Valentine's Day!7 mins 120 7 mins 120
Disclaimer: Not that I believe in Valentine’s Day and all that crap, but I’m writing this because this day reminds me of something I can never forget. And I know that there are a lot of people who do believe in Valentine’s Day. So, in respect of those people and St. Valentine, here’s a dedication:
Wrinkled faces, missing teeth, breaking voice and a poor eyesight. Not the sort of things you would associate with a love story. But I can. What you are about to read is a true love story. The main protagonists are people like you and me. It’s just that they took the path less traveled by. It isn’t as famous as say Romeo-Juliet or Heer-Ranjha. I’m glad it isn’t. Because it would have implied a failed love story. Believe me, this one isn’t.
They had been our neighbours in a small town called Junagarh when I was four years old. He was 74 and she was 76 when I had last met them three years back on Valentine’s Day at my place in Bombay. He was 19 and she was 21 when they had first met near the steps of that small temple in Junagarh some 58 years back. ‘It was love at first sight’ she had told me with a sparkle in her eyes. That statement had forced a big smile on my face. You can’t imagine how interestingly funny it is when a seventy-odd year old talks about her love story with the enthusiasm of a seventeen year old. ‘We would meet very often after that, but we hardly ever talked. We exchanged notes’ My smile got even wider. Love letters! ‘Then one day our parents got to know’. ‘All hell must have broken loose?’ I asked her. She understood what I implied by that question. Not only were they from different castes but also she was a couple of years older than him.
Just then, he walked into the room. He had gone to get her a ‘gajra.’ It was a practice that had existed for the past 58 years. It was a routine as certain as the sun rising in the morning. She looked at him fondly and asked me if I could tell if he was two years younger than her or that they were from different caste. I knew it was a question I didn’t have to answer. Because the answer was simple. I obviously couldn’t.
‘We both realized that we were emotionally similar, we had the same maturity levels and had similar thoughts about life, and that’s what matters when you have to spend your entire life with someone’ she said profoundly. ‘Our age didn’t matter when I was 31 and he was 29 and it doesn’t matter today when I am 76 and he is 74. And caste is an even bigger non-issue. We weren’t around when the society decided to put this frivolous caste system in place. We don’t believe in it, then why should we follow it?’ ‘Always remember’, she had told me, ‘Age no bar, caste no bar, creed no bar!’ ‘So, if you are ever lucky enough to find someone special, don’t let these unimportant things hold you back’, she had advised me with all the seriousness with which she would have advised her son. ‘Life isn’t too generous. It doesn’t give you such opportunities very often.’
I was bemused, amused and embarrassed, all at the same time. A virtually illiterate person had taught a management student an important lesson about managing life. A person, who had hardly crossed the borders of her small town, who could not communicate in anything but Gujarati, had taught a ‘wannabe’ youngster from Bombay about having a broad and progressive outlook. I guess that’s why experience counts.
Some might argue that it’s extremely easy to preach such things. That anybody can do it. It’s in practice that people get caught out. And that’s the point; they were people who practiced what they preached. And I really respected them for that. To practice what they preached needed a lot of guts and conviction and above all- love.
As was obvious, the people around them had taken their union just as well as a Hindu would take to beef or a Muslim would take to pork. Everything that could have been done to separate the two had been tried. Everything had failed. Even after their marriage, every effort was made to make their life as close to hell as possible.
They weren’t fond of hell and so they had to settle down in a place away from those people. Life was full of hardships. In the initial days especially, every moment was a struggle. As if being socially ostracized was not enough, some realities of life dawned on them even before they were ready to face them. They were both young, but the problem was, they weren’t very well educated. She had studied till class seven and he till class ten. So it goes without saying that they really had to struggle to make ends meet. As a result both had to work, which was a sort of an achievement in those days.
People who know say that he felt really guilty for not giving her the sort of life he wanted to give her. He even resorted to buying a lottery ticket everyday, hoping that someday his luck would change, and someday, he would buy her all the happiness in the world. What he probably did not realize was that she was happy already. She was happy because she had him and he had her. Together they were a team that could not be conquered. Every time life would toss a sorrow towards them, they would turn it into joy, as if they had a magic wand in their hands.
Life wasn’t fair to them. It was probably working in collusion with the people who were against them. It even took away their new born son and also ensured that they would never be parents again. But they didn’t let that bother them either. Life tested them at each step, and they came out with flying colours each time, always together, always as one. For every stride they took forward, there were hoards of people pulling them back. But they just didn’t care. What mattered to them was the fact that they took the stride together.
They were together, in times of plenty and in times of want, in times of sickness and in times of health, in times of joy and in times of sorrow, in times of failure and in times of triumph. Each marriage vow seemed to have been sacred for them. Thinking about all this gives me goose pimples even today. And there I was, learning about their life and their love, first hand, and that too on Valentine’s Day.
But that was Valentine’s Day three years back. The situation has changed slightly this time around on Valentine’s Day. She’s dead. She had slipped in the bathroom; yes, as simple as that. And they were separated forever. What life couldn’t do in numerous attempts, death had done in one masterstroke. Please don’t for a moment let yourself think that they had given up easily. Because they had fought death too. She refused to part away from him for eleven months, preferring to suffer the troubles of remaining in coma instead. She could not communicate to him, but I’m sure she could feel what he felt, hear what he thought. I’m sure she cried each time he cried and laughed each time he laughed.
He, too, fought valiantly. He sat in hope before a piece of mass that doctors often referred to as ‘vegetable’. He did nothing but hold her hand; hold her hand all day for eleven months. I don’t know what he got out of it. Maybe, he thought that way he could stop her from going. Maybe he believed that they would win again…..
They say that these days he buys a ‘gajra’ every morning and sits on the steps of the temple where they had first met. He sits there everyday without uttering a word, all alone, staring at nothing. I think he stares at her. And I’m sure she stares back. I’m sure he gives her the ‘gajra’ every morning as per their routine. I’m sure they hold hands too. And probably, then they laugh out loud-at the world, at life and at death. The world can’t stop them now. Life has no control over them anymore. Death can’t do any further damage. They mock it each day just as they had always mocked life. They seem to have won yet again!
‘Age no bar, caste no bar, creed no bar! , her words still echo in my mind. Their love taught me even more. ‘Life no bar, death no bar!’