Tuesday 1 September 2015

ShortStory 2015, Shortlist Seeya Kudtarkar

Guilty Pleasures

All people have one or more guilty pleasures. Some flaunt them while others suppress to hide embarrassment. It goes good as long as it doesn’t alter the course of life to the extent that it affects the life of the people around you.

This is what happened to me a year back which would have broken a relation and landed me in this hospital for soothing my mental health. People cringe when they hear about mental illness. A common perception is that whenever someone seeks mind related help, the person has become “mad” or is mentally ill. Mental illness vary, depending on circumstances and it can happen to anyone, including you if you allow external forces affect you to the extent that they break your mental stance.
There is no need to say that my life was like any other ordinary girl brought up on the dose of Bollywood movies. My family had always enjoyed Hindi movies. My parents would take us to a nearby theatre every Friday when a new movie got released. We would eagerly wait for Friday to go to the theatre half hour away from our home in Mumbai suburb area.

My father had worked hard all throughout his career to give us a better life. And he had succeeded. my younger brother and I were placed in the best school and then the best college of the city. Education was given due importance as was movies in our home. But the two were never mixed. Both my brother and I passed with flying colors throughout our academic lives and got placed in top IT firms of the country in Mumbai.

Life was going good and was on smooth track. Time was rife for my marriage. My parents were in search of a highly educated son in law working in some multinational company. I was going with the flow living the life of an ordinary software engineer who had strived all her life to pass engineering with flying colors and got placed in top software company. My life now merely revolved around my job. I would sit in front of the computer around 12 hours a day, and spend another 2 hours travelling to and from home to workplace. Friday night, as per family tradition was devoted to dinner and late night movie. Weekend was spent preparing and making things ready for the next week.

So like I mentioned earlier, the search for the perfect groom began. My parents would spend hours scrolling through national matrimony sites selecting and then rejecting the profiles that didn’t suit their requirements. Some were rejected because of looks while others because of “lack” of “required” educational qualifications. Sometimes Friday movies were skipped by my parents so that they could call the “never heard of” relatives who had emerged out of nowhere because I was fast approaching the “marriageable age”. The search was a yearlong process. I was 24 and my parents were still short listing the boys. I am sure the boys were not even aware that their personal and professional lives were being spied and probed by unknown people. My mother, who otherwise hardly used desktop except searching recipes online and YouTube for TV Serials that she missed, all of a sudden became an expert at scrutinizing the possible grooms based on their LinkedIn profile. The search was first filtered based on religion, followed by caste as is still prominent in Indian families and then based on their qualifications. Looks weren’t far behind in the criteria, and so was height. Oblivious to this entire search, I was engrossed in implementing search queries in the database admin department of the company I worked for.  Unlike my friends who would go out on dates and had a boyfriend or two, I refrained myself from such time consuming pleasures. I thought I should invest time in getting good grades and fine job. I would like to confess that I did have a liking towards a boy from the mechanical department of my college. But the day dreaming came at a cost where I became the lowest scorer in my class for the tests. This had happened for the first time in my life and thereafter, my books were the only things that took me to college. I never looked back and was selected at the campus for the job.  The search for groom had started two years after I started working. I had given it completely in the hands of my parents to search for groom.

While I implemented queries at workplace and filtered results based on the criteria my senior set, my parents implemented their own filters on matrimony sites to search a groom of their choice and status. Pressure started mounting on them when the phone calls poured in at my home from relatives. After the search of over a year and a half, there were twelve potential grooms selected whose kundalis had to match with mine. My parents were very much alright to go ahead without the formality of astrology if the grooms’ family accepted. The kundali matching process began which further filtered the groom number to seven. Now was the meeting stage where the boys wanted me to meet them personally and discuss what they had in mind. From here, my parents had given me complete control to choose the boys since they were satisfied with their choices. I still believed that my parents should select the groom for me. The herculean task ended when the groom was finally selected. Or rather, the boy chose me as his life partner. My only concern was that he was an NRI and I had to leave my job, at least for time being. He was a green card holder and was holding a very good job at a prominent software company at California in USA. I wasn’t very keen on going far to a country where I would have to leave my job. But my parents were elated and showed no sign of discomfort in sending their daughter on the other side of the earth.

The marriage celebrations began in hurry since Amol, my future husband didn’t have much holidays. Within that time, we applied for my visa and it would take around a month or two for things to get finalized. We got married and I continued my job for a month until it was time for me to go the other side of the planet. I had always followed the wave where it would take me. I was supposed to embark on this journey all alone. My parents bid me a tearful farewell. After a tiring journey, I saw my husband waiting for me at the airport.

And then began our new life together. My husband took a week’s leave from office so as to make me familiar with the environment here. Jet lag had taken toll on my health and my husband took utmost care to look after me during the first week. I was fine by the end of the week.  My husband continued his office from the next week and I was left in the apartment, all alone. The place where we lived was thriving with Indian families, but most of them were working women. Those at home were busy with their kids and household works. I had whole at my disposal. Amol would come late from his office on weekdays. He showed me nearby places whenever he got time. Amol knew I was a movie buff, so he encouraged me to watch movies to pass my time.

