Tag Archives: valentine’s day

When You Love Someone…

It was a Valentines weekend but it was not jolly! My world was hurtling down a steep cliff, only it was worse than my hormone drenched teenage-ish mind imagined. My gut was in overdrive, signaling danger, and my cerebral cortex was out of orbit. 

I have always been a late bloomer and although my limbs stretched in height, my brain failed to catch up to speed. So when I got married, my baby face and warm, almond milk palette did not know that I was hurdling head first into a sharp, glacial disaster. As I said, it was not jolly.

Having fond memories of the ancient city of pink palaces – Jaipur – as a child was radically different than going as a bride into a family of three strangers and their even stranger acquaintances! 

Their thought processes were radically different from mine. They were very conservative in terms of customs, food habits, and medical treatment. A daughter-in-law should wear a saree, cover her head and touch the feet of every stranger who stepped into the house. Food was extra spicy, difficult for me to digest, and if I fell sick,  I was only allowed two or three antibiotic capsules instead of the entire course.

Most of these issues I could navigate. But there were times the home dynamics were rocked by temper tantrums and hysteria which defied human logic. I was absorbed in the quixotic chaos of my marital home with the eyes of an avid reader of mystery novels but not enough to prepare me for the harrowing hair-pin-bend-like Jumanji moments in my newly wedded life.  Help from home was a few thousand miles away. My parents lived in Bombay. There were no cell phones. The only landline phone was in the living room and was not private. There was not a single soul in the ramparts of my Piya-ka-Ghar who was sympatico. 

On one such dire occasion when my cup of sorrow was spilling, I made a plan to make a phone call from an outside line. I stealthily crept out of the house in a sweltering mid afternoon down the dusty lane when the family folks were on their daily siesta. There were no public phones and neighbors had no connections. I walked into the office of a relative and I told him a white lie. “The phone at home is not working and I have to call my parents in Bombay.” He acquiesced and I dialed home. When dad came on the line I explained to him, “It’s bad!” I wailed and then rattled off the issue in code language. To my dismay, my brilliant dad was having difficulty cracking my code. Regardless, I told him it would be good if he came there urgently, choking over every wor…d…he was having difficulty understanding. My only hope was that he could grasp the gravity of the situation from the emotional current in my voice. Mr. Relative kept staring at me but did not ask questions. I hung up and ran back to my in-laws’ house sobbing silently. I was at my wits end.

Monita Soni and Her Father

Hours passed and my mom called on the landline but her message was not conveyed to me. Then at 3 AM on a very cold and foggy winter night, a very tired, bleak-eyes tall man in a tweed coat and muffler came over the threshold. My mother-in-law called out my name: “Monita… your dad is here”. I ran out in my nightgown, bare feet without bothering to throw a shawl on my shoulders. “Daddy!”, I cried out and clutched at the hand knit grey sweater on his chest and started bawling.

He gently patted me on my back and said, “It’s good to see that you are okay my daughter.” I looked up at his face, he had not shaved and his lips were cracked from the cold. There was a worried look around his eyes.

Later, I found out that he was flying from Bombay to Delhi for an urgent business matter when he took my “call” and then not knowing how to contact me for a better understanding of my duress on the phone, he took a night taxi from Delhi. He traveled all through the dark, bitter, cold night to check on my condition.

He also said: “Daughter when you love someone, you don’t subject them to stress.” I forgot my troubles and felt guilt because I realized how much anguish I had caused my dad and how he must have suffered not knowing what was troubling me. I gave him a comfortable bed and said: “Dear dad, you rest now. We will talk in the morning”.

But my dad’s words “ When you love someone…” are instilled in the staccato of my beating heart. I can never forget his worry-stricken face. I also became acutely aware of how many insurmountable struggles of his own he had kept hidden from me. Those gently spoken tough words from a very tender hearted man caused me to transform from a crying daddy’s girl into a woman of tremendous resolve like a koi fish swimming against the current.

Because when someone loves you… you grow.

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner. She drew the featured image as a symbol of her love for her father.

Edited by Assistant Editor, Srishti Prabha.

A 55 Year Love Story

A Short Introduction 

This is the love story of Yatindra and Sadhana Bhatnagar – nearly 55 years of sharing cheers and tears, facing odds and overcoming them, together.

It’s a story of reaching great heights – he in journalism and she in painting and sketching.

Yatindra wrote books, Sadhana contributed to some. They collaborated on some more.

Both traveled widely. From New Delhi to Indore, mingling with Presidents and Prime Ministers, top diplomats, artists and business people.

Sadhana raised their two lovely daughters and wrote poems for Yatindra; he wrote them for her as well.

