“(All) she is, (the immigrant who has come as a wife) is a wife, and a wife is alone for many, many hours. There will come a day when even books are powerless to distract. When the house and its conveniences can no longer completely charm or compensate.”
I haven’t read the book yet but this line from Manju Kapur’s ‘The Immigrant’ (excerpted from a review, so I don’t know the context and this post is simply my interpretation of the line) brought back some bitter-sweet memories for me. I wrote about my first married home sometime back, remember? Notice how I didn’t write much about my experiences from those days? I didn’t want to cloud a feel-good post with my ambivalent feelings from that time.
So there I was, a 23 year old girl and 15 day old bride, traveling alone to a faraway land, thousands of miles away from her family, to spend some time with her husband. 3 months to be precise, which was the duration of extended leave my then employer had very graciously allowed me post-marriage.
The husband was waiting to pick me up at the airport, a huge bunch of flowers in hand, flowers I would give an arm and leg for today but happily ignored in my sleepy and dog-tired state that night. The poor guy must have been puzzled with my non-reaction but was too happy to care perhaps. Dazed but very excited to be together at last, we stopped enroute at his former roomie’s place for a quick dinner before driving home and crashing for the night, oblivious to our surroundings.
The next morning, a bright September Saturday, I woke up to find empty white walls surrounding me. ‘Don’t you worry, I have the furniture stacked up somewhere, we just need to arrange it’, the husband assured me. So we got up and proceeded to do just that. The weekend passed by in a whirlwind of happy activity – furniture was arranged (and re-arranged!), pictures were put up, my bags were unpacked and the kitchen was cleaned and stocked and the first cooking experiment commenced – the most important task in the husband’s book of course!
We spent a romantic few hours relaxing in our beautifully done up home on Sunday night. It was a wonderful time, we held hands and chatted and smiled and teased each other, savoring every moment of being together in our own home – OUR OWN REAL HOME – we laughed, a childlike gleam in our eyes.
And then the husband left for work early next morning. Did I cook breakfast for him that first morning or did I wake up just in time to see him off? I can’t remember. But I do remember the loneliness that set in the moment he left. Not on that first day perhaps or the day after that, but in a few days time I was bored out of my wits!
True, the free time and complete independence felt like a new toy at first. I was thrilled to wake up whenever I pleased and laze around in bed till noon and I was happy to cook Maggi for lunch or skip lunch altogether and polish off a box of cookies instead. I devoured library books at a rate that alarmed the librarian and I cringe at the thought now, but I must have watched every episode of ‘Divorce Court’ and ‘Oprah’ and ‘House Hunters’ in the three months I was home.
And then I discovered, much to my horror, that lazing around can get boring after a while too! I found myself longing to accompany the husband to office one day. (We worked for the same employer even then but I had to stay at home since I didn’t have a work visa for the US.) And I, the happy loner and introvert, started to long for company. I found myself calling up distant relatives in the US and pinging my friends and family at all sorts of crazy hours on the internet.
I took to sitting on our porch smiling at random faces walking by, hoping one of them would stop and chat with me for a while. The prospect of a long afternoon nap or a solitary evening walk enjoying the gorgeous fall scenery around us no longer appealed to me. Much to my disbelief, the charms of books started to wear off too.
I tried nagging the husband, ‘Don’t you know more people in this place? Someone who stays at home? Why don’t you ask around in office?’ ‘I thought you wanted to be left alone to enjoy the peace and quiet during your break?’, the husband grinned, gloating at the prospect of being proved right after all.
So how did this transformation take place? How could a self-confessed lazy bum like me long to go back to work? How did I change from a leave-me-alone-with-my-books person to a lets-go-out-and-make-new-friends one? As a child I envied my mother staying back home when I went to school. Lucky Aai, free to do as she pleases all day, I always thought. I’m not so sure about the lucky part today. Stay-at-home might work well for some folks, but it is not for me, I now realize. I can’t imagine working from home even.
I spent the last few weeks of those three months counting days till I could go back to Pune and resume work again. Back home, I missed the husband of course, but he joined me in Pune a couple of months later. We then stayed in Pune for the next eight months before the husband was asked to travel to the US for work again. This time I was adamant I’d travel on a work visa alone. So we endured some more months of separation before finally making it here, our lovely home for the last two years now. I don’t find time to watch ‘Divorce Court’ these days, but I don’t think I am missing much, am I?
The past two years have been amazing with the two of us working and commuting together, coming home and cooking and cleaning (in some measure!) together, taking long walks, squabbling, hiking and watching late night movies over the weekend together. (Yes, yes, I realize we crowd each other a bit!)
Of course, all this and more was also possible when I was home and had so much time on hand, but a certain spark was missing then. I felt so bored and disoriented being home alone all day that I was in no mood to have fun in the evenings either! And the lack of income and social recognition played havoc with my self esteem too.
We all need social interaction. A little gossip, a short afternoon walk, some laughs and a few anecdotes shared, details of weekend escapades recounted, a cup of coffee shared, a goodnatured hello and a simple smile being sent your way. It’s not as if I talk to people in office througout the day (I am a software programmer after all!) but these little things are enough to spice up my day. I love to dress up for work and imagine the quips I can expect to hear when I choose a shocking pink tee on Friday.
And I hate to admit it, but I like the way the office routine structures my day and jolts me out of my natural state of inaction. (I am the perfect example of Newton’s first law – I like to keep going when in action but only an earthquake could hope to move me on one of my lazy days off!)
Being home and making constructive and enjoyable use of one’s time, on the other hand, requires imagination and initiative. One needs to be self-motivated and have different interests and lots of friends. I truly admire people who can successfully manage to stay home and be active and happy.
Me – the lazy bum that I am – I need to be cajoled and pushed along all the way! Perhaps living in a more cohesive society like India’s might be different but social pressures in India are a different ballgame altogether, one I don’t really care to tackle right now. My most important concern for now is this – would things be different if I stay home to care for my child, which is what I hope to do when the time comes? I sure hope so, for the child’s sake, poor dear! And I know I really need to work on my social skills for that.
For now, though, I am happy to crib about office every Monday morning and look forward to the weekend starting sometime on Wednesday afternoon!
P.S. Any ideas where can I get hold of ‘The Immigrant’ in the US? I couldn’t find it on Amazon or Barnes&Nobles and after Chandni’s post, I am SO eager to read it NOW!