I am less than five years away from my marital breakeven point. You know, that point when you have been married as long as not. When this realization dawns, one tends to see a stream of sepia-tinted black and white pictures flutter before your eyes. Once I had made sure that these were not some sort of nostalgia-induced ophthalmic anomalies, I decided to just go with it.
At our wedding, we promised that we would love each other till the end of time. We were being blinded by flash bulbs and deafened by nadaswarams at the time, and such promises should be taken with a grain or two of salt. But the problem isn’t whether you will love each other. It never is. It’s how.
I remember something I read a long time ago – a piece of advice from a long-time marriage therapist. Ask yourself one question everyday – What is it like to be married to me? I’ve reached a point now where I can honestly admit that though being married to me is not half as difficult as being married to him (and he will doubtless say it’s the other way around), it’s no walk in the path either.
My husband and I had very filmy views on romance back then, poor misguided souls that we were! He thought girls liked flowers. He bought me flowers at traffic signals, at railway stations, and on the way home from work. When I discovered my first pregnancy he arrived home with enormous bunches of flowers. I pushed my nose into the flowers, the way most heroines in the movies did and inhaled deeply, sneezed non-stop, let them wilt, and threw them out.
I thought I should show my love for him by pining away disconsolately at the window till he returned from work every night. So there I was, lovingly silhouetted near the window, when his cab spluttered up evening after evening, night after night. He hated it. What did you do today, he would ask? Apart from waiting and silhouetting myself near the window and cooking all your favourite calorie-laden foods? Nothing much. Did he even know how much time and energy that took? Well, thank goodness that honeymoon ended quickly enough.
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But if love wasn’t all this, then what was it? We made our first trip the US a couple of years after we were married and waited eagerly for our oversized brown and black suitcases to arrive like any other inexperienced Indian couple. There it was! But the carousel stopped just as it was coming through and the ribboned shutters floated down hiding from view the massive suitcase with all our worldly belongings in it. Don’t worry, I’ll get it, said my knight and leapt up heroically on the now-stationary belt and into the ribboned recess. You know where this is going, right? Well, at this point, a set of metal shutters slammed shut on top of the plastic ribbons imprisoning him in the baggage carousel! I valiantly fought my first instinct to disown him. I had to battle two questions, could I do without him and could I do without the suitcase? Yes, and maybe. But then love, that troublesome thing reared its head. Excuse me, I said to the big, burly, security guard, but my husband is stuck there on the carousel behind the gate. He’s where, he asked disbelievingly, adding incredulity to embarrassment, clucked impatiently, and hollered out orders to some unseen presence on the other end somewhere, so that the whole of JFK knew of our predicament. But we got him out eventually; him and the suitcase. Yes, that’s how I loved him.
Well, as soon as we set foot in the US, we realized that I would need to learn how to drive. That is another story in itself. But I quickly realized that merely operating the smoothly humming, automatic geared car on silky roads was the easy part. Driving also meant knowing how to make my way around, something I realized I was horrible at. I got lost all the time from sundry libraries and grocery stores. Pick a landmark, he told me. I did and still got lost. What was your landmark? A red fire hydrant, I said miserably. Red fire hydrants, like Starbucks – another failed landmark, I realized later, dotted every road in America. He held his tongue and said nothing. That’s how he loved me.
And so, we have wafted along, discovering love in strange places and ways. In a glance, a whisper, a word, sometimes in silence. A couple of days ago, my doctor declared my cholesterol levels off the charts and prescribed statins. My husband pings, calls, and mails me to make sure I’ve eaten them. Irritating? You bet. But it’s how he loves me. I, on my part, lovingly pack sad cucumbers and gluten-free rotis in a lunch bag for him. You see, we are both trying to get over the effects of the first few years of married life when we didn’t yet know how to love.