I didn’t know that was love. How would I have? For a six-year-old it was just a series of bedtime stories I managed to wrangle out of my grandma. She didn’t make it sound like a love story either. Also, I did not consider arranged marriages as love stories for a long time.
Over the years, as the sandpaper of trials and tribulations scratched and grazed my heart sore, I revised my idea of love. I started revisiting the alleys of my brain, scrounging through old memories like a rag picker looking for few morsels of comfort food in a dustbin of a mind that had collected biases, prejudices, fears and irrational insecurities pertaining to love.
Going through heartbreak compelled me to revisit my roots. I was studying in the US those days. Stranded in a foreign land, this meant remembering snatches of conversations I had had with the elders of my family. With my romantic relationship in tatters, I pondered the successful arranged marriages in the clan. Wait, no love story in my family? That question ricocheted against the walls of my brain and in a millisecond, triggered a cascade of sepia coloured ancient memories. And that is when, cutting across the sands of time and space, I recalled fondly the first real love story which unfolded with a jerk in my mind’s eye.
I felt the same breathlessness Caesar must have felt when he saw love spring up in front of him as the Persian rug had unfolded in his court to reveal an unclothed Cleopatra. I let the story retell itself as images resurrected themselves in my head. I could almost remember my grandma telling me about the first time she’d met my grandpa. She was 15, he 23. He was good looking and fair. She, dark skinned and definitely not a beauty, was already too overwhelmed by the train journey she had to undertake with her brothers to meet him, from West Bengal to Uttar Pradesh. She was about to step down from the train when he, standing on the platform, noticed that she was barefoot, though her brothers were wearing shoes. He asked her to stop and rushed to a shop in the station. She waited, confused. He returned and gently made her lift her feet as he slipped on a shoe each. My mind associated that scene with Cinderella and her Prince Charming.
Though his family protested the choice of a dark bride, he admonished them for their superficial preference for fair skin.
Since then, the males of our family have always chosen dusky brides, a precedent set by my grandpa who was fair, literally and figuratively.
He once told her he’d fallen in love with her incredibly long tresses that cascaded to her knees when she stood forlorn and barefoot in the train door. Rapunzel grandma and her Knight in shining armour. That train scene between them also reminded me of Raj and Simran from DDLJ.
Instead of clipping her wings after marriage, he encouraged her to finish her education. When her own family went through a downward spiral of riches-to-rags, he stood by her like Rhett Butler stood by Scarlett O’Hara. He died at 50, leaving her widowed at 42 but they’d led a full life, weaving a chain of eternal love stories together. He left behind a legacy of an empowered, educated woman whom he’d cherished and groomed to take care of seven children single-handed.