What does it take to buy oneself some freedom from a stifling marriage, besides courage? Money!
It took me two years to prepare myself for freedom. That is what I thought. I had stolen a 100 here, a 500 there, a rare 1000 and plenty of 10 and 20s which I exchanged for higher denominations for ease of carrying. Thus I had managed to accumulate a fairly neat amount of 10,000 to buy myself some breathing space from the sham of a marriage that I was in. I had no family or rather not a family that is synonymous with dependency or a ‘fall back option.’ My family felt that my place was solely in my marital home, come what may. They definitely heard my tales of woes for they too had to pander to the ‘seemingly endless demands’ made by my in-laws. But they never listened. So, I had to take things into my own hands. I decided to do something on my 33rd birthday. It was November 8th 2014 and a day when I gave birth to a still born. Lying in the hospital bed all alone, I pondered on my fate. I wondered what I was doing caught in this cesspool of a life. I had looked at various options by browsing papers, magazines and news channels without letting out my plans. I decided to go as far away as possible from my hometown of Hyderabad and join one of the myriad spiritual havens that abounded our nation.
I had planned trains, their timings, the meticulous packing of basic necessity and the note that I would leave behind. I decided to leave on November 8th. I chose the date carefully for it was my 35th birthday and also a day when most of the family would be away for a wedding reception of a business clan. I was looking around to place the note in a strategic place, yet not too obvious, before walking out of the front door, when I heard the phone peel. I oscillated about ignoring it but heaven forbid, my husband returns earlier than planned and my window of time which was crucial for my getaway would get dramatically reduced. I pick it up with foreboding…..
“How long does it take to answer a call?” I should have got used to the familiar accusation in both tone and words yet…..
“I was in the washroom,” I mumble.
“ Okay..listen. Open up the safe,” Before I could interrupt, he continued impatiently, “I will give you the combination…there is quite a lot of 500s and 1000s. Make bundles of around 1.5 lakh each. “
The amount and the possibility staggered me. The sheer injustice of it all made me feel like weeping. I had to steal to make a measly 10 K and there was a person who had so much that he lost count and spoke in bundles of lakhs!
“But,” I swallowed fighting back the rising panic, “Any particular reason?”
“The 500s and 1000s are no longer legal tenders,” he snapped. “I need to now convert all this black to white. Some of our relatives and employees will help me deposit 1.5 each in their account and help me not lose too much in this whole process.” As I stood listening to his words, the random thought that he must be under terrible stress to even diverge so much information struck me. He reverted to his usual, “You wouldn’t understand…just follow my instructions,” he ended the call as abruptly as he had started.
I was in a dilemma. I switched on the TV. The Demonetization of large denomination was on every News channel. It was ostensibly to fight against black money and people who had loads of money and were subverting the law. Suddenly the ramifications hit me. Here I was with a bag full of carefully stolen money converted to ‘demonetized’ notes, the money that was my gateway to freedom. People with debit card could withdraw money and exchange their old currency but there was so much confusion that all that would take time and that was a luxury I did not have. For people like me without a bank account and debit cards, it was just like falling into a dark abyss.
I looked at my carefully worded note and tore it into bits throwing it up in the air like confetti and started laughing hysterically as the sheer injustice of it hit me with force.
( This is a work of fiction and was published in Narrow Roads December 17 and Pratilipi)