Because a Mother-in-law Was Once a Daughter-in-law, Too

What Anuradha Told her Therapist

Session 1: 14th, January, 2017

First things first, okay? I am here because my mother thinks I should visit a therapist. I am not here because I was dying to meet a therapist. So, I am just happy to not talk at all for one hour and you can just do your own work. Yes-yes, I know this is your work aren’t you supposed to satisfy your client? …I don’t care about ethics, Dr. Gohain. If you feel guilty about taking money from me without doing the work we can just talk. I can consult someone who would just listen to me and not try to blame me.

What do you mean by, “Don’t blame yourself?”

Of course, I would blame myself. I am sad and depressed because my marriage didn’t survive a week after my Ex-Lover tried to kill my New Husband. He asked me multiple times about my past but I had lied to him. It was my fault. I should have never hid from him that I dated a dangerous man. And I knew—I knew that my Ex-Lover was capable of this. Now you tell me—no-no—just tell me honestly, am I not the one who is to blame here? Why should I blame my new husband? He is an honest man. In fact, he wanted me to stay; he stood up to his mother. His mother was all over me—as if she was never a daughter-in-law. She didn’t understand what I was going through, you know? And to think of it—once upon a time, even she was a daughter-in-law, just like me; clueless, scared, like a fish out of water in a new house full of new relatives and many guests who had stayed back after the weddings. Assamese weddings are huge, full of drama, like soap-operas, wouldn’t you agree?

After my Ex-Lover tried to kill my New Husband, my mother-in-law wasn’t ready to live under the same roof with me. So I decided to leave. I mean—tell me, tell me honestly—why should I make the life of my new husband more difficult just because of a mistake of mine? He already has that Jomodogni-typemother! What? Arrey Jomodogni – the mythical saint who was known for his horrible anger, you don’t know?

(Drinks water. Wipes tears from her eyes).

 

I mean, I don’t even want to talk to you. But since I am here, if you don’t mind can I just talk about my life. I think—and I know it is difficult to believe this—I think I would never have reached this stage of my life if I didn’t decide to become an actress.

I never wanted to become an actress. I wanted to study hard and become a sociologist. During my high-school years, my mother used to tell me that there was an excellent women’s college called Kamla Nehru College for Women and if I could secure a seat there, she would let me go to Delhi. I didn’t want to go to Delhi but my mother wanted me to pursue a career outside the state.

It is 2016 now. I am separated from my husband who I don’t really know if I love but I wouldn’t mind trying out my life with him because he is a nice guy. He really is. Unlike other guys, he doesn’t think with his penis—I mean, I would have liked him to think with his penis once or twice, during my short, married life with him—but after separating from him, I have realised, he isn’t like other guys. He respected me. He thought I was tired and didn’t touch me during the Wedding Night, when we slept on the bed of flowers.

How could I be so sure? I don’t know. I just know. I guess, I am tied to him in some way: those rituals, those vows, vedic chants, they must have some supernatural power isn’t it, that bonds two unknown people forever, for the next seven incarnations? Or it must be the power of the mantras. I still remember the smell of turmeric and black lentils paste on my body from the day of the wedding. It all happened as if yesterday. Sorry, I am a bit traditional. Yes, I am an actress. Yes, I have sixty-thousand twitter followers and I write Facebook posts about women’s rights, but honestly, I am a traditional Indian girl at heart, you know? Don’t judge me please.

By the way, I have more followers on Facebook: about 200,000.

How I have reached this dismal situation is another story which I will tell you later, but I was talking about 2011, when peace had returned to the state after the long insurgency, but we didn’t really know if it would stay for long and I had to take a decision regarding my life : to leave the state to study in Delhi, or stay in the city, study here, pursue a career here. You know, peace in this state is like weather. Really unpredictable. That’s why my mother was adamant about sending me off to Delhi but I really didn’t care. I was so happy here. I was at the cusp of making a decision that would change my life forever.

Delhi. That was her first choice. She had strange ideas about the education climates in different cities in India. According to her, Bangalore—yes it was still Bangalore, and not Bengaluru—was full of private colleges and you could get admission there by paying a large sum in the form of a donation in something called the “Management Quota” and she had little respect for anyone who didn’t go Stella Marris or Madras Christian College or Mount Carmel. What Stella Marris is in Chennai and not in Bangalore?

