do not even take money from your son. How dare you speak to me like that and who gave you the right to talk about my parents in such a maligning tone? Riya shouted in rage while tears continued gushing down her cheeks.

Subhro was still quiet. What could he do? On one side were his parents and on the other his wife. Perhaps it was the best way for him to react. He could always make Riya understand why he behaved the way he did but he couldn’t hurt his parents. He looked at Riya, she was withering the harsh words all alone and all he could do is watch silently. He felt bulldozed by the pressure of being a good son. But he was a husband too wasn’t he? Was he failing in his duty to shield Riya from all possible pain? But what could he possibly do? He was in a quandary! But he knew Riya was strong, she could handle it. Yes perhaps she would cry and fight with him, but she would handle it for sure.

Riya on the other hand was unable to take any more of the blame and fearing saying something in the heat of the moment ran up to her room. Her eyes were red with fury. She wanted to rush out of that house and never come back again. She sat there crying for hours. Subhro also hadn’t come upstairs. How could he not take her side she thought?

‘Subhro is cruel and he let them hurl all sorts of charges at me while he sat there looking. I will not speak to him anymore’ she thought.

Just then there was a knock at the door.

‘It’s me Subhro, open the door.’

Riya opened the door thinking Subhro had come to tell her that all will be fine. As always he would be by her side and support her. He would not have her insulted any further. She was happy, all the anger she felt towards Subhro vanished in a moment. It was always like that with them, one ray of hope from Subhro and Riya would forget all bitterness. But Subhro wasn’t alone; he stood there with Usha and Shankar behind him.

‘They want to check your bags’ he said not looking into her eyes. He was embarrassed that something like that was happening; that Riya had to go through it and he couldn’t stop it. He hoped for Riya to understand as he just couldn’t stop it.

Riya was so angry that she could have shut the door at their faces but she decided to let them see for themselves. Perhaps it was a misunderstanding they had and they would finally realize their blunder.

Usha and Shankar went through her bags. They looked everywhere possible, inside ever piece of cloth; inside every jewelry box and every cosmetic cover. But Riya hadn’t stolen it so what could they find! She was confident that they would get nothing but a small part of her was also scared. She had watched enough television to know that they may have hidden it in her bags. No sooner than she thought that, she told herself that probably they wouldn’t go to that extent. She kept looking at Subhro the whole time. The man she loved, the man she left her home to be with having being reduced to a mere puppet. But then she also knew it was easier said than done, he couldn’t possibly fight with his parents. A part of her understood him while the other blamed him for being unable to do anything.

‘It’s not here’ said Usha looking at Shankar.

‘Maybe she hid it somewhere’

‘Enough!’ said Subhro in his cool and collected manner. It was strange how he managed to control his reactions at such moments.

‘Mom and Dad, you insulted her because you thought she stole. You wanted to check her bags. I didn’t stop you even though I knew the whole time that she couldn’t have stolen anything. I thought you would see with your eyes and realize your mistake. But no, you still want to blame her Dad. Why?’

His parents didn’t know what to say. They knew and saw it too that the chain wasn’t in her bag or her room. They didn’t want to accept it but Riya hadn’t done anything wrong.  They left the room and went downstairs without saying a word. Riya stood there not knowing how to react anymore.

‘I am sorry Riya but I couldn’t have shouted at my parents. I know in a way I have wronged you but I also tried as much to tell them that you didn’t steal.’ Subhro knew Riya would be hurting. She was sensitive that way. Though she would get angry in an instant and retort to any allegations against her, but every time such things happened it left a scar on her. He knew that she was suffocated now to be in the same house with his parents. Who wouldn’t be? But he also knew that just for him she would bear it all and he would make it upto her once they go back home.

That night Riya didn’t say a word. She didn’t even fight with Subhro like the other times. She went about the household chores, prepared the sweets and served dinner. Everyone else began to act like nothing had happened. No one apologized to her or even patted her back saying that it’s alright and won’t happen again. 

