Most nights, the neighbourhood women would gather together after the day’s chores to pour their hearts out to each other. The tales were a jumble of this and that, a tirade so to speak, of the rigmarole that is marriage. There was not one woman in that cluster of huddled heads who would say something hopeful or different. This was a constant feature in the neighbourhood I stayed at while I was inching my way up to adulthood. Compared to this, the fairy tales of my childhood seemed largely phony. The collision of whimsy with reality doused something deep inside me. By the time I turned twenty-two, I was habitually sceptical. That’s the kind of apathy I took into my marriage.
My husband on the other hand, was full of beans. Always buoyant and talkative, he compensated for my lack of words and enthusiasm. The first couple of years were a disaster; a comedy of errors almost. I wondered if the Gods were amused enough with our union because we certainly weren’t.
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On hindsight, it seems like I was approximating the voices of those women from my past. I had tuned myself to believe the worst. At some point he lost patience and his hot-headedness took over. The dissent and rebellion blurred out the good parts. We were nice people underneath and had similarities too. But much like parallel lines that have a lot in common but never meet, our heads stayed rigidly divided. Even then, there were invisible threads that held us together.
One evening in the middle of some nondescript squabbling, I caught the distraught look on my little daughter’s face. It haunted me deep into the night. Kids are like little sponges, soaking up every little word, emotion and behaviour around them. The next day, my husband and I made a decision: that we would never argue in front of our daughter.
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It was a quantum leap, one that spurred little changes but ended up having a major impact on our lives. Slowly, but surely the skies cleared and thereafter got dotted only by the occasional cloud.
I gratefully eased into the flow of things and turned my attention to other things; things that were going to eventually change me and bring my distinctiveness forward. One day I came home and announced that my full-time day job was no longer interesting to me. Even though we needed the extra income I brought in, my husband did not even blink. His silent support gave me wings and freedom all at once. With his understated ways, he made me descend into depths of myself that I didn’t know even existed.
The words that had eluded me for almost three decades poured out. They gushed out in torrents taking me by surprise and making me feel worthy like nothing else had. Quite suddenly, I was a published writer. I had only ever thought about a pond but he saw that I was capable and worthy of the ocean. That to me was enough heaven right here on earth.
When you start feeling whole and loving yourself, it becomes easy to extend that warmth to all around you. There were instances when my husband made me feel like the best wife on earth. As we mirrored the liking we felt for the other, our best selves started coming forth and compatibility settled in easy and good.
When we celebrated his 50th birthday, I got him a cake that read: Vintage Dude. Because vintage is not about being old or archaic; vintage is about class, about being first-rate. These words are as much an ode to my husband as it a testimony to what makes a marriage shine and all the years together worth our while.
Ours was neither a classic love marriage nor conventionally arranged. But somehow along the way, we turned it into an exemplary one. The meaning and importance of ‘love’ in life is vast, but when you single out relationships, and one that is as weighty as marriage, then there are other things that can matter more. Like respect, understanding, support and genuine liking for the person you share your whole life with. And the one thing that makes a relationship go from miserly to magnanimous is ‘validation’ from the other. Validation of your freedom to live life on your own terms. Validation for who you are, for what you are worth.