So is Madras Christian College?

Oh yes, of course – Madras Christian College.

Sorry, you know what I mean. You get the essence of what I am saying, right?

So, according to my mother, Bombay was not good for girls because the casting couch — she had read in a widely circulated Assamese women’s magazine about this mafia — wheedled young pretty girls and exploited then. Exploited is a euphemism for sexual slavery. My mother wouldn’t use, or hear words such as, “sex”. So “exploited” is the word. At the most, she would say, “Bad things. They would make girls do bad things.”

Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yes, Delhi admissions. So, during my higher secondary she gathered information in whatever way she could about colleges in Delhi because a woman she trusted, an elderly woman in our colony whose son went to Cambridge University for higher studies after completing an undergraduate degree in Delhi University, told her about Kamla Nehru College. I told her there are many other good women’s colleges and also co-education colleges in Delhi but my mother was sure that KMC was the college for me. It was later attested by the achievement of our neighbor’s elder daughter who went to Delhi to find a seat in a college called Lady Shri Ram but returned with an admission offer from KMC. My mother was convinced about her brilliance. So months before my class twelve exams, it was decided that I would go to study in KMC. That was my ticket to success and my lucrative life out-of-state.

But didn’t I say already that my life is full of twists and turns just like the daily mega-serial I used to work for? They might as well make a serial on my life. Oh, do you have some tissues?…I am sorry. I am sorry for crying and wasting your time.

 

Session 2 : 21st January, 2017

I am fine, thank you—Magh Bihu celebrations were fine, last week. I love eating, you know that, and Magh Bihu is all about food. I am really looking forward to talking today. I mean—I really enjoyed my first session last week. It is nice to be able to talk with no one to interrupt me; I will pay you to only listen to me. You don’t have to say anything.

Hahahah!

I mean, I must tell you how I became an actress before how my marriage broke (if I ever want to tell you how my marriage broke).

They are all interconnected. It would make more sense for you to know my past before I share the problems of my present, isn’t it?

My life started to change when a few months after I was promoted to class twelve, our school principal called me to her office. Of course I was scared. I thought she must have noticed that I was bringing a mobile phone to school secretly. Then I thought, how would she know? Did she even know of my existence? Some terrible person must have complained to her and she was going to expel me. I wondered if it was Punyaprabha Madam because I refused to take Assamese tuitions with her. I mean, who needs extra care in Assamese? I always did so well in Assamese! In Class ten, I earned Letter Marks in Assamese. Eighty-plus, you know?

I was really stupid then and I always assumed the worst. Honestly, now I don’t. I don’t have any problem with my life. I mean, it was in many ways my fault that my marriage didn’t work out—I will tell you about it later—but I have had a good life now. Isn’t it? I mean—I am talking about now, which is 2016—how many people get mobbed when they go to the mall and get requests for selfies? I started acting without any plans, and see where I am? You know what I have learned from all my experience? One shouldn’t try to control much. Just do the work and let go. Because honestly, do we really have control? Do we really have agency? You tell me? After all, we are all little entities who live in a very small piece of rock that is floating in a dark space. Why are we floating? Why are we in this earth? There is no reason. No one really knows. So, why bother about anything? Everything in the universe is going according to the ways of the universe. But this mind – this fucking mind, is the root of all problems. So after this marriage debacle, I am just going with the flow.

Oh yes—sorry about the digression.

The principal’s office was really scary. First, it was so large. It was the only room in the entire school that had an air conditioner so it added to the stern, steeliness of the space. She was writing something on a notepad. The air conditioner made a persistent whirring sound—like a large dragonfly, trapped in a plastic bottle, trying to escape. When I walked in after asking for permission, she said nothing. She didn’t even ask me to stop. Then I concluded, she must have seen me kissing the boy from Don Bosco. Would she call my father?

I hoped she called my father. He would say something like: If you want to kiss a boy, bring him home and kiss him in your room, why do it in front of everyone in the marketplace near a shop, that too, from the same shop you bought bubble gum from?

But my mother would kill me. She would literally take a gun and shoot me.

“I heard about your skit in class.”

“Madam?”

“Hoosna Madam says it was good.”

