Kyra woke up excited. This was the morning after her wedding and she couldn’t wait to begin her new life. Kyra and her husband Ram chose to live with his parents; Kyra was thrilled – she had her own home, finally. She had waited really long to find her prince charming, and finally at 30 she met her proverbial Knight In Shining Armour and after a torrid 6 month affair, settled down to wedded bliss.
She glanced at the clock, 6 a.m. She shook Ram up gently to wake him. After freshening up and changing into a sari, she walked downstairs.
She found her father-in-law reading the newspaper. After greeting Appa, she walked to the kitchen to help her mother-in-law. Amma gently refused Kyra’s help, asking her to read the paper instead, since everything was taken care of. Not knowing what to do, Kyra returned to the living room to read the paper. She thought to herself how considerate her in-laws were, not tasking her with the traditional daughter-in-law duties. The family seemed to be quite contemporary judging by Ram’s attitude over the last few months.
After breakfast, Ram left to office and Kyra decided to unpack. Amma came into the room and asked to see her saris and jewels. She seemed to be concerned about the safety of the latter. Kyra showed her the saris and told Amma that the jewels were put in the bank locker before the wedding, since she wasn’t sure what to do with them. Amma asked about the wedding money, stressing on how it would be better for Kyra to keep it locked away. Kyra reassured her that her parents had deposited it in her local bank account. She asked Amma if she thought she should bring the jewels to the house. Amma said that she should, especially since the relatives would want to see them.
Leaving Kyra to unpack, Amma left the room after informing her that she would be out all day. Kyra unpacked and then stepped out of the house to get the jewels from the bank. In the evening she told Amma that she had brought the jewels home. Amma oohed and aahed over them and told Kyra that she would keep it safely until Kyra had time to go to the bank again.
A new routine set in. Ram returned only around 7 in the evening. The first few days he had been rather sweet. They would dine with Appa and Amma and then take a walk in the neighbourhood. They would wish Amma goodnight as she watched her usual TV serials and snuggle up in bed together. Life seemed to be perfect. Within a week things began to change. Ram gradually turned surly and moody and in a matter of weeks was completely cold.
Kyra was bewildered at the change in attitude. Ram wouldn’t speak to her at all. He refused to respond to her questions and just gave her the cold shoulder all the time.
A new, strange routine set in. It was eerie how every day was almost the same. Ram would bathe and change into his office clothes at 7 a.m. and then leave to work around 8:30 a.m. after the family ate breakfast together at 8 a.m. Nobody seemed to find it strange that Ram and she never spoke to each other or had stopped going for their nightly strolls. Ram would sit downstairs with his mother as she watched TV after dinner and order Kyra up to bed.
The first few days Kyra attempted to enter the kitchen to help her mother-in-law resulted in a vicious lash of temper. “Get out of here. This is my domain, you hear me? I don’t need your bloody help. And don’t you dare complain about it either, if you know what’s good for you.”
Kyra trembled through the first few weeks, fear, anxiety and doubt gripping her mind. She felt helpless as she didn’t know the reason behind her mother-in-law’s anger. Ram’s behaviour only added to the mystery.
Amma’s attitude was the most puzzling. She would walk into the dining room smiling. Kyra was still bemused with the switch in her manner from the kitchen to the dining room. Was there something wrong with the kitchen air that turned Amma into a witch of sorts? In the dining room Amma was the epitome of sweetness and caring.
With nothing better to do Kyra would go up to her room and read. She couldn’t fathom the reason behind Amma’s animosity. Probably menopause, she thought as she counted the days before she could get into work again. She was still on leave from her job so she really had nothing to do.
Kyra ate lunch alone as Amma had to go out every day. Appa came home at 6 p.m. and retired to his room after speaking briefly to Kyra. He ate dinner in his room, which the servant took in.
