Many years ago, we lived in Pondicherry in the white town area. Our home was about about 500 metres from the Aurobindo Ashram. To use the word quaint to describe this part of Pondicherry would be like using the word large to describe Mount Everest. The streets were so narrow that the best mode of transport was a two wheeler. So almost all the time, our large luxury car was parked safely in the garage, and our family (my husband, me and two children) would scramble on the scooter—a Kinetic Honda, and navigate the streets of Pondicherry, true Indian style. It was one part fun, four parts scary and all parts something that we weren’t used to at all. But like every good Indian citizen, I quickly made peace with this and adjusted my body posture and expectations, as we zoomed through life and the streets with French names, with equal gusto.
Social invitations were rare, and so when we were invited for dinner to my husband’s colleague’s place, we accepted with joy. We arrived safely at their place, perched on our scooter. I can now swear that I know with a fair degree of accuracy what Lord Ganesh feels like, when he rides on his mouse.
The elderly couple, Sudipto and Shaila were the sweetest hosts. They had been married for more than 35 years and had adult kids who lived abroad. They welcomed us, and as we sat in their living room, making conversation, Shaila called out to the house-help, a young man to bring the snacks out. Sudipto turned to her and said "You speak with so much love and care to the servant. How is it that you bark at me and speak to him so sweetly?" Prompt was her reply in pure Hindi "Kamaal hai, agar maine usse vaise baat kiya tho woh bhaag nahin jaayega?" ( Are you kidding?! If I speak to him the way I speak to you, he will run away!) My husband and I burst out laughing at her matter-of-fact reply. Sudipto too guffawed and accepted her quip, good- naturedly. Then he pointed to his hearing aid and said "This is the secret of my long marriage. When I don’t want to listen to her, I simply switch it off."
Every couple that has been married ten years or more knows how true that statement of hers is. When you are married long enough, it is inevitable that a certain ‘taken-for-granted’ attitude slips in. You get used to each other’s ways. You accept. Your partner becomes something (not someone) that you cannot do without—like a comfortable pillow or a chair. You do not think twice before showing your irritation and snapping when irked. Politeness and niceness vanish when the kids arrive. Your true personality emerges when a baby bawls for the tenth time that night, and it is the third night in a row that you haven’t slept a wink.
As the years pass, your relationship grows along with the children. You tweak your expectations and you compromise. If, after many years of marriage, the conversation between you still exists, then it is a bonus. If there is still excitement at the end of the day when you see your spouse, it is indeed icing on the cake. I am yet to meet a couple that has been married 15 years or more who says ‘I can’t wait to get home to tell my husband/wife about my day.’ Mostly it is the friends that we make, who fulfil this need of ours. A friend is still excited when something amazing happens to you. I do not dispute that your spouse might be happy too, but you know what reaction to expect from the spouse. You have been conditioned to it for the number of years that you have been married. So it is nothing new.
To this day I do not know if Sudipto was joking about the hearing aid or not. But as someone who has been married 21 years, I can vouch that sometimes, choosing what you want to hear, definitely helps. I am sure my husband would agree!