“Madam” I gasped. “Thank you. Thank you.” I didn’t know why I thanked her twice. Perhaps, I was relieved that the meeting was not about the mobile phone or my sexual exploits.

“Do you remember the judge? She is a film producer. She liked your performance and she has requested that I ask you to give her a call. She is planning to launch a television serial. The pay is good. It will be a mega-serial. Talk to her.”

“Okay, Madam. I don’t want to act.”

“Just talk to her. I am not asking you to do anything. She asked me to convey the message. I am doing her a favour. You talk to her, okay? Then you do whatever you feel like—of course, with your father’s permission.”

She didn’t know my father would let me do anything.

That evening, I called the Producer Lady who had visited our class, to judge our skit. She said she wanted to meet me. I covered the receiver of the landline telephone and asked my mother if it was okay.

We were the kind of middle-class people who wouldn’t refuse anyone when they offered to visit us. It was out of sheer politeness, so we invited her home. She was so cheerful. She talked about my acting talents and I talked about my plans to study in KMC. She was wearing a beautiful printed blouse and a long skirt that looked great on her tall frame.

“KMC?” The producer looked surprised. “She should also apply to other colleges. KMC is a good college, but she should apply to other colleges such as LSR and IP and of course, Hindu and St. Stephen’s. There are so many colleges in Delhi University. Why would you apply to just one?”

“No-no”, my mother interrupted her, “She will study only at KMC. That is her aim in life.”

“That’s not my aim in life, Ma. I want to become a sociologist.” I was so offended.

“That only I was telling na.” My mother responded in English to my English and I was so embarrassed by her strong accent. What did she have to use “na” at the end of every sentence when she spoke English?

I was already regretting inviting the Producer Lady. It was out of sheer politeness we let her come and it was out of sheer politeness I went for a screen test. The Producer Lady said, I shouldn’t stress. If I failed, I would at least have nice, high-resolution photos to upload on Facebook. I didn’t even have a smartphone then and smartphones used to take grainy pics then. In some ways, that was a truly lucrative offer.

 

Session 3 : 1st February, 2017

The Producer Lady was also the Director of the soap opera. She had directed several thirteen-episode family drama serials for the Doordarshan channel, before Satellite TV came to India. Her voice was loud, clear, and optimistic, “Listen, we aren’t making another Because the Mother-in-Law Was Once a Daughter-in-Law kind of soap opera. Our mega-serial is different. This is the situation,” the Producer Lady, explained before the cameras rolled : “You have made dal. By mistake, you have put a lot of salt. Your mother-in-law is scolding you in front of everyone. As in, scolding you really badly. She is even humiliating your mother, your grandmother, your aunts, your sister, your father, and you are silently listening, with a stern expression on your face, but also wiping off tears occasionally. But when she scolds your husband for marrying you, you have to just look straight into her face and say this dialogue:  ‘Ma, scold anyone you like. Scold me as much as you like. But if you scold my husband [take a step forward and mother-in-law takes a step backward], I will bring the kerosene from the home and …’ You pause here.”

Saying that, she also paused and looked at the cast, the spot boys, the cameraman: as if he was trying to gauge the suspense.

I also looked around. I mean, I was really curious. We were in the middle of a beautiful set with bright drapery, huge, pretty sofas, bright lamps with lampshades that had ornate prints, and chandeliers that were so bright that it felt like the sun. Everything was pretty. Everything was excessively bright. A lot of red and orange and bright blue. The walls were painted dark pink and had replicas of Raja Ravi Verma’s paintings of voluptuous pretty women. All framed in wood. Smell of lemongrass essential oil in the air though I doubt it was natural.

The spot boys, the cameramen, the ADs, the make-up artists: everyone looked really tense. As if it everyone was wondering what the character would do with a can of kerosene. The Producer Lady surveyed everyone. Perhaps everyone’s faces. I was wearing a silk mekhela-sador for the audition. I had a thick layer of make-up on. I wanted to scratch my face. I guess the make-up was some fucking cheap make-up. I was worried that the next morning I would wake up with zits all over my face. I wanted to flee as soon as possible. I wanted to do everything wrong so that I could just get out of there, back to my studies, prepare to go to Delhi University.

