The affair that never was

There is a certain unfathomable mystery that surrounds stories of adultery, especially when a woman is the one committing it. The stories may be given a cutesy treatment like in “sleepless in Seattle” or a rather ominous one like in “fatal attraction”.

But then there are others inbetween where we, or rather I have been on the edge about how to empathize with the protagonist. With Rose from Titanic, while i fully bought into her irrational romance with Jack in my teens; I often wondered in my 20s, if she would have eventually missed her glamorous lifestyle when a few children and grind of the low income class life of that era set into her life? And then there was Francesca from “Bridges of madison county”, played wonderfully by Meryl Strep, who i cheered on and even wished with my heart pounding hard in the final scene, hoping she would rush out of the car to leave with Robert.

With the stories aplenty, it the characters in grey that have intrigued me the most. Helen of Troy knew the repercussions of her actions but boldly chose her heart. In recent times, Rumi played by Tapasee Pannu in Manmarziyaan was so perfectly etched in every shade of gray, it was very satisfying to watch her unfold, in all her confusions and vulnerabilities. Robbie describes her as a “pathaka” and she sure is one.

But there is one character – Kitty of Somersaut Mogehm’s “The painted Veil” who is written in a way, that the age and phase of the reader’s life will change your view of her situation.

In a jist, —–Kitty is the brash pretty girl, a high class socialite who rejects many worthy rich men and eventually to be married before her sister, says yes to the next man who proposes to her, a quiet and odd Walter, who is nothing like the men she has dated before. She sticks to the marriage just to “settle down” and to a great extent even detests Walter for his many oddities. Soon into her marriage she starts an affair with Charlie a superior to Walter, that goes on happily for nearly 2 years without Walter’s knowledge or so she believes.

Her flippancy and arrogance is not downplayed in the book and because we are often given the formula of “stick to the nice guy” moral, one is often made to wonder why would she make these foolish decisions, when here was a man who dotes on her and willing to provide for her in every way!

But soon the book turns darker. When Walter finds out about the affair, in his odd way, he doesnt react nor questions. He simply gives Kitty an ultimatum to join him on a journey to a disease stricken part of the world where he as a bacteriologist has a mission to do. Kitty makes a last attempt to avoid divorce and the social ignominy of it, by pleading Charlie to start a life with her; and no surprises there Charlie refuses to leave his wife and children for her.

Rest of the book is about Walter and Kitty in China and how she struggles to come into terms with how her life has turned upside down. The author uses the passage of time to portray remorse and forgiveness. But I loved how he is also careful not to flip Kitty’s character upside down. She eventually hates Walter a little less and even starts enjoying his company as a friend; she broods her decisions, but like in real life, these are not enough for a woman to get a personality switch and fall for the good guy. There is a semblance of acceptance and the more I read into how Walter handled the situation with a slow and dedicated punishment of himself that eventually leads to his death and suicide, it is true that even he had his shades of grey with the exterior decorum.

But Kitty stays the same till the end; Her frivolousness gets the better of her. She stands to lose much like many other heroines, who doesn’t come around.  She is punished as the woman for committing adultery and also by the author for not falling for the “good” guy.

The moral aspects aside, Kitty’s character bothered me a lot every time I have read and re-read the book. While it is not easy to empathize with her, she doesn’t make it easy to sympathize either. But over time, I have fully come to understand why she couldn’t fall for the nice guy, just because she is expected to!

So, last friday amidst lots of glamour and jazz, our wonderful hosts and friends threw a grand “the great gatsby” theme party. The highlight was a role play in a murder mystery game and the final acts to find the murderer. 

It is 1920s, the height of prohibition and a clandestine high society party is underway. Felix is the powerful man, who owns the jazz club, with profitable deals and contacts. His wife is Edith, the romantic by heart, but living in an unhappy marriage; she needs the money to support herself and her parents and tolerates Felix’s unfaithfulness with dignity. She is in love with Edgar, the sweet talker, the broadway show director, who is standing to get sponsorship from Felix for his next production. They share many interests together that she probably never did with Felix. She is torn between her irrational love for Edgar and holding her marriage for supporting her life.

Well ! I played Edith and there were numerous other characters who flow into the party and create the gossips and stories to move forward. There are clues and altercations; a tell tale attorney, which all adds up to the end of act-1 when Felix is murdered, moments after an argument between Fleix and Edgar regarding the affair with Edith.