She was an excellent cook, expert in sewing, knitting, crocheting, singing, embroidery, hospitality, making life-long friends and helping others. They gave love to their daughters, their daughter’s husbands, and strangers. In return, they got love from far and wide.

They were always on the same page; two bodies and one soul.

Both remained love-birds, till her last day. He would sit by her side, hold her hand, look into her eyes, and whisper sweet nothings in her ears.

This is their Fairytale Love Story.

Start of a 55 year old love story

Talking about pairs, arranged or love marriage, meant marrying in our own community (caste) and region, with similar customs and language and habits, family background – and of course matching horoscopes. None of these figured into our marriage at all. 

Ours was a beautiful combination of love and arranged. 

We had only one ‘date’ on April 21, Milan Divas – The Day We Met, and got to know each other. That was enough for us. 

In the six-months of waiting, dozens of letters were exchanged. Phone facility was not easy; it was also expensive. So we had the mailmen helping us. In this case ‘the middlemen’ were welcomed. Letters were a big consolation. 

It started with my four-year-old friendship with Indrajit, Ved’s (Sadhana’s) brother, that led to our marriage and 55-years of courtship.

Destiny had played a significant role. 

Ved was born in Nowshera, now in Pakistan, before her family moved to Abbottabad.

I was born in Indore, over 800 miles from Ved’s birthplace. She moved to Abbottabad and I to New Delhi – the distance cut by 90 miles. When we married she lived in Dehradun and I in Delhi, only 150 miles away. 

We were surely destined to move closer and closer till we became one. 

The rest is history, as they say.

We married on a ‘bad’ day but made a good life

October 8, 1961! The day, I believe, no marriages took place in orthodox Hindu families. 

That is because it is part of the Shraddh season when orthodox Hindus remember their dead, pay respects to their souls, feed the Brahmins and the poor, and pray for the eternal peace for the dead.

Our marriage on a Shraddh day!

Indrajit and I consulted ‘Mr. Calendar’ and decided on the convenient Sunday.

Everything happily fell right into place. Virtually, the entire city came to witness this ‘unique’ marriage. We got the best hotel to stay, had one of the best bands available, and the caterers were happy to get business during a slow season.

It was no “Big Fat Indian Wedding” yet lovely and pleasant; a good family event where two families became close.

Mataji (my widow mother-in-law) gave away the bride, another break from the orthodoxy. 

I gave Ved a new name – Sadhana, the desired one, my prayer. 

On the bus heading home – and to new dreams – a non-stop singing session started. Sadhana obliged by singing what became one of our favorite songs:  

Nayee manzil nayee rahein, naya hai meherbaan apna, na jane ja ke theharega kahaan yeh karvaan apna. (New destination and new path, new partner-friend, I don’t know where this caravan will end up.) 

How appropriate was her choice!  

Making of a Home 

Back home well past midnight, everyone was tired and retired to bed early. No ‘first night’ ritual. We looked forward to the future. 

The next day my errands took a long time and it was a late evening when I returned. I was stunned – my beautiful wife was waiting for me in her elegant dress, simple yet lovely jewelry, hardly any make-up, and the apartment had transformed into our “home.” 

Homes are made with love, vision, respect, commitment and a desire to become and grow as one. Sadhana arranged the furniture and other things to make the small rooms look larger and bare walls were adorned with photos and paintings. The home looked inviting; it bore the stamp of a lady with good taste and creativity.  She did everything with love and care to make it her home, our home.

Wonderstruck, I could only say: “Tumne to ise swarg bana diya (you have turned this into a heaven.) She had a lovely smile on her face as we exchanged glances that said more than we expressed. 

I was apologetic for being away for hours but she put me at ease with a phir kya hua (no problem, that’s okay).

I was stunned and could only look at her full of admiration and joy.

I fell in love with Sadhana, again. And that love continued for about 55 years. 

Our Honeymoon and More

We didn’t have a honeymoon in the traditional sense. We had made no plans and we kept everything limited and simple. As part of our wedding, just a couple days after our marriage, we were off to Dehradun for Phera (return).  

The Phera tradition serves two purposes: one, to know first-hand from the girl how she was welcomed at the groom’s place and how she feels about the groom (Mataji could tell from Sadhana’s glow); two, to know the son-in-law better without his entourage (Baraat). 

After spending a couple days in Dehradun, meeting Sadhana’s family and a host of her friends, we went to Mussoorie for a day to have time exclusively for the two of us. Unexpectedly one day became two.

Our lives had become the ultimate union of two hearts and two minds to reach the divine state of one.

That was the relation between Sadhana and I, from the beginning to the last. 

