I love reading outdoors. Especially on late autumn mornings when the world looks like it is preparing for a winter vacation. The sun seems gentler and the trees look like a burst of colours. I love autumns more so because it makes farewell seem so beautiful and vibrantly colourful. Just like the flame burns the brightest before it turns to smoke, autumns are the prettiest before it hugs the grey winters and says good bye to yet another year.
One such autumn morning I was sitting on a bench, reading. A gentle wind blew stirring the pages of my novel. The smell of sweet flowers, the feeling of a mild chill settling in and the sound of leaves that seemed to rustle in glee as the wind tickled them kept me company.
“Can I sit next to you?” came a robust elderly voice from a man while I was reading.
I looked up from my book and saw that it was one of those elderly people that I passed by every morning in the park. We always exchange glances just like familiar strangers do but never had the occasion to speak.
“Sure,” I said while I moved to make space for him.
Notes on a classic book
“Reading Love in the time of Cholera, huh?” he asked, pointing at the book in my hand.
“Yes, my first time with Marquez,” I replied.
We got talking about the characters and then he said,
“So much love time lost,” he said, reflecting on the plot. Then he continued –
“No matter what, at the end what matters is how kindly you loved. I have been married for 30 years now. No one knows better about marriage than me I believe.”
Related reading: 40 years of marriage, moments and mementos
The things we argued about
“Like all marriages, our marriage had our share of fights, struggles and distance. I and my wife always fought for the simplest of things. For example – I left the towel on the bed after a shower or left food on my plate. She was very annoyed with these little things. She on the other hand always served me tea that was really hot. She believed that it is only when you need to blow on your tea before drinking that tea feels like tea,” he said and chuckled. “I was always very angry at her for small reasons like these.”
“These little fights turned to ego wars until one day my wife decided to move out. With our three children settled, she had no reason to stay back to keep home, she said, and went to her maternal home.”
“I was fine for a week after she left. I even enjoyed the freedom. But one day when I had tea at home I realised that it had turned cold. There was no one to urge the importance of blowing on it to make it feel like tea. A negligible thing you might think, but for me it held great importance. I looked back at our life together then and I realised that our life together was beautiful because of these little things. What made it ugly was the extreme importance given to these trivial things and not focusing on the larger picture. I wish I realised it earlier. We could have saved a lot of time that we spent sulking or having an ego war. We have wasted so many nights, so many opportunities and so many beautiful chances to love because of this.”
Related reading: Of relationship goals, supermoons and a husband who laughs at you
She missed the wet towels, she said
“My wife came back the next week. She missed picking up dirty towels, was her reason,” he said, raising his eyebrows at the reason and smiling. “I am sure she too must have realised just like me the extreme futility of staying angry.”
“Now we are in our 60s. We have reached the autumn of our relationship. But we intend to make it the most beautiful autumn of our lives. Yes, the regret of not understanding the value of a relationship earlier will remain. But we still have a chance to have a beautiful old age together.”
I kept listening to him with rapt attention.
Looking at me he said, “Here, take this autumn leaf and remember, what matters in a relationship is how kindly you loved. Other things are just trivial. Whenever I hear about this novel I always wonder at the lost time, of what could have been if…”
We talked a little more, and then he went away to greet a few friends who called him to have tea at the chaiwala that sat at the end of the community park.
I watched him as he left. I don’t know why he chose to come. But I was glad that he did. As I resumed my reading, I tucked that autumn leaf inside my book with a promise that I will forever remember the wisdom hidden in it.