After waiting for half an hour and then walking away from Forum to get better signal to connect to the Ola cabs app, my friends and I got into a metallic blue Etios. We were going to Catholic Club to attend a book reading. It had started drizzling, and the dark grey clouds had yellow and white bursts of light in the middle. The sky looked like an atom bomb had exploded.
The book reading had been made compulsory for my friends (the first year students from other courses at St Joseph’s)—they had been promised 5 marks by their teacher if they attended. My friends were grumbling about the event; when I asked them about the book, they said they neither knew nor cared. I learned later that the book was called ‘Leaving Home with Half a Fridge’, by Arathi Menon. And so I kept staring at the autos and cars outside the window. The water droplets on the window vied to flow down faster than the other. It was funny to watch them; they seemed to forget they were competing, and joined the other droplets to flow down.
When we reached, the club was already crowded, and the review had begun. The students occupied the back rows, which they regretted instantly, when only those in front were served tea and coffee. I sat at the back row close to a side door, and managed to get a biscuit. Two women were sitting at a small table in front. The author, a woman in a sleeveless kurta with no dupatta, had short hair pinned with hair clips. She was reading a section from her book, about her experience of filing for divorce with her ex-husband. The woman next to her in jeans and a black sleeveless top was my friend’s teacher.
“She’s written about divorce, really?” was my friend’s first question. I looked at him, and he looked disgusted. When I raised an eyebrow at him, he showed no signs of taking back his question; he went on to play a game on his phone. I craned my neck to listen to her read, but it seemed as though everyone in the back row had the same thought as my friend. They had lost interest and were grumbling about the “upper class woman’s” audacity to divorce her husband, and then go on to write about it. They believed that only an “upper class woman” would commit such a crime. But their initial anger against the author moved on to anger against the fact that they needed a club membership to drink from the bar.
After ten minutes of disturbing the gamers around me, I finally found out the name of the book and the author. I looked at the people in the front rows and saw that they were all sitting at the edge of their seats, trying to hear her voice. Arathi Menon was reading about how the other couples filing for divorce were either crying or getting angry, while she was sitting calmly with her ex.
I googled the book, and read the summary. When I was reading, the teacher in front read out the same lines—“What happens when you realized you have kissed the wrong frog? Do you stop kissing and find another frog or learn how to live without one?” I showed it to both my friends and they made the same face. Thorough disgust. “That is American culture. This is India.” Somehow, this explained it all.
A question-answer session began when she finished reading. Many asked how she was brave enough to make the decision, and how her husband had taken it. She was witty and funny when she responded to questions, and I liked that about her. “What are your future plans?” She remarried, and her husband was sitting in the front row. “Was there any opposition from her family and friends?” They were her greatest support, but she had decided to dedicate a chapter to “annoying aunties and other mosquitoes.” Menon laughed, and everything she said made the idea of divorce feel like an idea of freedom. An older woman leaned back in her chair and adjusted her spectacles with a smile, and another middle aged woman nodded at everything Menon said.
While she was answering the questions, my friend received a WhatsApp message. He chuckled and I looked at him. The message read, “Did you go through the divorce for the promotion of the book?” His friends from another row had been laughing about this. I looked at him and told him that this book was written a year after her divorce had been finalized. He shrugged, sent the laughing emoticon, and went back to playing his game.
My mother always said, “You need to stick to your husband no matter what. If he is not there, you’re nothing. You walk on the road and people will stare at you. You’re readily available to them. You are going to lose respect from people at your workplace and your acquaintances. A husband will ensure that your respect and dignity remain.” She used to tell me things that had happened to my aunt and grandmother, but somehow I have always thought they were strong women. I went up to Menon after the book review, when she was signing her book for people. I told her what my mother had said. She smiled and shut her eyes for about five seconds and said, “It happens. You cannot change the world. All you need is strength. I had mine, and so I let them know I was not someone to trifle with.”
I don’t know how having a nose ring, short hair, or a sleeveless kurta could make any difference to what women go through in a lifeless or violent marriage, as my friend seemed to suggest. I don’t know why a divorced woman is not someone worth treating with respect, or why my friend said, “Why couldn’t she have worked harder for her marriage to work?” We have been told not to wash our dirty linen in public. But one can either let go, or stick to something terrible. “I chose to let go, be happy, and share my happiness,” Menon said.