“This time, Valentine’s Day falls on the Full Moon, you’ll find your soul mate tonight.”
The year was 1997, the movie was ‘Dil To Pagal Hai’ and she was in college, all of nineteen.
She sighed, ever since higher secondary, the damned day had always been The Rose Day. Eagerly awaited by some, awfully dreaded by her. Because, a stout, dark-skinned, geeky, bespectacled girl didn’t quite fit into the societal norms of popularity among the opposite gender. At least that was what she was made to believe all her life. So full moon or not, there she was. No rose and no valentine, whatsoever.
But someday, he would come along, her prince charming, who would eventually love her for what she was, a so-called average girl.
Well, he did. Her averageness had been a cause of concern for her parents, so the arranged marriage agencies in the family worked overtime, to churn out the perfect groom, well-fitting into the definition of a suitable boy.
The alliance turned out to be a success, after all, they fell head over heels in love. The first-time serious relationship for both, the love after marriage-concept had worked perfectly. Kisses, cuddles, mini honeymoons, she was living the dream.
Lo and behold, less than a year into the marriage and it was Valentine’s Day, her first one post-marriage. And she did receive her first Valentine’s Gift, a pair of crystal earrings, none less.
As she tried them on and posed before him, she popped a sweet and silly question, “Aren’t you afraid, other men would ogle at me if I look so beautiful?”
“Oh I have no such worries, nobody would look at you.” He replied in a matter-of-fact manner.
That stayed with her forever, she had wept into the pillow every other night initially. Though he had covered up calling it just a joke, the wound had remained fresh for quite some time. Just when she had gained some assurance in her appearance, he had pushed her back into her world of insecurities.
To heal from the hurt, she decided to let it be a joke. They had welcomed a baby by the next Valentine’s Day and amidst all frustration and weariness of nursing to a baby, she looked forward to a little celebration. She ventured out with her child and stroller when he was in office, purchasing all kinds of little somethings for men. She cooked a nice meal too, the baby was surprisingly calm that day.
He returned with an expensive dress and she excitedly sprung all her surprises on him.
“Look!” She pouted, “I got you more!”
“Yes, of course, all of that, with my money!” He winked.
She froze, too stunned to respond.
“Hey, it’s a joke.” He cupped her face and kissed her.
Wasn’t it he, who had wanted a non-working wife, so she could focus on family and children?
Though it had upset her terribly, she soon realized, his jibe had been his greatest gift. When her child began preschool, she found work. He hadn’t been too happy but he let it be. And she refrained from getting him anything, ever.
Many a Valentine’s Day came and went, and so did the presents. Branded clothes, accessories, ornaments, and high heels, because he loathed the ones she shopped without his approval. Her choice was trashy, his was classy, yeah, that’s what he believed. The saris and jewels her parents got for her sometimes would remain tucked away somewhere in her wardrobe.
And there was that one time when he confessed why he repeated his presents.
“There’s no point buying you kitchen appliances, you despise cooking, don’t you? It figures, from what you serve at the table.” He had smiled
Her tenth post-marriage Valentine’s Day, was a Sunday and he planned to make a romantic date of it. The diamond jewellery set was neatly placed beside the tea bags and she had to hand it to him, it was exquisite. But she wasn’t all that excited, she couldn’t fathom why.
“Aren’t you glad? Why don’t you try them on? They’re diamonds and they cost me a bomb. And look at you, hardly any appreciation.” He grumbled.
“You talk about appreciation, well it’s give and take. Have you ever appreciated me for anything I do?” She retorted.
He got up with a start and flung the newspaper to the floor, “All right, starting today, every night before bed, I’ll appreciate you for ten minutes. Enough?”
He wore his jeans, and stomped off, banging the door behind him.
Neither did she nor her kid react, his shouting, blaming, flinging, and walking off had become commonplace in the last decade. Everything she did, bought, or talked about seemed to annoy him. He called it work stress. There was a time when she reacted, wept, and argued, but she had given it up of late, she was tired. He would go to any length to win an argument and somehow, she was branded the villain in the end. Valentine’s Days, birthdays, and anniversaries would pass off calmly, but this year the blame game had spilled over to the 14th of February.
So today she quietly picked up the paper and carefully placed the diamond box in the safe. She was in no mood to wear or flaunt it. And one look at her stuff, she could see how she had moulded herself totally, in accordance with her husband’s picks.
