Monday, February 11, 2008

At Vibha's

The house was was dark except for the living room. Sheila could see a flickering television screen through the window. Vibha answered the door right away. "Come in" she said as if they had met last only a week ago. It was a tastefully furnished home without any ostentation. The smell of spices wafted in from the kitchen. Setting the cake on the dining table, Sheila followed Vibha into the kitchen "Smells lovely. What are you cooking ?" she asked. "Nothing much. It's chicken dhansak and rice"

She was on her third glass of wine while Vibha sipped her OJ. "So why did this guy keep calling you if you wouldn't answer the phone ?" Vibha asked puzzled. Sheila was recounting her recent experience involving a man in his late fifties who had once interviewed her on the phone. She had not accepted the job, but the man kept calling her from a private number and never left a message.

The first couple of times she had answered but then she stopped. He called as early as 6:00 a.m. and as late ten in the night. Every once in a while he would email her to say Hi and want to set up time to chat. In exasperation, Sheila asked him to call her one evening just to see what he wanted.

The man just wanted to talk because he found her so engaging. Would she mind chatting with him every once in a while ? He wanted to discuss politics, art, culture, business and music. He was a wonderful conversationalist and a very attentive listener. Sheila did not dislike talking with him but wondered why she must indulge this married man with two college going kids ? He was willing to help and advise her about anything he was able to - investing, buying a home, car stuff and the like. "Talking to you is like talking to a very good friend from the past who you have not met in a long time" he would say to her.

"And what is wrong with that, Shell ? Sounds perfectly innocent to me. Just a lonely middle aged guy needing a friend to talk to sometimes. It's not like he asked to sleep with you. Maybe he was just a tad infatuated but he does sound quite harmless" Vibha asked curiously.

"He made me feel like an entertainer at best like an escort at worst - maybe it was something in between but quite distasteful all the same. Yes, he did not want anything inappropriate but he was demanding that I make time for him in my life just because he wanted it. I never said that I wanted to get to know him socially. You are married Vibs, you can tell what it might be like to be in his wife's shoes. Would you like it if Gaurav was desperate to befriend a woman even if platonically ? You know like out of the blue after interviewing her for a job on the phone which she does not take. Wouldn't you want to know why ? " Sheila asked

Vibha smiled softly "I think I would know what that felt like. Gaurav loves female company but he is not really interested in sleeping around - that would be much too complicated for him. He'd find you very interesting and I won't be surprised at all if he called you sometimes just to say hello and chat for a bit - just like this older man" she said

"Would you expect him to tell you about it ?" Sheila asked

" I could but I don't think it would be useful. In a marriage you need to let the other party let you into their space at their pace and in their style. There will be parts of his life that I won't know about and I suppose its the other way around. For instance, I would not tell him about the mail I sent you. So its only fair that he does not tell him when he called Ramya while driving back home and chatted with her for a whole hour. I could be a petulant wife and ask questions but would it change anything ?" Vibha replied as she got up to serve dinner.

"Are you comfortable being in a marriage where you have parts of yourself blocked out from each other ? Does that not build a wall between the two if you ?" Sheila asked.

"I have found it more useful to become aware of what I do not know about Gaurav than to ferret out what he chooses not to share. It helps me keep my dignity. I also understand what his needs are and if I can fulfill any of them. Ramya for instance is the girl he went to college with. She is a professional dancer now and travels around the world with her troupe. Gaurav and her may have been in a relationship briefly but she's been through many men since then. I've met her a few times. She visited us here for a few days. I've just walked away from their conversations and found something else to do. Gaurav thought I was rude and I told him I don't find her interesting enough to spend a whole weekend with. Since he does, he should keep her company. But I was an excellent hostess. I made sure I took very good care of her while she was here. I made sure she felt welome to come back. She may be here next month" Vibha said as she refilled Sheila's glass of water.

"You mean you made sure neither of them assumed you were jealous" Sheila asked

"You could say that. I guess the key is to rise above the situation. It may start with trying to prove to your partner that you do not feel threatened but in time you should truly grow indifferent. The feeling of security does not come magically. I've had to work hard on myself to get there. I don't mean this in a way that you are no longer interested in the marriage but that you have tuned out all the external noise. Take another helping of the raita" Vibha said

"So how has it worked out ? The dhansak is phenomenal by the way. Give me the recipe before I leave" Sheila said

" Thanks. It's my grandmother's recipe. I don't know how to answer that honestly. I think Gaurav and I are at very different places as far as what we have learned from life. I know for a fact he does not share my world view on the things we've been talking about - he would not know to look for what parts of my life are not visible to him. Instead he will react with anger and resentment when he finds out by accident" Vibha said

" Vibs, you are wise beyond your years. I don't blame him for not being there yet - maybe he'll catch up in time" Sheila said with a laugh.

"One lives in hope. Hey, its time for the Black Forest" she said with a wan smile

"And what happens if he never really makes it ? How long will you wait for him to catch up ?" Sheila asked

"Only time can tell. Making a marriage truly work demands the patience of Job. Otherwise it is quickly reduced to a meangingless co-existense. Some will just carry on just out of inertia, others will get restless and walk away. Its best if both have a lot of patience but it is mandatory for at least one of the two to have it. Its too early to tell which if either of us is Job. Umm.. the cake is delicious. Thanks so much for bringing it !" Vibha replied.

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