Usha and Shankar behaved as though they had not wronged her. Infact they asked Riya to make an apology for her behavior earlier in the evening. What could Riya have done? She had to ask for forgiveness even though she wasn’t the least bit wrong. It pained her; it scared her self-esteem to be made to do things her heart didn’t agree with.

As Riya laid down that night, her life so far flashed before her eyes. When she was with her parents, life was so rosy. Nothing could harm her or hurt her; her parents had given her that environment. But now she had to face every damn thing alone. Yes that’s right she felt lonely inspite of Subhro being there. She couldn’t decide what she wanted Subhro to do. Was she miffed that Subhro had not strongly supported her or was she unhappy about the allegation?

As the days went by, Riya started keeping more to herself. The otherwise chirpy and happy girl that Riya was had now become quiet. She would spend the whole day doing the household chores and waited with baited breathe for these holidays to end. In her mind she played the incident over and over again. She felt ashamed for having to stoop so low to ask for forgiveness for something which wasn’t wrong. She felt miserable as she would always advice her friends to not take nonsense lying down and instead fight for it. But when it happened to her, she just couldn’t do anything.

Subhro on the other hand knew what was going on in Riya’s mind. He knew perhaps he could have handled the situation better but he couldn’t undo what had happened. He tried to speak to Riya, he even wanted her to let out her frustration and fight with him and even shout at him if required. But she seemed to have withdrawn into her own shell.

On the day that Riya and Subhro were about to leave, the laundryman came with their clothes. As he took out the bundle of washed and neatly ironed clothes in the living room he called out to Usha. Riya was in the kitchen preparing breakfast while Subhro and Shankar were in the living room drinking the morning tea.
‘Madam you seemed to have become very rich all of a sudden’ he told Usha.

‘I didn’t know that you have so much money that you gave me your chain along with your clothes’ he laughed. ‘If it was someone else you would have never seen it again! Next time even I might not return it’ he chuckled and with those words he gave the chain to Usha and walked out of their house smiling.

Usha and Shankar stood dumbfounded. Subhro looked at their faces while trying to hide his agitation at having created such a ruckus and blaming Riya while his mom was at fault, she had been careless. Out of all of them, it was Riya who felt vindicated. She stood at living room door thanking God for this news. Yes maybe they will never accept their mistake at treating her the way they did but they can’t deny to themselves that they were wrong. She felt happy that this happened before they left for the airport.

As Riya and Subhro sat in the taxi for the airport, Subhro caught her hand and told her he loved her and never for a moment had he doubted her. Riya smiled, she knew Subhro trusted her. Yes she would have desired a better response from him but it wasn’t easy being in his shoes too. She was just glad they were going back home. Till the next accusation on her, she just wanted to forget everything and be herself. Just then Subhro handed her an envelope saying ‘This is for you. You deserve it’.

Riya felt funny. Why was he giving me money in an envelope she thought! But boy was she in for a surprise. There were two tickets to Goa in there. Yes Subhro was taking her for an entire week to Goa. Riya was delighted and as she looked at Subhro she knew why their relationship was strong. She knew that they would wither many more storms such as these and that Subhro would always be with her in his own unique ways.

Life is never easy. It becomes even difficult once a girl is married and she enters a new household. She has to fight many such battles to actually be accepted. But on the other hand, it isn’t easy for the boy either. He has to balance his parents and his wife. He is more often than not sandwiched in between. Yes maybe he doesn’t have to do as many adjustments as the girl but the way he balances his priorities isn’t easy either and says a lot about him. Also, for a marriage to come out successful inspite of all such roadblocks, trust in each other is a must. It’s not always a question of black and white. We often have to take a middle path and at times do things which are not at all according to our own belief system. But that’s what life is isn’t it, always churning out bouncers at us! Riya was hurt and Subhro couldn’t do much to prevent it but he helped her heal and Riya helped Subhro by not arguing with him for not being on her side more verbally. That’s what a relationship is about and that’s what makes any rapport special- the faith in each other and understanding each others constraints. So it would be fair to conclude ‘Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys.

PS: Had written it last year for the youth express but the site seems to have disappeared so posting it again.