Subtitle: Feminized to Learn Feminism
Chapter 1 – My Beguiling Date
The cabaret show was over. The lights had come on. Customers, who had been swilling alcohol, were beginning to leave. Yet she wasn’t here.
I checked my phone for messages. “I’m right at the intersection. Will be there in 5 minutes” she had written. I wondered what she would be like. I had never met a woman through a dating site before.
Her name was Reema Shome. She was 30 years old. She was a scientist at Imperial City Laboratory, researching the physiology of digestion. Apart from work, Reema had a few areas of personal interest like traveling, playing the sitar and taking long walks. She and I had decided to meet only after exchanging a few text messages. I had told Reema that I worked in the entertainment business, but hadn’t told her I owned “Shake your Booty”, the cabaret club we were meeting in.
A young bespectacled woman walked in. I recognized her as Reema. Her white pants, skin-colored silk skirt and nude sandals flattered her delicate frame. “Debashish?” she asked smiling uncertainly. She was quite pretty, with small dainty features. The photos I had seen hadn’t done justice to Reema’s beauty.
I smiled at Reema and led her to one of the tables. “Yes, I’m Debashish Ghosh” I confirmed “but friends call me Deb. it’s nice to meet you”.
Reema gracefully slid into one of the seats. “Likewise” she said “I must say you’re very handsome”.
I laughed self-consciously as I took the seat opposite my date. Indian women generally didn’t give compliments so quickly after meeting a man. I found Reema’s boldness refreshing, though “handsome” wasn’t the adjective people generally used to describe me. My eloquent green eyes, slim aquiline nose and cushiony lips had earned me the sobriquet, “beautiful”.
“I’ve never met a scientist before” I told the woman sitting in front of me “what exactly do you research?”
Reema went into complicated details about digestive glands, conditioned reflexes and the functioning of the cortex. Her voice was clear like a ringing bell. She spoke in a clear, confident manner and used sophisticated scholarly language. The form and content of Reema’s speech was starkly different from the coquettish whispers and crude slangs of the cabaret dancers at “Shake your Booty”. Also, the women I came across on a day-to-day basis seemed to have the intelligence quotient of birds. Needless to say, I found Reema’s intelligence very attractive.
Reema seemed to like me too. She was pleasantly surprised to find out that I managed a whole cabaret-club on my own “at the young age of 27”. My world of glamour was diametrically opposite of Reema’s. The contrast fascinated Reema and she seemed keen on dating me again.
After a whirlwind romance lasting for a few weeks, Reema and I got married. Reema’s parents weren’t happy that their daughter was marrying a guy who was in the entertainment business. They firmly refused to attend the wedding. Reema’s parents had dreamed of a son-in-law who was a doctor, engineer or a scientist like their daughter. They, however, sent me many presents which included an Alto car, a Rolex watch and some cash. I didn’t refuse the gifts. Ancient Indian custom says that it is okay to accept gifts from one’s wife’s parents. Many people say that the “dowry system” is bad, but I wasn’t one of them.
Since my parents were dead, I invited a few old friends for my wedding. Reema too invited her friends and colleagues. They were all warm and cordial, especially a man called Saurav Dutta. He was a tall guy in his mid 30s, well-built and attractive in a rugged way. Saurav worked as the caretaker of the animals that the scientists at Imperial City Laboratory used for experiments. He was in charge of bathing the dogs, getting them food on time and keeping their cages clean.
I noticed Saurav’s immaculate white suit, Gucci loafers and Ray Ban sun glasses. “He appears too well-off for a caretaker” I whispered in Reema’s ear.
“He is quite well-off” Reema replied “Saurav’s family owns a pawnbrokers shop. Saurav works at Imperial City Laboratory just as a pastime”.
“That explains his Gucci loafers” I said satisfied.
The first few weeks of my marital life were smooth. Reema and I bought a house in the quiet homely neighborhood of Garia. Reema was an excellent cook, who prepared an array of cuisines like French, Japanese and Italian. The taste of the food was indistinguishable with the food I’d eaten at restaurants. Reema always arrived home from work early and prepared piping hot food for me. After years of eating out of cans as a bachelor, having a wife at home was a luxury.
My friends too liked Reema. When they visited, my wife served them food with utmost poise and grace. Reema always wore a saree (traditional Indian garment) when we had visitors. “You’re a lucky guy, Deb” they said “Reema bhabhi (sister-in-law. A respectful term used to address/refer to a married woman) is a successful career woman as well as a great wife. She cooks like an angel. She dresses in a traditional manner. Women these days can hardly cook! Besides, they would hardly take the trouble of wearing a saree!”
It was clear that my buddies envied me. They had every reason to. Reema was a perfect wife until she became too busy with her work. Doing further research on the physiology of digestion and the theory of classical conditioning kept her out late for three days in a row.
One night, I returned home hungry and dog-tired. Work had been hectic, with the dancers kicking up a row, demanding higher wages. Reasoning with the girls and requesting them to stay at “Shake your Booty” until I could afford to increase their salaries had sapped me of all energy. I walked into the house to realize that Reema had still not returned.
I took a reconnaissance of the kitchen to realize that Reema hadn’t cooked for the night. I felt raw anger bristle at the back of my neck. Reema was becoming a careless wife. Was her career so important that she had to neglect her duties as a housewife?
She couldn’t expect me to cook after a hard day at work. Husbands just didn’t do that. My parents had brought me up to believe that. I wasn’t going to change now. Picking up a ladle after marriage was beneath my dignity.
I wearily lay down on the front-room couch. Fifteen minutes passed. I heard the door latch open. Reema hurried in. She appeared disheveled in a crumpled Salwar-Kameez (an Indian dress with a long top and loose roomy pants. It is typically worn with a veil called the dupatta). A few strands of hair had strayed out of her ponytail and were flying in all directions. Reema carried a shopping bag in one hand.
“I’m sorry I got late” she said apologetically “you must be hungry. I’ll make something”.
“Yeah” I said not moving. The sight of Reema irked me. My beautiful wife had begun to neglect her physical appearance.
Reema dashed into the kitchen. I followed her and stood at the doorway. She boiled some water in a vessel and put some instant noodles in them. I felt my irritation rising. Before I could control myself, I found myself saying,
“You made me wait for so long and now you’re making me something out of a packet?”
Reema turned towards me. Her face was white with shock and disbelief. “I’m so sorry” she said “I could prepare something better, but that will take time. Since you’re very hungry, I thought I’d make something instantly”.
“That’s not fair” I said bridling “when I married you, I thought I’d signed up for something…better. Not a wife who neglects her appearance and comes home late from work”.
Reema’s dusky face turned red. She looked at me with flashing eyes and said: “When I married you, even I thought I was getting a better deal”.
“What do you mean?” I asked offended “I have been the perfect husband”.
Reema heaved a sarcastic sigh. “Perfect husbands don’t control purse strings the way you do” she said “after all; our bank accounts are joint ones. I earn as much as you. Why must you control all my purchases?”
“When did I control the purse strings?” I asked indignantly “you spend on whatever you wish”.
“I wished to buy a branded handbag the other day, but you put your foot down” said Reema furiously.
I felt something within me snap. “That thing cost a whopping Rs.30K!” I yelled “some families struggle to earn even Rs.3K per month!”
“Ha!” Reema spat “So suddenly, you’re a spokesperson for the poor?” She had her head cocked to one side and had archly raised an eyebrow. Her wide mouth seemed to mock me. I felt myself losing all control. I could barely contain my hand as it flew up and made resounding contact with my wife’s cheek.
Reema recoiled in shock. She caressed her slapped cheek with her dainty palm and ran out of the kitchen.
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