Usha
Aarti sat on the steps that led from her drawing room to the dining space and surveyed the arrangement – new covers for the cushions in rich hues and soft fabric, fresh flowers in the vases, carpet vacuumed to look as good as new. The room looked warm and welcoming. She closed her eyes savoring the feeling of contentment. She loved to surround herself with beautiful things and worked hard to keep them beautiful. She was naturally gifted with the creativity to transform simple spaces into artistic niches by furnishing them inventively. Visitors to the house never failed to comment on how good they felt in her house where everything blended beautifully and harmoniously.

Except Karthik, Aarti’s husband. A busy surgeon at one of the best hospitals in the city, he spent very little time at home and even those hours were spent reading or watching the television. His skill, dedication and patience had made him very popular among his patients. It also helped that his father was one of the most respected surgeons in the city. With her too he was patient, willing to listen and respectful of her opinions. Their life lacked no comfort as they lived on an unlimited budget and he never questioned her about any expense however extravagant or unnecessary.

To all their friends theirs was the charmed life fairy tales were made of. Their lifestyle was something they could hope to have if they worked hard for another ten years. Many of her friends from college still lived in the city and they met every few months to share an afternoon of fun and laughter. Sometimes there were tears too about their husbands and their insensitivity or disappointment over their failures. A couple of them had even separated. To all of them, Aaarti’s life with Karthik was the model of a happy marriage. They openly told her how jealous they were of her to have someone like Karthik – handsome, successful and liberal.

Although she allowed her friends to believe that her life was perfect, Aaarti had her secret longings. Karthik had no romantic streak in him – if she said she wanted Romance, he might tell her to go ahead and buy it never mind the cost! He was down-to-earth about everything. He did not notice any of her efforts in beautifying the house and even when she deliberately drew his attention to these all he could think of saying was: ‘Nice, but I thought it looked nice earlier too”. After the first few months of their marriage, Aarti gave up expecting him to appreciate her efforts. But there were days when she longed that he would send her flowers or bring her a surprise gift or call her from work just to say he was thinking of her.

Those were the times she missed Anand. Anand who never forgot her birthdays, who noticed every little thing she did and appreciated it, who worshipped the ground she walked on, who made sure she was escorted everywhere. His family lived on the same street as her parents and they were also related in some distant way. Both parents approved of their friendship and there was a tacit understanding that they would be married eventually. Until Aarti’s grandmother decided to match their horoscopes! Everything went awry when the astrologer declared that his natal chart alignment signified an early death for his wife. So naturally the grandmother’s iron will prevailed and the parents were not so sure anymore. A disappointed Anand applied for a job overseas. When he found one in Singapore he disappeared from her life. He never wrote to her and eventually Aarti accepted that he was gone forever from her life.

She did not think of Anand often in the early years of her life with Karthik. It felt good to be married to the sort of man whom all her friends admired and wanted. And in any case it was tough to find anything wrong with Karthik who was kind and gentle and never demanded or complained. But after the first year she felt that Karthik and she were already like an old couple, married for 25 years or so and comfortable with each other – no surprises, nothing unpredictable, everything was a given. Life was placid, calm and ... she searched for the right word in her mind and found it - and... BORING.

It lacked the excitement her friends seemed to be having – the romance of struggling together , seeking reassurance and comfort in each other, joy in simple things. Often she thought of what it might have been had she married Anand. Life might have been full of spice –romantic walks in the park, saving for exotic holidays, candle light dinners, surprise gifts and cards, valentine days, fighting and making up (fighting just to make up perhaps) - she imagined all the candy floss from Bollywood and Hollywood. They would still be struggling financially but she imagined their love might have compensated for everything they lacked materially. When she heard romantic songs, especially from the past, she was reminded of him.

Now as she sat there on the steps looking at the room she wondered what Anand might have said about it. She knew that he would have noticed every minor detail and made her feel special. He always did.

She emerged from the reverie she had drifted into when the phone rang. It was from her mother who called to give her news that was music to her ears. Anand had come visiting his parents after all these years! Aaarti could not believe that this was indeed happening. She asked her mother a hundred questions about him – how he looked, how he spoke, had he acquired an accent, did he look happy, was he back for good, what had she told him about her, and about Karthik. Her mother laughed at her questions and simply said that he was the same old Anand they knew and that he had taken her number to call before visiting her.
Aarti felt strange after the call. She could not focus her thoughts. She felt nervous all of a sudden. She picked up a book to read but couldn’t concentrate. She tried to nap but was worried she might miss his call. She made sure she carried the handset along wherever she went in the house. Finally the phone rang.

To her relief it was from Anand. She tried to sound casual but her voice made her excitement clear. His happiness was palpable too. They made plans for him to meet Karthik over the weekend but she wanted to meet him before that. So they decidced to meet for lunch the next day.

She put the phone down and suddenly she was all frazzled, feeling like a teenager before her first date. She couldn’t decide what she wanted to wear. She wanted to look perfect for this meeting but at the same time appear casual. Suddenly her wardrobe seemed inadequate. She wished she had more time and then she wished she didn’t have to wait till next afternoon. She wanted to cry. For once she was happy that Karthik did not notice how nervous she was.

After the longest 20 hours of her life, finally it was it was time to leave. She could still not think of the perfect thing to say when they met. She knew this would be a Kodak moment in her memory and she wanted this to be perfect for both of them. No blunders.
She did not want him to be disappointed in anyway either.

When she entered the restaurant he was already at their table and got up to greet her. He looked just the same and she said that. He laughed and then said:
‘But you seem to have graduated to the contented Indian housewife look. Your husband’s prosperity shows on you, you know ’ he winked and then he laughed.
In the past she had never been offended by his references to her appearance and weight. It was true that she had added a few kilos since her marriage but she was by no means fat and in any case this was not warranted.
She excused herself and went to the restroom and when she came back he announced that he had already placed the order for starters.
“Hey I know your taste and I am sure you will like what I ordered”, he said and she tried valiantly to hide her irritation.
He updated her on his job, life in Singapore etc. She relaxed soon and asked him whether he had lost his way all these years and finally strayed back home.
He laughed and announced he was back to find a bride : ‘ There’s no substitute to a good Indian girl for a happy married life”
“How so?’ Aarti asked a bit confused.
“Someone who’d be content to take care of the husband and house, who would put her family before her career you know, like you for example. No feminist nonsense for me. In any case I make enough money so there is no need for her to go out and work.”

‘What do you even know about my life to make these comments?’ Aaarti thought and it suddenly occurred to her that Karthik had laid no conditions about her decision to have a career or not. She was free to do what she wanted. She tried to recollect if he had ever attempted to force anything on her – be it books or food preferences or clothing. Never.
It had always been “whatever you want to do.”

As the afternoon progressed and they talked more she was struggling to figure out why she was ever in love with this person. He still made her laugh but it was not the subtle , intelligent kind of humour but of the adolescent and boisterous variety. She found it loud. And he was dominating and sometimes insensitive. It seemed to her that you need the naïveté of romantic love to dull the edge of selfishness and oppression and make them seem as protectiveness and attention and care.
“I am glad we finally met again after all these years. I feel so much better now” she said while parting and meant every word of it.

She got into the car and suddenly she couldn’t wait to get back to her boring life.

P.s: This is a real story from a friend's life. She dreamt of her college boyfriend for 5 years after her marriage and then when they met again, she couldn't wait to take the flight back to her husband. And then she lived happily ever after. I have used it here upon her suggestion.
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49 Responses
  1. Altoid Says:

    :) Nice piece and apt title ! Holds true for most things in life, doesnt it?


  2. Art Says:

    wow.. its nice.. There are times when we think our life is not as we expected and when u look at others.. u r so glad that ur life is as is


  3. nish Says:

    beautiful story.


  4. Hey Usha ... loved the story ... did you start writing short stories ???


  5. Usha Says:

    Hi all, I forgot to mention this earlier.(Note to self: never publish a post when you are sleepy) This happened toa friend 25 years ago. recently she was having a good laugh when she narrated it to a group of friends and urged me to make it into a story for this blog.

    Altoid: The other side of the grass is always greener or what?

    Art: The pity is that we miss out on a lot in the interim.

    Nish: Credit goes to the friend who told me the story so well.

    C.A: Want to try something new.


  6. Anonymous Says:

    so she did she invite Anand to meet Kartik on saturday as planned before thye met?..curious
    SS


  7. aargee Says:

    That's a beautiful story and I am happy I came across it. Its sad, but quite true, that sometimes we don't tend to cherish what we have got.....
    I am not saying about your friend, but those lines were meant for me :)


  8. Sumana Says:

    Though your friend was the inspiration youhave written the story too well. So true that we forget to see the riches around us and always think of what we could not have achieved. Loved it.


