Marriage: a perspective
From a philosophical perspective, all marriages should certainly be made in heaven. But in practice, there are any number of ways that they are made on earth. What follows, is the story of my courtship and marriage, as it happened when the then-prevailing societal standards forbade all contact between a couple until their notional union was sanctified at the altar in the presence of elders of the community and members of the extended family.
Conjugal Conspiracy - Tradition in siege
In India, upto about three decades ago, marriages were decided by and solemnized in the presence of the family patriarchs and matriarchs. They contemplated; they saw; and they sealed the fate of a couple for ever after. The individuals going to the altar had hardly a say in the matter. Love was expected - or was rather demanded - to flow from the divine, predetermined union. Some of them truly did so and experienced the heights of marital bliss. Other floundered almost immediately after the decisive ceremony. As it is with everything and always, there was a sea of mediocrity between these two extremes, where the paired couples went through varying levels of wedded delight or distress - as one preferred to see it.
There were undoubtedly aberrations. One did read or hear about an occasional couple having eloped and married against the wishes of the parents. Depending on their luck, such deviant duos were either hailed as messiahs of divine, inspirational, and transcendent love and became part of folklore, or were condemned as agents of the devil who were out to wreck society and lead it to the gates of perdition.
Then, about three decades ago, things began to change. A surge of rebellion assailed this long established norm. The first surge was followed by a never-ending series of waves, and the established societal norms for marriages began to slowly wilt.
Tradition put up a last-ditch fight to retain its supremacy. It made concessions to the change-inducing processes that were attempting to dislodge it. Parents began to grant their wards a bit more say in the choice of their life-partners. They would identify a set of prospective candidates and concede the selection of one among them to the concerned individuals. This concession was followed by many more in time, but I will not go into the others now because it was under these prevailing conditions that I went to the altar and this little story is about how I fared on this occasion and whatever that followed.
The guy - that's me - went to see the gal at her place and was promptly blown off his feet. He wanted to have a private word with the gal to ascertain whether she too experienced a similar sensation. The request was seen as blasphemy of the worst kind. It was reluctantly granted, with the parents and other family members hovering just outside the open door of the room where the guy and gal were seated. Not a very conducive setting for love to blossom or find expression, but one had to make the best use of what was available. The question was fired; it was answered by a look that could have meant anything, but which the guy chose to believe was in the affirmative, and went happily back to report to his parents.
A few weeks passed and the verdict was announced. I had passed the test, despite my misdemeanor. Perhaps, other contending candidates went to lower levels of transgression of norms, which made my in-laws-to-be to plump for the guy who gave the least offense. The date of the wedding too was fixed, which was to be three months later.
The fateful bus-ride
Ask any guy, and the unanimous response will be that 90 days is too long a time to be waiting to see the gal-to-be in your life (after it has been confirmed by all concerned that it is to be so) and have a few words of the nonsensical kind with her occasionally (I suppose, it is so with gals too, but I haven't been able to figure it out for sure even after 30 years of wedded life). The situation gets further exacerbated when the guy and the gal happen to be in different cities, as it happened to be our case.
Trying times are hotbeds of conspiracies and such a 90-day-wait would certainly have been the most trying of times in any guy's life. Inevitably, it led to the hatching of a conspiracy.
The guy learnt from the general discussions in the family that the gal was to travel to another city to meet her cousins before the wedding. Conveniently, the road from the guy's city to the place she was to go to, led through the one that she lived. It was an ideal background for the plot. The guy, then a free-lance software developer, opportunely arranged for a business meeting at the target city. He drafted in a school chum too into the scheme to make it appear authentic and promptly arrived at the door of his in-laws-to be with his chum in tow, on the fated morning to say that he was on his way to the other city on business and was making a courtesy call. There were surprises all around - both real and imaginary, when it was announced that the gal too was starting for the place the same day.
It was a concerned set of relatives who came to see off their gal (and the guy and his chum) at the inter-city bus terminus. They even came into the bus to make certain that the guy and the gal did not share a seat on it.
The bus began its 5-hour long journey. It was time to execute the main plot.
The guy had surreptitiously bought a red rose from a florist at the bus station and hid it in his carry-bag. Lying next to the rose inside the exclusive and roomy compartment in the bag was a poem that the guy had written for his gal. The climax of the sinister plot was for him to present both to his ladylove at an appropriate moment during the journey.
The gal promptly lost herself in the depths of a jerky slumber, as the bus meandered through winding roads across a range of hills that lay between the place it started from and its destination.
Two hours went by. The guy and his chum exchanged glances ever so often, the guy wishing that it were with the gal that he could do so.
During an intermediate stop at one of the many smaller towns that dotted the route, an acquaintance of the gal got on and expectedly took the seat next to her. Until the other woman got off at the next stop, which was another two hours later, the guy found the seat in front lost in a haze of non-stop chatter. He was reduced to continue exchanging tense glances with his chum. Plot execution had to wait a bit longer.
It was now the last hour of the journey. The verdant expanse of the outback that had greeted them so long every time they looked out of the bus window was now gradually being replaced by signs of human habitation, as they approached the outskirts of the bustling city, which was their destination.
The chum nudged the guy with his elbow to prompt him to have a go. It would be now or never. Beads of perspiration lined the guy's forehead. With trembling hands, he opened his carry-bag and brought out the rose and the folded sheet of paper.
Another elbow nudge, a sharp and painful one this time, made the guy let out a painful gasp and extend the items that he held in his hand towards the seat in front.
"What is it?" the gal asked.
"These are for you," said the guy.
The gal accepted the offering and gave him a long, inscrutable, and searching look; similar to the one that he had got when he had asked her the first question a few weeks back. The rose and the folded sheet went into her carry-bag.
The bus came to its final halt. The passengers got off, said their goodbyes, and went their respective ways.
* * *
I got to know the meaning of that unfathomable look one day, a quarter of a century later, when my wife revealed to our daughter, who was about 23-years old then, that the now-dried rose of so many years ago and the now-yellowed paper with faded writing, is one of her most prized possessions, preserved securely in an undisclosed niche of our house. The response from my gal was very long in coming, but when it finally did, it brought along unbounded joy. It was with a lump in my throat that I re-read what I had written as a young man of thirty-two and deeply in love.
* * *
It is moments such as these and their reminiscence that powers us through the undulating paths of life's journey, is it not?