I firmly believe it is always a good idea to start at the beginning. For instance, the day I caught a glimpse of the back of a tall, well-built man at the book corner of an upscale store in a five star hotel in Kolkata, where I worked at the time. The man must have felt the brush of the pallu of my saree on his arm, or the soft gentle swish of air as I passed by him to the cash register, he turned back and smiled at me. Months of customer service training made me immediately flex my facial muscles into a responding grin. But then I smiled a real smile. Maybe I smiled because his smile was so genuine and warm, maybe because he had kind eyes or just maybe because I was twenty-four and a very handsome man just smiled at me.
I finished my job at the register and went back to my department in the mezzanine floor and promptly forgot about the man downstairs. In about ten minutes, he came up. He needed a gift for a wedding he had to attend, it was a Sunday and all the stores in the city were closed. I gave him some suggestions, of course, but surprisingly, the conversation gradually shifted from gift ideas to us – my Master’s program, university, job, likes, preferences, his work, education et all. I do not remember what all we talked about, but I do remember we talked for about two and a half hours. My poor manager sent a coworker up to my floor to make sure I was coping fine with a foreigner. I also remember, after talking for close to an hour, he asked me if I was married. When I said no, he extended his arm, gripped my hand in a firm handshake and gave me his name. I tease him to this day that if I WAS married, would he have not told me his name? He says he wanted to make sure the coast was clear for him to pursue farther. Fair enough!
Before he left, he handed me his card and asked me to call him sometime. The cards that I got at that job generally ended up in the trash can. His, I kept. After a couple of weeks, while searching for change in my purse, I came up with his card. I remembered the feeling of happiness and excitement in me when he was talking, the ready smile and the twinkling green eyes. I made a decision, very unnatural for me. I decided to give him a call. I am naturally shy, not prone to taking chances or making the first move. But I wanted to see him again.
I could almost hear the pounding of my heart as I dialed the number and heard the phone ring on the other end. And then his deep voice boomed into my ears. I managed a squeaky hello and a stuttering ‘I am Piyali!’
The response to that was, “Which Piyali?”
Oh, the embarrassment!!! I felt a flush of warmth creeping upon my face as shame swept over me. He didn’t remember me! I wanted to hang up immediately, instead I calmly mentioned I was Piyali from the ______! My voice didn’t waver but I was close to tears at the humiliation of being so forgettable. He recovered quickly. He even managed enthusiasm in his voice, which he now claims, was genuine. And then dropped the second bomb.
“Do you want me to take you out for dinner sometime?”
Do I want him to???? No I did not. Girls in parochial Kolkata in mid nineties did not go out to dinner with unknown men. All I wanted was to see him again, maybe at the store, in a safe environment, among a lot of people!!! My degradation, at that point, was complete. I politely said, “No thank you. I just called to say hello. You have a good day!”
I was bitterly disappointed but also strangely relieved that I could close that chapter and move on. His interest in me that night meant nothing. The next day, he was back at the store. And the next, and the day after that. He kept coming back. I was thrilled to bits, reveling in all the attention and the cherishing the novelty of knowing a man from a different country.
Then one day he asked me, “So, when are you going to the Book fair with me?” Not “Will you go to the book fair with me” but “When….” I was caught off guard. I couldn’t go out with him. My virtue as a middle class, rule following Bengali woman was at stake if I was seen with a man, a white man at that! Yet, in my heart, I desperately wanted to. I broke the unwritten rules yet again, I gave in. Our first date was the Kolkata Book fair, standing in line to get ticket, walking leisurely to the book stalls, stopping to see the local artists paint pictures, pointing out the ones we liked the best, laughing at our dust laden shoes, talking of our idea of a perfect life partner, telling him I never wish to get married, wishing his wife good luck when he said he wanted six children.
Our courtship was beautiful. Our rendezvous were covert, romantic and thrilling. For the demure, rule follower me, dating was a wild adventure in itself, dating a foreigner was beyond belief. He waited for me in front of the RamKrishna Mission in Golpark, outside my Mass Communication classes, he came by the hotel at night to pick me up and drop me home in his car. We walked along the Lake and the Maidan, we sat by the musical fountains and I talked to him about Rabindra Nath Tagore, sung him a few of my favorite songs. We ate ice cream at Scoops by the river Ganga and watched the sun go down by the Howrah bridge. We soaked in the sight of the pinkish hue of the Victoria memorial as the last rays of Kolkata sun illuminated the splendid marble architecture. Kolkata is a city where I was born, I have many pleasant memories of it. But the streets of Kolkata, that I roamed with the special man by my side will always have a special place in my heart. It was on those streets that we explored each other fully and discovered each other’s thoughts, views, core values. We found commonality and we found differences. We learnt, we grew and we fell in love.