Since I didn’t have much to do throughout the day, I would search for movies and watch. I wasn’t a big fan of reading books. So thus began my movie marathon at home. I didn’t like watching Hollywood movies. It isn’t that I have anything against it, I am just a diehard fan of Hindi movies where people suddenly start dancing on streets, the bikes take a 360 degree turn and so on. It was a pure entertainment I had grown up watching. My husband never understood why I liked all this non reality stuff.

Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. My movie marathon was at its peak. I think I watched around three to four movies a day, depending on the number of hours of each movie. On weekends, we would go out around town or nearby places. Sometimes my movie mania continued on weekends too.

Six months passed and my daily schedule was the same. After Amol left for office I would be all alone. I would switch on the television and start my daily cycle of Hindi movies. My husband would suggest me to start reading a book related to my field of study if not a novel. He even suggested that I could do an online course to enhance my skills. But I had become way too lazy to do anything related to work except watching movies. While in India, I was always on the run to and from office or doing some other activity. Here I had nothing to do throughout the day. I started gorging on heavy cream and cheese and chocolate. Within no time, I had gained weight. And all what I did was watching Hindi movies one after the other.

Sitting here in the private room of the hospital, I now wonder what had possessed me at the time. There was no barrier for me to pursue anything that I intended. California was brimming with ample courses in different fields. And I wasn’t someone to sit at home and wait for my husband to come home in the evening after a hard day. Ever since I was a kid, I had always been out of home for school, recreational courses, tuitions, job and so on. I was career oriented and here I was sitting at home. I could have done some activity. There was no dearth of opportunities around. But I was so hooked to my hobby of watching movies that I sidelined everything. My marriage life had become dull and boring with Amol working very hard.

Almost nine months at home and nothing changed. I had paid subscription to most of Hindi movie official websites. Once while watching a trailer of an upcoming movie, I noticed an upcoming actor in the movie. It was his debut movie and he had worked before in Hindi soap operas. He was young and handsome. I was drawn towards him may be because he looked like the handsome mechanical engineering student I had a crush on briefly during my college days. Curious that I was, I googled his name and read his Wikipedia page. It was very brief, describing his early life and how he entered the glamour world. And thus it all began. My secret guilty pleasure.

Initially, it didn’t seem harmful. I would sit with my laptop every day and google the debutante’s name. I would read the details through the links provided. Over the days and then weeks, I fell into a routine, where I would google his name and read every bit of news about him. When there was nothing new, I would re-read the same stories and watch his pictures and videos. I started developing an obsession towards the actor. No, I will not name the actor, but just remember that he was the most handsome person for me at that time. I followed him on twitter and his Facebook page. As time passed, he became my addiction. There was no day when I wouldn’t google about him. There was no new news about him every single day. But that didn’t stop me from watching his interviews umpteen times.

When the movie released, I forced Amol to go for the movie. Ratings weren’t good and the movie had bombarded at box office in India. It was released here at California at a nearby theatre only because it was big budget and starred a prominent actor. I dragged Amol to watch the movie. I wasn’t interested in the movie at all except watching ‘him”. I was floored by his looks. The movie was a disaster and there was no news about the actor. Same old stories which I had read for many times. I started becoming restless. So I would watch his soap operas for couple of times. I knew his dialogues by heart. It went on becoming intense. I started fantasizing about him. And it became a habit. Sit on a sofa or lie on bed and think about him all day, and sometimes all night. I would imagine that he was with me in the apartment where I stayed. Amol had no clue about all this. After all, I was a normal wife when he was home.

I knew my obsession was going beyond control, but I felt helpless. Or rather, I will prefer to say that I didn’t want it to stop. I was enjoying this little charade of having him with me all the time. I dreamt that he was having the dinner I prepared, I fantasized that he was with me in the park that Amol had taken me to one evening on Sunday. He was everywhere with me in my daydreams when I travelled or when I was home.  Such was the extent of devotion towards this actor that I always felt that he was watching my every move. I became cautious of what I was doing lest he feels that I am a stupid person. He was my ultimate secret obsession. I didn’t want things to change. His thoughts gave me a sense of satisfaction. He filled the void that was created due to emptiness that was created within me suddenly due to no work.

And this obsession continued for months. I would become restless and start thinking about him every time. Over time it became extreme. So much that I started finding faults with Amol despite all his efforts to make me happy. He was patient with me when I fought because he attributed my behavior to loneliness. I had made an imaginary story about the actor’s behavior and how his image was. I was not what I was before. I had gained ample weight and was behaving like a maniac every time. I had become moody because I couldn’t bear Amol and desired “him”. I knew it was wrong but my obsession overtook every sensible thought. I didn’t discuss this with anyone for the fear of getting embarrassed and branded as a mad fan of some unknown man who was a one film wonder. Yet, I wanted him. He was my guilty pleasure, a fetish I didn’t want to overcome.

