That was precisely why I thought the best way to celebrate our 40th marriage anniversary was to simply relish some moments of wonder and embarassment.
I must admit beforehand that I am not trying to steal a march over my friend’s parents who celebrated 72 years of marital bliss. Compared to that, 40 years is just a little more than the half-way mark.
Bangladesh had just been liberated and emerged as a new nation. The ravages of war had begun to take their toll with dead bodies strewn all over, and diseases assuming epidemic proportions. The United Nations Relief Operations at Dhaka, pitched in for assistance—rehabilitation, resettlement, food, clothing … From Delhi, the World Health Organization (WHO) deputed me to set up an office to help medical experts address public health issues.
On my way to Dhaka, I stopped over in Calcutta (Kolkata) for a day. A friend took a day off to show me around the city. During the course, he took me to meet Pammechan, a distant relative, who was as much delighted to see me as I was him. Little did I know that the stage was being set for the rest of my life. That evening, Pammechan took me to meet his eldest brother Murthy Anna. I did feel some reluctance, for as a lad I had seen Murthy Anna in person only once or twice when he had visited my village to pay obeisance to my grandfather (one of his elder cousins).
To this day I cherish that encounter, for at Murthy Anna’s house I met his daughter who was “next in line” for marriage—second of the seven.
In beauty she might not stake claim to a heroine (as I would not to a hero), but she carried a charm that I could not resist.
I didn’t even know her name, since Pammechan had mentioned the names of all seven in one breath. All that registered was that she worked in a bank. That night I hit upon a plan. I had, with me, more Indian currency than I was allowed to carry to Bangladesh. So early next morning, I knocked at her house.
She opened the door and was visibly ill at ease to see me. She was literally dipped in oil for her weekly oil-bath. She blushed and tried to rush to the kitchen to call her mother or one of her sisters. But before she could go, I handed her the excess cash and requested that she make a bank draft and send it across to my bank. I left my Dhaka address for her to confirm the action taken.
It was a 50-50 chance that she would follow through. She could easily have dropped a line confirming the deposit, without leaving her address. But I did receive a reply from her, fortunately, with her address.
That gave me the springboard I was looking for. I sent her a thank-you reply with a brief introduction about me, my plus and minus points (heavily loaded on the former, and mentioning the latter in passing, just to give the semblance of being unbiased) and wondering if we could stay in touch.
She showed her father the letter. “Sounds a perfect gentleman,” her father judged after reading it. He had no clue how much I had labored over it. He gave her the go ahead to respond to it. Over a period of time we got to know each other better and decided to take the final plunge.
I informed my parents who insisted on matching horoscopes. The astrologers unanimously proclaimed our union an “uttama poruttam,” or an ideal match. Yes, that was God’s way to chart the course to bring us together, and I have nothing but gratitude.
After four decades together, I find her a person for all seasons—a loving wife, a caring mother, and a responsible daughter-in-law. At home, much to my discomfiture, she can fix a leaking tap, try her hand at carpentry or resurrect domestic appliances. Forty years on and I am still looking for a breakthrough in winning an argument with her. It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, her pronouncements have been more marked than my impulsive utterances.
Ours is a marriage of mortals. Certainly, there have been the occasional war of words.
During our morning walks, the conversation takes off on a cordial note but sometimes before we cover three hundred yards it warms up into arguments. Thankfully, we have an understanding. We do not step back into the house without burying the hatchet first, be it right at the doorstep, and we carry no domestic discord for the morrow. We forget and forgive before we hit the bed.
How about the promised embarrassing situations? We had sold our Delhi house and were shifting to South India. The movers had loaded all the goods. We telephoned our elder son in the United States to convey that we were heading for the airport, and the goods had all been packed and loaded. “Have you cleaned up everything from the first floor attic?” he asked. “Yes, of course, but why?” “No, nothing, just that years ago when I was stacking all the Indian Institute of Technology Brilliant Tutorials study material in the attic, I stumbled upon the well-preserved bunch of letters between you and Amma.”
My regret, and a sincere one, is that we have only one life to live, to love, or be loved.
Recently, our second son in Santa Clara called me to greet us on our milestone marriage anniversary. In an effort to sound polite I said, “Yes, it is nice of Amma to have put up with me all these 40 years.” “It is not just her, all of us, Appa,” he reassured me.
V.V. Sundaram, an incurable optimist, still hopes his debut mainstream novel in 100,000 words will see the light of the day—rejection slips regardless.