We did have a delayed honeymoon after 11 years where we went to Europe and Egypt for 40 days. It will remain a cherished memory.

Life, of course, is not a bed of roses. 

We encountered problems. We faced hardships and challenges. We had our disagreements. We argued. But they were few and far between. 

The ‘ceasefire’ was quick. Tears shared and sweet smiles exchanged happily. 

The arguments did not last long.

The ‘silent treatment’ could not go beyond a couple hours. 

We wouldn’t have it any other way.

In early 1940s in India, Brooke Bond Tea widely displayed an ad proclaiming: “Two leaves and a bud, the standard plucking method of the high grade tea.”

When we would patch up – and I loved that job happily – it was “two tight hugs and a kiss, the standard patch-up method of the highest grade of love.” 

Peace will be inevitably restored in no time to be followed by more tight hugs and more shower of kisses, enough to drown us in love and loud laughter.

Sadhana was an incredible human being!  

Yatindra Bhatnagar, a journalist, author and poet has been writing for more than seven decades.  He was chief editor of daily, weekly and monthly newspapers and magazines in India and the United States. He has done more than three thousand radio and TV programs and written 20 books, in English and Hindi.  He has extensively traveled in India and abroad. At nearly 91, he is still writing books, contributing to papers, doing radio programs and has his own website: www.internationalopinion.com

Edited by Assistant Editor, Srishti Prabha.

The Arrangement of Love

While talking to a friend in distress over dating dilemmas, I confessed that if life had not taken the drastic turn that it did for me, I would have perhaps resorted to the age old comfort of an arranged marriage. I could clearly see her disbelief as she jumped out of her chair, because my story was a wildly adventurous one of moving across the globe for an interracial love affair that evolved into marriage. But like everyone else, I have thought a lot about the what ifs of life. “How could you say that? How could you ever let someone else be liaison between you and your soul mate?” she gasped. “Well,” I said, “Isn’t that what dating websites do?”

I remember when dating websites like shaadi.com first showed up in India. They were a joke. I heard lots of aunties and uncles smirking at the prospect of a computer medium finding a right match. And yet I was interested to follow its development as a phenomenon in modern India.

A person enters their own information and what he or she would like in a partner. Issues like social status, money, looks, expectations and family values definitely play a role in the selection. A search engine acts much like an old, pan chewing, all knowing match making matriarch and produces options for consideration. Isn’t this what the idea of arranged marriage is?

Arranged marriages are most prevalent in India, China, Japan and predominantly eastern cultures. But unlike popular belief, arranged marriages date back to the 5th century in England. Their exposure in Victorian England is no more well known than being the subject of various romantic novels including Jane Austen‘s iconic classic Pride and Prejudice. Royal families across the world including the English monarchy have practiced arranged alliances and even practices like bride price aka dowry!

The West sometimes sees arranged marriage as a primitive and forceful proposition where the bride and the groom have no choice other than to submit their lives (without any say) to a partner who almost definitely will not be suitable. Parents are seen as controlling (yes, sometimes they are, but not always) and children as voiceless puppets. A drab life of no love and happily never after. Well, reality begs to differ. I think modern day arranged marriages are just means to find a partner. There is room to meet, date and weigh the prospect in a rational way.

Finding love is hard. Very few souls are blessed to find their soulmates very early on in life. Or how many of us can really walk into a bar and pick up the next super model and marry him or her? The pressure from society to be in love, to always be dating and the assumed pity when we are single is very hard on anyone, let alone young people. In a world of many options, where even finding the right breakfast cereal takes a lot of research, how are we expected to find life partners in a heartbeat?

Popular culture, even today, makes us think that there is something wrong if we have not been chased in the rain by a lovelorn secret admirer and if we are not happily married to him soon after. Love is not such a jackpot. If you ask any couple married long enough, you will find that a successful marriage is not an accident. It does not matter if you are head over heels in love with someone before you marry them or if your love grows and evolves after being married. Love is work. Period.

Relationships work or don’t work regardless of how they came to be. I wish there was a formula, but there isn’t. And that’s what makes it more alluring, more challenging and all the more human.

Why not then accept help? Why not allow channels to open for people to come into our lives, how they do so does not matter. It could be your long lost aunt or a friend calling with a proposal, a cheesy matrimonial ad, a new dating app, or even that supermodel at a local bar! You just don’t know.

Preeti Hay is a freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in publications including The Times of India, Yoga International, Khabar Magazine, India Currents and anthologies of poetry and fiction.

Dance Lessons Bring Romance to a Midlife Marriage

As a single mother with a teenage daughter, when I decided to marry a widower with a daughter, I knew what I was getting into. Or so I thought. From one half of a mother-daughter duo, I became the key piece of a puzzle which held four very different people, all wary and a little apprehensive about this new midlife adventure that Aditya and I had jumped into. 