Amol had noticed my unusual behavior. He was patient with me. Things were going out of hand. I guess he might have checked the history on my laptop which I was foolish enough not to delete. One weekend he came to me calmly and asked who the “actor” was?  He might have guessed my extreme obsession towards “him”. I understood from his question. But words failed me. I shouted loudly that I liked him. Here goes… Amol was quite for few seconds. After what seemed like a long time, he opened his mouth to say something, but I threw the water glass lying on side table on the floor. And started crying loudly and mumbling the actor’s name. Amol came near I think to comfort, but I threw another tantrum. He let me be and stayed away. I was staring at the ceiling lying on bed. I knew Amol was leaning against the closet. I fell asleep.

I don’t know if work pressure was less or Amol had intentionally reduced his work hours; but I started seeing him home for long time compared to earlier days. We didn’t speak about that incident for a long time. But Amol made sure to give me more time. He would just discuss about my day listening patiently and patient when I gave rude answers. I was least bothered about Amol. Well, he knew whom I liked, things are clear, aren’t they? Then why did I feel guilty?

With Amol spending more time at home now, he tried being with me all the time and having some conversation. All the conversations with him started irritating me. I became moody over time. I started hating Amol’s presence at home. He was like a hindrance between me and “him”. I didn’t get enough time thinking about “him”, and this made me sulk. When I think about this now, I realize that I had lost the normal way of behavior and was acting like some kid after my favorite toy. I now feel sorry for Amol. But I admire his courage and the immense support and patience that he displayed.
It was one Sunday that Amol tried reasoning with me by bringing the topic about my obsession and then he started speaking to me about “him”, and that I was living in some dream world. That was the limit when I slapped him and started speaking something which I wasn’t aware. I became hysteric and started crying loudly. I don’t know what had happened to me. I couldn’t take the pressure, it was becoming difficult. The last thing I remember is my scream and Amol rushing towards me.

When I opened my eyes, I was lying in bed and a nurse gave a wide smile. Amol was beside me, his face showing concern. The nurse left and Amol spoke silently. What he told shocked me to the core. I had to be treated by some psychiatrist for my uncontrollable obsession. I couldn’t bear the thought and became restless. A fine doctor came in. He was calm and reassuring. He explained that being treated for mental illness didn’t mean that I had become mad. It was just that I had an obsession which will harm if gone beyond control. I felt numb. “He” wasn’t an obsession. I liked him. With this treatment, they will take “him” away from me. I had lost all sanity. I liked my little world where we both were happy doing things we liked, or rather I liked. I was to stay at this hospital for another day for observation. I was given some injections and made to swallow tablets. They relaxed my disturbed mind. We came home and I learnt that Amol would be working from home. I was reluctant to go for treatment. I faked that I would be alright after few days. Amol said that if treatment doesn’t help, then I could try my own way of becoming “alright”.

Amol was always by my side. I noticed that sharp objects like knives had disappeared and he would be working in the kitchen. He made sure I took all the medicines on time. He told me that he hadn’t informed about my condition in India lest people start panicking and keep me names. I now feel grateful to him for his patience and the way he shielded me from every trouble despite the fact that it was created by me. The sessions with the psychiatrist began. They were of one hour duration every week. I was given a set of things to be done at home. Basically I had to fill sheets that were like a survey. Amol made sure that all was done. I did become hysterical once in a while but he took care of it. I still had a secret liking towards “him”. For weeks my treatment continued. Session with the psychiatrist indeed started helping me. I would now look forward to them. The psychiatrist told that I will have to remain in hospital for a few weeks. I didn’t want the label of being named a madwoman. We were living in area where there were many Indians. So far we were successful in not telling about my condition. Amol assured he would take care of everything. It was his assurance and support that has helped me till now. People always treat any mental illness as a harmful condition and label the person as mad. Changing this mentality will take a very long time. It isn’t that anyone would ask, but Amol told that in case if anyone asked, I was to tell that I was going to Amol’s relative’s place for a  few weeks. Amol didn’t have any relatives here, neither did I.

I got admitted in the hospital. It really wasn’t a hospital, but was a recreational home. This was to be my abode for the next few weeks. During this time, I had to take my regular dose of medicines and some activities which the psychiatrist would prescribe. I also had some time for doing things I liked; I was allowed to watch movies too. Just one every two days. I was encouraged to read books. I started liking the environment.

I now have four days more before I head back home. Amol comes to meet me every day during visiting hours. We speak normal things. His day at the office and my progress here. I have become calm and lost weight too. Amol teases me about weight loss. We have developed a cordial relation which we never had before. He too seems relaxed in my company. I am looking forward to going back home. I have plans in my mind. The recreational activities that I learnt here, I would love to improve on them. Amol will continue to work from home for may be two weeks. After that, he has promised that he will be calling me every now and then from office. He has registered me for a course nearby and also brought some books related to my subject. And I am supposed to take medicines for the next few months. My secret guilty pleasure which had become an obsession would have taken a toll on my health as well as my relation with my husband, if it wasn’t for him who helped me at the crucial time.

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