Lockdown in a Toxic Household

Trigger Warning: This article contains details about domestic violence.

It had been five months since I’d been back home.

To be honest, I dreaded coming home even more than contracting this virus that has brought the world to a standstill. However, since a global pandemic doesn’t quite care if my life is in order, I joined the bandwagon of students heading home from college.

“I would obviously feel safer at home. Healthy food and all. I might even get back in shape,” a batchmate chortled on the train ride to Delhi. I agreed with a cursory laugh and a nod.

Home might not be safe for everyone. But it’s not their fault – they do not know I lead a dual life.

My family is great. A husband and wife, and their two kids. A boy and a girl. Perfectly balanced. We make for a lovely family photograph.

Because photographs do not speak. You can’t hear my father calling my mother a whore in photographs. You cannot hear him gritting his teeth at her every time she says something that disappoints him in the slightest.

I came back home to a sleeping mother and brother. Dad opened the door and greeted me with a hug. I am his perfect daughter, coming back home after labouring for months at college.

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Mom called out for me to wash my hands. It disrupted his hug.

Dho legi na haath jab dhone honge. Aate hi yeh aurat ke natak shuru hogaya. Behudi kahi ki. (She’ll wash her hands when she does. She hasn’t even stepped in and this woman has gone off. Shameless.)”

With that moment, I knew I was home.

Ma made daal-rice for me. It’s my favourite food. As we sat at the table for lunch, Dad thought it was too salty. He felt my mother needed a good beating. She needed her ‘dose’, he believed.

Two slaps later, the salt in the food was fine.

He then put his Reebok slipper in her plate as a ‘gift’ and told her to either eat from that plate or starve. Tears were streaming down my face, but I have learnt how to not speak up. I have 19 years of training. My brother doesn’t react at all. He too has been numbed. In all situations, humans tend to learn how to cope. This is our way of survival.

Ma doesn’t eat.

It’s been a month since I’ve been back home. Dad spat on Ma’s face yesterday. She was playing the TV too loud and her darned father hadn’t paid enough dowry for the torture that she inflicted so she deserved it. Then, he took out his belt in proper Bollywood fashion and you could hear a strange rhythm in his merciless hitting.

Apparently, she was weeping too loudly.

This strange rhythm has made its home in my head now. Her countless screams of pain, too, live there.

I have told her countless times to get a divorce. Kept the emergency number on speed dial. I just need a single ‘yes’ from her. But we live in a middle-class family. Independence is scarier for an average Indian woman than the monster she is currently with.

He doesn’t drink. In fact, he goes to the gym regularly. He has muscles that young boys would kill for. He often tells me how many sing paeans for his gorgeous abs or his stunning stamina every day.

Except those boys don’t know that Dad has a human punching bag at home. It is stained with purple and blue marks but that doesn’t stop him. Nothing stops him.

At least without the lockdown, she had a few hours of respite. Now, he doesn’t have a job and the idle mind is the devil’s workshop, except in this case, the devil would also find himself unable to compete.

Its 4:41 am. I can still hear her crying. Different notes this time. I am talking to the same friend who was excited about going home. She says she loves being back but her parents are getting a little too much.

I silently agree and disconnect.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty