“For me marriage is like art. There is always scope for improvement,” proclaims a proud theatre artist Anju.
Married at the age of 22, Anju moved from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to Kathmandu (in Nepal) to live with her new family of 30 members. Like her sisters-in-law she had her turn of work and household chores, once every week. She was responsible for cooking for all 30 members, and ironing and washing – once a week. House help was available, but they were not allowed inside the kitchen or inside bedrooms. This was considered the duty of the ‘bahus’. “I enjoyed cooking for my family. It was tiring but I loved it. I was naughty when it came to the cleaning bit. I would sneak in one of the maids to help me when no one was watching,” she chuckled.
Sitting in front of me in a bright red shirt and white trouser – a transition from being married into a household where she was expected to cover her head at all times - Anju told me how strict the family was, and how Suresh her husband and she, were not allowed to interact during the day and only spent time with each other in their room after dinner. There was no reason for this; it was just a norm all the couples in the house followed.
It was her friendship with her brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law that helped her through the 4 years that she lived in the set up. With their children growing up, and education becoming a priority, Anju and Suresh shifted to Calcutta eight years ago.
It is however, the companionship and compatibility with her husband, over the past 26 years that she says she is most grateful to God for, especially when she was diagnosed with a non-malignant brain tumour, 15 years ago.
The doctors told her it could turn malignant any moment. “I live in the moment. If it has to happen it will happen. I cannot let that fear spoil my present,” she quipped. When asked if the knowledge of the tumour had affected her relationship with Suresh she said that he is too optimistic to be bothered. “He says nothing can ever happen to me. We go to Bangkok once every year for a regular check up. I do not even go to get an injection alone. He has to accompany me. Always.”
Anju and Suresh have come a long way since their early days of marriage in Kathmandu. “We behave like newly-weds even after all these years,” she says with a smile, whilst explaining how Suresh always puts up with her tantrums, almost treating her like a petulant child. But things were not always nice and there were times, early in their marriage, when Anju was at the receiving end of her husband's frustrations and anger, who being the youngest in the family had his share of problems and vented it all on her. “He was only 21, too young for family responsibilities. It was difficult, but my patience paid off. I now make up for all the anger that I had to put up with; with my tantrums,” she says, giggling at her own remark.
Living with a tumour is not easy, but the fact that she has her spouse by her side all the time is what keeps her faith alive. She also feels that her initial struggle and zeal to not give up has paid off. “Yes, there were compromises I made initially, but I am very happy with where I am right now.”
It is not often that we hear of stories like those of Anju and Suresh, who, despite difficult circumstances have stood by each other through thick and thin, tolerated each other’s weaknesses only to become closer as the years have passed. Their daughter is a doctor and son is in high school and together, the four of them make a happy family. “Nothing is perfect in this world,” she says, “and a little bit of effort is all it takes to make forever a reality.”