Gosh!!! The same haggard topic…the same emotion…the same sentimental excess…give us a break! Say something new, do something good for the world, have some noble cause in mind, bring a revolution if you can…!!!!!!!! All these ideas haunted me when my pen imagined a possible audience for this topic. But what can I possibly write about, when anything that I conceive zeros itself down to this fishy thing called “Love”. In my earlier days, while leaving from a particular school, college or locality, my friends gave me colorful scrap books to fill my thoughts for them and for life. These scrap books were the usual kiddo stuff with cartoons/ flowers and ruled pages. A definition of “life” would have to be interestingly filled up within 4 ruled lines or a definition of love would be usually 6 ruled lines. It used to be funny coz if you look back into those scrap entries, each kid would be competing with the other to prove that she/he could speak something more intelligent about life/love/owner of scrap book than the other friends. For my part, I always had a fixed definition of love (my ol’ friends can match their books) : the most used and abused term of human history. At that point of time, it was just an attempt to prove myself more intelligent than my peer group, I still do not know if I understand the term or its value.
Love was always a fairy tale in my imagination…something ethereal and poetic. But an incident that occured six years ago gave me a new perspective to the thing called “being in love”.
We were celebrating the Golden Jubilee Anniversary of my maternal grandparents. Some four generation of people of one family around the world had gathered for this celebration. Flashy aunts, boisterous uncles, toothless grandparents, cousins, uncomfortable sons-in-laws/daughters-in-law, nerds and dunce grand children…gathered at one place to celebrate the anniversary of this septuagenarian couple. There were two-days of feasting, merry-making and song-dance things. But, the aspect of the celebration that was most striking was the speeches made by my grand parents when they were asked to narrate their 50 years together. My grandfather…taken as an erudite and scholastic person gave a rather forgettable talk on his life in police department, the Indian freedom struggle , anandmath, etc. It was the old tooth-less lady, my grandmom who was a real revelation. Everyone, including her own children, had dismissed her as an illiterate,dark skinned woman who was no match for the killingly-goodlooking, tall, intellectual, officer-author who had held the police department in his sway at one point of his career.
She stood up, shivering, sweating and clearing her throat — holding the microphone so tight that the poor thing wreathed into a cacophony. First she fumbled-mumbled and then called the name of one of her children, almost pleading to give her a glass of water and her chair. The eldest uncle rushed to her offering her a seat and a glass of water. She drank patiently…and then spoke into the mike. Miracle! Her voice was mellifluous, the words came out with a dignity and command that would make any Cicero ashamed of himself. She was as clear and as curt as a piece of glass breaking through the silence of the night or as a koel singing through the summer leaves. For about half an hour she spoke about their life as a couple and the way they had started from stark poverty to their current state of satisfaction. She said that her husband and inlaws taught her to be good and see good. From her pet peacock “Subramanyam”, to her household servants, to children-grandchildren and most importantly the family deities, she acknowledged everyone for their togetherness of the last fifty years. She said that she knew nothing about love except that it was trust (viswas), sacrifice(thyaga) and simplicity (sahaja chinta). There was nothing great or new about what she was saying over the microphone, but it was her voice — simple and steady that aroused an awe and respect for that woman who knew nothing of great wisdom and philosophy. By the end of that speech, everyone was purged with tears. Tears streamed down the cheeks of the old man too and he was the first to clap in that stunned audience and clapped like a child.
Each morning grandpa congratulated my grandmom for her excellent speech and told us proudly that grandmother was much more learned than him…and she would blush like a newly wed at his compliments. He passed away six months later.
For days and months after his death whenever we would recollect the golden jubilee, I fondly remembered grandfather’s high regard for her erudition, her lovely voice and her eyes brimming with tears yet a steady tone. His last book , a translation of Omar Khyyam’s Rubaiyat exactly came on the 11th day of his death. Each verse of the text grandmom had by heart and would recite to us with the care of a devoted wife.
Then finally, one day while discussing the speech that she gave, she confided in me with her toothless smile and a residue of the pride that she had once as his wife. She said: “you know something sweet heart, the speech was not mine. Your grandfather had a conjecture that you all might ask us to speak on that occasion…I panicked and said I was illiterate, had not spoken on a mike before…what will I do?…u give the speech, I will just stand beside. He simply said, “no Niru what will the kids think? They should know that you are my inspiration…I will write the speech for you…you learn it by heart and speak there. I will give words to exactly what you think, but you have to learn and also promise me that you will never let this out that I wrote your speech to anybody, anybody in this world. I don’t want anyone to say that my wife is not my equal .” So, we too shared our little secret and small conspiracy. He would write bits of it and I would memorize. He took this secret to his grave and never breathed a word of it to anyone. He deliberately maintained his speech on a low key so that people appreciate whatever I speak more than his speech…”
I was stone shocked: “but granny it seemed it was all your wordings and your feelings”…she replied with a silent nonchalance, little drops of tears bathing those freckled cheeks: “your grandfather told me later after the function that the words were his but the soul in them was mine. I was the inspiration behind his poetry and he was the inspiration of my life…” I nodded in silent disbelief…
I could not bring myself to write about this incident for the past six years since his death, partly because it was my emotion and partly because I had thought this was too private and too intimate an emotion of this old couple to be shared…But now when I see people crusading for common good, for liberation of humankind, anti-hate campaigns, love breakups, live-in relationships…I am reminded of this small town, real-life couple who I think knew what it was to be in love...
(This is not fiction. The story happened in Feb 2002. My grandpa died in Sep 2002)