Chapter 3: The Wife Who Leads
This is her story too.
The account of Laxman’s life is incomplete without her. Who she was before she met him, who she became after she met him and who she is now is force far stronger than anything else that shapes Laxman.
‘I miss you,’ he says, as she stirs in bed because of the aroma of the coffee.
She smiles half a smile with her half open eyes communicating the struggle between balancing her sleepiness and Laxman’s expectation. His day starts, before he has had the first sip of his coffee.
She sits up, still under the sheets and they drink their coffee in a comfortable quiet, her still in bed under the covers and him sitting next to her on the edge of the bed. It has taken them several years of being together to understand that the quiet is their friend. It lets them enjoy the best of what they like about each other, without letting it be polluted by their words. This quiet is the stillness that lets their love rise up and engulf them.
‘Didn’t you say that you never want to half ass anything?’ she says, sleepily.
‘That was a long time ago,’ he says.
‘It still applies, so I would recommend that you move your ass over here. You don’t have to sit so uncomfortably.’ Her smile is full now.
Laxman smiles and obliges. His back touches her leg under the cover and sends a familiar warmth up his spine. He closes his eyes and imagines his heart being engulfed in the warmth and his anxiety submerged in it. ‘What do you want to do today?’
‘Read my book,’ she says without hesitating.
‘Ok, I’ll read too. We can go out and get breakfast too.’
‘And better coffee.’
‘A never ending quest,’ Laxman says. ‘Just accept that mine is the best.’
‘Instant coffee is the best?’
Laxman shrugs and they both laugh, soundlessly.
Her name is Srishti. As far as inheriting the destiny that her name foretold, she epitomizes the theory: she was his world. But that would be taking away from her agency. She is not because Laxman thinks, a corollary to Laxman thinks therefore she is. The descriptor of ‘Laxman’s wife’, while probably one of the most beautiful aspect of Laxman’s life, does not begin to explain her identity.
Wife is a simple enough word, if not for all the layers in enfolds. A cultural context, a meaning ascribed unthinkingly and unknowingly. A big part of her life and its struggle is about navigating these implied meanings and the context. It is then imperative to take a few words to understand Srishti.
Seemingly cold but incredibly warm probably begins to describe her nicely. Yes, let’s start like this. Srishti believes that people need to earn a place in your life and that it’s too valuable a spot to be given away just like that. When people meet her for the first time she opens an unconscious tab. As they spend time with her, there’s continuous unspoken debit and credit being managed in the tab. Hence the seemingly cold.
Once the balance in the tab becomes enough, she is open to explore investing in them. In Laxman’s case, it had earned him something like a date. In other cases, it can be personal conversations over drinks or dinner, or an evening spent dancing at a club.
If she has to go straight into a conversation with someone she has not had the time to gauge through the meticulous credit and debit process, she is a complete wreck. She is likely to come across as catatonic, that’s how disengaged she can be from the proceedings of such rendezvous.
In the normal course of events, however, and over the course of the evening she takes out time to consider investing in you, if you continue to build your credit, you might qualify as more than an acquaintance. And so things are given a chance to build further.
But an important thing here is to not confuse the process with an entrance exam. You can’t celebrate once you’ve cleared and gotten through. Ok fine, you can celebrate — as much as one celebrates a milestone, compared with the destination — but it’s not over. The debit and credit process from the tab will continue ad infinitum. But after clearing the initial hurdle, she lets people take loans: negative balances in the tab are allowed as long as there are time bound credits made back into the tab.
To be her friend is to be in her inner circle of people, a spot that is neither easily given nor easily maintained, but a spot that she cherishes and values more than most. Hence the incredibly warm.
Laxman to her was a superhero who could have done no wrong, not very many years ago. She chose him for the most valuable spot in her life, of which she knew there was ever going to be only one, not very many years ago.
They get ready in thirty minutes which entails bumping into each other several times.
Srishti is what one might call ‘successful’ in the conventional sense. She is doing well on her job and doing more than what most middle-aged people do. She is a Director at one of the biggest multinational consulting companies. But that’s just a title, if you asked Srishti. For her, every day is a challenge and a struggle. She doesn’t stop to consider even for a moment if she is successful. That’s a moot label, one that she doesn’t believe in. The world creates many binaries to understand others: successful or failure, being one such. These labels, however, don’t necessarily mean much to people these labels are meant for. Sure, they help simplify things from afar and for strangers, mostly — ones who don’t have the time or energy to invest in understanding the details of another’s circumstances. They help bring order to what could easily be chaotic in a world without labels. You look at someone or hear about them and they are already being shredded into bits that can neatly go into the buckets in your brain. And you can rarely reassemble the shreds to make the person whole again in your brain.
Simplification is the need of the hour when our lives are ‘rich’ with the thousands of people we get to ‘meet’ these days. Is that why people surprise us all the time? Wonder if they would still be able to surprise us if we didn’t expect them to follow the behavior trends we anticipate of them based on our limited understanding of them.
Have we finally chosen quantity over quality as a society? Superficial understanding of many things, many people, has become a virtue at the cost of understanding a few things, few people, really well. A few stupid people, however, don’t get it. At least not yet. The pressure of not being this brand of stupid however can lead to anxiety. The perks of being this brand of stupid allows you to have empathy and not be zingy.
But beyond that simplification associated convenience, or arguably a socially permissible laziness, the labels don’t have much value for the people to whom these labels are ascribed.