  9. rajk Says:

    Wow, what a story! Even if it is "based on a true story", it still reads like fiction and that's one more feather in your cap; that of a "Fiction Writer"!
    And did I tell you before, your post titles are always intriguing and novel, pulling readers in !! Bravo!


  10. Maddie Says:

    My sentiments exactly. It is like when you get to know a person, you only know 70% about him/her. The rest your mind paints for you. The grass is always greener on the other side.


  11. aargee Says:

    Frankly, I am not able to get off this story... I just feel like reading it again and again. You have written it very beautifully. The way you have characterized each character, I tell you, is wonderful. Its just my story actually...and I said that atlast. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to get away from here if I don't say it :) I am not able to carry on with any of my work after reading this. More than the story, the way you have put it is fabulous! I just loved it!


  12. Ritu Says:

    Sometimes we are more in love with the concept of being in love - that the person him/herself

    So true, so real


  13. G Says:

    Nicely narrated.
    "...often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us."
    :)


  14. Mama - Mia Says:

    :)

    good for your friend!! dont we all love a happily ever after ending! :D

    isnt it true how even we dont realise our priorities have changed over a period of time and so the way we look at lot of things!

    there was a time i would have whined about how M never gave me flowers, but now i appreciate a hot bowl of soup that is ready on a cold day by the time i get home! :)

    and we look forward to more stories from you Usha! fiction or otherwise! :)

    cheers!

    abha


  15. Usha Says:

    SS: In my friend's case they lived in different cities. So she just went back to her city and stopped thinking about her ex.
    In the story, we can make them meet if you want! :) and that sure would make for another story.

    Aaargee: Exactly what she said to me. When she went back she began to see in her husband all that her friends had been telling her all along.

    Sumana:Thanks. I was wondering if there was even a story in here and debated if I should post this.

    rajk:Thank you, thank you, you are very kind.

    Maddie:Ya it is our perception that makes things and people seem to be the way we see them. My friend says that when she finally met him she just could not believe that she had wasted so many hours fantasizing about this pathetic guy. LOL

    aargee:I am glad that the story touched a chord in you. I think all of us have been through something similar - in fact one of my friends said that when she now looks at her husband she cannot remember what it was that she was so much in love with when they were seeing each other. I think our hormones play a lot of games with us when we are younger and naive. We see things where they don't exist and fail to see things string into our face.

    Ritu: There you said it. I think we like the way we are when we are in certain relationships and then we attribute it to the other person.

    G: So very true.

    Abha: a hot bowl of soup - I'd go for it any day than those flowers. And it takes more effort too...
    More stories? wait let me call up another friend and ask her if she has a story for me.. hehehe


  16. Really nice!

    Its my lunch break..n i totally did not realize what I was eating:)

    U rock :)


  17. Sakhi Says:

    absoulutely awesome! :) and this is my kind of a story! Am glad she was happy to get back to her boring life!! :)


  18. Praveen Says:

    loved it!!its funny that fantasies rule our minds to such an extent that we just fail to notice reality.


  19. Suku Says:

    you write so well..that was beautifully written..have you considered writing short stories?

    i enjoyed this piece thoroughly.


  20. So beautiful :) And such a neat message at the end :)


  21. Doli Says:

    Lovely message through a short story. really liked it


  22. Veens Says:

    Even if it is a true story, your narration was awesome :)
    Grass is greener on the other side or so we feel all the time..
    A minor or major incident is always needed to show us the value of the wealth we possess! :)


  23. Devaki Says:

    You have a talent for storytelling Usha. Even though you have heard the story from someone, the narrative is your own. And I love it!

    My husband is a bit like the one in this story. Loving and Mr. Dependable but very rarely romantic or flamboyant. I keep complaining about it of course. Tonight when I read this story, I had to show it to him. We re-read it together and smiled.