“Okayeh!” she said and straightened her back. She scratched her forehead, caressed her long hair, and said, “Anuradha, this is your first scene with the Mother-in-law. This is your third day in the house. You have made dal. In many ways, this is like a test for you. If you don’t make good dal, it is not only a defeat for you, but also a defeat and a matter of severe embarrassment for your mother. Your aunt, who has come to stay with you, is still there. She has already hidden her face under the end of her sador because you haven’t been able to make good dal. But that’s not the point here. You are a different kind of daughter-in-law. Okayeh, say that with me?”

“I am a different kind of daughter-in-law.”

“Once again!”

“I am a different kind of daughter-in-law.”

She raised her voice, “I am a different kind of daughter-in-law. I can wear jeans at a party, ride a bike if I need to, and wear a sari or mekhela-sador with the veil on my head when I go to temple or in front of my elders. I am a different kind of daughter-in-law.”

I repeated after her, “I can wear jeans at a party, ride a bike if I need to, and wear a sari or mekhela-sador with the veil on my head when I go to temple or in front of my elders. I am a different kind of daughter-in-law.”

It seemed to make her happy and boost her morals. She raised a first to the air, “Okayeh guys! Let’s say it together again, ‘we aren’t making another Because the Mother-in-Law Was Once a Daughter-in-Law kind of soap opera’.”

Everyone said in a chorus, but lacking similar enthusiasm. They sounded tired and exhausted and unconvinced.

“We aren’t making another Because the Mother-in-Law Was Once a Daughter-in-Law kind of soap opera.”

She said, “We are trying to create a different kind of character here; a rebellious character. We are a bit tired of dutiful, docile daughters-in-law, you know? So you pause. Let the audience think for a few seconds that you are going to threaten the mother-in-law. Then flare your eyes, and say loudly, firmly, assertively: ‘I will bring a can of kerosene, pour it all over my body in the living room and light a match. Don’t you dare touch my husband. He may be your son, but he is my husband now. How dare you insult my husband’s choice?’ Okay? Will you be able to do this Anuradha? Take as much time and as much glycerine, you need.”

I said, “Yes, I will be able to do it. What if the glycerine smudges my eyeliner?”

She looked extremely irritated. “You don’t have to worry about that. And your eyeliner must be waterproof.” She turned around to the Assistant Directors. There were two of them. “When she delivers here dialogue, you guys play the chants. Okay? The chants that talk about the power of the Mother Goddess.”

One of the Assistant Director, a short guy with light skin and long hair and confused looks, said, “Those aren’t ready yet. We have some chants, but we aren’t using them as background music when the show will go on air.”

“You guys are just worthless. Play them to me right now.” Producer Madam looked very angry.

When they played the chants, I wanted to burst out laughing. They were basically from another silly Hindi soap opera. I know a bit of Sanskrit you know and growing in Assam, you do know the meaning of those Sanskrit slokas in praise of Durga, the mother Goddess. Basically, they meant: Oh Mother, give me joy, give me wins, give me wealth, give me beauty. Anyway, they used them during my audition scene.

Fortunately or unfortunately I passed the screen test. They offered me the role.

I refused immediately. I hated those long, running family saga soap operas. So what was this one made in Assamese? So what, it was one of the first mega-serials in Assamese? And so what I passed the screen test? I should have never accepted the offer—because later, I did, like a fool, I did.

My mother and I were sure: I wasn’t going to act. I was going to Delhi for further studies and study at KMC. That’s what I told the producer lady, too. “Baideo, I don’t like this role. I don’t know anyone who would scold me like that for making dal that is a bit too salty. I don’t think I am the right fit for this role.”

Sometimes, I wish my father would have barred me from acting. My life would have been different, you know? That day, I transferred all the photos to a flash drive and left the studios.

“You should apply for more colleges,” the Producer Lady shouted at me from the back when I left the studio. “Don’t throw away your life like this. You are so talented.”

She was looking so hassled. As if I caused her a great loss.

But as I said, my life is like that family saga soap opera I acted in—full of twists and turns. It wasn’t because of the Producer Lady I joined the film industry. I joined the film industry because of a stalker.

