Losing a Cousin: The Sequel

Sequel to Losing A Cousin To Society.

She bends down low to serve the tea to me. Awkwardly, I grab a cup, some biscuits, and try to avoid eye contact. It’s not easy because she’s looking directly towards me.

The place is right out of a prime time K-serial. The family, seated around an implausibly elegant drawing-room. The outwardly smiling, “stern” Mother In Law. The aloof, unconcerned husband. The subservient parents of the bride. And, of course, the coyly gracious bride herself.

The mother in law goes on and on about how she saved the world with a matchstick. Polite smiles are exchanged. It’s all sickeningly sweet, just like the tea I’m trying to finish. I don’t even WANT to be here. My presence is merely a logistical necessity.

The husband gets out of his ostentatious aloofness and cracks a spouse war joke. More polite, rippling laughter. He’s allowed to crack these jokes now, to prove how hen-pecked he is. To prove how much he supposedly bends to his wife.

How gracious of him.

I clamp down on my annoyance. No point getting upset. There’s nothing I can do about this, and getting angry isn’t going to serve any purpose. Calm down.

There’s a clink of bangles and jewelry. The bride’s gotten up and she’s heading into the kitchen. I see my excuse to get out of the room and follow her. Awkwardness be damned, I’m going to talk to my favorite cousin.

As I enter the gleaming, surgically clean kitchen, I catch sight of her face. She’s looking radiant in the blood-red tones that the setting sun casts.

She looks at me. I look at her. I go first.

“So…how’s life?”, I ask her

“Oh! Good, good. Yours?”

“Just the usual.”

“Mmm hmm”

She gets some samosas out of the fridge and pops them in the microwave.

“How come you deleted your Facebook account?”, I say, by way of casual conversation. as we watch the lazy rotations of the turntable.

“Well, I’m married now, you know.”, she replies

“As is something like thirty percent of the Facebook population. As are my parents, for example. As is your husband.”

“Shut up, N.”

“Is it because ‘He’ doesn’t like it?”

She pulls the plate out of the microwave and begins to arrange the triangular delicacies on a tray. Her expression is inscrutable.

“Well, YES. Happy now?”

Not particularly

“Relax, I’m just asking!”

God. I REALLY need to calm down. Keep this friendly, I remind myself. She’s the victim here, not the culprit. Don’t chew her out.

“Okay, so now you know. Are you going to help me with serving this stuff?”

“Sure”

I pour out the chutney in the bowl and watch as the former corporate exec flits across the kitchen like a hapless, newly minted Domestic Goddess. God knows I’ve always been a better cook than her.

“S, just listen to me, okay?”

So this is it. I’m cutting to the chase. I know I’m going to be completely out of line. I know I’ll be going out on a limb here. But I will say what I have to say. Maybe I’m being stupid, but I think it’s important to say it.

She doesn’t respond. I know I have her attention, so I plod on.

“Look, S. If you ever feel you need help, if you need anything at all, I want you to call me. If you don’t want to call me, or if you think a woman might understand it better, call my mom or my sister. I think you’re too perceptive not to know how we feel about this whole thing. Still, we will respect your choices. I promise you that I will respect whatever you choose and I’m ready to fight for it. Just remember that we’re all here for you. That’s all, okay? Just don’t ever feel alone.”

She’s quiet for a second. Someone calls out her name from the drawing-room.

“It’s really not that b–”

“I’m not suggesting it is. Just remember, okay?”

A slow nod.

I turn around and walk back to the room, once again struggling to clamp down the anger and irritation. There’s nothing more to say.

I’m not even supposed to be here, like I said, much less get involved. But the heart does not listen to rationalizations of that sort. the heart does what the heart wants. And right now, it just wants to bro-fist its favorite cousin again and see that spunky confidence ONE more time. That’s all.

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14 thoughts on “Losing a Cousin: The Sequel

  1. You mean she gave up her job AND deleted her facebook account just so she could be this domestic goddess? For the life of me, I cannot understand the kind of compusions that make an intelligent,bright person make such absurd choices 😦

    • It’s a long story, SH, and it’s not atypical as far as such pseudo-arranged marriages go.

      Let me sum it up in a few disjoint phrases:

      Emotional abuse, pre-marital intimacy, psychotic parental obsession with what the neighbors might say, pressure tactics, “morality”, tears, tantrums, emotional blackmail, manipulation and blatant sexism.

      Just another day in the desi relationship scene where abusers and parents join hands to pile on pressure and guilt on a person until she (it’s always a she) just snaps. :/

  2. These sort of things don’t infuriate me anymore. They only convince me further that the great Indian “society – joint family – arranged marriage – culture – morals – values” system is defunct, junk and rotten to the core. India can be one of the most spirit crushing and miserable places for a person to be born in, for both men and women. Even if someone tries to be happy, other jealous, miserable people around try their level best to inflict misery in that person’s life and cut his/her wings. Ours, regretfully, is one of the most fatalistic, frustrated, fearful, crab-minded societies I have seen. (May be marginally better than hardline Islamic societies under Sharia Law.) Resign. Submit. Obey. Sacrifice. Weep. Suffer. Silence. Die.

