Sunday, November 16, 2003

Maturity and respect matter
Taru Bahl

ANU, at 30, was the unlucky spinster of her family. Her presence at most celebrations was an ominous sign. From subtle hints, the sarcastic jibes became more pronounced, until she decided to stay away. For reasons best known to her, she had not succumbed to the family’s pressure to marry simply because they felt that it was the right thing to do. For her, "right" did not mean a certain age or a specific mix of pre-conditions. It meant the right person, someone she could feel comfortable whilespending the rest of her life with.

Fortunately, while working in an embassy, surrounded by foreigners who respected an individual’s freedom of choice and privacy, her decision to marry if and only she met the right person, became a certainty. There was now no shame, apology or guilt at not conforming like the dozens of other ‘good’ girls in the family. Besides, she had seen so many marriages around her crack up at the flimsiest of excuses. The ones which were still in ‘working condition’ were such a pathetic mockery, making her feel that she really was not missing out on anything spectacular. Yes, being a mother was an experience she wanted but not in a lacklustre, half-hearted marriage.

Work kept her busy. When she was moved to the cultural division of the embassy, she found her enthusiasm levels peaking. Anu discovered that she loved everything connected with her work. Her appearance changed. From a dowdy, plain-looking girl she turned into a smart self-assured young lady who commanded attention and respect. When she met David, a visiting scholar from England, as part of her work, she knew that there was something special in what they shared. Even though the bonding was officious, there was a camaraderie and a sense of comfort which was palpable to them both. That he was 18 years older than her, a father of two teenaged children and happily divorced did not make any difference. When he extended his stay in Delhi just to get to know her better, both knew that they were headed in a direction, which either of them was not averse to. They allowed their destinies to decide as they followed the diktat of their heart.

They had a simple wedding ceremony in a gurdwara, where David willingly wore a turban and did the honours in pucca Indian style, much to the amusement of Anu’s family. It had taken a lot of convincing before she could get them to see that this is what she wanted. His age, background and past did not matter. And if things really didn’t work out, she would come back. She would not settle for a marriage which was a compromise. Seeing her level of confidence, left them with no choice. Once they accepted it, they allowed themselves to experience a sense of relief at finally seeing the only spinster in the family get wed in the traditional Indian style. It was difficult not to notice that the couple seemed ‘right’ for each other. Their sense of comfort and ease was so strong that the others felt foolish doubting their compatibility in the first place. Apart from a joyous playfulness which defined their bonding there was a mutual respect for each other, their sense of separateness, their views, their backgrounds, responsibilities and ways of thinking. Inspite of the separateness, there was an intimate togetherness which was real. No one had any major reservations seeing Anu take the decision of going to UK.

Her embassy was willing to transfer her to England and it seemed as if their love story would indeed have a fairytale ending for everything was miraculously falling in place. What took Anu completely by surprise was their first visitor. It was David’s ex-wife, who on hearing the good news had undertaken a two-hour bus ride to welcome the new bride in her ex-husband’s life. She helped Anu adjust to the new environment, find her feet as she familiarised herself with the shopping areas, running of the house, making friends with the neighbours and warning her of things she felt she needed to be informed about. In a most unobtrusive way, Selena stayed for the weekend and left after giving Anu the assurance that she was just a phone call away.

Anu knew that David and Selena had parted amicably. They had shared 14 years of their life together and when the time had come to acknowledge that they had little in common, they had decided to live apart. They still were good friends and shared every little news and happening in their life with each other, sans bitterness and acrimony. The children were in boarding schools and their future was a joint concern. The ability to continue maintaining a cordial and reliable bonding went to both of them for they had the maturity and wisdom to arrive at decisions together, call a spade a spade and without pointless blaming, moving on with dignity.

When Anu was expecting her baby, it was Selena who moved in with them and helped her cope with the cold climate and the pangs of loneliness which came from not being in her own home land. The baby came on Christmas eve with David, Selena, his two children and Anu’s parents waiting with bated breath to receive the little bundle of joy. Her parents did feel odd seeing 49-year-old David going bonkers over fatherhood all over again, moreso in the company of a young son who was almost as old to be a father himself. Yet, seeing the way the entire family stood by Anu, respecting her and her union with David was humbling. Anu also knew that western society laid great emphasis on honesty in relationships and to the fact that each individual was entitled to seek his rightful place under the sun, to think for himself and not allow that decision to be clouded by what others had to say and think. The credit for taking their relationship to a higher level of understanding where there was no jealousy, threat perception, competing or getting even but only a desire to see the other happy went to both David and Selena. They were two very honest and brave human beings who cared for each other at a level which transcended material, social and familial concerns. It was person-to-person contact at its most refined best and she felt blessed to be a part of their extended family. Though Selena after the delivery came over only on festivals it seemed as if her blessings were always with them.

This feature was published on November 9, 2003