 

Session 4: 7st February, 2017

Bipasha always used to pray pranks with me. I will never forget the prank she played during one of our school picnics on the banks of the Chandubi Lake. People say that Chandubi Lake was formed during the earthquake in 1950. It was such a massive quake that the entire forest sunk to become a lake. It also took in a lot of neighbouring villages. It gives me goosebumps when I listen to the story. I mean, would we find skeletons on the bottom of the lake? Household items such as cast-iron cooking utensils? Spades and axes? That’s why some people even say that the lake is haunted.

Anyway, the bank of the lake had this bloom of tiny yellow flowers and thousands of multicolored dragon flies were hovering over it. I had never seen such a wide variety of dragonflies and in such large numbers. Some of them had bright blue, pink, red, green tails. Honestly, it looked so wonderful. Some young kids from the neighbouring village were chasing them. It bothered me. So I went near them and asked what they would like to do by catching those dragonflies. They said they would put them in glass jars or used CocaCola plastic bottles; keep them alive by feeding them dew and insects and display them in their living rooms.

I was just so horrified and I tried to convince them not to do it when Bipasha came over and asked me to hold an envelope. A white one.

I asked, “What is it?”

She said, “Just hold it”.

She was taking something from here to the city. All our friends had gathered at that spot by then. It was so beautiful. I held the envelope in my hands and just screamed because something that made a buzzing, whirring sound was trapped inside; like an insect. I screamed and threw it away.

Bipasha was quick to pick it up.

“What are you doing?” she said, with a mischievous smile in her eyes. “I just asked you to hold it carefully for me.”

All our friends were laughing at me.

“What is trapped inside? What is inside the envelope?” When she said it was a large, beautiful dragonfly, I almost cried, “Free it, let it go, please let it…”

I threw a fit and the little village kids were laughing at me. My friends, especially those horrible guys, were also laughing at me. I snatched the envelope from her hand. It was just a steel coin with a rubber-band tied around it in such a way that whenever there is no pressure on the coin, it unwound, making a whirring, buzzing, sound by colliding with the paper. From outside, it felt as if an insect was trapped inside. She was just pulling my leg. Honestly, why should I believe her? She always played pranks with me. I was mad.

So, when she told me that someone was stalking me, I was stern: “Bipasha, this isn’t one of your pranks, right? I really don’t like your pranks.”

But to be honest, I am often oblivious about my surroundings so when Bipasha told me that someone was stalking me I was a bit surprised and worried.

At first, I didn’t believe her.

When she showed me the stalker, my first stalker, I was sort of disappointed, you know. I mean, why couldn’t a hot, handsome young man stalk me and give me a heart-shaped card and a teddy bear that opens its eyes every morning and says “You’re beautiful?” (Oh, such teddy bears used to exist during those days. One guy, who was madly in love with Bipasha, gifted her one. It was very expensive and we were in Class X, then. When she said she already had a boyfriend (she was lying), the guy went back to his motorbike, took out a lighter and burned the toy. Bipasha thought it was sort of hot, but I told her she just saved herself from a lunatic. “If this gift can’t be yours, it can’t be anyone else.” The guy pointed a finger at her before leaving, as if it was her fault that she wasn’t single. Much later, though I thought it was creepy and scary, I wished someone loved me madly. I wished someone was possessive about me. It was stupid. As I said, I was so stupid.)

Bipasha told me to remain a bit alert. We saw the Stalker Woman another day, when we were eating momos at a restaurant, and ignored her. “She must be looking for a daughter-in-law for her son,” Bipasha teased me but things became more serious when I saw her in a black SUV parked outside our house.

It was a Sunday. I was sitting on the verandah and sipping a cup of tea when I saw that a woman was taking my pictures from the street. She was holding a professional looking camera.

I had to tell my mother. I mean, how could I not? My mother wanted to pick a fight with her but my father cautioned: what if she was armed.

That was also an important point, hoyn-noy? Our in-house domestic help said that she had seen the car parked in front of our streets for one week and it always left the space when I went to school.

And I thought: Wonderful. I have a stalker. It is not a hot, young man. Not even a young man… My stalker is a middle-aged woman with salt and pepper hair.

My mother did something really smart. She picked up the telephone and called all the ladies of her Mohila Committee. You know those Women’s Organisations that used to exist during those years? They sell beauty products between each other, and gather every month at each other’s house with food to bitch about people in the neighbourhood or organise “Best Mother Contests” for the local Bihu Organising Committee? My mother was also in one of those. No-no, not a branch of the Women Writers’ Association. My mother’s organisation didn’t do intellectual stuff.