Act-2 opens to investigations and Edgar is the prime suspect. Edith hopes he is not implicated. She has learnt from Felix’s attorney and manager that she is the one who inherits all of Felix’s estates. She is hoping to make that trip with Edgar, that he had promised her and she can give him the money for his show. She shuts every voice that tells her that Edgar may not be who he is portraying to be. And then at the questioning chair, Edgar names Edith as the one he suspects. He denies questions of affair with her and in a cold blooded way names her as the suspect.

A shocked Edith is heart-broken and angry. She struggles to express herself as bereaving her husband’s death, in the light of realizing the heart-break of her unfounded romance.  Her fears about Edgar are unraveling to be true and she knows she has to act fast to save herself. She being the calm and sarcastic, thwarts the questions thrown at her coldly. She holds her dignity as the wife of Felix and refuses to acknowledge Edgar as anyone but a good friend. In retrospect, if i were a real actor, Edith with a mix of anger and sadness ( eyes welled, not teary ), looks at Edgar and names him the suspect. A look that probably makes Edgar so guilty that he has to look away. She says she knows him well enough by now to know that he is capable of this act, but in her vulnerability fails to convince the judging crowd on why it is so.

And this little flaw in her to not let go of her love, leads to her being wrongly implicated as the murderer and Edgar walks free. In a strange way she still hopes, Edgar had committed the crime out of passion and is even willing to forgive if she gets some indication that he had been truthful all along. And Edith for being the foolish woman in love, the unfaithful, finds herself at the losing end once again like many protagonists.

I definitely didnt play the role to the T. But I enjoyed playing Edith so much. I loved all the depths in her emotions and how it drove the story. How do you express sadness for a husband you only had a marriage of convenience, but never really loved; And knowing you had been mostly played along by the lover who never was!

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I had to put it down in writing before the aura of the night faded. Before I let go of being Edith and going back to the grind. It only seemed fair, she deserved a little writing to preserve the wonderful memories.

Mornings

There is a brief moment of absolute tranquility to my mornings these days. Its right after I workout and just before I delve into the kitchen. I beam at my watch with the exercise ring closed in the wee hours of the morning, usually before the sun has even begun to rise. I beam, breathe, wipe away sweat relived yet energetic; I have exactly 60 minutes before we are all packed and I am heading out the door.

And soon after I switch to fixing lunch for all of us. We have a rhythm now ( routine is too dull a word ). In the words of my little one who says it a sing-song dramatic way “wake up…. brush… bath… eat breakfast….” he goes no like that for 7 days over and over like hamster’s wheel. You get the drift!

But I have started to find a strange solace to my mornings. Now that I begin them with a workout I am wee bit more excited to wake up to get that me-time, before the rush of the morning engulfs me. But the pattern with cooking and packing has become equally therapeutic.

I bring out the lunch boxes from the dishwasher, the lunch bags from the closet. I run over the do-not-forget list written in chalk that briefs what each of us must have. My older one takes 3 snacks, my younger one, still in day care, only one and I require a blue ice in my bag. I recall what the kids had asked me for lunch, the previous night and make mental notes of what to get to first. Then I stare at the fridge to figure what else can I use to cook, whats almost ready to rot and what must be packed and finished asap. There is a gentle softness in this banality, that is probably enhanced by the silence of the morning. Its like a din running thru my mind. I feel afloat and in my sweaty self I feel humbled!

As I am closing the last lunch bag or juggling with the final few details before all the boxes are ready on the counter; I am now used to hearing the soft footsteps of amma slowly making her way downstairs. She pauses for a brief moment before heading to the kitchen to pray to our ganesha, seated at the entrance of our house. These days she braces herself for the morning chill and comes wrapped in sweater, scarf and warm socks and moves slowly to make tea. She asks me every single day “you will have tea, right?”.. It is more of a rhetoric question and I always mull “hmm”.

As I get to the dishwasher, N walks in from his outdoor run, ready to wake the kids and get them on the morning ablutions wagon. I drink my tea making small talk with appa and amma, as N calls out what the kids want for breakfast. And the next few moments are a blur; breakfast for all of us ( its all eggs ) and my mug of coffee, kids tumbling down for breakfast, my parents pitching in to get it all moving. And in 5 min I have had my bath and in a scurry of snuggles and goodbye kisses I have headed out the door. Just like that!