Pale sunlight filtered in through the leaves of the cherry tree, bringing a cozy glow to the patio. Early morning, when you can feel the sun’s warmth when you lift you face, but dawn’s brisk chill is still lingering in the air… It has always been my favourite time of the day. Everything’s so mellowed down, all hushed, waiting for the day to begin, and the rest of the household’s almost always asleep, so I get to sit back and put my feet up for sometime…
The scent of freshly baked cake wafted in from the kitchen. Seema was upto her baking again. That girl makes the most visually pleasing baked stuff that just melt on your tongue. Oh, how quickly life moves on and comes full circle. It seems like it was just yesterday that Seema was asking me for a taste of the mixing bow herself, and now she making the cake herself.
‘Nani, nani, nani!’ My youngest great granddaughter, Meera ran into the patio. She clambered up onto my lap, all knees and elbows, and settled in.
‘Nani, Rahul and Sandhya are not allowing me to play Chess with them!’
‘Meera! Good morning!’ I gave her a hug. ‘What are you all doing up so early?’
‘We always get up early when we go for holidays, Nani. Everything is so exciting. Something is just waiting to happen. How can we waste time in sleeping then?’
I laughed at her sense of drama. ‘Aha, so tell me, what’s waiting to happen today?’
‘Chess! But Rahul and Sandhya wont allow me!’ She stomped her leg.
‘Baby, but you know that Chess can be played by only two, dont you?’
She pouted. ‘ Yes, but, I thought, maybe I could play for sometime, and Rahul could play after that.’
‘Right. Do I need to tell you that that’s completely unreasonable?’
She looked down, trying and failing to look contrite. I gave her a look.
She giggled. ‘No, you dont, Nani. I was just bored and wanted to do something. Also, I wanted an excuse to crawl into your lap.’
Children are so frank, owning up to mistakes and revealing what they want with no fuss or subterfuge. It’s only when we get older that life gets complicated.
‘Meera beta, I love having you on my lap. You never need and excuse for that, okay?’
‘Okay Nani.’ She grinned and cuddled close, hugging my neck.
We looked out at the extensive gardens surrounding the house, and I pointed out each of the plants to her, teaching her how to differentiate between them. Spending quiet, quality time like this with my grandchildren is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. To engage their bright young minds, and and be witness to their inquisitiveness is invigorating in itself, not to mention the emotional satisfaction we get in seeing our blood, our generation, continuing on.
When I pointed out the red cabbage rose, she gave a little start. She turned to me, animated. ‘Nani, I just remembered! I cant believe I forgot. Isn’t today yours and Nana’s wedding anniversary?’
‘Yes, it is’, I smiled. I hadn’t expected her to know, or even remember.
‘Happy wedding anniversary, Nani! So how many years have you been married?’
‘It’s been seventy years today.’ It gives me a startle to think of the time that has passed. Do the years pass you by when you’re not looking? Because I could swear it’s not been so many.
’70 years?!… But that means… then you must be… Nani, I dont know if you know, but I think you’re really, really old!’
I laughed out loud. Lord, but she was innocent! ‘Yes, I am, darling. I know that.’
’70 years, huh? Hey, wait a minute, hasn’t it got one of those names? Diamond, silver and all that? 70 years… Is it diamond, do you think?’
‘Nope, diamond is the 60th’, I told her.
‘Then what’s the 70th called?’ I told you. Inquiring minds, remember?
‘Hmm, let’s see. 10 years is Tin, 20 years is China, 25 is Silver, 30 is pearl, 40 is… ruby? Yeah, I think it’s ruby. 5o is gold. 60, like I just told you, is diamond, and 70 is… ah, yes, Platinum!’
‘Platinum? Wow, platinum’s my favourite! It’s so silvery, and it has diamonds on it that look so pretty.’
I was curious about how much she really knew about Platinum. ‘Really? But even silver’s silvery. Why dont you like that?’
‘I do like that, but Platinum is very rare, and you know I love rare things’, she rexplained, self importantly. ‘Plus, it never fades, so it practically lasts forever. Like diamonds. No wonder they’re always paired together. They’re perfect for each other.’
‘Well, you’re certainly aware about things, and seem to make well informed choices. Good for you! Now… what’s the next plant we were going to talk about?’
Meera interrupted. ‘Wait, Nani! I just thought of something! 70 years, right? So that’s like, 70 wedding anniversaries?’
‘Yes…’ I wondered where she was going with this.
‘So you and Nana have been married for 70 years?’
‘Yes, that’s what I said.’
She cooed. ‘Aww that’s so sweet and romantic, Nani.’
Sweet and romantic? And I was just talking about how innocent the kids are.
‘Wow, I’m still not able to get over how many years that is! Okay, so Nani, I want to know something. Of all those 70 years of celebration, which one was your very best wedding anniversary? The most romantic? The one you loved best of all?’
‘I loved all of them, Meera. How can I choose?’
