This story was published in Spark‘s November 2017 issue.
Anandhi jumped up with glee when the doorbell rang one dusty summer afternoon in Madipakkam, Chennai. It was about time.
She rushed to the door and signed for the package. On her way back in, she ripped apart the plastic packaging with her fingernails, went into the bedroom and lovingly removed the transparent wrapper that clung to her latest acquisition.
“Ha!” she said with a flourish. It looked exactly like it’d looked on the website: a beautiful pale pink saree, with a slender amethyst border speckled with little white crystals. The georgette just slipped through her fingers. Simple, but classy; perfect, she decided, for the wedding reception of Barathi teacher’s daughter next Friday.
She took the invoice and carefully shredded it to pieces before throwing it into the dustbin. She could never get to the bottom of why she felt guilty about these purchases; after all, she was buying these with her own money. And she used them all – they didn’t lie in a corner of the cupboard gathering dust until she discovered them months later with an “Oh! I forgot about these!” Why, then, did she carefully hide these, she wondered, as she stuffed the saree into a corner of her bursting-at-its-seams cupboard so that her husband didn’t spot it.
She then removed the big box of jewellery from another part of the cupboard. There were at least two dozen necklaces with matching earrings, and some with matching bracelets. As she sifted through the sets, she got a sinking feeling; there was quite a bit in there. She made a mental count of what she’d purchased over the last year: at least 10 sets of fabric for suits, 17 sarees, 6 pairs of sandals and 15 sets of accessories. And most of it had come in the last year, when she’d figured out how to pay online for purchases.
Shankar, her husband, had been amused at first and then bemused over the weeks. “Why are you buying so many things?” he had asked, bewildered as he signed for a package for the third time in a week. “My clothes are old…” Anandhi mumbled half-heartedly, “…I’ve been wearing the same things for years…”
Shankar wasn’t the kind to judge Anandhi for what she did with her salary, but increasingly started showing signs of impatience whenever she told him about her new purchases.
Anandhi found this annoying. How could anyone make her feel bad when she did something with her own money, for her satisfaction, for her to feel good?! Over time, she stopped bringing her new purchases to his attention, and took to stuffing them into her cupboard without him noticing; sometimes she even got the packages delivered to her school address. Shankar had noticed that the packages had stopped coming home; he ‘congratulated’ her for ‘controlling her impulses’ and not ‘succumbing to pressure’ like ‘other women’. Anandhi couldn’t stand the condescension, but let it go – Shankar was mostly unassuming and didn’t get in her way often – one had to pick one’s battles, and she didn’t want to fight this one.
This madness was unlike her, though; she had never been much into shopping or anything – but the feeling she got from buying these clothes and accessories, and deciding when and how to wear them, was something she’d never had before. The compliments from teachers and students alike; the discussions in the staff room about what type of blouse to pair with which saree; the rush of joy she felt when she looked at herself in the mirror before stepping out every morning – the thrill, happiness and contentment were worth it. The confidence she derived from this new perspective to dressing up made her try new things; she’d started experimenting with lipstick, for instance, to fantastic results.
This afternoon, however, her mood had become sombre. All the clandestine buying and safekeeping was getting to her, and suddenly she realised the magnitude of what she’d done over the last year – the money spent, the things amassed, the number of her waking hours that all this had come to dominate (she flinched thinking of the time she’d dreamt about finding her dream colour combination in a stunning saree at a throwaway price). It did feel wonderful to look good, and be praised for her knack for pairing clothes with accessories or that I-would-never-have-thought-of-it combination of blouse and saree, but she felt ashamed that the no-nonsense mathematics teacher in her had been replaced, over the past year, by a frivolous woman who delighted in the superfluity of appearances. “Chha!” she said, punctuating her long stream of thoughts with an expression of disgust at herself.
She resolved, at that moment, to put an end to it all. To quit cold turkey. Stop buying things. End of story. She’d confess to Shankar, enlist him in helping her control what she’d realised had become an addiction.
As a lesson to herself, she decided to put away the many unopened packages with sarees and fabric and accessories – if nothing else, she would save for herself the thrill of rediscovering these months down the line (by which time she’d have really controlled the online buying craze). She spent the next hour pulling out purchases that she had hidden in unsuspecting corners of the cupboard. She arranged the stuff neatly into a large Pothys cloth bag and looked for a place in the house where she could hide it out of view – her view – for a few months.
The loft in her bedroom was full of cartons stuffed with books and blankets and extra pillows. The loft in the kitchen was full of vessels – a kodam, a few large urulis in which to cook for dozens of people, and other things she’d received at her wedding eleven years ago. Anandhi looked around the house for inspiration; aha! The space above the steel bureau that had somehow escaped their clamour for space in the house!
Anandhi brought a wooden stool and climbed on it with the bag in hand. There was a small-ish carton on the top of the bureau; something she hadn’t noticed earlier, or remember putting there. What did it have, and where she could shift it? She carefully stood on her tiptoes to peer into the box, and gasped.
Inside were pens of different sizes and kinds, cables and USB drives, torch lights, a variety of earphones in different colours, and many other things she couldn’t even identify, most still in their packaging. She took some of them, one by one; most had been sent to Shankar at his office address.
Colour rose to her cheeks; she was flush with anger and embarrassment. Embarrassment for having been so gullible all these months – Shankar’s stash was clearly a collection over the last year, around the same time she’d been busy with her purchases. Around the same time he’d been busy judging her for it.
The cheek of that man! Anandhi had a seething urge to pull the whole carton down to the floor, so that when he came home that evening he would see the proof of his shameful behaviour scattered all over.
She wanted to get back at him for making her feel guilty from time to time; what could she do? Start leaving some of his purchases around in the room until he wondered how they got there? Or ask about the carton, point blank, watch him fumble about in response?
Within a few moments, however, Anandhi calmed down. In some way, Shankar was doing exactly what she’d been doing; he probably even realised he didn’t have the face to tell her about her behaviour when he too had given in to the pleasures of online shopping.
Anandhi went to the living room and sat down on the sofa. Her thirst for revenge didn’t reduce, but she realised this needed some thinking. Instinctively, she reached out for her phone and loaded Facebook. Mechanically, she scrolled through her newsfeed, and her thumb paused at Varnika Fashions’ latest post. A lovely Chettinad saree with red-and-mustard checks stopped her in her tracks. For a few long seconds, Anandhi battled her options in her mind; one half urged her to move on – she had, after all, just decided sometime ago to control her impulses. The other half took a different track, though; Shankar’s carton filled with its knick-knacks hovered in her mind. “Chha!” she said, annoyed at what her life had come down to.
She clicked on the picture of the saree. It’d been all of seven minutes since the post had come up, but there were already a few comments. “Pp,” she wrote. Price, please.