It was a Monday midnight and we had just turned off the lights to finally wind down to sleep when the phone rang. We got up from the bed, startled. The first question that always comes to mind when the phone rings at this unearthly hour is, “Is everything okay back home?” Although it is day time in India, our family back there knows that it is midnight in the US, so they would not call unless it is an emergency. As I picked up the phone nervously, my husband woke up and hastily put the speaker phone on. Suniti, our friend’s wife was on the line, sobbing. Though we were trifle relieved that the call was not from India, we were still worried about what had happened to Suniti.
“K is in the jail I put him there”, she stammered between the sobs.
Hubby and I were stunned and for a while did not know what to say. K was one of our closest friends and almost like a brother to me. Hearing that he was in trouble, got us both worried. Hubby asked Suniti to calm down and tell him exactly what happened.
“He hit me and I called the police”, she stammered on, “they have taken him away to jail” she said.
“Is he okay? Do you want me to sign a bail for him?” Hubby asked slowly, still trying to calm her down.
“No” Suniti replied fervently “Let him get his punishment. This is not the first time he has hit me.” She began crying again and I stared at the phone, agape.
“Are you alright? Are you hurt?” Hubby asked her, hiding his own astonishment.
“I am okay she said, I just called you so that you know” She said “I am at my friend’s place right now.” She informed.
Hubby asked her to keep her cool and to try to get some rest. He assured her we would talk about this more in the morning.
He hung up the phone and sat down, exhausted from his own effort of keeping calm. We both sat staring at the floor, letting this sink in. K was very close to us and his marriage with Suniti seemed to be the best thing that had happened to him. It was only last week that K and Suniti had come to our place to announce their pregnancy. They looked so happy together, teasing each other, arguing and agreeing while dreaming about their new house. We were so happy for them and now this event put an altogether different light on their marriage. It just did not make any sense.
Several possibilities crossed our minds. Is she lying? Is she saying this out of anger? Is she blowing it out of proportion, making a simple argument look like abuse? We were both entirely confused at that time, so we decided that we will make any judgment only after talking to Suniti in person. I slept fitfully that night and was restless the entire next day until her friends brought a still shaken Suniti over to our house. We had also informed some of our other close friends and requested them to come to our house as well.
As everyone entered into our house one by one, the tension in the room was palpable. After the initial pleasantries were over, we all sat around the dining table grimly, unsure how to start the conversation. Suniti was sobbing softly and her friend and I were sitting besides her, trying to comfort her. Hubby finally broke the silence and asked Suniti to tell us again what happened.
She sighed deeply and said, “He hit me because I forgot to cut the coupons from the newspaper”
“I was not feeling well and did not even look at the newspaper. When he reminded me I apologized and promised him I would do it right away. He nodded his head and went back to the bedroom and suddenly came out and started hitting me.”
“I endured it for a while. But when he kicked me and pulled my hair so hard that a lock came out in his hands, I decided I could not take it anymore, especially since I was pregnant. I escaped his beatings somehow, scrambled to the phone and called the police.”
“He did not quite believe that I had actually called the cops. But somehow, he did stop hitting me. However, he just left me crying there and went inside and sat in front of the computer as if nothing happened. After a while the cops came and then he realized what was going on. Once they handcuffed him, he started crying and begging me to ask them let him go.”
“I said nothing, just answered the questions that the police asked me. Then they took him away.” She recalled
But this was not the only incident, she told us, and began telling us about other horrific events in the past. Contrary to the picture that K had carefully crafted in front of us, Suniti’s and K’s marriage had been a story of incessant abuse, scathing insults and constant humiliation. For two and half years, Suniti’s individuality and her freedom of spirit had been beaten out of her. The beatings needed no logical reason. Anything from not putting things in the ‘right’ place to suggesting to buy an expensive item would suffice. Sometimes he would start hitting her while she was asleep. She was constantly put to test and compared with other women. Her shortfalls were pointed out with searing insults and her opinions were snubbed with relish.
Tears welled up in our eyes as we heard her chronicles of enormous physical and mental abuse. But what was perhaps more tragic was that she was telling it in such a matter of fact way as if her tears were spent and her emotions had been deadened. It had happened to such an extent and so many times that she was even able let a wry smile play on her lips while she described some of the illogical reasons for which she had been beaten up.
