It was 6.30 a.m. I had just completed five rounds of brisk walk in our Complex’s podium level garden and was wondering whether to venture into sixth round. I saw Mani, a friend and a co-inhabitant in the same society staring gloomily into the horizon. I felt it was my duty to cheer him rather than selfishly attempting to maintain, if not improve, my aging physique.
Mani had a son – Bharat -and a daughter- Vanisri. Both were professionally qualified and had landed good jobs in global majors. They travelled extensively and represented success of yester year’s middle class families who invested wisely in education of their progeny. Bharat was 32 and Vanisri was 29 years old. Their hectic lifestyle did not allow them time to ‘settle down”; an euphemism for getting married. My wife had mentioned in passing, the tension created by success of Mani’s children in career sphere. Mani’s wife – Bhuvaneswari (Bhuvana in short) – wondered whether and when the children would do “Paani Grahanam” (hand holding formally) and “Seven Steps” and bring some tangible result from it. Every time she saw her contemporary wheeling a pram in the Complex’s garden, her heart shriveled.
Mani was a more pragmatic person and felt that the children should live according their own desires and was not uptight about this issue. Seeing Mani looking worried made me feel that something had changed. Mani leaned back on the chair and without much prompting explained his predicament.
The issue was simple. Vanisri had received an attractive marriage alliance from Ravi- a candidate of comparable merit and background- and simultaneously her employer- an MNC- had posted her to Brussels. Ravi had just returned from a US posting and had to compulsorily cool his heels in India for the next 9 months at least. Matrimony now nicely fitted with his otherwise tight schedule.
Ravi had asked his father- Hari- to prepare a list of top three Matrimonial Agents and send him their profile along with some specimen profiles of prospective brides in a structure format (given by him) giving various options.. His father wondered what damage education and overseas experience had done to his otherwise seemingly normal individual.
Ravi’s father and Mani had worked together at some point of time and knew each other to some extent. They met over Idli and Coffee at Hari’s house (after all Mani was on bride’s side) and discussed the “project”. It was clear to them that their respective wards viewed matrimony as another project to be taken up along with their career and other priorities. The coffee was strong and hot which facilitated Mani and Hari to arrange a meeting of potential bride and groom at a neutral place in an informal manner.
Ravi and Vanisri met at a marriage ceremony of a common family friend and took to each other well. Mani’s wife and Hari’s wife sized each other up ( they vaguely knew each other and had not imagined a closer relationship earlier) and both came to a conclusion that the other lady was not too bright and could be “managed”.
After two meetings- one at Tusker- Sofitel – all veg restaurant, Bandra Kurla Complex (Dinner) and another at Golden Dragon (Taj) – best Chinese restaurant in Mumbai-, Ravi and Vanisri decided that they could tolerate each other on a longer time scale and informed parents to “do the needful”.
It was at this juncture, the Brussels posting landed on the table. Both Ravi and Vanisri were cool about it. They were prepared to wait it out or “keep all options open”. Hari wondered who had paid the bill for the meetings at the five star restaurants and whether that investment was down the drain. Mani and Bhuvana felt that Ravi was a sober and intelligent person. He did not seem flighty headed like some modern professional who chattered in English incessantly. Ravi seemed to like Vanisri and did call her regularly as they had common interests in their work and personal life.
Mani explained all this to me and sought some solution. Our common instinct was to consummate the marriage immediately and leave the future to the couple’s natural desire to unite with each other. However, there was a sense of hesitation as we felt that distance could make the heart less fonder, leading to unforeseen consequences. Bhuvana, whom I met subsequently, explained in a rather trenchant manner, that a hungry individual would find means to satisfy his or her hunger. There was no need to fret over current events.
Mani and Bhuvana came to our house few days later after dinner. They wanted our suggestions for a suitable marriage hall. It seemed that Ravi and Vanisri had a couple of meetings (after office hours) and took matter into their hands. They threatened their respective employers into giving them a common posting failing which they were prepared to look at greener pastures. This clicked and marriage preparations were on.