Anyway, after my mother’s call, members from the women’s organisation started circling the car. My mother and I just watched from our home, behind a window.

Finally, when a group of around fifty women gathered around the car, a petrified looking middle-aged woman walked out of it. I walked to the location, my mother holding me tight.

“Is anything wrong?” She asked in a nervous tone. She looked like a scared, wet cat.

“You tell me. Why are you stalking my daughter? If you don’t speak up immediately, all of us are going to take out each of our footwear and flatten your face.”

“Your nose and face would be of the same level after about half an hour.” Barua Aunty said. “Like a flat-screen TV.”

I don’t panic usually. So I added some more ghee to the already burning oil, “She was following me in the mall, taking my pictures with that large camera.”

The moment I said camera, Barua Aunty swooped like a kite towards the car. In a few seconds, the camera was broken to pieces by the collective might of the assembled women.

Inside, my father was rubbing ice on his head. A few other men, whose wives were also out surrounding the woman, were trying to console him. They were worried that their wives would soon get themselves arrested but they couldn’t come out because all the women had given strict instructions to the men not to interfere.

“She must be a gang leader of some human trafficking organisation. She thought our Anuradha is pretty and wants to kidnap her and then sell her somewhere. Do you think she has no one? Someone please call the police and the news channels.”

“We should beat her up,” my mother suggested.

“No, no, let the news channels come. They should record it and air it so that no one dares to come to our colony and do such things again. If we beat her up now, we would have to beat her up twice. Once now, and once again for the news channels to record it. If they don’t have a video recording of the beating, they won’t air the news. Even if they do, they won’t present it during the 7 pm prime time news. Call them up, they are always looking for this kind of news. We will make the beating look spontaneous.” Barua Aunty was shouting in a loud voice.

The situation didn’t go for the worse.

The Stalker Woman introduced herself as the Nirmali Begum, the casting head, of the mega-serial I had refused. She collapsed on the ground, hands joined, and started to howl, “Please don’t kill me- o, I have two daughters, o. I was just doing my job.”

A few minutes of awkward silence. Sound of a neighbor’s doberman barking. The milkman passes by staring at us.

We apologised to her for breaking the camera, brought her home, and Barua Aunty, along with six other ladies from the neighborhood accompanied us to ensure our safety. One lady even checked her for firearms. She stopped crying and explained to us that after my screen test, a different girl from Jorhat was brought to play the main lead but they hadn’t been able to finalise the second lead, also a woman’s character, the main character’s bestie.

The storyline changed a bit since I had auditioned and now the story was about two best friends, who were in a relationship with the same guy, but didn’t know that they were in a relationship with the same guy. For the first six months (the first season), they were going to focus on how tight the friendship of the two girls were and how they would save each other from different kinds of girl problems. For the next six months, they were going to focus on how they fell in love with the same horrible guy. For the third season, they were going to focus on how the guy would marry both of them and both the girls would be in different households, with different sets of problems, how they would discover slowly that they were married to the same guy, and decide to take revenge.

Nirmali Begum didn’t know what would happen after that but they had managed funding for two years.

“Please don’t tell anyone I divulged the plot. I would lose my job,” Nirmali Begum begged.

My mother served her orange squash but Nirmali Begum held the glass and didn’t sip. She looked around. “Aren’t you guys having this?”

“Don’t worry, it isn’t poisoned.” Barua Aunty quipped.

“No-no, I really didn’t mean that. I mean.”

“We had breakfast while you were busy stalking our girl. You must be the one who is thirsty.” Barua Aunty added another sentence. How merciless! I nudged her with my right knuckle. In response she looked at Nirmali Begum to say, “He-he-he I was joking. Please drink.”

Nirmali Begum took a short sip from the glass. “Oh, I am diabetic, I can’t drink this.”

“Oh,” Barua Aunty said.

“Oh, we didn’t know, sorry,” I said.

“We told you we aren’t interested. My daughter wants to study. Why is that Producer Lady asking you to stalk her?”

