My best friend of twenty years was going through yet another rough patch in her five-year-old marriage.
We happened to be living close by and she would often discuss her problems with me. I would listen patiently while she poured out her grief and it saddened me that there was precious little that I could do to help. I wish I had a balm to give her to make the pain go away or a magic wand to wave and set things right. She deserved better.
But this evening as I met her she appeared surprisingly calm and composed. The worry lines on her face were missing and a spark of her old buoyant self was back in place. This surprised me as when we had met a fortnight earlier, she was a weeping mess.
‘You look like a million bucks today’ I said to her as she happily hugged me. ‘Have you both made up?’
‘In a way, yes’, she said. ‘We are still working on it though.’
‘I’m happy for you’, I said. ‘You know, I always thought both you and Sumit were made for each other’. We settled down on the balcony and over a cup Mira told me what had happened.
‘Last Sunday Granny came to meet us’, she said. ‘She’s getting on in years and doesn’t move about much, so we were rather surprised when she rang up to say that she was coming. Well, she came as scheduled and also brought with her a jar of homemade mango pickle which she makes so well. While handing over the jar she told me that the pickle was well preserved and won’t spoil’.
‘Oh, Granny, you shouldn’t have taken the pains’, I told her, deeply touched by her simple gesture. But Granny brushed aside my objection. ‘You know I enjoy doing these things’, she responded. ‘Ever since your grandfather passed away life gets a bit lonely so I keep myself occupied and busy. Incidentally, this pickle was your grandfather’s favourite’, she added.
We talked of general things till Granny changed the topic to her life with granddad. Rather deliberately, I thought. She was not really given to talking of her personal life.
‘Ours was a different time’, said Granny, ‘but life did toss a few challenges our way’ …..
‘We were newlyweds when the country was partitioned, uprooting us from our homes and leaving us almost penniless’, said Granny. ‘Your grandfather and I went through such turbulent times, it would be hard to describe. But at least we had survived. There were so many of our relatives who were killed in the riots following partition. Death is so final... Anyhow, things settled down and within a decade or so, we were once again reasonably well established. But for me, the challenges continued. I now had not only my three children to look after but a few relatives as well and the strain would get to me. Tempers would run short at times and many were the verbal duels I had with your grandfather. I thought of running away so many times but better sense prevailed’. ‘Once I did leave in a huff’ she continued with a twinkle in her eyes, ‘and spent a couple of days at my mother’s place, but then your grandfather came and fetched me right back, much to my relief and I daresay my mother’s as well! Things must have been difficult for your grandfather too, looking after such a large family and being the only earning member. But perhaps we survived because we both knew when to back down. I think, in the process of adjustment, we realised that if somehow we could get through the bad patches, the good times would soon follow’. She continued with a smile, ‘There is so much to talk about and even more that I have forgotten… but what I do remember is that though the ride was not always smooth, it was certainly worth it.’
Grandma got up to leave but I had a question to ask of her. ‘Granny, tell me’, I asked, ‘if there was one thing which kept your marriage going, what was it’?
Granny laughed as she got into the car. Then she looked at both of us and with a faraway expression in her eyes said, ‘well it was nothing really… I guess it’s just that we never fell out of love at the same time.’
When Granny left, I knew that in some sublime manner, she had changed our lives forever. She knew that we were going through a rough patch and in her own unobtrusive way she tried to tell us that it was all right and we would pull through so long as the preservative was there. The mango pickle was just her sweet and implicit analogy.
‘The story doesn’t end there, though’, said Mira. ‘You see, that evening Sumit came home and brought me a bunch of roses. The roses were lovely but that was incidental. What really moved me was the small card attached to the base of the bunch’. I’ve preserved the card’, she added.
Then she opened her purse and her eyes were misty when she showed the card to me. I read what Sumit had written and my eyes misted too. Written on the cards were just four words….
‘Let’s grow old together.’
Who would have guessed that dear nani would have a simple recipe to preserve a marriage as well… And what better ingredient than love to use as preservative!