But she insisted. ‘No, no. I’m sure there must be one that stands out from the others in your mind. There’s no way you loved them all equally.’
On her persistent pestering, I gave in. Really, when a little cherubic face entreats you for something, its a strong man (or woman) who can refuse. And strong in the face of such insistence, I am not.
‘Well, okay, there is one. My third anniversary with Nana. It was the most wonderful day of my life.’
‘The third?’ She seemed skeptical. ‘But what’s so important about that one? I dont even think it has a name!’
‘So what if it doesn’t have a name, Meera? Do you honestly think that a day’s name gives it more importance over the memories it holds? You know better.’
‘Yes, I do, Nani. So what happened on your third anniversary that made it so special? Tell me.’
67 years ago…
I woke up to darkness. There was a hand covering my eyes.
‘Amir, seriously? When I’m asleep? And haven’t even opened my eyes?’ I asked my husband, recognising him by his scent, and because, well, who else is going to be in my bedroom at 9 AM in the morning? Certainly not our kid, who, at the moment, is kicking around in my tummy, approximately nine months old, and due to pop out at any moment.
Amir’s hand didn’t budge a bit. He laughed. ‘I know you. As soon as you wake up, you’ll be all eyes, unlike normal human beings who are bleary eyed upon waking up, and search out all my surprises, which will then fail to be surprises. So I’m covering your eyes.’
He had a surprise for me? Okay, this was new. We usually did something special for our anniversary, but we’ve never gone the elaborate route like some couples. Were we changing it this year?
‘So when can I see? It better be quick though, because you know I wont be able to stand the suspense.’ It’s true. I’m probably the most insatiably curious person you’ll ever know. Wanna bet?
He removed his hand from my eyes with a flourish. ‘Now!’
I gasped. Across the room, on the wall opposite the bed, was a large frame. It was filled up completely with photos. Photos of the two of us, right from our courtship days, of our respective families, our friends, our wedding, were all over the place, pieced together to form a wall size collage. I love how he thought to include the people who are special to us in the collage too. Without them, we wouldn’t have ever gotten together, and they made our life happy, so it’s only right for them to be there. But there were a number of blank spaces in the collage. They made the collage look incomplete, like some photos had been removed from their places.
‘Why the blank spaces?’ I asked Amir.
‘Those,’ he explained, ‘are for the photos that we will take in the future, as the little one in there grows up. We cant not have her-‘
‘-or him-‘ I interrupted.
‘-in such an all encompassing piece now, can we?’, he said, rubbing over my stomach.
I filled with a warm, happy feeling in my chest. It felt like everything I was seeing was aglow. The baby stirred in response to Amir’s voice, waking up from its own slumber.
‘So, how do you like it?’
I vomited. Hanging over the edge of the waste basket which had taken up permanent residence by my side of the bed, I heaved, bringing up nothing but air.
Amir’s face fell. ‘You dont like it? You hate it so much? Oh… um, okay, uh, I’ll remove it, okay? Dont worry, it’ll be gone by the time you finish brushing your teeth. Put it out of you mind, okay?’
‘No, no, no, no, no! Dont you dare touch it! I love it! It’s the single most amazing and understanding thing anyone’s ever done for me, and I love your or it. That was just morning sickness. You know I’ve been having it continuously. It has nothing to do with you, or that beautiful piece of art on that wall. Thank you so much, Amir.’
He laughed and looked relieved. ‘You’re welcome, love. And thank you, for three of the best years of my life. I love you. And now,’ he bent to take something from the floor, ‘here’s your breakfast.’ He handed me a tray.
‘This is for me? Wow, you really are going all out with the pampering, aren’t you?’ I laughed.
He winked at me. ‘You bet!. It’s all stops out today! Wait and see!’
I was ready for it, heavily pregnant or not. This was our day.
After we’d both returned home from work (yes, I was working while pregnant, because I was saving up for maternity leave. Plus, my office was practically next door, so I didn’t have to deal with the hassle of travelling), we both sat down in front of the collage wall and poured over all the pictures, Amir explaining how he got hold of them. He had called up everybody and asked them to contribute photos to the cause, and the darlings that they were, they did so willingly. It was with those photos and our own that he made the collage. My love for him just grew as I listened to him. You dont spend an entire month creating a wall size collage at night when your wife is sleeping, unless you really really love her. And it was that love that was feeding my own, increasing it with every word that came out of his mouth.
Love begets love. Truer words were never spoken.
Having scrutinized each and every one of the photos, I got up slowly. ‘Well, it’s time for dinner. Want to come help me?’, I asked him. He nodded and followed me.
But just as I was about to enter the kitchen, Amir came and stood in front of me blocking my way in.
He shook a long finger at me. ‘Nuh uh ah. Nope.’ He grinned.
I knew that look. He was upto something. I placed at hand on his chest and looked up at him, ‘What? You dont want me to cook? Wait, let me guess. You want to cook yourself?’