    Things don’t look very good for your cousin, I am afraid. I just hope for some miracle — somehow the husband grows a spine and treats her like an individual/ or if things get worse, somehow she gathers courage to walk out of this marriage eventually.
    I really don’t know what kind of perverse pride/pleasure and satisfaction do husbands, in-laws and parents of people like your cousin get in destroying the lives, happiness and spirits of their so called “loved ones”. It probably is like this because they never have themselves known what it is to be truly happy and independent!

    I would ALWAYS prefer the much-hated “amoral, selfish Western Culture and society” with its high divorce rates, premarital sex and teenage pregnancies to our rotten Indian social “culture”. That is because mostly everyone there is brought up to be independent individuals in control of their lives, dreams, careers, choices. Freedom. To strive. To love. To fail.To choose. To Dream. To explore. To LIVE!

    To end, I am reminded of a dialogue from the movie “Scent of a Woman” — when Al Pacino delivers his amazing speech —
    “…There was a time I could see! And I have seen- boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But there is nothin like the sight of an amputated spirit. There is… no prosthetic for that.”

    • I have to agree with your views on the “Great Indian society”.
      I always smile when I hear people accuse Western culture of being “fake” and “materialistic”. They are right, of course, but I wonder if they’ve ever had the guts to look inwards. Every culture is fake and materialistic to an extent, but ours takes that to ludicrous levels. Outsiders may believe the bullshit about Indians being a “spiritual and non-materialistic” people, but I’ve seen more than enough to see right through that lie.

      It’s not like teenage pregnancy doesn’t happen in India. The only difference is that it happens AFTER marriage, without much in the way of supporting infrastructure.

      No one has ever been able to give me a non-religious reason explaining exactly why divorce is so bad for our society. No one can really explain why an artificially low divorce rate, maintained primarily by degrading and stigmatizing any woman who dares to go through with it, is supposed to be some sort of cultural achievement.

      This “husband” is not really a spineless individual. He goes against his parents when it suits him. But I’m sure he finds the current situation far too favorable to want to make any special efforts on behalf of his wife. He is an emotional abuser, like I said. He can completely bend her to his will, whenever he wants, wherever he wants. When he says jump, she asks how high. So now he has his cook cum maid cum caretaker (for his parents), all inside a beautiful persona, all inside a person who is devoted to him, emotionally and, of course, physically. And she doesn’t even SEE what’s going on.

      An amputated spirit really is a terrible thing to see.

  3. Tell me about it! I sometimes want to bang my friends’ heads against the wall, to see if the thing they call a brain starts working again. It works with TV and computers, so might as well give it a try.

    • Fem,

      Humans are not like hardware. You see, hardware is a logical beast. Throw it at the wall and it breaks. Zap it with static and it fries. Plug the cables in, and it works. It’s pretty simple.

      Humans are not simple. They are like software. They can do a lot of nifty things in theory, but they’re crawling with bugs. You can never predict what a human might do next. You can never be sure that the whole darn thing won’t crash at exactly the critical moment. Humans are an insoluble mystery, because they simply do not operate within the parameters of logic.

      Still, I can give it a shot. I think I’ll just chuck her at her bedroom wall and see if it helps. 🙂

  4. I think it is a case of entrenched conditioning. I was talking to a Muslin colleague who was going to get married and he hadn’t even seen his bride-to-be’s photograph. I said to him, ‘Amjad, you have to at talk to her at least once over the phone, you cannot marry a TOTAL stranger’. And he said it is not possible. Then I asked him if he would let her work after marriage and he said that was out of the question. I wondered aloud how women can be so accepting that their choices are being made by other people and he said that was the way they are brought up. They are indoctrinated into this line of thinking. People who rebel are just cast off. Most people, I guess, would prefer the protective, even though incapacitating, fold of society, rather then be cast adrift into the unknown.

    What is conditioning but a set of beliefs. You can try chucking your cousin against the bedroom wall, but I think you might have more success in slowly and surely changing her belief system. In helping her to see the hypocrisy and in strengthening her belief in her own inherent strength. After that, it’s her choice, what she chooses to do ….

    • Jolly,

      I’ve been down that road before. This cousin is not the first person I know who got into this trap. I WILL try. I have BEEN trying.
      But it’s a completely thankless task. And after a while, trying to fight the conditioning starts to feel like trying to fight the person herself. People don’t WANT to let the conditioning go, and in the end, it IS their life! I have no mandate to try and protect them from themselves, no right to try and impose my own version of the voice of sweet reason on them.

      If she wants to spend her life serving tea and samosas, so be it. I wouldn’t hesitate to help her any way I can if she asked for it, but if she DOESN’T ask for it, I simply don’t feel justified in imposing my “help” on someone who doesn’t want me to. Not unless there’s real abuse going on.

  5. Great post! I was this girl 5 years ago complete with clinking bangles and jewelry. A great friend of mine proved to be a pillar of support when I decided to quit what would have turned out to be a life of subservience. It is no use telling a person that they are being short changed. One has to realize it for oneself and that is already more than half the battle won.

    • Mandooka,

      That is the ENTIRE battle won, right there.
      The moment you realize that you’re being shortchanged and that you need to do something about it, this kind of abuse ends. That BS just can’t hurt you too much anymore because you KNOW it’s BS.

      It’s just hard to get there.

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