They were always an odd-couple, not that they were sad, angry, unhappy or into some weird rituals, they were just different from the rest of us. Akash would be 40, though he looked 50 and Jwala would be around 35 but looked 40.
Both of them had a high paying job as they lived in the best apartment in the building, a pent house, drove their respective cars and came back together although in their respective cars. On rare occasions that we would bump in the elevator, they would greet politely, respond to greetings well but would never initiate a conversation. If asked to they would reply only to the point and wanted to get away and yea they were childless with three dogs, two cats and a goat. T, A and Z were the dogs, om and shanti were the cats and J.P the goat.
We became acquaintances because my youngest, Farha 10 was so fascinated with the goat that she walked into the house and requested to play with it and to everyone’s surprise they did not mind. The entire building, full of upper middle class - middle aged engineers, office going, family loving, rule obeying, civilized members of the society who thought they understood the world would not stop presuming their relationship. May be he is not capable of a child, maybe she is not, maybe she is there for his money, maybe he is there for her money, why are they together, is he cheating on her, he must be, is she cheating on her, she must be, how can they be like there is no worry in the world, some sympathetic ones would also add how much sadness do the couple reek of, may be they lost their child in an accident, may be they killed their children and on and on. There has to be something wrong. All the gym going house wives who had exhausted every topic to discuss found a reason to start communicating again.
Some called them obnoxious, some thought they had an attitude problem, some thought they had stolen a chunk of money and are living among the descents and this would go on and on and on until one day when all the kids in the building were invited for a birthday party at their house.
A birthday party in a childless couple’s house got the alarm bells ringing, the invitation which was posted at the common notice board read, “18 and below who like to spend time with animals are invited to come over for J. P’s birthday. There will be games, food, quiz and return gifts”.
Well, as it happened, no one turned up except my 10-year-old. I’d be honest, the only reason why I let her go was because first she had been there before and came back very happy and second I wanted to know anything I could about them. I was in awe of this couple who were so self-assured, calm, passive and seemed to be so much into their world that they had no time to explain, assume or presume, it had to be either that or that they did not care us worthy of their time, whatever the reason, the whole building was very intrigued by them and when you live in the most expensive apartment in the building with three dogs, two cats and a goat, you are bound to attract attention
So I got dressed up to drop my daughter to their apartment, in the hope they would invite me, Jwala opened the door and gave Farha a warm welcome but she was standing at the door in a way that would only leave enough space for a child to squeeze in, I asked her what time do I pick Farha up, “whenever you want”, was the reply. Farha started shouting at the top of her voice when she saw the goat, shook her hand away and ran in as if it was her house. Jwala shut the door, it was quite insulting that she did not invite me but by now we had come to terms with their eccentrics.
I decided to not call on Farha and wait for them to call me. My husband started to panic when it was 8pm, somehow I did not panic. I told him not to worry and that I will go and get her. As soon as I was about to leave, the phone rang, it was Jwala, “Hi Mrs Khan, Farha is ready to leave, would you pick her up or should I drop her”? Before I could think I found myself replying that I would come and pick her up.
In the elevator to their apartment, I again caught myself hoping that they would invite me. Their door was open and Farha along with their dogs, goat and a big gift were standing outside waiting for me. It was so mundane and normal that I felt disappointed. Farha came running towards me yelling “mama have your seen a goat smile, look” and she pointed towards the goat. Jwala, dogs and J.P saw me off till the elevator and that was it. The little window to their lives, was shut.
Back home Farha would not stop talking about the individual bedrooms of the five animals. Each had their own bedroom, a common toy room and it was a house that was designed for animals more than humans. We unwrapped the box and saw miniatures of all the dogs, cats and the goat with a thank you note paw-signed by all of them. Word spread around that Farha had been in the apartment for more than 5 hours and everyone seemed to invite Farha to their house which was pretty weird. We were the only Muslim family in the entire building full of Hindu families and no, I am not complaining of any discrimination or segregation, everyone was always cordial to everyone else but we were never invited to family gatherings or birth day parties before. That completely changed, everyone in the building became extra friendly, started having us for dinners and weekends, my husband started to hang out at the tennis with other men and he was starting to get normal at home. A strange Pattern started to emerge, most of the families that invited us actually just wanted to know what was really inside the house.
My husband and I were raised traditional Muslims with a strict but limited understanding of God, religion, spirituality and the world. Born in a very humble family, my parents just wished to marry me off to someone who was in a better financial position, at the time I was married I was only 19. I got my first kid when I was 20, second when 24 and third when 30 until I put my foot down and refused to bear another child. My husband worked in an American multinational and we were living in the I.T hub of Bangalore where every second person seem to have very similar arc, similar education, similar Jobs, got married early and at 40 did not know what else to do in life.
Farha my youngest had started to pester us for a dog, as Muslims we are not allowed to keep a dog, its considered a dirty animal, my husband and I could not seem to agree on anything, he was still a very traditional Muslim inside and he refused. If I tried to reason with him, he would bring religion into the picture and if I still pursued he would then threaten to call my parents. Mind you, I am 40 and still have to obey his every instruction and if not his, his parents and if not his parents at the end my parents. From the outside we are so well educated, have seen the world, have travelled a bit but nothing changed, I was still just a good obeying slave who would cook, eat, have sex, raise children, follow the rules and listen to everyone around me.
It’s difficult to articulate what is to be trapped in a safety net, in my head I wanted to date men, in my head I was looking for excuses to not sleep in the room as my husband, I would not like it when he would touch me and It was affecting my relationship with my parents and kids alike. I could have been a better mother had I raised them the way I wanted to, I would have been a better daughter if my parents would have heard my opinion and I would definitely become a better human being If I just got out of this so called safety net and start my life, for god sake, I am a 40-year-old young woman, not a 40-year-OLD woman as everyone seems to make me feel but how could I, what should I do.
They were thoughts, they came and went. I decided to not entertain the thought of odd couple anymore, it’s weird that I call them odd, they were pretty normal, we were odd, they were not faking to anyone outside, we were but I succumbed to my life and carried on with the mundane until 14th of August when I got a call from Jwala,” Hi Mrs Khan, I wanted to ask you if you are still looking for a Dog”? I could not remember discussing with them that
Farha wanted a dog, how could she know this. “The reason I ask, Jwala continued is A just gave birth to three beautiful litters and I know how badly Farha wanted one”, Farha wanted a dog, oh yea, it just struck me, I had almost forgotten. Let me discuss with my husband and get back, I replied. “Sure”, replied Jwala and hung up, she said in case you do not want one let me know, a friend of mine is asking for it, thanks, bye”.
I walked up to Farha and Fahims room with a rage I did not understand and asked her, how does Jwala know that you wanted a dog, I told her when I was there, came the reply. That was six months ago, just because you dint care does not mean no one cares. I left the room and came back to my bedroom. A fit of unexplained rage took over me, it’s a dog, I could not understand why am I getting angry over a dog or was I. What was I getting angry over, I don’t know so I slept .
I got the tea done, made him some snacks and very gently put the point across. To me it was not about the dog but the fact that there was no difference between my daughters and my upbringing and I as a mother am passively suppressing her wishes, preparing her to become a spineless adjusting woman that I have become.
I laugh at it, had Jwala not called I would have been unhappily married but she did and that dog who never came to my house made me question my entire belief. I was no longer his slave or anyone’s slave, every single rule that was taught to me seemed flawed. Yea, I did question my sanity, for a dog, am I going to leave everything for a dog but it’s not just a dog. It’s me, it’s us and it’s who we have become.