He threw his head back and laughed. He tweaked my nose, asking. ‘Oh, you think you’re clever, dont you?’
I smirked. ‘Well, you did stop me. And you have been doing things for me all day. What else is one to think?’
‘Oh, alright. You’re right. But I’m not cooking. I’ll do one even better! We’re going out for dinner tonight!’, he announced.
‘Outside? Like this?’ I looked down at myself.
‘You think you dont look good?’, he asked, surprised. ‘Wait. Ever heard of the term ‘maternity glow’?’ I nodded. ‘You’ve got it, darling. In spades.’
How does he know exactly what to say to make me feel better? Is that what it means to have a soul mate? They know what you need at any given moment? And your happiness truly is theirs? And vice versa?
So we went to the restaurant, where when the staff heard that it was our anniversary, they gave us a cozy corner tucked away in a little corner of the rooftop garden restaurant, and gave us privacy, except when they were needed.
After the waiters had cleared away the dishes, we just sat there, holding hands across the table, and looking out at the view. It was like old times, and it was the best moment of the day for both of us (Amir told me that it was his too later). There wasn’t much talking happening, but we were both in contemplative moods. We were at the precipice of parenthood. This was probably one of the last times we’d spend time like this together, just the two of us, and we both felt it keenly just then, the company that is only two, with the sea breeze on our face and the soft murmurs from the other tables creating a cocoon around us. It was the best of times.
I felt a twinge.
And a twitch.
And a tingle.
‘Amir…’ I began.
Six hours later, I lay on a hospital bed, with a little sleepy bundle in my arms, and looked up at my beloved husband. Amir was fascinated by the baby. It was almost weird, the way he kept staring at her, fingering her delicate fingers and toes. He was hardly touching her, for fear of hurting her with an overeager hand, though I told him he couldn’t hurt her. It only served to show me what a careful and caring father he would be to our daughter.
He finally tore his eyes away from the baby, and looked into my eyes. ‘I love you. Thank you.’
You might think that wasn’t very eloquent or flowery, but if you were there, then you would have seen the look in his eyes. So filled with love, and joy, and overcome with the benevolence bestowed on him were they, that to me, even those five words were superfluous. Know that song, ‘When You Say Nothing At All’? The entire song is about talking without saying a word; there’s even a line somewhere in there about eyes. And that was what Amir and I were doing that day. Talking, exchanging whole passages, without words.
But I wont denigrate the value of words. Words are etches on the sands of time. They have staying power. Which is why…
‘We began today, when I thanked you for the gift this morning, and you thanked me back. Right now, I’m thanking you back, Amir. For what? For a wonderful life. For understanding me. For realising that love is not all roses and being willing to get down into the gritty stuff in this marriage. For being not only my husband, but also a friend. For not letting this become the traditional Indian marriage relationship, but a partnership, where we’re both equals. Why? For loving me with my faults, and sometimes even for my faults, for teaching me that in this ephemeral life, you will be my one constant. And for this beautiful little bundle of joy that I’m holding. Thank you.’
Meera’s eyes were a little moist as I finished the story. I wondered if she was able to grasp the full extent of the story. Children, yes, I call them children, are constantly on the search for ‘love’ these days, that I wonder sometimes, do they even know what exactly it is? Or are they confusing it for something else. I wonder sometimes if they understand fully the level of commitment and investment in another person it requires. A lot of them seem so devoted to their own advancement, moving towards an individualistic outlook, and so brainwashed with a glossed over image of love that is portrayed in mainstream entertainment, that sometimes, I truly wonder… And worry…
Oh, but it’s in the nature of a doddering old woman to worry. Let me get back to my Meera.
‘That day, Meera, was the best day of my life. On that day, I felt like I had come full circle in my love life. I had experienced love for my parents, for my husband, and now for my own child. And to have my baby born on our special day was almost a sign, a divine gift, given to make that special day even better, and bless our union.
We were talking about Platinum earlier, and how it never ends… My fourth wedding anniversary, a day which probably has no name in the list of anniversary names, is my Platinum Day of Love. The name does’t matter, Meera. It’s what happened in it. And my Platinum anniversary? Hah! It’s already over! On that day when I was given a blessing twofold. The day your Nana and I discovered a whole new dimension of this thing called love, that allowed us to include another little person into our two person fold, and enriched our love for each other too.
So… What do you think?’
‘Nani, I think that’s the most romantic story I’ve ever heard! I knew Nana loved you so, so much, but I knew hardly anything about your history together. But wait. I want to know… who’s the baby?’
I smiled. She would be interested in that of all things. ‘The baby? Why, it’s your grandmother, Seema. She was my first precious bundle. And you, little darling, are my last.’
Oh, and if you’re wondering, I did get Amir a gift that day. Only, I cant tell you. It’s a secret 😉
P.S.: This was inspired by a real life story. Mine, actually. I’m the baby born on my parents anniversary.