It’s 5.25 am in Manhattan. The alarm rings the latest pop tune. Apu (short and sweet for Aparna) gets up, switches on the coffee percolator, puts on her jogging track suit, wonders whether to put on Nike 7 (purchased last week) or Addidas 21 and settles on Nike 7.
After a black coffee (Colombian), Apu decides to take the VW Mini to Central Park for a four mile jog. It takes nearly 85 minutes -10 minutes more than her best time- and she is out of breath. Apu is back by 7, skims through the New York Times, pours over the Financial Times, calculates the gain or loss on her investments and makes a mental note to call her investment counselor. It is time to rush to office.
Apu came to USA over 15 years back from a small town in Karnataka. She had completed her Engineering in Electronics and was about to join an IT firm when Nimu (Nirmala her friend) had described her cousin’s career which had begun with an MS in USA and culminated in an attractive job in Boston. She took the route which hundred other Indian had taken – MS in Engineering and an MBA after few years. Now she was in a large investment Bank in an enviable position.
It was time to go to Office. She decided on Audi 5- bought in 2012- and whizzed to DMI tower in 23 minutes ( three minutes better than average), parked in lot 23, closest to the lift and was in her 53rd floor office by 8.17 a.m. Suzan had kept her day’s mail on her table. George, her boss, had left two messages for a meet.
The day had started.
Apu was back to her apartment block by 7. 22 p.m. She had bought Thai curry and a new Chinese dish from a new boutique restaurant which was in the microwave for heating. She switched on the Xandu Music system and put on the latest Nityashree CD her mom had sent with Kittu Mama last month. She shut her eyes and breathed the music. For a moment, she was back in Chennai, sitting in TN Nagar Music Sabha for Marghazhi Music Program.
After the Thai Curry ( not that great) and a bowl of ice cream (Hagen Dazz) with Chocolate topping, Apu saw the latest news . It was hot – 74 F- switched on the AC , put on the music system in her bedroom to hear her favorite MLV keertanam and shut her eyes. She refused to look at the empty pillow on her left side and shut her eyes.
The day ended.
Seven years fast forward.
Apu is married to Gop (short for Gopal) – another Investment Banker- through an arranged marriage. They have one daughter- Sara (shortened for Saraswati- Raj’s mother’s name- no choice given). Sara had slight fever last night and had not slept well. The alarm sounded at 5.12 a.m.. Apu banged the alarm and decided to shut eyes for few more minutes, which turned to 6.30 a.m. Raj was up, sipping his coffee, going thru financial times, trying to put on his shoes. He had an early morning meeting and was off after a hasty kiss and hurried instruction to look after Sara. Apu looked hassled, she had to leave definitely by 8.30, before that drop Sara at School and make arrangements with day care lady – Helen- to look after Sara well due to lingering fever.
Sara liked only Indian food ( Gop’s mother’s genes probably) , so dosa batter was lugged out of refrigerator, simultaneously some dal – rice combination with some veggies for lunch was made ready. Apu too had settled for Dosa as breakfast now. She also carried lunch with her. By 8.03 both were ready. Apu looked at the mirror, wondered whether her waist line had reduced- no, it looked the same. Her expressive face still retained the freshness, with the eyes still radiating liveliness and curiosity. There was tiredness round her eyes.
There was cover bulging from the bottom drawer of her cupboard- it was her Nike 7. She looked at it guiltily and pushed it away.
Apu dropped Sara at School, rushed to her office. Suzan had kept a Coffee and five letters for her to attend . Her boss had left three messages- two urgent.
The day had begun.
3.00 p.m. Apu rushed out of the presentation and rang up the day care centre to check on Sara- she was fine and was playing with Jogi- Punjabi kid of USA origin. She heaved a sigh of relief and rushed back. The relief was momentary as Gop sent an SMS saying that two of his Indian friends were coming for dinner. George was concluding the presentation dumping lot of further action on her and she was nodding her head when her brain was on dinner.
5.53 p.m. Apu rushed out before George pounced on her with some useless tasks, picked up Sara , and grabbed some Indian veggies from the nearby grocer, sweet talked Sara to do with cornflakes till she made something more substantial (Sara liked spicy stuff like Gop’s mum- ugh). She retrieved the Indian Prestige pressure cooker and started cooking Indian food.
The day ended at 1120 p.m. (not when Gop’s friends left) but when Sara finally slept.
Alternate Scenario .
Apu gets few alliances. Some she rejects and some the opposite party rejects. She has started loving solitude . The silence of the house is interrupted with the sweet flute of Natrajan or the latest Chopin track she brought during the last European holiday. She has cut back on jogging after the last pull on her ankle . She is now into helping out in shelters three days in a week – evening 7.00 .9.00.
