There is a beauty in knowing that your parents are lovers. No, it is not gross or vulgar. For, if they were not lovers, you could never be. I could never be. Parents are lovers. And as lovers, there will be tiffs and spates, quirks and smirks—companionship at its best. And, like fine wine, the beauty of this love shows best when they have aged (shall we say grown) together for decades.
My mother was an attractive girl. She still is. It is easy to see why my father was smitten. The story we kids love the most is the one where my father met her for the first time. And every time we ask for this story, a new age-appropriate layer is peeled off before us to peer into. She was very quiet and always had a slight sad look in her eyes, he says. My mother never refuted this, and she never really has described how he was when she first saw him.
Times were hard. He was eking out a living in a small secretarial position in a private company in Delhi. “In Accounts,” he always adds. My mother was a nurse in Ludhiana, but she had travelled to Delhi to give an application at the Employment Exchange. These were the last years of the 1970s, when opportunities in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria were big. Yet, my mother applied for a nursing position in the never-heard of Kuwait.
It seems like there were no complicated dating rituals back then. My parents met a couple of times, amid common friends. My father, I imagine, must have been as gregarious as he is now. Lots of anecdotes and jokes and experiences. Even at the age of 26, I am sure. My mother nodded along and smiled politely, not asking too many questions. He clearly liked her. When my mother returned to Ludhiana after her interviews, my father realized (like all heroes in great tales like these) that he liked her enough to confide in his elder sister-in-law, my aunt. I have to thank my aunt for pushing this case further. She picked up the phone and pointedly asked my mother what she thought of this chatty boy. The rest, as they say, is history.
Three children and three decades later, they live in a house that echoes and is too big for them to manage, alone. The children have grown up, left home, and started their own families. The suddenly silent house was hard for them, at first. But the lovers within them picked up the romance that they were forced to abandon in between bottle feeds and diaper changes, and school fees and colleges, and teenage meltdowns and weddings.
I go home to see them sitting on the front porch, hand in hand, talking lazily in the afternoons. I love to watch them busy in the garden watering the plants and caressing the flowers that they helped bloom. I wince at the fragility of their adjusted lives in their homeland, after spending a youth in the torched and alien Kuwait. There are no signs of the tension-filled lives they led in their 30s and 40s though; the arguments that stemmed out of lack of sleep and imminent midlife crisis. The pressures of double shifts and thanklessness at work; the lack of time and the regret of not being around for First Holy Communions or PTA meetings at school. They had hard lives.
My mother talks a lot, now. She learnt a few card games to keep my father company. They cook together—singing, talking, laughing. They have jokes that I had not heard simply because I was not around all this while. They exercise together in the evenings and pray together in the mornings. They truly have become best friends.
When I went home this time, I spent a lot of time with my parents. This was the first time I had come home after my wedding. And I was examining their lives with a new point of view. I realized there is more than what meets the eyes when you leaf through musty albums. Those photographs that are constantly battling decay and rot in the humid environment they are stored in… their wedding album. From the time I first remember these pictures, they were never in a decent looking album. In fact, they were photographs gathered—in a hurry—from an apartment that was looted in a war-torn Kuwait, during the Gulf War. Years later, on one of their wedding anniversaries, we three children bought an album. We carefully pieced together the photographs—from an event none of us had personally attended but was the very reason for our existence.
Now that I was “all grown up”, once again, I asked my parents about the first days of their lives together. Once again, I got to hear about tiny episodes that I had never known before:
How, when my father wrote a letter to my mother asking for directions to an office building in Ludhiana (harboring the sentiments of a budding romance and yet hiding a fear of rejection somewhere deep within), she was quite cryptic and terse. “Get off at the Ludhiana railway station and just ask any rickshawala.”
How, after their wedding date was finalized, my father left from work early to hop on to an overcrowded bus which my mother had already boarded. He found a spot next to where she was and held her hand, on the pretext of taking measurement for the wedding ring.
How, three months after their wedding, my mother had to leave for Kuwait and how my father pined for her for a whole year.
How, even though they are my parents, they are deep and intense lovers.