  24. mystic_life Says:

    Loved this entry! So well-written, I keep on going back to read it again and again. What a wonderful story, preaching all the right morals. Romanticism is nice, but respect triumphs. (what I got out of it).
    Once again, *awesome entry* ^.^


  25. Thought Room Says:

    Why does this happily ever after story feel like a tragedy to me? It reminds me of a conversation about kids. Is it lesser of the two evils to live with a parent who forces you to live your life their way, and with their ambition, or is it better to live a life ignored by them as they go through life deluding themselves that they are busy only to keep you happy. We humans seek acknowledgment in the eyes of our family and friends. When this aspect of a married life is empty, a house is only a boarding place and no more a home. Perhaps after being unacknowledged for a long time, she had learnt to live with what she got, and found the sudden over handling claustrophobic, and preferred her old life, but it is still a sad unacknowledged life that she choose. I wish she had a third choice.

    meenskahi


  26. ~nm Says:

    I can totally relate to this. Not that this happened to me 100% and not that I had a boyfriend to compare my hubby with but when I would listen to the stories of friends who I thought were so well, married in good households, who's hubby's were earning well, then I realised how lucky I'm to have a hubby that I have.

    We may not be perfectly happy and have our share (make that good share *wink*) of fights but even after that..I wouldn't trade him for anything in the world! I just cannot think of my life without him. As they say..grass is always greener on the other side.


  27. Jane Turley Says:

    I wonder what would have happened if the grandmother hadn't made public her predictions? Maybe the relationship would have run it's full and proper course and the lady would not have spent 5 years grieving/idealising her boyfriend. I'm inclined to think that relations should keep out of other people's relationships unless violence etc is involved. People must follow their own path otherwise there are always recriminations.

    I think there must be a lot of women who have similar stories to this. I'm just glad it all worked out well in the end. I suspect in many cases the outcome is very different.


  28. passerby Says:

    Hi Usha,

    It is nice early sunday morning, Thank you for your attention and email address. I appreciate it.

    This post, is interesting, and it is rare to read such a one, in this space.

    What i reflected is, the mind of a woman. Mind is hard to read and more so if it is a female one.:))

    The question is who does she actaully love? what is love then? does love contribute to make any foundation in such relationships.

    Usha,this person was her dream man,perhaps the very perfect. Then why does a mind try to analyse something that your heart feels.

    On the lighter side, Usha if you were in her shoes, how would this shape up, you can simply predict I am quiet keen to know... :)) Hugs, keep writing.

    passerby


  29. maami Says:

    nice siri kadhai.
    when's the next story?


  30. Anonymous Says:

    so moral of the story? horoscopes guide you in the right way :) ...

    siddhu


  31. hillgrandmom Says:

    Usha--very well written!


  32. noon Says:

    It had been a while since I visited your blog - suddenly dropped by to see what posts you have up - this was a treat. You should just have another blog for fiction. It was written so well. Flowed so well.


  33. Hip Grandma Says:

    There are many such people around and some never realize their mistake.glad for aarthi.


  34. kusublakki Says:

    Lovely story...great title..good to know your friend is happy now!


  35. Anonymous Says:

    i have something else to say here..most of us lead monotonous lives and yes as the marriage keeps on adding years its hard to expect your man to be all attentive and then some how i think this fantasy of the "other man"helps .just to console oneslf in those dull moments that you had another path to take if you had tried a bit hard.i mean its not that you are not leading a good life now just that the prospect of another better life existed is a good feeling.. what do you say?:)
    sushma


  36. A wonderfully sensitive story, beautifully told.

    But i just wonder. Had aarti earlier married Anand and progressed over the next 25 years, she may have matured differently, and also looked back at things thru another set of glasses. Living with Karthik, matured her in a different way.

    And its possible, that crashing of his hopes, because of some planetary trouble, made Anand cynical and he matured in a slightly more "daring" style....

    Just brings home the fact that we are so much a function of each other and who we live with....


  37. Usha Says:

    Subhashini: Wow, that was some complimett - Thank you!

    Sakhi: :)

    praveen: So when can we start shooting? ;)

    Suku:I would love to be able to write anything at all and most definitely short stories. Am going to try at least one per month from now on.

    SnS, Doli: Oh the message wasn't intended. That is what happened to my friend.

    veens: I agree that we do not appreciate what we have until we risk losing it.

    Devaki: really? feels good.

    Havah: That was my take away from her story too and I guess it came through.

