“My brothers are perfect fathers and husbands,” Kanta willed herself to stay calm through this routine idealization, briefly locking eyes with Vani, the younger and only other daughter-in-law in the family.
“What is our karma that has brought us into the same clan,” the two would often wonder aloud to each other. They shared the bond of alterity, of being the other, outsiders in a way. But for now, it was self-glorification time for the biological band. “We had a wonderful childhood, everyone is blessed…the two brothers in particular are saints for nurturing their families in so complete a manner,” and so on it would go.
Having heard the aggressive praise once too often, Kanta tuned it out, the exaggerated words becoming a static behind the raw flashes in her mind. Her healer had warned against entering a circular thought pattern of pain with its mortal effect on her cells and tissues but the violent images would not abate.
Kanta’s eye caught a movement. Vani was plucking at her sari fold, caught under Nawab, their golden retriever. The tug intensified, drawing Kanta’s attention to a purple bruise on her pale forearm. “We can help you budget your finances and manage living expenditure smarter so that our brothers are less stressed,” the sister was intoning, as the sari discreetly crept up over what was quite certainly a marital night’s fruit.
“We are a very close knit family, our parents could not have done us any better, our mother stayed alone for our education, our father was a thoroughbred professional,” the folklore continued relentlessly. While the family beamed patronizingly, in a self-conscious bubble of smugness, the two outsiders struggled with force smiles. Centuries of conditioning and a lifetime of Bollywood viewing had rendered them incapable of recognizing abuse.
“Oh, it is nearly four thirty, time for tea and snacks,” the two got up as though on cue, dropping their masks once safely inside the kitchen. Vani held out the bruised arm for Kanta’s inspection, “Last night, there was an argument over house repairs. This building needs constant maintenance……you are fortunate, at least Bhaiyya Ji does not hit.”
Kanta turned away quickly, placing the pan on the gas range, grabbing for the makings of tea. Her wounds were invisible but she carried a chronic sore from her own marital space. Her husband hid so well under the family mantle, his position as the paragon of virtue set in stone. To all appearances he was gentle and thoughtful. She alone knew his secret armour.
He practiced his sabotage from behind a brick wall, unavailable and distant. Her family would have called her crazy if she ever admitted to feeling alone, unimportant and rejected. Who would believe how invisible it felt to be among such a mutual admiration society?