All alone in a new country, with her family and friends far away and the only person who should have supported her, actually abusing her, Suniti was indeed in a dismal state. She was given no money or credit cards so was completely dependant on K financially. She was terrified of speaking to anyone. She did not have many friends, but if she conversed with anyone she knew, K made her tell every bit of their conversation and swear that she will not tell anyone about her abuse. She was allowed at most one short phone call to her family in a month, that too on a speaker phone. She could have talked to us, but being K’s friends she was not sure if we would believe her. All along, Suniti was crushing under the weight of her own helplessness.
It is not as if Suniti is uneducated. She holds a graduate degree from India and had been working as a business executive in a prestigious firm for over three years. But what remained now of the independent dynamic professional after two and half years of constant abuse was a stuttering and stammering, diffident and confused girl whose life was quickly slipping by from her fingers. Suniti did not recognize herself anymore.
Suniti’s story made us all numb. We had known K for over seven years and would have sworn by his gentle manners, self control and meticulous attention to detail. Not once had he lost his temper and used fowl words or behaved unreasonably in front of us. And here Suniti was showing us a picture of a completely different man - cruel beyond reason. Can one man really lead two entirely different lives?
We were sympathetic to Suniti but K was our friend for so long. It would have been unfair to pass a judgment without knowing his side of the story. Besides, as friends we wanted the best for them both. So, we arranged a meeting for the next day between K and Suniti at K’s house.
The next day while coming to K’s house Suniti was calmer and looked much more in control. We stood outside K’s apartment nervously, and rang the doorbell. In a while, K opened the door. As we entered his house one by one, he stood in the hallway with his hair disheveled, his eyes puffy and a meek and tormented expression on his face.
When we all sat down K was livid and began sobbing. We all sat quietly giving him time to calm down. After a while, he looked up and hesitantly asked Suniti what she wanted to do now and they began to talk.
There is no other battlefield like the battlefield of love for the first casualties in the carnage are your tender moments and unopened dreams. When two people who are supposed to be the most intimate with each other get entangled in the mire of accusations and counter accusations the strife is ruthless. There is nothing more humiliating than having your innards exposed; your most intimate details laid bare and little quirks of your personality morphed into monstrous aberrations. As we all hung our heads in embarrassment, witnessing, against our wish, the dissection of their marriage, each one of us realized what a sacred bond marriage really was and oh so delicate!
To our amazement, K accepted every incident of abuse as Suniti described it.
It seemed as if he has seen for the first time in his life, all the events in their entirety. He seemed to have never realized the multitude of the incidents or their seriousness. For him, this was a normal course of life, he was doing to his wife what his father did to his mother, what his uncles and brothers did to their own wives. We were aghast to know that abuse was an everyday occurrence in K’s family. He could actually abuse his wife and forget about it at that instant.
In the end of it all, Suniti declared that she was going to ask for a divorce and have an abortion and K was shocked. He did not believe it would come to this. He still thought that he could convince Suniti to come home and life would be like it had been before. He just could not fathom how deeply Suniti was hurt. K begged and pleaded Suniti to reconsider her decision. He assured her he will change, that he has understood his mistake and that he will never do this again.
Suniti sat through K’s livid speech as if frozen. Not one word of this seemed to reach her stony heart. After a while, she just got up and walked out saying that she had enough and that she was sure what she was going to do next. We were all awestruck by Suniti’s steely resolve. K had put up such an emotional scene that even our sympathies were swaying towards him. But Suniti seemed unfazed. How did this meek, suffering girl muster the strength to finally stand up and fight back? Was she not aware of the daunting challenges she faced? No one could understand this but we all rallied in her support and left K’s apartment.
Suniti seemed to have made her decision, but her struggle had only begun. I only hoped that she even aware of what lay in front of her. She had walked out of her house in a foreign country with no money in her hands, no assurance of shelter for her friends were moving away soon, no job, a dark, uncertain future and a two month old fetus in her womb. As she walked down the stairs, her back straight, her head held up, her eyes looking far away, she looked so strong yet so vulnerable. Does desperation give us enough strength to jump unperturbed into the chasm of uncertainty? Does anger have enough strength to stoke the future? What Suniti went through in the coming days answered some of these questions and raised some even more difficult ones.
To be continued…….