I sat in Nita’s office for another session, waiting for her to finish a team meeting. The regular sessions had helped at first, just by giving me an outlet to talk about what was happening. But lately, our chats with each other had gotten contentious. Nita seemed to be losing patience, maybe because she personally cared about me, and was disappointed that I wasn’t following her advice.
I sat staring at the posters on the wall, which were the same as the ones that used to be in my office. Posters about self-respect, dignity, not taking abuse, relying on the machinery in place to help, pitfalls of enabling abusive behavior, etc. I once used them extensively when counseling women. Now I still could not get used to being on the other side of the table. Finally she walked in and saw me. Sighing, she closed the door behind her and took her seat, giving me a questioning look. I couldn’t look her in the eye.
“You were with him again?”
I nodded. She took a pad and started making notes.
“It was supposed to be just once a month. Then it became once a week. And now multiple times a week?” she asked.
“Well, he says he is allowing me to go to the US and after that we won’t meet for months at end, so he wants to make this time count.”
“Allowing you to go? Oh lord, do you hear yourself talk? You now think you are beholden to him about how to live your life?” she sarcastically said.
“No. Of course not.” I protested. “He does have it in his power to disrupt my life. Even more. He isn’t doing that. He has been understanding about the situation. In general he has become more understanding.”
“Understanding!” she scoffed. “I can see that at least there are no bruises on your face this time. So I assume he was gentle.”
“He is never gentle.” I said wanly. “He just left my face alone this time, that’s all.”
“So what did he do?”
“I’d rather not go into the details.”
“Come on Shikha…you know how this works. You have to be honest and talk out loud about it or you won’t be able to come to terms with it. Don’t bottle it up.” she said impatiently.
“Maybe in a little while? Please?” I said.
She tapped her pen on the pad for a few seconds staring at me.
“Shikha, look at me.”
I did. The expression on her face was one of sadness and anger.
“Let’s go to the police.”
“This again!” I got angry. “You know very well why I cannot go to the police!”
“The pictures and videos?”
“How long are you going to keep fooling yourself with that excuse? This is textbook denial and hedging. There are ways to limit the damage from that. Besides, all the policemen know you and respect you. They will work extra hard…”
“I have heard all this before.” I snapped at her. “You don’t get it. It’s not that straightforward, Nita, it is…”
And I suddenly stopped mid-sentence. I had used the exact same words Parvati had used the first time we met and I was convincing her to go to the police. I bit my lips to fight back tears.
“Every woman in an abusive relationship thinks her case is special, and there is some reason or the other to keep taking the abuse.”
“What do you mean relationship?” I angrily said. “It is not a damn relationship, Nita! The man raped me and is now blackmailing me!”
“Shikha, stop being so blind. Of course it’s a relationship, whether you like the idea or not.”
“How long has it been since that first night?”
“And since then, how many times have you and he spent time together like that?”
I stopped and counted.
“And each time, approximately how many times do the two of you have sex?”
“Four or five times.”
“How long has it been since Anup came back to help with wrapping up things for the move to California?”
“And how often have you and your husband had sex in the two weeks?”
I stayed silent and glared at her. She knew it was an unfair question. It’s not like I did not want to do it. I just could not willy-nilly have sex with Anup with all the tell-tale bruises on my body. It had to only be at night, in the darkness. Fortunately, Anup had always favored turning the lights off before sex at night. Besides, he was busy with work in addition to all the moving chores, so most nights, he had come home late and tired.
“Face it, Shikha. You and Lallan have an abusive relationship. By not going to the police, and by not telling your husband or anyone else except me, you are tacitly agreeing to be his mistress. It might have started off as just a forcible encounter and blackmailing. But now that Anup is in Delhi, you and Lallan are still spending time together behind his back. That is infidelity. That is a relationship.”
I knew on some level that she was right. But I was not yet ready to accept it.
“This time he did not drink because of his daughter’s birthday party. He gets the most violent and cruel when he is drunk. So this time, although there was a lot of the usual…you know, spanking, biting, and so on, it wasn’t like brutally bad.”
