October 1999. I’d just returned to Chennai from a year in Delhi. I was dead set against getting married.
I had my work, my dance and wanted to get into social work. Marriage seemed like a burden. I had seen too much tension in families because of in-law trouble, and it didn’t seem worth it.
Every guy I met, I made it clear subtly that I wasn’t planning to marry. They must have got the hint and I was still free at the age of 26.
The day I landed in Chennai, my mother told me of a family waiting to ‘see me’. Having become a pro at handling such formalities, I relaxed as we waited for the groom and his parents to arrive. I saw the guy and thought, “He’s good looking. But let’s see how he talks.”
He did, and I was impressed. Where did the 45 minutes go? We had similar backgrounds of growing up in the north, and so had similar attitudes, experiences. When they left, my mother knew that I was hooked – much to her relief. Next morning, they called to say yes.
We met that Sunday, then Thursday, then Saturday, and then every day after that – totally unheard of in arranged marriages those days. But it was also a period when we discovered our differences. He liked to leave work on time and get back home. I left work on time only to go to the dance class for practice or regular class. As that January I had a program, we had practice every evening between 7.30 and 9.30. Srikant met me at 6.30 every evening diligently, we spent an hour together, and he dropped me at my class.
We got married in January, soon after the program. I got an offer to perform in the Vatican along with a few other dancers from my class in front of the Pope that October. Would I say no?
Srikant and I left for work at 8.30 am. He returned by 7.30 pm, while I went for my class. I wouldn’t see him till almost 10 at night, when I returned after practice! It was one of the worst periods of our marriage and we argued every day. My fear was – I was wired this way! How could I try any other way of life?
He didn’t think a marriage could work this way. Even on weekends I was away at class. Sometimes I couldn’t even tell him when the practice would end. In addition to the program in October, other programs kept cropping up in between, and I never learnt the art of saying no. So it was continuous practice every day without respite.
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Mutual resentment was natural.
Rome was a two-week trip. I cried most days, and talking to Srikant on the phone always brought a deluge.
On my birthday, which fell during that period, one of my co-dancers let the rest of the team know. To my utter delight and surprise, group after group came to wish me and sang in their native tongues. I was happy, yes. But I missed the one voice that I would have liked to hear just then.
That evening, at the end of my show, I discovered there was a phone in the office.
The line was weak, and threatened to cut off even when I finally got through.
“Hi! Happy birthday… I’m missing you,” he said when I shouted out Hi.
His voice broke my resolve not to cry with my make up on. Through tears I managed to say, “I’m missing you too…”
I realised then that this wasn’t the life I wanted! Though I was amongst friends, I wasn’t happy. I missed Srikant terribly. I knew then that he was an integral part of me and that the trouble I had over this trip wasn’t worth it!
Dance had never been more than a hobby for me. Did I want to jeopardise my life with Srikant for this?
The next year, though I continued my classes, I backed off from group programs. In solo practice, it is easier to restrict the practice time.
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I continue to perform. He still makes his token protest; I still try and have my way. But I’m aware of the balance I need to have between my various commitments and my family. He ‘unwillingly’ chauffeurs me whenever required and takes photographs whenever possible.
Note: I wrote this piece originally in 2010. We celebrated 17 years of togetherness this January. Over the years and after two children, I continue to dance, teach, and perform. My husband has become a full-time photographer. I wait to see the photos he clicks during my programs, as he understands the art well and captures the moments beautifully. Sometimes, marriage is all about giving an inch to gain a mile.