There was much to be learnt, both inside and outside our home. Moving from India to Singapore meant, among other things, giving up the luxury of driving our own private cars and relying exclusively on public transport in a tiny but super efficient metropolis far removed from the chaos of India. The girls entered a new school, skeptical about making friends, and nostalgic for the familiar faces they had reluctantly left behind.

Inside the home, I bore the brunt of figuring out meal plans and food preferences, sleeping habits and unique quirks of my new family. My hopes of finding a job started fading after a few months. Even as I ranted against the unfairness of the job situation, the most frustrating part of the early months of our marriage was the lack of private time between Aditya and me.

At home, we hesitated to hold hands in front of the kids, unsure of what they would read into such gestures of affection, given our conservative Indian outlook and upbringing. I missed the one on one time that we enjoyed during our courtship through late night phone calls. We would say goodnight after sharing stories about our day and making each other laugh. My idea of a happy marriage involved a spouse who would be my friend and confidant, my buddy and my muse, my better half who would make me want to be a better person. 

Our daily life however, was buried under to-do lists and spreadsheets, our schedule filled with meetings at the school and appointments at the immigration office. All of our conversations centered around the home or kids or finances. 

Perhaps I was wrong to want romance in a midlife marriage. Candlelight dinners and walks on the beach were only for the young, not for couples with bills to pay and homework to supervise in the first year of marriage. But a part of me still craved alone time with my new husband. 

As newly-weds didn’t we deserve some time to find an equilibrium with each other before being inundated with family priorities? 

One day at the library I found a flyer announcing ballroom dancing class at our local community center.

“Let’s sign up for this,” I suggested, hoping it would give us something to do together while providing an excuse and a focus away from the kids. Aditya agreed. 

On the first Thursday evening, I waited eagerly for Aditya to return from work. Although unsure about the dress code for such an activity, I knew comfy shoes were required. I convinced Aditya to not change into his usual home attire of shorts and t-shirt. We took the bus to the community center and found our way to the dance studio on the third floor. 

The spacious room with floor to ceiling mirrors on two sides of the large, smooth, rectangular floor looked intimidating. The registration sheet showed at least ten names but we were the only couple to show up for the class. The instructor, a tall elegant gentleman dressed impeccably in formal pants and long-sleeved black shirt, looked as if he would have been happier had we not shown up. 

In spite of his misgivings, the agile instructor tried to teach us the basic waltz three step.  One-two-three. One-two-three. One-two-three. He paired up with us, one by one, to demonstrate. We were happy to be led and tried to follow. Soon he asked us to pair with each other and repeat. 

Despite our best intentions we were unable to complete more than two ‘1-2-3’ counts without stepping on each other’s toes or bumping into each other as we navigated the corners of the room. On the way back home, we laughed at our feeble efforts but sincerely showed up each subsequent week. At the end of the ten-week session, there was no discernible improvement in our technique. We continued to hobble around the dance floor like disjointed robots but we optimistically asked the instructor,

“When does the next session start?”

“I will call you,” he replied wryly, not impressed by our enthusiasm.  

 After ten weeks of missing cues, not getting the rhythm, and stepping on each other’s toes, we were forced to conclude that we were no Fred and Ginger. Our dance lessons, in addition to making us laugh, did teach us a few valuable lessons – how not to step on each other’s toes, literally; how to leave behind our disappointment with our lack of progress at the studio, and how to laugh about our two left feet. 

Our joint effort towards a common goal was all that mattered. By providing a relief valve from the stress during the early days of our experiment of a second marriage, the ballroom dance lessons served a purpose – of allowing us to lighten up and let ourselves some slack. Who said we had to get everything right? 

Five years later, on a family holiday to Alesund, Norway, I paused midway on a hike to Sukkertoppen hill, not sure I could make it. Suddenly, a familiar hand appeared. With his lean build and athletic frame, Aditya could have easily raced ahead with the kids, but he had stayed back to check my progress. I took his hand. 

Sometimes he walked ahead to check the best path. At other times, he walked besides me. We moved, not in unison, but in response to each other’s unspoken prompts until we reached the summit with its breath-taking view. Did the dance lessons help? I’m not sure. But romance in midlife, that’s a different story.

Desi Roots, Global Wings – This is a monthly column focused on the Indian immigrant experience

Ranjani Rao is a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, former resident of USA and now lives in Singapore with her family. She is co-founder of Story Artisan Press and her books are available on Amazon. She is presently working on a memoir. Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Blog

Thanks to 7 SeTh and Alex Iby on Unsplash for the images.