It was my daughter on the phone wishing me for an anniversary which had gone into recess of memories. She gently reminded me- it was the day I met Padma and got engaged. It made me feel young for a moment and could understand how Raj Kapoor created the first ever dream sequence in movie lore in his move Aawara in early 1950s.
Indian arranged marriages have as much romance and thrill as much as a quest for a new employment contract. I had secured a job in a nationalized bank as a clerk (secured job , though I was then on probation) after around eight months of effort at written test, interview etc. For some reason, my father (mother had taken an early train to a final destination a year earlier) decided that reaching the legal age of maturity is adequate for “entering into a state of matrimony”. My official stand is that I continued to obey my father’s diktats and this was one more instance. Looking back, I would say that ignorance is a great strength to do very foolish or very brave acts. Marriage has a share of both- especially when ventured at young age.
Padma started her life in a beautiful settlement on the banks of Cauveri river. It is not a perennial river as there is dam upstream. During major portion of the year, it has a good flow and is beautiful to watch. The river serves as a meeting place for the inhabitants, for ablution, religious activities, water supply and renewal of gossip. A busy road separates the settlement from the river. The Agraharam has a temple at the beginning and end with row houses facing each other. Everybody knew each other and their history. The day began at 5.00 a.m with temple bells ringing. All of employed individuals went by the same “office train” and returned by the same train in the evening. Dinner by 8 or 8.30 p.m. and lights out by 9.30. p.m. Every festival was known to all and celebrated with gusto and simplicity. Radio Transistor was a modern communication medium and television was uncommon. In short, it was possible to identify beauty and joy in day to day life.
One version of my first meeting with Padma that I dish out is that I saw her for the first time coming out of the Cauveri River clutching a pot , looking somewhat like Zeenat Aman in Satyam Shivam Sundaram or like Dimple Kapadia in Sagar (both old movie stars-maybe arrested memory development). I was entranced and send a telegram to my old man (pre SMS/E mail period) proclaiming my undying, new found love for the dream girl coming out of the river like a nymph. For a change, he consented and the rest is history.
I ran this line with some of my younger and less adventurous generation (all opted for arranged marriage, showing distinct lack of any initiative) , who laughed outright at this rather imaginative version of courtship. Now, I will try it out with Shivam, who would be more receptive.
The reality is far more interesting. My matrimony ad had appeared in Hindu in December 1977. My resourceful brother in law had seen the ad when he was spreading the old newspaper in the wooden sleeper in a train . He send it to his father, which resulted in a letter to us. After exchange of letters (courtesy Indian Posts & Telegraph), four and a half of us booked tickets to Trichy. The half is my neice who was all of four months old. We reached there on a Saturday – not auspicious for “Bride Seeing”; and spend it on temple visiting. Sunday morning dawned and we were off to the Agraharam .
Padma has three siblings- one elder brother and two younger sister. Her father served with Indian Railways . Her mother was a traditional home maker. They belong to a generation which is almost extinct. They had old world grace, courtesy and charm which came instinctively. They knew what they wanted from life and lived with restrained expectations. Their joys arose out of simple activities of day to day life.
Now “bride seeing” is somewhat like Japanese tea ceremony. The men sit and discuss trivia, while the women hid behind purdah sizing up each other. Suddenly , matters turn serious. We have to see the ‘girl’ now. She glides into the room with bowed head (trying to find out where the ‘boy’ is sitting through the corner of her eyes) and looks up when asked a question. This at least is the theory.
The reality was more prosaic. I saw Padma for the first time when she glided into the big hall thru the door. It is not seemly to stare at a woman for an interminable period. I only looked at her eyes which had a dreamy and soft look (belying the tigress stifled inside). She is tall by Indian standards. Father asked her some question, which I think she answered.
We then repaired to the verandah for a discussion. I was casually asked whether I liked the girl. In a moment of bravado, I assented. I wondered what next. After discussing the weather and such matters for some time (it is not correct to agree without seeming to discuss such matters at length), we agreed to proceed further. Could the engagement be conducted immediately? The bewildered hosts agreed. So within a hour of seeing the bride , we were engaged to be married. We had yet to exchange a word. The first words we spoke to each other were in Sanskrit- these were part of marriage ceremonies. Perhaps the prayers ensured that God intervened when communication lines broke down like mobile links today.
I could now really believe that we were really young at one time. There were mountains to conquer, rivers to wade through, clouds to fly through. We knew we could do all this and more. I did not have to look back to see who is behind me as I could see we were all together.
Today I had a new weapon to impress Padma. I purchased a great cake and gave it to her as a stroke of surprise. She had forgotten the date and I temporarily took the credit for it. I waited till Priya –my Daughter in law- came and we cut the cake. It tasted great and had all the sweetness accumulated over 34 years.
Life consists of such small moments- each of which is to be savored and remembered.