On the 4th of this month, my parents completed 44 years of married life. We had a quiet celebration at home, just us, which was what they wanted.
What with Hubby and me completing 19 and their 44th, I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage in general and my parent’s relationship in particular. I’ve been around for 42 of the 44 years they’ve been together, and I can safely say that their relationship is as mysterious to me today as it was when I was younger…perhaps mysterious is not the right word, perhaps enigma is a better one (Yes, I know they mean the same thing, but enigma is just so much more sophisticated!). Marriage is such an intimate relationship between two people, that it’s impossible really for anyone else to understand it’s mechanics. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the years it’s been that nowhere are the old adages, ‘Appearances are Deceptive’ & “Still Waters Run Deep’, more true than in the context of marriage. I’ve seen (and I’m sure you have to) seemingly happy couples who are on the verge of separation, seemingly happy couples where either one or both partners are having affairs, obviously unhappy couples who can’t seem to let go, couples who let go only to reunite, and thankfully, obviously happy couples who are just that – happy!! But you get my meaning…anything is possible.
I’m no relationship expert and the only reason I think I know my parents’ marriage is coz I’ve had an awfully long time and many opportunities over the years in which to observe them at close quarters. And still the key word here is ‘think’! They had a traditional arranged marriage as was custom at that time. There’s a funny story there. My Mom went along with her uncles to meet my Dad who had come with his friend. The friend had played match-maker and is Dad’s oldest friend to this day 🙂 My Granny, had given my Mom, instructions on proper conduct at the meeting! “Don’t talk too much! Don’t talk at all unless you have to! You can have a look at the boy but DO NOT make it obvious! Just do as your uncles say!” and more advice along the same lines. My Mom has always been a shy, reserved person and I imagine an occasion like this one would only serve to make her more so! She tried to steal glances at the boy she had been told would make her a good husband. She had seen a picture at home. Back home, my Granny asked her what she thought of the boy and my Mom with her trademark stoicism, said he seemed alright, but that she was surprised at how different he looked from his picture and he wore rather thick glasses which were also absent in the picture. My Granny was a little surprised and took up the matter with her brothers, who said No! The boy didn’t wear glasses and was very smart-looking and a worthy match. His married friend however did wear glasses and apparently that’s who my Mom had given the once over!!! Every time I hear this story, it makes me laugh 😀
They made a handsome couple 🙂 He was dapper and she was beautiful and they were both blessed with a rare generosity of spirit. To this day, they never hesitate to help a stranger in need. Indeed, it’s a habit that has often cost them dear and that makes me equal parts annoyed and proud! Theirs is a traditional marriage – my Dad is most definitely the ‘Head’ of the household and has the last say in most everything. My Mom defers to his judgment and opinions in almost everything. And yet she has perfected the art of getting her way and still making Dad think it was his decision, in the manner of all seasoned wives 😛 I live and learn 😉 My Dad’s love for us children is rather legendary in the family 🙂 His stern demeanor effectively hides the fact that he is the world’s biggest softie!! I cannot remember ever being told ‘No’ as a child and it’s a miracle I’m not a spoilt brat! I’m not! (You’ll just have to take my word for it!). My Mom often speaks of how my Dad has always put us kids first, not enviously, coz I think she did it too (it’s what parents do right?), but wistfully, I sometimes think, and I can’t say I blame her.
I think (or maybe it suits me to think), that the most idyllic years of my childhood, were also the best years of their marriage. Dad had been transferred to Japan and we spent a happy six years there in the seventies 🙂 I still get teary-eyed when I reminisce about those golden years, when life seemed so simple and happiness just a cartoon away!! We socialized, traveled, had picnics and did all the things a young family does! It’s no wonder Japan has a special place in my heart 🙂 My parents though, Dad especially, never had any intentions of settling down in a country other than their own and so we were back in Bombay and then to Goa which is their birthplace and which is where their dream of building a home for the family was realized 🙂 This is also when our family split up for the first time and that’s how it’s been since, except for short periods during which we were all together. My Dad was transferred back to Bombay and we stayed behind, my brother and me with Mom, because I wanted to be a doctor and admission into Medical College required 5 years domiciliary proof in the state of application. My parents did what most parents would do (or so I console myself), and decided to live apart for my sake, a fact that never fails to make me feel guilty and sad to this day. Now that I’ve been married so long, I know how terribly hard that must have been for them. Yet despite the distance, I like to think we were still happy. My brother was born in 1980 and for a few years after that, we were still the perfect, picture postcard family, epitomizing the ‘Hum Do, Hamare Do’ policy of the then Indian government! Could we have known then the turn things would take? Was it Nature’s great balancing act? Having given us great happiness, was she now showing us the dark side? The evil eye perhaps? I used to think a lot about why our life changed so dramatically, when I was younger and it made me angry and frustrated. Not any more. Age has some advantages…wisdom and acceptance among them.