“The entire team thinks you are the best person for this character—I mean the second lead. Since you refused, she wanted to make a pitch to the Board of Directors for a higher remuneration and see if you would join us. But the BOD said that they wanted more photos of you and this was the only way and you know – natural, without make-up, you still look so good. So we thought…”

“So you thought it is okay to stalk a woman. Have some shame!” Barua Aunty didn’t let her finish.

“We don’t even know what the current salary is,” my mother said. “What are you even talking about? This isn’t about money. My daughter wants to be an academic.”

The pay was 2000 rupees per episode. So, monthly, I would earn around 40,000 rupees. We were all quiet after she mentioned the amount. That was a lot of money!

I think that the moment it was decided that I was going to work as an actor.

Would you believe me if I tell what I was thinking about at that moment?

That silent moment when everyone in my house was mum when they heard I would be earning 40,00 rupees per month for an indefinite amount of time? I was thinking about the whirring sound of the air conditioner in my school principal’s office. Standing in the living room, I had started to sweat and seriously wonder if a large, dragonfly was actually trapped inside it. The sound had started to become so much louder in my mind.

After a few months, I was suddenly convinced that though I knew my life was about to change, I was going to sign-up for something that would turn me into a dragonfly trapped in an envelope.

Nirmali Begum said, “She will be okay. Trust me. I will always be with her. Also, the channel has unlimited money. It is funded by former insurgents. The show will air in Channel Rohedoi but is part of Rising Sun Media Group. They run the second largest newspaper in the state and also Rising Sun News which has the second highest TRP among all the news channels.”

“I will do it.” I sat down on the couch and said, “I will do it. I want to earn money.”

Eventually, it was my decision to enter this world. But I was so young! I wished someone stopped me; held my hand and said, no, don’t do this, you want to be a sociologist, you want to go Delhi University, then abroad for doctoral studies.

But perhaps, it was written in my fate that I had to go through this experience and live to tell the tale because it was in the sets of this television soap opera, I met my ex-boyfriend. He was hot and handsome. He was tall, dark and muscular. He held a gun, always, because he was a former insurgent and had concealed carry permits. I had an affair with him. He was part of the Board of Directors, and jointly owned the channel.

No, no, I didn’t want to marry him!

I mean, I was in my early twenties and he was already in his forties—of course, it was just an affair. He didn’t see it that way. So when I secretly got married, he started threatening my new husband. I really didn’t think this would happen: One day, he turned up at a dinner party at my new husband’s best friend’s place and held a gun to his head. His entire family was upset, but his mother made my life hell despite his support. He told her, it is okay, everyone has a past, it doesn’t define them but his mother wasn’t able to reconcile that I was in a relationship before, and that too with a former insurgent. But she is right, isn’t it? Who would want to rub a strange weed on their face in a forest? Who would want to touch a strange fruit, let alone eat it? These surrendered rebels, who roam around with arms even after leaving the rebel organisation, not only has government protection, but are like proxy governments. People are scared of them. Naturally! Who isn’t scared of people who roam around with live firearms? So I left their house. It was difficult for me to stay. I tried staying, respecting the good new husband’s wish, the good new father in law’s wish, but his mother wouldn’t forgive me. She had forgotten that once upon a time, she was a daughter-in-law, too.

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Aruni Kashyap is a writer and translator. He is the author of His Father’s Disease (Context/ Westland Books India, 2019; Flipped Eye Books, UK) and the novel The House With a Thousand Stories (Viking/ Penguin Random House, 2013). He has also translated from Assamese and introduced celebrated Indian writer Indira Goswami’s last work of fiction, The Bronze Sword of Thengphakhri Tehsildar (Zubaan Books, 2013). He won the Charles Wallace India Trust Scholarship for Creative Writing to the University of Edinburgh, and his poetry collection, There is No Good Time for Bad News (Future Cycle Press, 2021) was a finalist for the 2018 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize and 2018 Four Way Books Levis Award in Poetry. His short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in Catapult, Bitch Media, The Boston Review, Electric Literature, The Oxford Anthology of Writings from Northeast, The Kenyon Review, The New York Times, The Guardian UK, and others. He is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Georgia, Athens. He also writes in Assamese, and his first Assamese novel is Noikhon Etia Duroit (Panchajanya Books, 2019).