An Arranged Marriage, a Lifetime of Love.

Aditi Raychoudhury. My newly married parents. 2017. Watercolors.
Aditi Raychoudhury. My newly married parents. 2017. Watercolors.

It’s been a little over 4 years since my father passed away, unexpectedly. Inherent in its suddenness is also a thankfulness that his heart simply stopped working one morning. Despite the ease of his death, and that a few years have gone by since, I still recoil at the thought of someday returning to his apartment – unremarkable in every way, except by way of tininess, and emptying it of all those household items – ordinary utilitarian things made extraordinary by memories of our life together. It is that last bit of physical record of my life with them that I dread to sever, even though I know that nothing can sever my memories of them.

There is that Sunmica table which bore our childhood meals, homework, board games, and many conversations – you know, that thing which humans used to do more of when they didn’t have TVs, smart phones, and very often electricity.  Yes, many of our dinners during the sweltering summer heat were by candle light. Fancy!

The hard, narrow little beds on which my sister, brother and I whispered and giggled before dribbling off into innocent, delight-filled sleep.

The rickety study table with its giant shortwave radio whose knobs I twiddled all through my teen years to religiously tune in to Dave Lee Travis’ “A Jolly Good Show”. The very same one that my aging father also used to figure out the mysteries and workings of the laptop, the internet and a whole new world to email and Skype with us.

And, then there is that bigger bed, the one that my parents shared since their wedding day,  November, 19, 1965.

Aditi Raychoudhury. My newly married parents. It was the start of something beautiful. 2017. Pencil on Tracing Paper.
Aditi Raychoudhury. My newly married parents. It was the start of something beautiful. 2017. Pencil on Tracing Paper.

Even though the furniture itself is of no great value by way of either money or design, I grew up in pre-Ikea days, when we bonded with our furniture like family. And, just like those people who never want to part with their mid-century modern masterpieces, I don’t want to part with these memory-drenched pieces either. I secretly hope that one of my relatives will adopt them, so that, when I touch them, it will feel like the next best thing to physical nearness to my parents, who, despite their extremely modest means, gave us an extraordinarily rich life.

They hadn’t met till their wedding day. And, they couldn’t have been more different. Him: a man of few words, and a home body. She: An extremely social extrovert, brimming with joie de vivre. Yet, I was never witness to the usual marital skirmishes, tensions and all-out wars. While my mother made friends, had them over for meals, my father sat quietly, contentedly and joyfully observant of the evening as it unfolded, mostly around my mother.

Many summers ago, on one dark evening, as my father and I made our way through the heady smells of jasmine, mangoes, decaying garbage and an unimaginable number of sweaty humans, as was common on our tropical, slum-fringed street, my father reflected on his time with my mother.

“I see so many marriages. I see how couples fight. I never felt that way about your mother. I felt like we were two separate instruments playing in harmony”.

I later found out that this hadn’t just come from a place of sentimental recollection. As I was cleaning out the cupboard, a few days after my father had died, I found a bunch of letters.

Should I? Shouldn’t I? My curiousity triumphed over my respect for their privacy. The first one was from my father to my mother, one of his earliest to her I suppose, expressing his desire to spend a couple of years getting to know her before starting a family. How could two virtual strangers be so intimate, I wondered? It is still a mystery.

I opened another, from my mother to my father. This was one was from a much later period in their life. We were teenagers and my father had to work in a different town for extended periods of time. It was about how much she missed him, normal parental concerns, ending again with her longing for him …. and then another… and another.. and another.. till the tears and guilt blinded me to the rest. They were so private and so full of tenderness that I wished that they had been written by some famous author, so that I could guiltlessly relish them.

Its not like they didn’t have their disagreements, but their love was apparent even to my little-girl-eyes that never saw them kiss, hold hands, or make any other physical display of affection in front of us. It was simply not a part of our culture. Yet, it is the best marriage that I know of.

Ma and Baba before we came along. Ma is wearing Baba's sweater. 1965? 1966?
Ma and Baba before we came along. Ma is wearing Baba’s sweater. To hug publicly was quite the statement in their time!

It was apparent in how they looked at each other, in their little gestures of affection expressed through food, praise, and my mother’s absolute indignation when my dad would walk straight into the kitchen as soon as he got home from work to do the dishes.

It was apparent in the sarees that my father brought back every single time he came back from a work tour (even if they didn’t always meet her fashion standards), and, in the box of my mother’s favorite summer treat (raw mango sondesh) that he would routinely buy on his way back from work, during the short time that they would be in season.

It was clear to me when my mother tirelessly marched up and down the insanely crowded streets of Gariahat to find the perfect “letter stand” for his birthday. It was clear to me when I watched her giggle all afternoon as she tried to find the perfect spot for him to “accidentally” find it and burst out laughing as she imagined his surprise. “Bolish naa Baba key.” (Don’t tell your father.)

Their love was heartbreaking when my father bathed her, clothed her, fed her and helped her walk to the bathroom as the cancer slowly but greedily sucked away her strength. It was heartbreaking when one day he mumbled to God, “Please take her before the cancer takes away her dignity.” It was the day when my mother had, ashamedly, soiled her bed. Cancer had succeeded in slurping up her very last drop of energy and humanness .

He knew, from his 32 years with her, that losing her ability to always look fresh in a clean crisp saree, bindi, and a bit of gold on her wrists, ears and neck, was devouring her spirit faster than this beast of a disease could her body.

Just two days later, his wish came true. She sank into a deep delirium. I laid down next to her, stroking her still butter smooth back that always reminded me of La Grande Baigneuse , while my father stroked her hair and face and arms and wept and wept and wept and wept.

 

——

This song by Nobel Laureate Tagore does a better job of capturing their relationship than I can ever do.

তুমি রবে নীরবে
হৃদয়ে মম ॥
নিবিড় নিভৃত পূর্ণিমা
নিশীথিনী সম॥

মম জীবন যৌবন
মম অখিল ভুবন
তুমি ভরিবে গৌরবে
নিশীথিনী-সম॥

জাগিবে একাকী
তব করুণ আঁখি,
তব অঞ্চলছায়া মোরে
রহিবে ঢাকি॥

মম দুঃখবেদন
মম সফল স্বপন
তুমি ভরিবে সৌরভে
নিশীথিনী-সম॥

তুমি রবে নীরবে
হৃদয়ে মম ॥
নিবিড় নিভৃত পূর্ণিমা
নিশীথিনী সম॥

You fill my heart
With the quietude
Of an impenetrably dark and lonesome
Night of the moon.

My life, my youth,
My universe beyond universe –
You fill with the dignity
Of that dark impenetrable night

Your poignant soulful eyes
Never cease their watch on me.
In your shroud, your shadow
I stay tightly enwrapped.

My sorrows, my pains
My dreams of joy
You infuse with the delicate fragrance
Of that dark impenetrable night

You fill my heart
With the quietude
Of an impenetrably dark and lonesome
Night of the moon

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6 thoughts on “An Arranged Marriage, a Lifetime of Love.

  1. What a masterpiece of portraying genuine love and admiration. Words, when they flow from the heart, have an intrinsic elemental force that few can match.

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      1. I’m well – thanks! Your parents became known better to all of us thanks to your candid writing. To live on in the hearts of loved ones……I guess that’s the real meaning of immortality. 😀

        Like

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