Apu has now become a member of the Senior Management Team and has to travel 12 to 17 days a month at times. Being single has helped in breaching the glass ceiling- well almost. She has to socialize to a minimal extent. Appa and Amma come once in two years. They have a set routine- luckily due to Mani Mama (uncle to all ) who has an informal association of old South Block senior citizens. They are kept engaged in some activity or other.
Appa’s eyes silently rest on her when Apu is focused on the presentation or XL sheet at 10.14 p.m. at night. Those eyes seem to tell that “isn’t there something more to life than a brightly lit computer screen? Shouldn’t those hands hold a lovely, small life created out of a union of two souls?”
Apu refuses to look at those eyes as she has no answers or at least those which would satisfy Appa and Amma.
The first question that arises is whether matrimony has to be or is the ideal goal for an individual? To put it differently, would it be right to say that an individual achieves completeness in life only in a state of married bliss, with all attendant issues.
Obviously, there are no easy answers. The society has all along insisted on a formal relationship between man and woman perhaps primarily to keep both out of mischief and be responsible members of the society. This compulsion has withered or withering away. Staying alone in any part of the world (where your career or compulsion takes you) is no longer rare or unknown. The desire for human company is a natural instinct. It is possible to fulfill this desire in small doses, without making it millstone round the neck.
Apu’s case ( a fictional one) reflects a small but growing segment of the upper middle class, highly educated population. They are academically brilliant, mostly intelligent and articulate from a social perspective, have spent a long time pursuing “higher education”, emigrated to far off lands to seek opportunities which do not exist (still) in India. They have stayed too long abroad to adjust or settle in India or even if they so desire, adequate and alternate opportunities do not exist here.
Having achieved all that the world could offer or Apu could get with her ability, the question that remains in my mind is whether the loneliness that is experienced in pursuit of a goal (in this case career) is worth it?
I would like to draw one picture here. Apu is now 39 years old. She is in an enviable position in her career and office. She returns home at 7.23 p.m. to an empty house . has dinner alone and goes to sleep in a large but otherwise empty bed. Who does she share her achievements or anguish? Shouldn’t there be someone whom she can embrace, tease mercilessly , laugh over trivial incidents and decide on spur of the moment to go out for dinner or a movie? Should there not be a long and sustained relationship (other than with parents or siblings) which makes the other portion of the individual’s life worthwhile?
Another picture I would like to draw is that Apu tending to Sara at 2.43 a.m. with Gop vainly trying to get up. Sara is wailing or sniffling due to a head cold and slight fever. Apu has returned home at 9.17 p.m. and Gop has looked after her till that time. So it is not fair to wake him up. Sara wants Apu to hold her in her arms and walk around. So at 3.00 a.m. Apu is in a large apartment walking around with a two year old daughter staring at the Manhattan skyline, wondering “God, what have I let myself into”.
Another aspect that strikes me is that entering into a permanent relationship in mid thirties or early forties is not easy. We are well set into our routine and ways. We have strong views on most issues. Adjustment does not come easily. Judgmental “in laws” CANNOT be tolerated. We need physical and emotional space, which is easily invaded in such relationships. For e.g., how does Apu adjust to a totally contrasting taste in music of Gop (old Hindi and Tamil film songs or melodramatic acting of Shivaji Ganesan).?
More importantly, how do couples in their late thirties or early forties adjust to bringing up children at that stage in life? I have seen couples in this age group in shopping malls pushing a tram with a lost looking child and wondered whether there is enough emotional surplus left in them to meet the emotional needs of children- especially in the early ages.
I believe that between the ages of 25 to 32 an individual could do things and enjoy life in a way which becomes difficult as we grow older. While nothing precludes a single individual in this age group to go for sky diving or rappelling or rock climbing doing it with a companion who is with you for life is definitely more enjoyable.
Perhaps, while I love solitude, I do not like loneliness. That prompts the desire for human relationship which is sustained at emotional level at all times.
Our happiest moments are when we share poignant moments with our family ( I will never forget the moment when I heard that Anand- my son has passed CA exam or when I saw my daughter Devi for the first time in her mother Padma’s arms at 4.30 a.m. at her house) or those we love the most. All material success seems empty if there is no one by your side cheering silently whenever we cross one more self ordained goal.
Does this mean all singles should rush into a state of married bliss? No. It only means that we should periodically review our life and the way we live and wonder whether is there a better way of living.
Do you agree?