Ram started returning home later and later every night. He was rarely home before 9:30 p.m., usually coming in only at 10 p.m. Over the last month he hadn’t bothered to speak to her at all. He would just wash up and go downstairs to eat dinner. He would sleep only around 1 a.m. these days. Kyra rose from bed whenever he came into the room. He ignored her and went to wash up. He got under the covers and turned his back to her.
Kyra shed silent tears and cried every night for about month. All attempts to speak to Ram were met with stony silence.
One day, Kyra resolved to sort out whatever issue there was between Ram and her, and her and Amma. She tackled Ram first, begging him to tell him what the issue was and why he was so rude.
“You want to know what’s wrong. Well, here’s what. You don’t do any work in this house. Amma is getting old and you don’t even bother to help. All you do is sit in this room and read. What’s the point? I made a mistake in marrying you.”
Kyra pleaded with him. She told him about Amma’s behaviour. Ram was livid. He grabbed her hands and dragged her out of the room to Amma. Kyra’s arm hurt badly and within seconds there were bruises. On confronting Amma about Kyra’s involvement in household duties, Amma merely said that Kyra was still new and she could take as much time as she needed to get used to the new household.
Kyra asked Amma tentatively to tell Ram the truth that Amma had refused her help. Hearing that Ram lashed out at Kyra, “Bloody bitch. Don’t you dare speak to my mother like that. I’ll kill you.” Ram walked to her and raised him arm to strike her.
Amma ran up and threw herself in the way. “Stop Ram. What are you doing?”
Ram just walked out of the house, got into his car and drove away.
Kyra’s knees gave way as she sat down. She was in shock. She looked at Amma and asked her tearfully why she had lied to Ram. Amma just walked away.
Kyra could see her marriage collapsing in front of her and she didn’t know what to do. She decided to do anything...everything to save her marriage. She tried to talk to Ram. She tried to make him see how Amma was manipulating the situation. She saw the scheming plots that her mother-in-law wove but still couldn’t fathom the reason for it. She started doing the household chores even though Amma yelled at her.
Over a period of time Kyra saw the truth unfold. Amma did not like the fact that Ram had a wife. She did not want Ram spending time with Kyra. She wanted Ram all to herself. Ram, sadly, could not see his mother at fault at all. He listened to Amma every night after dinner while she lamented and cried crocodile tears about how Kyra was treating her badly and how she refused to work in the house. She lied constantly. Every day, Kyra helplessly watched her husband turn more and more hostile. There seemed to be nothing more she could do. Still, she vowed, she had to save her marriage somehow.
She asked Amma for her jewels one day. Amma turned livid and told her that it wasn’t hers anymore. It belonged to the family. Kyra would not have minded that except that she had a niggling doubt that Amma had a devious mind. Amma had already been harassing her slightly about the wedding money. Kyra didn’t pay too much attention to it because her community did not follow any dowry system.
She then asked Amma for the jewels in front of Appa and Ram. Amma couldn’t do anything but hand it over to Kyra. After the men had left the house Amma came up to Kyra and slapped her, shouting at her for doing that. She told Kyra that she had better get the money soon or her marriage would only get worse. She wanted money and lots of it. She threatened Kyra with ruining her marriage by warning her against telling anyone about her demands.
Appa was blissfully unaware of all the complications, choosing to retire in his room at night. Or perhaps he had an inclination that something was amiss but chose to turn a blind eye instead. Amma continued to twist Ram’s mind with lies and imagined insults, her conniving psyche plotting new schemes. She would smirk at Kyra behind Ram’s back and appear to be the quintessential modern day, sweet mother-in-law. Only Kyra saw the evil witch’s mind.
In her wildest dreams Kyra would never have dreamed that her marriage could turn into an ugly affair. It was hard to comprehend the twist of fate as it lurched out to grab Kyra at the throat.
Ram’s behaviour became appalling. At first it was budding rage that had him throwing Kyra around, mouthing insults and calling her names—then it developed into pure violence as the slaps turned to harder smacks and before long, Kyra was living a nightmare.