    Thoughtroom: I think it turned out well in my friend's case although I agree with you that in another's case it might have been a tragedy.

    nm: I think when consciously made your choice based on what is more important to you, it is easier to understand the value of what you have as opposed to what you lost. But in my friend's case she had to lose her first love because of external reasons and perhaps this is why she missed it so much.

    jane: I completely agree with your view. In today's India most young people do have that choice. But this is from 30 years ago and things were different then. Many couple were victims of these choices made for them by the others in the house.

    passerby: You do ask interesting but tough questions for me to answer. it is possible that she still misses Anand sometimes but has accepted the reality of her life well - also because Karthik is such a fine man. Or perhaps one's rpiorities change as one gets older.
    What would I have done in her place? I guess I am too down-to-earth to brood over a relationship that did not work out. I might have simply accepted it from day 1 and might not even have thought of meeting Anand again. Not sure though. ;)

    maami:nejammava? Modira kaiyale kuttu onnum kedayada?

    Siddhu: Oy! Horrorscope, my foot!

    Sue: Thank you.

    Noon: Hi! thanks.

    Hipgran:I agree.

    Kusublakki:Thank you. yes , she is happy and contented with her life.

    Anon; As long as it doesn't affect your real life relationship with your husband I guess it is ok to have one's secret fantasies about possibilities. why not?

    Ugich:I completely agree. I think in all healthy and happy relationships all parties involved should grow together contributing to each other's growth. When I look around it is where they have not grown at a similar pace or in similar directions that marriages have ended in an unhappy state.
    I agree about the possibilities that you have discussed.


  38. Devaki Says:

    Forgot to add, this story reminded me of the movie 'Rajnigandha' in a way. Have you seen it?


  39. choxbox Says:

    usha write more stories na!

    i bet each of us has a total filmi story in our lives ;)


  40. nrimaami Says:

    Ha.. Nice change.. story and all that.. Quite often, I think everyone thinks about "the road not taken" by them. Marriages - especially arranged ones are very interesting. I often think about the sequence of events that led to my marriage and how some of those events appeared to happen out of the blue for no reason, but if they hadn't happened I would not have been married to my husband and my life thereafter might have been completely different.


  41. rambodoc Says:

    This woman is always looking for a fix of some kind, or what?
    An unrest of sorts seems to be in her. Perhaps she would feel something different to unsettle her a few years later. I thought this happened to men!


  42. Artnavy Says:

    very nice

    and the first paragraph sounded like me for a moment - till karthik and the rest happened:-))


  43. dipali Says:

    Very nice, Usha! You brought much to the telling:)


  44. very nice...


  45. Ushaji,
    Very beautifully narrated story:)
    and I have one question.
    I see that you do not believe in Horoscope matching etc from your answer to Siddhu.
    But dont you think there is some truth to it, some science behind it?
    I moved to the US a couple of years ago and after moving here I start understanding our culture a little more since I now had the opportunity to experience other cultures as well and I in that process I started reading about ayurveda, astrology, horscope, why we do things in a certain way etc etc and I did find some merit in horoscopes,atleast it gives you a good place to begin! especially when the girl and the boy have only met a few times or just spoken over the phone.
    your thoughts?


  46. Usha Says:

    Devaki; Rajnigandha - nice songs. May have seen it. But don't remember the story. Will check it out next time it is on air.

    Chox: Planning to write more. True, each of us has a unique story in our lives.

    nrimaami:we demand more details - may be a post of all the interesting things that happened.

    Rambodoc:I think shen was young and the love had been cut short in an unforeseen manner. I suppose this is why she kept pining for what might have been. After this she turned out to be very happy and positive.

    Art: Oh yes and even the name! You do have a beautiful house and a lot of beautiful things in it.

    Dipali: thank you.

    ITW: :) thanks.

    The goodlife: That was my son teasing me because he knows that I do not believe even a shred in horoscopes. My thoughts? I remember doing a post on this sometime back :
    http://agelessbonding.blogspot.com/2007/03/horrorscopes.html


  47. DotThoughts Says:

    how, how true!


  48. remabh Says:

    nice story...

    hmm I feel this is really a coincidence, coz last day one of my close friend (married & living a happy life (may be she is also missing that "romantic" field) was telling me that how she started having dreams about a guy who used to like her (they liked each other but never told).. and she keep wondering how her life wld be if she married that guy instead of her husband. I think I shld fwd this post to her, she will get her answer... :)


  49. beautifully written!!! a sad story but a reality check!