My sister Padmini is a professional writer. She writes for many periodicals and newspapers in the South of India. In this post and the next one, I shall reproduce an article that she wrote for the women’s magazine Eves Times, very popular in the South of India.
After the introduction, the first story that she writes is about my immediate younger brother Arvind and his lovely wife Shanta. Tomorrow’s story will be that of my doctor aunt Swarnambal, my father’s youngest sibling and her amazing husband Dr. Kumaraswamy.
Marriages are supposed to be made in heaven. That was the belief that saw marriages contracted, sustained and nourished a few generations ago. Sixty odd years ago, India was going through the turmoil of gaining independence. The world was reeling with the horrendous aftermath of a war that had wiped out young men in many numbers. Disease and malnutrition made many young men die leaving behind widows to bring up families.
Arranged marriages were the norm. Love marriages were frowned upon by society and inter community marriages were rare. Divorce was an aberration and stigma was branded on a girl who had a failed marriage. Today more and more couples are choosing partners for themselves without reference to caste, community, religion and status. Second marriages are quite common for both women and men. Tolerance, commitment and compromise in relationships have been eroded and lasting marriages are becoming unusual.
In this atmosphere there are marriages that have lasted for decades. What is the glue that has made these marriages sustain? What are the situations that have bonded couples for years? Do couples really live happily ever after? Or is this a myth perpetrated by fairy stories, M & B romances and movies that say THE END showing a couple walking away into the bright horizon. What about couples who have lived decades together and who are going towards their sunset years?
Arvind and Shantha are celebrating their fortieth wedding anniversary this May. They have moved houses, cities, jobs and are finally leading a retired joint family life with their son Deepak, his wife Ranjani and two grandsons Kedar and Sarang. They regularly visit their second daughter Sowmya and her husband Vivek and two grandsons Raghav and Vidyuth in Bangalore. They make a yearly visit to their oldest daughter Niela and husband Hari in Delhi and enjoy the achievements of grandkids Shreyas and Shraddha—the only granddaughter.
All this has not been achieved easily.
“We have had many ups and downs”, says Shantha, part-time teacher known for her Math prowess. “There have been many pluses and few minuses. A good and loyal husband and three children have bolstered my marriage. We had financial ups and downs and our children were never demanding…they adjusted to situations and circumstances with equanimity and till today have never said ‘you didn’t give us this or that. They have been positive about everything”.
Both sides of the family have been very supportive of Arvind and Shantha. “I have always lived with parents, in-laws or kids. Now it is grandkids as well,” says Shantha. She comes from a big family and entered another big family and has kept in touch with both sides of aunts, uncles, cousins and the next generation as well. Her five sisters live in Chennai and are very close on a day to day basis.
Arvind is more brutally frank about their lives. “I have enjoyed every moment of my forty year old marriage. I have a first class wife and in-laws, great children, loving sons-in-law and daughter-in-law. Not much income at times and it used to be difficult to make ends meet. We have faced several setbacks in life together including being thrown out by my father with a pregnant wife and our daughter’s marriage breaking up after 45 days and business failures. We have bounced back each time. I have loyal and trustworthy group of friends, cousins and a few well wishers who gave me a push when I needed it. We have changed three cities and I even did a stint alone in Coimbatore for a year where I learned to cook”. Shantha adds, “Cooking yes but I used to come back to a sink full of dirty dishes!!”
Arvind’s day begins with a swim and then he cooks eggs for his grandsons. Shantha then cooks the day’s meals. She is particular about going to the temple. Arvind used to play tennis and golf but has given them up because of bad knees. Both go for regular walks together.
The final word from Arvind is, “My three siblings and I are very close to each other…maybe because we did not have any inherited money to fight over!”