The marriage got consummated in a short time. Vanisri and Ravi settled for a self- driven nine day tour of New Zealand arranged by Thomas Cook. Mani had some emotional moments when Vanisri emptied her cupboard into three suitcases and four cartons (books and shoes) and loaded it into an SUV (sent by Ravi thoughtfully). Bhuvana, looking at Mani’s mental upheaval, muttered about whether Mani realized that Bhuvana had also traversed the same territory few decades back and how she had to carry her one suitcase and a bag herself over two floors into her first martial home. Any way, Vanisri was moving into another Mumbai Suburb separated only by dense traffic and by several Indian States.
Few days later, at my suggestion, Mani and Bhuvana along with my family (spouse and I only) got together for a lunch at our house. We went through the run up to the marriage and the actual ceremonies and tore apart certain relatives who, we felt, were envious of the excellent “catch” and showed it also. We discussed the food (lunch was O.K., but reception was better than expected), decoration (too expensive and avoidable), mehndi and sangeet (adaptation of “showy and baneful” North Indian culture- but still enjoyable), priests (marriage ceremony seemed to take less and less time) and other trivia which are forgotten as time passes.
Bhuvana, in a pensive moment, felt that enhanced educational and career opportunities –especially for women- was a mixed blessing. While conferring financial independence, it delayed certain processes dictated by nature. According to her, finiteness of life and certain associated aspects was pre-determined. Formal education had to end and its application to generate earnings (business, profession, employment etc.) had to commence by early 20s. Marriage and progeny should follow ideally before early 30s.
Active life for most individuals are between 25/30 and 60 years of age. The enthusiasm, interest or alertness a person displays on several vital matters affecting our lives during each of the crucial decades -30s, 40s, 50s and 60s does not remain unchanged. There is a certain amount of waning or change in spirit or enthusiasam as age progresses.
Bhuvana felt that while Vanisri and Ravi had gained significantly in material terms, the delay in “settling down in life” had a certain intangible cost they would pay for in future. Human body and mind is geared to certain thoughts and action at each stage in life – studies in young age, initiatives to earn and secure a position in society thereafter, physical and mental attraction towards opposite sex which the society aims to fulfil lawfully by marriage, creation of a new life and its growth and so on. While a Rupert Murdoch or a Digvijay Singh may marry again at the age of 75 or 68 that hardly can be a cause for others to push the normal natural process beyond a reasonable time.
Another apprehension she expressed was their own failing health due to advancing age- back pain, joint pain, inability to climb steps, and so on. In such circumstances, their ability to respond to modern generation’s demands on them could be curtailed.
Age, she said, was the greatest but finite gift an individual receives from God. We seldom realize or recognize it. An example she quoted was that of a student passing all professional exams in first attempt and starting a career in early 20s as compared to another who passes after several attempts. The advantage such a success confers is invaluable. She agreed that in today’s context it would be inappropriate to be judgmental in matters of life’s choices, but the fact still remains that starting early in life does have its own advantages.
I recalled a colleague in my office who is retiring in few months. He had taken long leave in connection with his grown up son’s admission to an engineering college, then again for his admission to hostel and so on. I wondered whether my colleague was being over protective – a natural tendency as a person grows older- or whether today’s education process is that complicated requiring parent’s to devote such energy and efforts.
Mani and I had no answer. All of us were old enough to know that age catches up and impacts our thoughts and action. Could we ask today’s children to adhere to the time table set by nature for certain functions in life or do we leave it to their wisdom (or lack of it) to decide what they want out of life? Does age really matter? After all Late Shri H T Parekh founded an institution like HDFC in 1977 after his retirement as Chairman of ICICI Limited.- at a time when Housing Finance was simply not available.
It all boils down to what is really important in life or what is the relative importance of each facet of our life- career/business, family, parents, siblings , the society in which we live and operate? How do we allocate priority between each of them? Have we ever thought of it in the real sense of the term?
Mani and I decided to discuss this during our morning walk.
What do you think?