“Do you hear yourself? Again, textbook battered woman in denial. You are seeking relief in small mercies.”
I sighed and shook my head. Everything she was saying is what I would have said if I were in her position. And yet, I could not accept it.
“I was going to ask you about the party. I heard from Salma that you were there.”
Salma was the new case worker hired in my place and assigned to the Parvati case. Since Parvati had recanted her complaints and got back with her husband, her job was to keep tabs on their family life, make sure things were indeed normal like Parvati claimed. So she had been invited to the birthday party in their slum. She and I exchanged a few pleasantries, but mostly, we stayed away from each other. I could sense there was curiosity and suspicion in her gaze.
“Did she…does she…I mean…”
“Does she suspect there is something going on between you and that family going beyond just being a friendly ex-case-worker?”
“She didn’t explicitly say it to me.” Nita said. “But she was a little surprised that you were there at the party. How did you end up there, by the way?”
“Lallan insisted.” I shrugged. “He said he wanted me to see first hand the results of my “help” in dealing with his darkness. And how it had improved his family life.”
“Wasn’t Parvati surprised to see you there?”
“She was. Also, she was happy to see me. That led to an…odd encounter too.”
“Tell me about it”. Nita sat back as I narrated
The party was being held in an open area in the corner of the slums. There were a bunch of kids, some neighbors and family friends and also relatives of the couple. There was a table with simple snacks like potato chips, samosas, chocolates, tea, soft drinks. A few balloons, as much as the family could afford. And a few simple gifts the other kids had brought.
The men and women were sitting and socializing separately. I had a short awkward conversation with Salma, who was clearly feeling as out of place as I was. After that, she put her bluetooth on and moved to a side, talking with someone.
I had no idea who else to talk to. The other women were nice and respectful, like slum women would be to a memsaab, asking frequently if I wanted more food or drinks. Lallan was circulating among the men, some of whom kept stealing glances at me. A couple of them would snicker or wink when they looked at me. I assumed these were his close friends who knew who I was to Lallan. I suddenly realized they might even have the pictures and videos on their phones, and it made me blush.
“Thank you for coming, Shikha memsaab.” Parvati appeared by my side.
“It’s a pleasure to be here, Parvati. So…things are going well with Lallan?”
“Yes. Going…going well.” she said half-heartedly. I instinctively raised my eyebrows and she looked away pursing her lips.
“That’s good to hear.” I said, not wanting to really pull at that thread. But Parvati wanted to, apparently.
“Memsaab…I never got to apologize to you. So let me say, I am very sorry. You went through all that trouble to help me out, get us put up in Jaipur, get that job, and so on. But when Lallan showed up…” she stopped. “After I called him of course. It just seemed…you know…family is family after all. These are his daughters. And he is really good with them like I said. And he is working full time. He raised extra money to throw this party that we could never have afforded until he started working. I am sorry if I disappointed you.”
“No need to apologize, Parvati. It’s your life. As long as you are happy and your daughters are happy, that’s all that matters.” saying to myself in my mind, you have no idea of the price I am paying for your happiness.
“Can I…talk to you…here by the side?” she said in a low voice.
I was reluctant to talk more than we needed to, but I went with her.
“Memsaab…can’t you be my case worker again? Salma memsaab is nice, but somehow…I felt more comfortable with you.”
“I don’t work there anymore, Parvati. I quit. I am going to America.”
“I know. I know. But maybe just temporarily.”
“Sorry, that’t not how it works.”
“It’s just that…well…things are much better with Lallan. No more beatings or drunken fights. But still…something is off.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think…I think he is cheating on me with someone.” she said and looked right into my eyes.
For a second, I was taken aback and terrified that she was accusing me. That she knew. She had found out.
“Oh..with…with whom?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I mean…he has never been faithful anyway. He went to whores even before. And now, with his job taking him on long trips, I can understand if he does. I don’t care about whores. All these men do that.” she said pointed towards the men, where Lallan was standing watching us talk.
