By Payal Kapoor
When I was married 14 years ago, I was both totally blind and partially hearing impaired, as I still am. (I was not born with these conditions, but acquired them at the age of 22.) I was very much in love, and had the whole blushing bride thing going for me – I was looking forward to the beautiful dream come true that was going to be the rest of my life.
‘Were you happy you were marrying a sighted man? Or was it that you were marrying at all?’ A good friend asked me this question some time after we were married, after she’d looked at our wedding photos. This appalled me. ‘Of course I was crazy about him, which is why I was deliriously happy. And it shows in the pictures you just saw,’ I answered confidently.
I waited for my husband to answer while I unseeingly looked into his seeing eyes. His response was casual: ‘I liked her from the first time I met her. I loved her confidence and thought I wanted a relationship with her. Marriage was not necessarily on my mind. But since my feelings grew stronger with time, I decided to go ahead with it.’
To say that this response had my eyebrows disappearing into my hairline would be putting it mildly. This was the first time I’d heard him say something like this, and it made me wonder if I had somehow pushed him into a decision. I shook it off, because he was an adult and was therefore fully capable of making informed decisions. But although I did my best to let it go, the thought stuck.
I had known him for two years before we decided to get married.
As excited as I was during the courtship – I loved the poetry, the flowers, and even the fact that he wrote to me in Braille – the cautious side of me always won. I questioned his motives, since he had been married before and had children from that relationship. But the attention and constant encouragement he showered upon me, the fact that we had lots in common, and – most importantly – the fact that my disability didn’t matter to him at all sealed my commitment to him.
If I said I was sent to the salt mines straight away, I’d be lying. There were good times, new experiences, things I learned because of him that made me a more independent person than before. We weathered the usual settling down blues most couples go through when they are finally under one roof. He was messy, I was a neat freak. He procrastinated, I needed things done yesterday. We saw these times through with smiles and tears.
But then, things began to go downhill.
Suddenly, he became a very private person. He began to have a problem with me talking to my close friends or my parents. He didn’t want to hang out with my friends or have much to do with my family any more. He regularly dumped me with my parents while he went out to see his friends – which he just had to do alone.
I had to explain these actions to my family, even though I found them baffling. If I argued with him, there would be long painful silences, which to me as a blind person were like torture.
He found other ways to punish me whenever we had a disagreement. He would not touch the food I cooked and said he’d rather go hungry, which he knew was very painful for me. I’d beg, cajole, and go hungry myself, but to no avail. Much later, I realised that he would cook instant noodles while I was away at work and go back to playing possum when I returned.
Even though I took great pride in my home, housework had always been shared between us. I don’t know how this happened, but suddenly all of it became entirely my responsibility. We didn’t employ a cleaning lady, so aside from the essential daily chores, I swept and mopped the house once a week since I couldn’t manage it on my own.
He just sat and watched me crawl my way around the house, without once offering to help. Once, his aunt asked him, ‘How do you manage without a maid?’ He answered with great hilarity, ‘I married her!’ Because this brought tears into my eyes, I was told that I had no sense of humour.
As a strong and independent woman living with a disability, I did not receive the support that I deserved from a partnership. I only had more and more work dumped on my head – and the more I used my voice, the worse I was treated.
Things that I could not avoid became reasons for his anger: clothes that came out of the washing machine with lint on them were thrown at my face, missing and odd socks were all my fault, utensils that were washed and wiped with lint weren’t fit to be used. He once threw a bowl of curry because he found a piece of thread in it.
My hearing impairment also became a huge problem. He spoke softly and sometimes I had difficulty hearing him. But if I asked him to repeat himself, he would walk away. The more agitated I got, the lower my ability to hear got. Sometimes he left me alone in the house in the middle of the night with the door locked from the outside, without telling me he was leaving or answering his phone.
Was it my home, or prison? Where had all the love gone?
The distance between us grew. I changed – although I am a talkative person, I found myself becoming quieter. My love of singing and listening to old Hindi songs became unbearable to him. I was tone deaf and Lata Mangeshkar shrieked. I stopped that too, to keep the peace. I stopped watching TV because we were interested in watching different things, and there was no middle ground. In the past 14 years, I have not seen a full TV show.
But all my efforts were in vain. He frequently threatened to leave me. I could do nothing right. When I said as much, I was told that it was the truth. During the calmer times, the love came back, with expectations of physical intimacy. Does this make things better? No, it only makes you feel like you’re being used, which is sad because physical affection can often be such an integral part of marriage.
I started walking on eggshells. Friends told me the spark had gone out of my eyes. My family told me to come back, but I argued with them. ‘Marriage is about adjusting and making things work, isn’t it?’ I told them. ‘Surely he has his reasons for being the way he is? I must be causing things to be this way, too?’
But when things continued to get worse, I realised that it would be very difficult for me to stay. But I was perpetually frightened and insecure – did I have the courage to be on my own? Would I be able to leave the home that I had created, which had become part of my identity? I couldn’t talk to anyone, because it would lead to dire consequences at home. I didn’t want to worry my parents. He spiralled into depression himself, which didn’t help matters.
When I think back now to isolate the final step leading to our separation, I can’t find it. But I do remember that after yet another incident in which my inability to comprehend what he was saying to me led to another hunger strike and the silent treatment from him, I asked him that final question: ‘Do you want me in your life?’
Inside, I was dying. It was difficult to breathe.
Deep within myself, I knew the answer.
‘No! I don’t, and this is all your fault.’ My marriage was over.
This conversation happened at my parents’ house, while they were travelling. When I asked him if he’d take me back to our house to get my things, he said, ‘I will take you, but you’re on your own after that. Over is over.’ I’ve never seen or spoken to him since.
I can still feel my heart as it was that day: first pounding, and then sinking. That desperate fear of being all alone, and having to give up a life I’d built. It had come apart right in front of my eyes, never to be the same again.
This was six years ago.
It turns out that I needn’t have worried. Slowly but surely, I’ve moved on to a happy and independent life. I have experienced adventures I never thought possible, and now have more people in my life than ever before.
The new chapter of my life – which I’ll write more about – had only just begun.
This is the first in a two-part series. You can read the second post here.