When something goes wrong with a marriage, it’s generally the woman whose life is wrecked. I know quite a few women whom miseries have befallen after marriage and I often think had they not been married they wouldn’t have suffered. But if they had remained unmarried, their lives might have been empty. And I wonder if a feeling of emptiness is better than a life of pain. Or is it choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea? I don’t really know.
Anyway. There is one marriage I have seen which destroyed the man and not the woman. Marriage killed him. I mean literally.
He was my father’s friend. An exceptional man, in his late forties, full of vitality and zest. Handsome, articulate and witty, he was all fun and laughter. He was a man of letters, a journalist.
My father had known him for long, meeting off and on. But I met him first when he brought his family to our place and we were introduced to his wife and two daughters. 8 and 4 then.
His wife was as dazzling. She was tall, attractive, elegant and of a pleasant disposition. One thing which struck us immediately was the difference in age between the two: she was almost twenty years younger than him.
My sister and I were completely enamoured by the family. I was 19 then, my sister 17. Our heads were filled with girlish idealistic visions. We thought it was the most wonderful couple we had ever come across. We decided every thing was perfect about her: her dress beautiful, her make-up natural, her accessories exotic. Her tastes were refined.
They became regular visitors to our house. It was fun to have such a happy family amongst us.
We came to know about them in some detail through my father. His friend was out of a job. He had a significant career in journalism. Had worked for several publications and made his name. After his marriage he had a foreign assignment and lived abroad for some years.
When he returned he was offered a few jobs which required compromise with the management. He refused. He didn’t get work of his liking and he didn’t take the ones against his temperament. He was a man of principles.
So, those were troubled times for him. Once out of a job, he was soon forgotten by his friends in literary circles. He had no one left except a few non-journalist friends like my father.
The family became so familiar in our household that if they didn’t turn up my father, my sister and I would stroll down to their place to enquire. It was a delight to visit them. She had so many wonderful things to show us: her family albums, her collection of jewellery, cosmetics, dresses, pieces of art. We sisters were awed by her: she was unlike us. She was gregarious, loved outings and didn’t care much about household affairs though they had no servants. I hardly saw her in the kitchen. They either ate out or else she fixed up omelettes. Once in a while she prepared cuisine. Quite a princess she was!
After some time I had a vague feeling there was something unreal about their life. How could they afford such an extravagant lifestyle when he was unemployed? He did try his hand in business but he had no knack for it. His savings were eaten up and he was running in debts.
I began to sense a dissatisfaction in her. She was often nostalgic and talked about the days they had spent abroad. She suffered from migraines too. But I never detected any disharmony in their marital life. He was very affectionate. He loved his daughters and his young wife. He pampered them all.
Then we noticed a visitor in their house, a blue-eyed curly haired young foreigner. She told me he tutored the children.
One day, as they hadn’t visited us for a week, we went to their place. As we reached the lane we knew something was gravely wrong: he had died at night. His funeral was ready.
It was a traumatic experience for us. It was such an unexpected death. He wasn’t suffering from any sickness. What did he die of?
The marriage finished him, people say. It was an unhappy, unwise marriage, they say. My elder brother, who met them for a short duration, told me he had sensed it in the very first meeting.
“No, it can’t be true. I thought they were so happy,” I insisted. My brother said, “Their marriage had fallen apart long ago perhaps. He tried so hard to keep intact the pieces. He couldn’t do it any longer. His strength failed him.”
“And father, did he know about it?” I asked. “Don’t be stupid. Of course, he knew it.”
But of course, he never ever talked or hinted at it. There are things to be felt, to be observed and not be spoken and told about.
He was a vagabond, I came to know later. A free soul, a confirmed bachelor. It was she who had fallen head over heels for him. And she pushed him into marriage. Yes, he loved her but perhaps wasn’t sure he would be able to take up roots. She was the youngest child of a large, wealthy family. She was spoilt and childish and remained so forever.
Soon after his death she married that foreigner. Before her marriage she told me her husband had asked the young man to take care of her. He was present at the moment of his death. It sounded so enigmatic at that time. She invited me to her marriage. Because my father didn’t go, I didn’t either.
She once came to see me. She brought her year-old baby boy. A lovely child, with blue eyes and curly hair. She was so proud of the baby. And so happy.
Life can be so strange.