The few black and white photographs that are still around of my parents as a young couple have one thing in common – none of the pictures catches them smiling.
It seems less a coincidence and more a deliberate move on their part. Probably that is how a husband and wife were expected to behave in the ‘60s – to project a blank face and suppress any expression of mutual admiration or marital bliss.
I cannot recall seeing my parents hugging each other or even expressing their love through words, like the parents of my friends did. Of course sometimes I found it unusual, even strange, but eventually I accepted that this is how my parents were – reticent and inexpressive.
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Their relationship was very prim and proper. Mornings in our house broke with my mother switching on the kitchen light and cleaning the stove before putting on a pot of water to boil for tea. And once tea was ready, they would quietly sip it in the peaceful silence of the house, hardly exchanging a word. What could look like icy coldness to an outsider was in fact perfect synchronicity and harmony between the two.
My parents did not make a show of their feelings towards each other; probably they were shy or thought of it as utterly unnecessary. But that is not to say that there was no love.
They chose to express their love through the family they created, the house they kept and the relationships they nurtured. I cannot think of any other reason why my mother would have put up with innumerable guests who swarmed like bees when my father was home, except for her love and respect for her husband.
My father on his part, a man of rigid principles and quite high standards, would duly put all his hard-earned money in my mother’s hand every month. I never saw him question or accuse my mother of being a spendthrift, simply because she wasn’t. In fact she revered those notes, which to her symbolised the blood and the sweat that went into earning them. I still remember how she would go to great lengths to avoid spending even a penny whenever and wherever possible. Not that my father did not earn enough; rather he did quite well, but my mother thought that wasting money was akin to disrespecting his hard work.
When my parents discussed matters related to money or how a particular event had to be managed, the conversations went smoothly without argument.
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The synchronicity between them is something that I admire even now. If a relative had to be given something, my mother would buy it and show it to my father in the evening. On his part, he would just say a few words of approval. I never saw him interfering in what he called the women’s department. He would trust my mother to not overspend but get the most appropriate thing.
Throughout their lives, they helped and supported many relatives and still do. They never differentiated between his and her relatives. If my father supported his brother’s sons financially, he did the same when it came to my mother’s nieces and nephews. So we almost always had two sets of cousins staying with us till they were able to move out and live independently. My parents did all that with five children of their own and two ferocious dogs!
If I did not see them displaying their affection for each other, then I also hardly ever saw them fighting or arguing. Both of them silently went about their duties and understood perfectly well the consequences of not doing so. It was quite clear between the two that my father would go out and work and my mother would keep house. And now after almost 40 years of their marriage, they still keep to this unspoken rule.
My mother still wakes up in the morning to put water to boil as my father readies for the day.
My father has come to rely on my mother for his quota of news, and my mother is beginning to enjoy the happiness that comes with sleeping a little longer in the mornings, while my father sometimes makes the tea.
The birds have all flown and the nest is as empty as it can get, but what is keeping them strong and going is the silent reverence for each other. But with time their relationship has blossomed into a heart-warming friendship. They have grown from being devoted parents to being individuals yet again and life has come full circle for them.