And so, my turbulent teenage years mirrored the turbulence in my parents’ marriage. My brother being diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, was the turning point and much as I would like to say otherwise, it was all downhill from there for many years. Even when we were able to finally accept and rally as a family, there was no going back. Life changed irrevocably and finally, and nothing was ever the same again. I was twelve and I cannot remember being more scared than I was then. I saw the ugly side of marriage then, as my parents went through stages of denial to acceptance and settled down into a permanent grief that hasn’t left them completely even now, two years after my brother passed on. It never will. I watched them, tense, as they battled both inner demons and external monsters in an attempt to make sense of it all as their hitherto perfect world crumbled all around them. My Dad was always angry and bitter and my Mom retreated into her shell, resigned, finding solace in religious rituals and hundreds of Gods. I wish I could say that I was understanding and helpful and didn’t cause them additional pain. I can’t and I’m not proud. My only excuse is my age and the fact that my world imploded too, although I tried hard to pretend nothing had changed.
It was as I said, an ugly time. I grew up then, quicker than I would have otherwise. I realized that my parents were human beings after all (not Gods on a pedestal), fragile ones at that, capable of being hurtful and destructive, and of shattering like so much glass. It’s a hard lesson to learn about parents, to discover that they are not the perfect, all-conquering heroes that one has idolized and venerated through childhood, but human beings like everyone else, vulnerable, trying to do the best they can and capable of failure. With help from family and God’s grace, we got through those turbulent times and yet many things changed forever, as they are wont to do after major upheavals. I’ve always felt my parents have carried their guilt with them ever since. They always blamed themselves for my brother and dedicated their lives wholly to his care. Everything else took back seat and that included their own relationship. And again, despite the surrounding debris, there were happy times 🙂 Dad was transferred to Singapore and much to my delight, my brother had the same experience I had in Japan 🙂 He went to a fabulous school, traveled, partied and had a ball!! I’m so very glad he did, coz he always referred to that period as his ‘golden time’!
I got married at 23, when my parents were still in Singapore. The year I got married, they celebrated 25 years of togetherness and there were grand celebrations with most of the family who had come to the wedding 🙂 It was a happy time, if bittersweet, coz I left home to make my own life and it took me away from Goa and later from India. I visited home as often as I could and yet often my visits resulted only in increased stress for my Mom in particular. I have been a difficult daughter at best (still am), and the empathy and compassion that come so easily for others, desert me when it comes to my parents, especially my Mom. I don’t really even know why. Perhaps it’s residual feelings of anger and guilt from my teenage years, when I craved attention and didn’t get it. Perhaps it’s me being judgmental (which I’m not with anyone else), about the way they cared for my brother and the fact that they ignored everything, most of all themselves, occasionally to the point of illness. Or perhaps it’s just the disconnect that I feel from having lived my own life and being apart so long. I like that third option, makes me feel less guilty and evil. I always relied on my brother who acted as a buffer between my parents and me during these visits!
Over the years, Dad has mellowed and Mom, well she’s mellowed too I guess, in her own way. In the two years since my brother passed away, they have come to rely on each other again and I think they are gentler with each other now, more forgiving. They revel in Ishaan’s company and he brings them the kind of joy that only children can – innocent, pure and magical. They see my brother in him and it’s no surprise, given how Ishaan has inherited his uncle’s love and talent for cricket! They are not the kind of people who discuss their feelings or relationship. Being reserved and conservative, they have definite ideas about what children need and don’t need to know and that’s not likely to change. Their marriage has survived 44 years of Life, and when I think that they hardly knew each other when they made their commitment, it blows me away!! The kind of dedication, compromise, understanding, perseverance and sheer gumption it takes to make it through all these years with their sanity still intact takes my breath away. I have in them an excellent example of how to celebrate the good times and make a relationship work through the worst crises. What daughter could ask for more?
I am so very, very proud to be known as their daughter and I do hope in my own small way, I can make them proud too. (As I type I can hear them both saying “You Have! You Have!”)
Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad! Love always 🙂