A Wife’s Complaint

  • 03 Aug - 09 Aug, 2019
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

I’ve spent the greater part of my life in this house, but I’ve never had any peace. I expect that in the eyes of the world my husband is a very good man; courteous, generous, and alert. But it’s only when things happen to you that you know what they’re really like. The world likes to praise people who make their homes a hell, but are willing to ruin themselves for outsiders. A man may be ready to die for his family, but the world doesn’t praise him; instead it thinks him selfish, mean, narrow minded, arrogant, and stupid. So why should a man’s family praise him if he is ready to die for outsiders? Look at him. He is a trial to me from morning till night. Send him to get something and he’ll get it from a shop where no one else would even dream of going. In shops like that there’s nothing in good condition; and they don’t give you full weight; and they don’t charge reasonable prices. If there weren’t all these things wrong with them, how could they have got a bad name? But with him it’s like a disease. It’s only in shops like these that he’ll do the shopping. I’ve told him time and again, ‘Go to a shop that’s doing well. They have a faster turnover, and so the stuff that you get is fresh.’ But no, he feels a sympathy for the little, struggling shopkeepers, and they take advantage of him. He’ll bring home the worst wheat in the market, with weevils in it, and rice so coarse that an ox wouldn’t look at it, and lentils full of grit, so hard that you can use any amount of firewood trying to cook them, but they won’t soften. Ghee that is half oil, priced at only a fraction less than pure ghee. Hair oil that is adulterated; put it on, and your hair all sticks together and he’ll pay the same for it as you pay for the best quality jasmine oil. You’d think he was afraid to go to any shop that’s thriving. Perhaps he goes by the saying, ‘Fine shop-front, tasteless food.’ My experience tells me. ‘Grubby shop, rotten food.’

If all this happened only occasionally you could put up with it. You can’t put up with it when it happens day after day. I ask him why he goes to these wretched shops. Has he signed a contract to look after them? He says, ‘When they see me they call out to me.’ Wonderful! All they have to do is call him across and flatter him a little, and he feels wonderful and no longer notices what rubbishy stuff they’re giving him. I ask him, ‘Why do you go that way? Why don’t you go some other way? Why do you encourage these thieves? No answer. Silence fends off no end of troubles.

Once I had to have a piece of my jewellery repaired. I knew his lordship, and didn’t see any need to ask him about it. I sent for a goldsmith I knew by sight. It so happened that he was there at the time. He said, ‘You can’t trust this lot. They’ll swindle you. I know a goldsmith. He went to school with me and when we were little we used to play together all the time. He won’t try any tricks with me.’ I thought, ‘Well, if he’s his friend, and a childhood friend at that, he’s bound to have some regard for that friendship.’ So, I handed over a gold ornament and 50 rupees – and God knows what rogue the good man gave it to. I had to pester him for years together, and when it came back the ‘gold’ was half copper and he’d made it into something so ugly that I couldn’t bear the sight of it. Something I’d wanted for years was ruined, and all I could do was cry over it and then make the best of it… such are his faithful friends who aren’t ashamed to cut his throat. And he only makes friends with people who are half starved, poor, penniless creatures whose trade is to make friends with purblind people like him. Every day one or other of these gentlemen turns up to pester him and they don’t let go until he gives them something.

But I’ve never known any of them to pay back what they’ve borrowed. You lose once, and you learn your lesson – or lose twice, and learn your lesson; but my good man loses a thousand times and still never learns. When I tell him, ‘You lent him the money. Why don’t you ask him for it back? Has he gone off and died somewhere?’ he just shrugs his shoulders. He can’t bear to refuse anything to a friend. ‘All right,’ I tell him, ‘Don’t then. I’m not telling you to be unsympathetic. But you can put them off a bit, can’t you? Can’t you make some excuse, But he can’t refuse anyone. A friend asks him for something and he feels it as a burden, and, poor fellow, he can’t refuse. If he did people would think he was half starved; and he wants the world to think him rich even if he has to pawn my jewellery to give that impression. There are times when we’ve been almost penniless, but this good man can’t rest until he’s as prodigal with his money to others as he is mean to us. Every day someone or other comes to pester us – a visitor from whom there’s no escape. God knows where all these irresponsible friends of his come from. They come from all over the place. Our house is not so much a home as a refuge for the handicapped. It’s only a small house; we can hardly muster four string beds, and we haven’t a lot of bedding. But he’s always ready to invite people to bedding. Otherwise we can’t keep up appearances. And it’s me and the children who have to suffer for it and get through the night huddled together on the floor. In the summer it’s not too bad, but open roof; the children and I are like birds trapped in a cage. He hasn’t even got the sense to see that when this is how things are at home he shouldn’t invite people to stay who’ve hardly got a rag to their name. By the grace of God, that’s the kind of people all his friends are. There’s not one of them who could even give him a penny if ever he should need help. He’s had one or two bitter experiences – extremely bitter. But it’s as if he’s sworn never to open his eyes. It’s penniless people like this that he takes to. He makes friends of people you’re ashamed to speak of, people you wouldn’t even open the door to. There are plenty of important, well to do people in the town, but he has no contact with any of them. He never goes to pay a call on them. These rich people are arrogant; they fancy themselves, and want you to flatter them. How can he go to them? No, he’ll make friends with the sort of people who haven’t even got anything to eat in the house.

