Monday, March 7, 2011

Chapter 14 - From the Frying Pan into the Fire

Shikha and Philip lived with the latter's parents in Bangalore. The house was a massive one, and Shikha and her husband had a suite to themselves complete with a furnished kitchenette. Sometimes, when Philip felt disinclined to go to the dining room of the house, food was sent to the room where it could be heated or refrigerated.

Shikha felt a little lost in the massive house. Her in-laws were cordial and affectionate to her, and did not deny the space she required, or so she thought in the early days of marriage. A couple of months after the marriage, Shikha started looking out for a job. She had tried to talk to Philip about her plans but he never seemed interested in what she wanted to do. She started sending out applications. When the call for interview came, she told Philip about it. He responded in a non-committal manner.

On the day of the interview, Shikha was sorting out her certificates when breakfast was announced. Not wanting to keep her in-laws waiting, she left the harmonium file on the writing desk in the little office room adjacent to their bedroom where the laptop was kept.

“Shikha is going for a job interview today”; Philip announced abruptly when they were having breakfast. There was something odd about the way Philip made the announcement. He seemed to want to get it out with.

“Why wasn’t I informed earlier?” asked her father-in-law. Shikha called him “daddy” like Philip did. “What job is it?”

“In ICRA. It’s a credit rating agency. They’ve called for an economist” Shikha replied.

“I know ICRA is a credit rating agency”. Daddy was rather rude, she thought. “I could have dropped in a word for you. But, why do you want to work anywhere else. If you want something to do, there’s plenty for you to do in our own concerns”

“No, daddy, I don’t want to do that, nor do I want you to recommend. I think I can manage”, said Shikha. She remembered that Lavanya had warned her about being intimidated by the position and importance of her father-in-law. “At the first opportunity, put your in-laws in their place or they’ll shit on your head”, she had said.

Philip seemed shocked at Shikha’s response to his father. He cast a quick furtive glance at his father who had sat back in his chair, and was looking at Shikha with narrowed eyes.

Shikha looked him straight in the eyes though she could feel butterflies in the stomach. “Shikha”, he said in a cold voice. “These firms drain you. It might be a nine to five job but you’ll end up working twelve hours a day. What’s the need for it? You are just married. You need to spend time for a family life”.

Shikha said nothing, but back in the room she asked Philip what she should do.

“You better listen to daddy. He’ll be offended if you don’t pay any respect to his views. Anyway, they’ll only pay you a pittance. Dad can give you a much better deal”.

“It’s not about money”.

“Then what is it about?” asked her husband impatiently. Shikha looked at him in utter dismay. They didn’t speak the same language, she realized. It was a frightening thought.

“Philip, I want to work. It has something to do with my sense of self worth. I’m going for the interview and am taking up the job if I get it. Please explain to daddy, in case he takes offence”.

“There is no ‘in case’”, said Philip, his voice rising. “He will be furious. He’s not used to people crossing him. And what the hell am I to explain to him? Self worth? You seem to have a lot of feminist ideas”.

Shikha saw red. She threw the file on the table and it knocked down a crystal table clock which broke to smithereens. Philip looked at it disgustedly. “Do what you damn well want to do, and face the music yourself,” he snarled. “Don’t ask me to mediate”, he said, and walked out of the room.

Shikha was dazed. What sort of a man had she married? She then faced the fact that they had not been comfortable with each other right from day one. Philip seemed to want to spend as little time as possible at home. And now this. He can’t even stand up to his father for his wife.

She had a sinking feeling – as though she was falling deeper and deeper into water with air supply being cut off gradually.

She shook herself out of the trance, took the file and put it back in the locker. Turning around at a sound behind her, she found Thimmamma sweeping up the broken pieces of the crystal clock.