“Happy anniversary!” I wrote.
“Happy anniversary to you too…”
“21 years. That’s half my life!”
“Yeah, same here.”
I saw his ‘online’ status on WhatsApp disappear. He went back to work and so did I.
This is how my husband of 21 years and I heralded the 22nd year of our wedlock. I wouldn’t dare call it a ‘happy’ wedlock, for we have seen a fair share of ups and downs. But in the 21 years that we have ‘been together,’ we have been companions for most parts.
We met while we were still in college on an enchanting autumn evening in IIT Delhi - I was a raucous 19-year-old and he, a polished officer in the Indian Navy studying in IIT. His junior in the Navy, who was my friend, introduced us and it was love at first interaction.
After we got married, we spent all our time together – I would read him love poetry while the rain fell outside our window, as he dug into the wok of fettuccine I would have made for our Sunday brunch or I would make him take a bike ride in a cyclonic storm until we would be soaked to our bones. Nothing was more exciting for him (he was and still is, a foodie) than to go to the supermarket to stock up on the week’s groceries.
From learning how to drive (I taught him), to taking yoga classes, buying books or visiting a pharmacy, there wasn’t an activity that we didn’t do together. At the official parties we were required to attend, his seniors would sometimes pass remarks because I refused to mingle with the women – I just wanted to be with him.
In retrospect, I know that it wasn’t just love, or passion or the sex that made us want to be together. Despite our diverse tastes in music or books, political or spiritual leanings – we just ‘liked’ being with each other.
Ever since he left India five years ago to pursue his professional and our collective financial goals, life has been a roller coaster. The peril of running a household without him took its toll on me in the beginning, and on his trips home, I would harangue him to help me with everything - fixing the plumbing, calling a carpenter, talking to our teenage daughter... I would have a long list of to-dos before his arrival. I was constantly fighting with him because he wasn’t around.
It irked me that when I needed to consult him, he was only available on the phone. When I needed to sleep in one morning, he wasn’t there to hug me and say, “I will handle it, just tell me if you have planned anything for their tiffin boxes.” I didn’t have the motivation to cook and forgot the recipes of the food he loved. I wasn’t buying his clothes anymore and I was sleeping on an empty bed.
After five years of ‘going it alone’, I have managed every aspect of my life in his absence, with the help of a great support staff, a fabulous set of supportive friends and our children, who have also grown older.
We have both also managed to adjust to a new way of living. We plan our holidays, and take most of our major decisions over calls. When he makes his trips home, I grab the opportunity to travel; I travel solo to the Himalayas for “me” time or down South to meet my parents. He is supportive and allows me my space. He backs me up, looks after the children and the home (I still make him a long list and he diligently ticks each item off) and also answers needless questions from others about my ‘disappearance’ when he comes.
We don’t feel the need to spend all our time ‘together’, and yet, we are more sensitive to each other’s needs, more affectionate and a lot more accommodating than we ever were. Perhaps it comes from the knowledge that at the other end of the spectrum, we are always there for each other.
Changes don’t happen overnight and I remember the time when we had disposed our television off about 10 years ago. It was becoming a hindrance to our peace, (our children were constantly fighting to control the remote) and we were both not fond of the ‘idiot box’ (we had bought one only when his parents first visited us a year after we were married). At the time, we were both working from home and invariably the afternoons were spent reading. We had developed the knack of being in the same room, each engrossed in their book, looking up only when hunger struck. Neither spoke, but one of us would just get up and get us something to eat.
It took 2000 kilometres and five years of staying apart, but we’ve re-discovered our silent companionship.