Once we had a servant leave us and for some days we couldn’t find another one. I was looking for a sensible, capable man, but he was anxious to get one as quickly as possible. The running of the house went on as usual, but to him it seemed that everything was being held up. One day he got hold of some yokel – God knows where from – and brought him along. You could tell simply by looking at him that he’d just come down from the trees, but he praised him to the skies. He’d obedient’ he’s utterly honest; he’s a real worker; he knows how to go about things; he’s extremely well mannered. Well, I took him on. I don’t know why time after time I let him persuade me; it surprises even me. This man was a man only in the sense that he was something in human form. No sign of anything else human about him. He had no idea how to go about anything. He wasn’t dishonest, but he was an idiot of the first order. If he’d been dishonest I’d at least have had the consolation of knowing that he was getting something out of it. But the wretched man was a prey to all the shopkeepers’ tricks. He couldn’t even count up to ten. I’d give him a rupee in the morning and send him off to the shops, and if you gave him till evening to work out how much he’d spent and how much change he should have he couldn’t tell you. I’d just have to swallow my anger. My blood would begin to boil and I’d feel like tearing his ears off; but I never saw his lordship saying anything to him. After he’d bathed he’d be folding his loincloth, while the servant just sat there looking at him. It made my blood boil, but he wouldn’t even notice it, and if the servant did offer to fold the loincloth, he wouldn’t let him anywhere near it. He would present his faults as if they were virtues, and if he couldn’t manage to do that, he’d conceal them. The wretched man didn’t even know how to use a broom properly. The men’s sitting room is the only decent room in the house. When he swept it, he’d put everything back in the wrong place. You’d think the room had been hit by an earthquake, and there’d be so much dust in the air that you could hardly breathe. But he’d sit there happily in the room as though nothing untoward was happening.

One day, I gave the man a good talking. I told him, ‘From tomorrow onwards if you don’t sweep the room properly I’ll dismiss you on the spot. When I got ups next morning I saw the room had already been swept – everything in its proper place and not a trace of dust anywhere. My husband laughed and said, ‘What are you staring at? Ghora got up very early to sweep the room. I explained to him how to do it. You explain nothing, and then you start scolding him.’ So, you see? That too was my fault. Anyway I thought, ‘Well that’s one thing the useless man has learnt to do properly, from that day forward I found every day that the room was clean and Ghora began to gain some respect in my eyes. Then for some reason I got up earlier than usual one day and as I went into the room what did I see? Ghora standing in the doorway and his majesty himself carefully sweeping the floor. I couldn’t control myself, I snatched the broom from his hand, clouted Ghora on the head with it and told him to get out. My husband said, ‘All right, but pay him what we owe him.’ That’s a good one! He doesn’t do his work properly; he’s insolent – and on top of all that I’m to pay him! I didn’t pay him a penny. I’d given him a shirt to wear, and he took it with him when he went.

One day the sweeper asked me to give him our cast off clothing. In these times of unemployment who has any clothes to spare? Maybe the rich do, but we don’t even have all the clothes we need. You could pack up his majesty’s complete wardrobe in a parcel and send it through the post. And that winter we hadn’t been able to get new clothes made. I turned him down flat. It was extremely cold. I could feel that myself; and I knew very well what the poor must be suffering. But what can you or I do except feel sorry for them? When the rich and powerful have clothes enough to fill a goods wagon then of course the poor have to suffer the tortures of nakedness. Anyway, I refused. And what did he do? He took off his coat and gave it to him. I was furious.

to be continued...