While brushing her teeth, she thinks about the client deliverable she has next week, the meeting on Tuesday to pitch new business to an old client, the internal funnel that she is working on for new clients and the update call with her boss on the same on Thursday. She considers getting out of the trip to South Africa on Wednesday for the conference but realizes that it would really help in getting a move on the funnel and is a great opportunity to meet new people, the potential clients. Plus the organizers have already put out the agenda. It would be unprofessional to back out given that she agreed to be the moderator on a panel discussion and a panelist for another, weeks ago. She nods to reaffirm that she can manage it all. She mentally revisits the gantt chart of the variety of moving pieces that the different teams are working on to ensure nothing slips through the cracks. She takes out her phone to check if she has any updates from her team. There’s only one team that has shared an update and she drops a quick note to the others for the same.
She sees another request from a team lead on the Western Sands project to check and approve the client contract. She does that on the toilet.
While showering, she plays music and let’s her mind relax for 15 minutes when she cannot be doing anything else — lest she damage her phone or tablet or laptop. Thankfully, they are not provided waterproof gadgets at work yet.
A knock at the door. ‘Are you almost done?’
‘Another 5 minutes. Why?’ A tone that suggests struggle; the struggle of suppressing irritation.
‘No reason,’ Laxman says. ‘Just getting bored here. Come quickly!’
An unseen smile in the shower; the irritation being washed away.
She remembers how she met Laxman. She knows his version where he fell in love with her during the first dance class, but for her that was just the start of things. There was something apart from the obvious infatuation in his eyes, his shyness in holding her for the dance or his heart which was beating as if to jump out of his chest. It was his earnestness and the idealism of his unspoken dreams that had got her interested, not very many years ago.
She steps out of the shower and sees Laxman relieved. She kisses him on the cheek. ‘Not doing anything fancy. I’ll be ready in 5 minutes.’
As she gets dressed, she thinks about all the walks with him on campus; they had done that every day without fail after their classes, talking about sundry things. The role of dreams in religion and the role of religion in aspirations. The role of theory in the practical and the role of the practical in hypotheses. The role of belief in outcomes and that of outcomes of the past in one’s belief system…
In their ramblings she had found the little that she needed from another person to fall in love. His ability to respect her for who she was, his ability to listen patiently without imposing his perspective on her thinking was a superhuman quality that she had searched, but hitherto not found.
She checks out herself in the mirror, wondering if she has gotten fatter. Her weight has not changed in the last 6 months but she worries that she is losing muscles and they are getting converted to fat — maintaining the weight but not the right way to be doing things. She hasn’t been as regular at the gym as she would have liked to be.
‘How do I look?’
Laxman’s training kicks in as he says ‘Wonderful,’ even before he is able to turn to face her.
‘You said that without looking.’
‘No, I looked already. Just reassessed as well. All good.’ He gives her a thumbs up.
‘Not fat no?’
‘Not a bit.’
She is not convinced. She wonders if Laxman is being honest.
Laxman can see that. He wonders why she asks seventy thridiculous times if she doesn’t trust him? At this stage in their relationship, he wouldn’t mind if she just makes up her mind that she does not trust him on this particular issue and stops asking him.
She can see that. She cannot blame him, she realizes. The few occasions when he has taken his time to think and answer, she has suspected him of lying to make her feel good because he took too long to respond.
He can see that. He realizes that he never wants her to stop asking him.
There’s an unsaid apology in half a smile exchanged between the two. She picks up the car keys and leads the way out of the house.
‘Where are we going?’
‘I found a new place on Little Black Book. Supposed to have amazing coastal cuisine breakfast.’ Somewhere in between all the planning and emailing and reviewing, there had been a moment stolen unthinkingly, subconsciously to find a new restaurant recommendation.
‘What about the French place we always go to?’ Laxman is no longer surprised that Srishti does all that she does in the time it takes him to finish his coffee while reading the newspaper.
‘Always? You mean the last 3 times?’
‘Yes, I thought we had found our place. You know the one where we walk in and everyone knows us already and smiles and brings out the usual without us having to say anything.’
‘Oh,’ Srishti says, pausing to turn the key in the ignition. ‘You don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but you expect them to remember not just your name but also your order?’
Try hard as he may, Laxman cannot recall the name of the restaurant.
‘Bistro du Parc,’ she says.
‘It was just at the tip of my tongue,’ Laxman lies casually.
He shows her the tip of his tongue, ‘See!’ he says. ‘I am not lying.’ He grins.
‘I’d really like to try this new place. But we can do it some other time, if you want to go to the Bistro.’
‘No,’ he says. ‘It’s not that I want to go to the Bistro. I like the idea of our place. It doesn’t matter if we go to the new place today or next time.’
‘What do you want to do then?’ she asks.
‘I just want to have a nice breakfast with you and read and talk about our books,’ he replies, honestly. ‘Let’s go to the new place.’
She nods as she starts the car, not wanting to complicate the simple decision further. In the list of all the worries that she is keeping at bay to have a Sunday morning to herself, she is determined to not let this be the first domino that falls.
Laxman works hard to let it go. His mind is fixated on the idea of having a regular place and he cannot understand how Srishti can not want it too. He starts thinking of the worst — how Srishti knows that he gets anxious in a new place and does not give a shit. How she can completely ignore his few simple wants that are only there to help them simplify things. He is paranoid that she is treating him like one her employees. He fears that her wants trump his needs most of the time.
They are silent, but there’s no quiet. This silence is worse than the pollution of the quiet by their words. But he realizes that it was the words that led them here. It’s just the wreckage after the storm.
Srishti turns on the radio, pulling the car out of the parking spot. La vie on rose is playing on 102.6. They share a brief look and smile. The silence fades away and the quiet gradually starts replacing it. She puts the car in drive and offers him her open hand. Laxman accepts the peace offering with the familiar warmth engulfing his heart. Under the wreckage, the storm does little damage to the foundations. Most of the time.
Some storms, however, can threaten destroy the foundations too. One nearly did, not very many years ago.
Continue to Chapter 4 here.