Almost seventeen years and two children later, we are here today. Silver highlights in my black hair, and there is stylish grey around his temples. The love notes that we used to write to each other every day have been replaced by grocery lists, sticky notes saying ‘there is food in the oven’, quick texts saying when the kids need to be picked up and from where. I mourn the loss of the wild rush of the romance of the first few years. What happened to those days of listening to love songs, day dreaming, walking the streets of Kolkata and later Baltimore, endlessly, completely lost in each other, sighing over poetry of Pablo Neruda, candle lit dinners and serenades? G.B Shaw is spot on when he says:
When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part. ~G.B. Shaw, Getting Married, 1908.
We did not remain in that excited, abnormal and exhausting condition continuously. Who does, after seventeen years? The most violent, most insane, most delusive and most transient of passions have given way to steady rhythm of gentle companionship and a deeper bond of trust, love and understanding. We have both learnt to recognize and appreciate the different manifestations of love that is not limited to love notes, love songs, moon sightings and passionate sighs, but goes way beyond that to make one feel truly cherished.
Some nights I come back home from work to find him fast asleep or semi asleep. I open the refrigerator – my dinner is waiting to be heated up, the dishes are done and the kitchen is sparkly clean. I feel completely loved then – more than love letters, diamond rings or flowers could ever make me feel. I wake up in the morning after a night of snow to find the driveway already shoveled and my car cleaned so I can get out without worries. Most mornings, I feel him covering me up with my kicked away blanket and tucking me in so I can get a few more minutes of sleep as he gets up to do his exercise. In my semi awake state I hear him softly shutting my door and whispering to the children, “Don’t bother mommy. Let her sleep in!” Children, schedules, home works, activities, jobs take up most of our time these days. Mortgage, bills, college funds have replaced thoughts of Neruda, Dali, Simon and Garfunkel. Most days we don’t feel it, yet some days, while taking a hike among nature, when we have a moment to pause and take stock, we look at each other and find fulfillment. We are in it together, we built our life together, creating a family, nurturing our young ones and taking care of each other in sickness and health.
Despite all our responsibilities, I still find time to put my arm in the crook of his elbow when we go for a walk, he still makes me feel like a giggly girl when he flashes a smile and teases, we still banter like we used to which seem very amusing to the children, he still calls me out to show a splendor of nature – like the sunlight creating a rainbow in a spiderweb on the side of our house. I still don’t enjoy any experience to the fullest unless I have shared it with him. It was simply wonderful to be young and recklessly in love. I am so glad we have those memories. But I am indeed glad to grow and mature in this relationship with my spouse where a few stolen moments in the morning before the craziness starts see us through the entire day.
I love being married for all the right reasons. I love the man in my life for the man that he is. I love the feeling of being the only one for him. I also love being married for the reason Rita Rudner says here.
It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life. ~Rita Rudner
12 thoughts on “Way back when…”
My favorite love story of all times. Beautifully written to boot. In Cal now. Happy V Day Piyali! Love, Gouri
🙂 ! Thanks Gouri. Enjoy our city. Love…lots of it.
A life story like this puts back the warmth time takes away …lets say time to time….thanks gal for such beautiful share of your life…Happy Valentine Day to you all yours…:)
Happy lover’s day, Madhu…Anumita!
After reading your love story, I feel I can face Valentines day bravely! What a beautiful story! On this day of lovers, I wish you both a lifetime of love in each others arms and hearts 🙂
Raji, thank you, my friend.
Hi Piyali, You remind me of the important – sometimes the small things – that make a marriage last. It can’t be roses and chocolates everyday but roses die and chocolates add on those unnecessary pounds – the small things are the ones that stick to my memory. Thank you for sharing your story – beautifully written words. Happy Valentines Day!
Thank you so much Eva. Yes, roses indeed die, chocolates add pounds but the love and understanding that builds a relationship should be nurtured.
I always knew your story would be special but just how special is quite another matter. I love how I got a peek at events unfolding…. I spotted the handsome man with you…. I felt embarressed on the first phonecall….I sampled the joys of the bookfair and sunsets over Victoria Memorial and I hear him asking the little ones to let mommy sleep and tucking you in. Am afraid I have rather fallen for Sean or is it you? Or are you so infused as one I cannot tell you apart? May you always have each other to love, cherish and annoy. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story… on a rather commercialised festival of hearts, I feel like I finally see two real hearts intertwined beating as one.
Empress, you are wonderful.
I am sitting here so deeply immersed in your story – a story that brought sighs, tears, smiles. More than that a story so beautifully rare that I can only count myself blessed to have known a love like yours. This is writing at its finest. This is life at its best. I read this yesterday and I came back today to read it one more time. You do know that you have a destiny to write a book yes? Because I believe I have just read a most stirring and memorable excerpt from your book Piyali. I have truly missed you and your writing and your thoughts. Much love, Sharon
Thanks so much Sharon. It is indeed wonderful to have you back in my blogging world.