Not that she hadn’t talked about his anger issues, she did consult her mother. The advice was quick and prompt,
“He doesn’t slap or abuse you. He’s venting out his tension, he’s working hard these days. But your constant alterations aren’t good for your child, so I would rather, you don’t give your husband a chance to get angry. Of course, if he ever lays his hands on you, tell me immediately.”
So, she had to wait for the slap to land…
“I’ve been offered an onsite assignment for three years, there’s a promotion and the pay is really good. If I accept it, I’ll be leaving in three months.” He casually mentioned a few days after the Valentine fiasco.
“How do I apply for leave, what about his school? How can you just spring it on me like this?” She was flabbergasted
“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll be traveling alone. The fly-back policy is very good, once every three months. Moreover, your kind of parenting will land us in jail there.” He tapped her head in jest.
She was a bad parent as well.
Her workplace planned to celebrate Blue Sari Day as a part of the cultural week and she found herself in a fix. Because as she rummaged through her wardrobe, she could hardly find anything in blue. He had maintained that blue didn’t suit her skin tone, and that had been the end of the story. She opened her old sari boxes and fished out a navy blue Kanjeevaram Sari. Well, she had no other option, so she draped that the next day, pairing it with her mother’s traditional jewellery.
She examined herself in the full-length mirror and she couldn’t take her eyes off herself. Staring back was a relaxed, refreshed, smiling, and confident woman How had she not liked the reflection in the mirror for all this time? Nothing had changed after all, except…
She was flooded with compliments in her workplace, it was rarely that she decked up for any occasion. She was in high spirits all day when the phone rang
She moved away from her group to answer the video call.
“You went to work dressed like that? Flowers in your hair, bangles jingling, it’s as if you’re at some marriage party. That colour, how many times…”
She cut the call, no, he wouldn’t spoil her day, nobody would. Well, there was no guilt involved, he would often cut her calls in the middle of an argument he started, in the name of nagging.
A flurry of apology messages followed, but she didn’t reply. She was done for the day.
“Where have you been?” He shouted over the phone, “It’s past midnight here, but I wanted to wish you first thing in the morning. Happy Valentine’s Day!”
“I was sleeping” She yawned. “The kid left for coaching class early, and I’m taking the day off.”
“So how does it feel to celebrate the day without me? We could have gone for brunch or dinner.” He tried to sound romantic.
She made no attempt, “Yes, and you could have mocked my taste or voracious appetite later.” She scoffed.
He chose to ignore her, “By the way, your gift has been delivered to their branch nearby. They would be unable to deliver it home. So would pick it up?”
“No!” She quipped, “I’ll do it tomorrow on my way back from work. I have loads planned for today.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m slogging all alone here like a mule, and you are too busy. And plans for the day, like what? Sleeping and eating? You excel in both by the way” He blended his humour with sarcasm, as usual.
“Precisely. Good night.” She ended the conversation
She arose really late, splashing cold water over her face, she smiled at herself in the mirror. A whole day to herself after long. Husband at work, kid at school, the house and the television for her.
She cooked some noodles and plonked herself on the sofa in front of the t.v.
She browsed through Youtube for some songs, and she bumped into the song again, the Valentine’s Day special.
“Chand ne Kuch Kaha…Raat ne Kuch Suna”
Madhuri Dixit danced in circles, heart-shaped balloons floating around, waiting for her valentine.
She laughed to herself. It was more than fifteen years, but she too had found true love eventually.
Love for oneself, love for herself.
In fact, for the very first time in her life, she was proud. Why wouldn’t she be? She was a woman, who juggled work and home efficiently, tended to her pre-teen son and his needs all by herself, enjoyed dressing up in whatever attire and colour she preferred, experimented with her accessories, walked, jogged, sang, danced, breathed, lived…she was everything that she wanted
For too long had she held on to someone else for her share of happiness, for years she had waited for strangers out there to appreciate and compliment her. For what, her physical persona? Why would she even care what a random person thought of her, she loved what she looked like. And no more would she let them bog her down.
All this while, she had the world at her footsteps, a sky full of love and joy in her heart. She had only discovered it now. Well, it’s never too late.
Now on, she would make it up for all those wasted 14th Februarys and Rose Days, she was the happiest today, solo and free. Nobody to judge her looks, no gifts to hide her so-called debilities, and no man to steal her peace of mind.
She opened the shopping app on her phone, it was Valentine’s Day with plenty of offers and discounts! She would splurge on herself, purchase whatever she liked, with her money and her choice.
She clicked the Select Button.