“Something seems different. Like…he is with someone in particular. Someone who is giving him things that…he used to get from me.” she said bitterly.
“Well, you should talk to Salma about it.”
“It’s not the same rapport as with you.” she pleaded. “I can’t be as open. For example…I feel embarrassed saying this…there were certain things he did to me..in bed…that I initially didn’t like, but then, got used to.”
“Oh.” With a pit in my stomach, I said.
“You won’t understand. It’s like some rough stuff. Not that I want him to be extra violent or abusive. But within limits…oh god I feel so embarrassed.” she blushed.
I didn’t say anything. What could I say, even though I knew exactly what she was saying.
“Nowadays he is nice and gentle. But…too gentle. And just his general behavior. The way he just disappears for hours sometimes even when he is in the city. It all just seems…suspicious.”
That’s when Lallan came walking towards us, so Parvati stopped talking and smiled.
“Memsaab, thank you for coming.” he said in an exceedingly polite way that seemed very out of place from our normal interactions.
“Happy to be here.” I said.
“You told me to remind you when it was 7 o’ clock? You said you had some other function to attend?” he said.
“Oh right. Yes. Thank you.” I caught the hint. “I should get going.”
“I will drop you to a taxi.” he said.
“Thanks for having me, Parvati.” I said. And then walked away with Lallan, as Salma waved goodbye while still on the phone.
I took a deep breath and sat back as Nita looked at me with raised eyebrows.
“So…how does that interaction with Parvati make you feel? Now that you have found out that your supposed self-sacrifice is also encroaching on their sex life?”
“Horrible, but what can I do about it?”
“A lot! Again, you were the one telling options in situations like these. Now you are basically the mistress of one of your case’s husbands!”
“I am not his mistress!” I yelled. “I am his victim!”
“I don’t need to tell you what a thin line separates those two!” Nita yelled back. “Accept it. You are his mistress. He is your lover.”
“You are married to your husband. He is married to his wife. Like she has guessed, this is not some random whoring around that she could condone. She senses intuitively, there is another woman. Imagine how devastated she will be when she finds out YOU are that other woman.”
“She won’t find out.”
“Still, you just stood there and listened quietly while she told you her husband is cheating on her, while you are the one enabling that cheating.”
“I am not enabling it. I am helping contain it.”
“And what about Anup? Are you being fair to him? You clearly have some sort of an abusive co-dependent and sexual connection with that Lallan fellow. How can you continue the charade of having a happy married life? At least leave Anup and spare him the humiliation and disrespect.”
“I love Anup!” I got up and yelled. “He is my life! He is the love of my life! I am not disrespecting him. I am making the best of a bad situation. A situation that will get easier in a couple of months.”
“Sit down.” Nita sternly said.
“No! Your job is to help me cope with what is happening. You are making me feel even more worthless and guilty than I already do every minute of the day.”
“Why do you feel worthless and guilty if you aren’t doing anything wrong?”
“I didn’t say I am not doing anything wrong. I am. But I don’t have a choice.”
Nita sat back and sighed.
“Let’s get back to this later. For now, sit down and tell me what happened next. He took you away from the party, supposedly to drop you to a taxi?”
I breathed heavily for a while glaring at her, tempted to walk out. But then I sat down.
“He led me through the narrow bylanes of the slums, as you said, supposedly to drop me to a taxi. There were people milling around, so he didn’t say anything to me. But then he took a couple of turns that were going away from the main road, and I realized, with a sinking feeling, that the night wasn’t over. We finally reached a relatively empty part of the slums and then he suddenly stopped in front of a hunt and pushed me inside.”
“Did you resist him in any way or at least show your reluctance?”