Ram was careful enough to beat her up so that there were no visible injuries; still the tell-tale signs of abuse slipped through the cracks. Light bruises grazed her skin on her arms and face. Kyra hid everything. She was ashamed that her marriage had turned to this. She wanted to die.
Amma too harassed her for not getting any dowry. This went on for 6 months. By then Kyra had returned to work. She lost appetite, was constantly ill. Her weight had dropped so drastically, she was bordering on anaemia. She contemplated suicide and even murder. Amma concocted plots and her machinations drove Kyra to hysterics. She poisoned Ram’s mind consistently, getting him to treat Kyra worse. Her dowry demands became more vocal and even she resorted to occasionally slapping Kyra.
Kyra started giving her salary to Amma, keeping nothing for herself, even then she wouldn’t stop. She wanted more. Kyra gave her the jewels. She couldn’t touch the money in her hometown account because she didn’t want her parents knowing about this. To the world outside, Kyra was the lucky woman to have bagged a gem like Ram. His parents were the archetypal powerful society figures.
There was no respite from grief. Kyra swallowed her pride and chugged along, never allowing the thought of leaving her husband to cross her mind. Though divorce was no longer taboo, Kyra believed that marriage was forever, through sickness and health. This was Ram’s sickness and she would live through it.
There were days when Ram was nicer to her; those days were rare and only occurred when Amma was not in the house. The pathological obsession that Ram had for his mother was evident in every action of his. Kyra knew how Amma used that to her advantage. Kyra had resorted to tricks and manipulations of her own, but Ram was too blind to his mother’s faults to even consider that Kyra had a point, even when facts sometimes stared at him in the face. For example, there was the time when Amma had indicated to Ram that Kyra didn’t do any household work; yet, when Kyra had evoked an instance where Appa had seen Kyra slogging at household chores, Ram chose to ignore it.
One day, as usual, Ram came up to their room late at night. Kyra was in bed. She had stopped getting up to greet him. She thought that she was helpless, that she couldn’t do anything. She felt like the victim of circumstance and resigned herself to her fate. She was in a bad marriage and she would live with it.
Ram hauled her out of bed and slammed her against the wall. He started yelling at her and abusing her. He went on about how he had made a terrible mistake in marrying her, how she was so unappealing, ugly and couldn’t even be considered a woman. The insults went on and on. His slaps became hits. This time was particularly bad.
Something snapped inside Kyra. She turned around and hit Ram; she clobbered him with her fists. Shock made him stand still. Before he could react, Kyra ran out of the room and locked the door from outside. She was truly afraid. She grabbed her purse from the hall and left the house. Unsure of where to go in the middle of the night, she got into her car and called her sister.
Kyra never went back to that house. Ram and his family never contacted her after that. They sent her a legal notice petitioning for a divorce. Kyra’s family ostracized her; only her sister supported her decision to leave. Kyra was ridiculed and shunned by many, including her own friends. Yet, she chose to never return. She has a life today...a wonderful one, free from fear, free to live. She made a choice that night.
I am a survivor of dowry harassment and domestic violence. Before going through it personally, I never understood why any woman would allow herself to be subjected to violence and degradation, especially an educated, working woman. This is my story.
A woman enters a man’s home with a lot of trepidation. There is thrill and excitement, but also the anxiety of leaving everything behind. Everything is new. Her husband is her closest ally. When he betrays her trust, it has a devastating effect on her mind. She clings to him in the misguided belief that things will change with time.
Each one of us has a choice. I chose for a while to remain in that hell and one day I chose to overcome it. I opted to do nothing to make my life better, to live in that wretchedness but only for a short time. I never pressed charges against Ram or his family; the legal process was too intimidating and the power of that family too overbearing to cross that hurdle. I berated myself for never bringing them to the grotto of justice, but one day I chose got over that too. Life is too short to live with regrets—too short to live in fear, anger, resentment or misery.