“No. What would have been the point?” I shrugged. “The hut was empty and musty and covered in cobwebs. He closed the door and said, this will have to be quick. As he unzipped his pants and pushed me to my knees, I asked him, didn’t he want to know what Parvati and I were talking about. He shrugged and said, he didn’t care, and that I should suck his dick instead of talking. Holding his dick in my hand, I looked up at him and said, she suspects you of having an affair. And she misses the rough stuff. He looked a little surprised and then started laughing. Said it was hilarious that his wife was sharing her suspicions with me of all people, who was a worthless slut aching for being slapped around and buggered.”
“A boorish way to put it, but an accurate one.” Nita interjected. I ignored her and continued.
“He then slapped me, not very hard, and said, you like this don’t you? I glared at him. He asked me to stop talking nonsense, take my clothes off, and start sucking his dick, because he needed to get back to the party. As I stripped, he got on his knees. Which meant that once I got naked, I had to be on all fours in front of him and suck his dick. He took his belt and whipped my ass with it for a couple of minutes as I sucked him to a hard erection. He also reached under my torso and squeezed and pinched my boobs a few times. As he did that, he said a couple of times how he was being a lot more gentle, because my husband was around, and he didn’t want to leave too many scars for him to see. So as I said earlier, he wasn’t exactly gentle, but a lot less violent than other times.”
“Which was a good thing, you think?” Nita asked.
“Of course.” I said.
“Are you sure?”
“What are you implying?”
“I am just asking if you truly liked the fact that he was less violent than usual.” Nita said. “As we have talked in the past few months, I get the feeling you somehow…like the violence. Maybe sexually. It’s not unheard of. A lot of people derive pleasure from intense pain in sado-masochist sex. But i think it’s beyond just the sex for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think you also like getting beaten up because you sub-consciously think of it as a well-deserved punishment for what you are doing. Having an adulterous relationship that you have started to derive pleasure from. Maybe gotten addicted to. The hard blows, the bruises, the intense pain…it helps you alleviate your guilt and your self-loathing. Because even though Parvati and Anup don’t know, at least somehow you are getting punished.”
I looked at Nita quietly, unsure of how to respond. This analysis did seem to make sense. But for me to accept that I actually wanted that abuse was even more demeaning than wanting it.
“Anyway, continue. I am guessing he penetrated you soon, and there was more abuse involved.”
“Yes. He mounted me, fucked me hard, spanking my ass, pulling my hair, putting his fingers in the sides of my mouth and pulling. The usual stuff really.”
“And you did not cum this time, did you?”
I was surprised at the question. It was almost prescient.
“No, I didn’t!” I said. “I thought it was because it was all so hurried and rushed. But now…I don’t know…”
“Maybe this time you did not cum because he didn’t beat you up or slap you around as he usually does?”
I put my face in my hands.
“Have you been having orgasms the few times that you have had sex with Anup since he returned?”
“Well…when he goes down on me and uses his tongue, yes. But during sex, no.”
“Has he noticed the difference?”
“No, because…I never had vaginal orgasms with him anyway. Or anyone else but Lallan.”
“And you said Lallan isn’t particularly big down there?”
We were both quiet as the analytical parts of our brains computed all this together. It’s not something that had never occurred to me. I had just pushed it away when I thought about it. But here it was, all laid bare in a psychologist’s office.
“There isn’t much more. He humped me like that, from behind, with moderate abuse, for about ten minutes. Then he made me turn around again and fucked my mouth, and ejaculated inside.”
“You swallowed, of course?”
“Yes. He insists on it.” I said. “Well, then we got dressed. I took a taxi home and he went back to the party.”
“Hmmm…I would love to talk more about this but I have a meeting with one of the trustees.” Nita said. “But think about everything I have said, Shikha. It is time you start accepting certain truths about who you have become and what kind of a situation you are in.”
I got up to leave. Nita also got up and gave me a tender hug.
“I will think about what you have said. I don’t agree with a lot of it, but I know you mean well and I value your expertise.” I said.
“Yes. And maybe try broaching this subject with Lallan too. When are you meeting him next? In a few days I am sure.”
“No…it will be a couple of weeks. He is going on a long haul trip to the South. He said that’s one reason he wanted yet another go after the party. For the road.” I said.