What Scrooge was to Christmas, my husband Vijay is to Valentine’s Day.
Before you jump to the conclusion that he is affiliated to a certain righteous political party that doesn’t approve of young couples holding hands and kissing, let me clarify. Vijay’s problem appears to be more around the meaning of Valentine’s Day itself.
‘I’m in Singapore from the 9th to the 16th,’ he announces to me.
‘Aw.’ I say wistfully. ‘You won’t be here on Valentine’s Day.’
‘Thank God.’ He says, rolling his eyes. This attitude immediately causes me to flare up.
‘Now wait a minute. What does THAT mean? You don’t want to spend Valentine’s Day with me?’
‘It’s not that.’ He protests. ‘But what is all the hoo-ha about anyway? It’s just another day.’ He gains both courage and conviction as he speaks and affirms ‘It’s stupid.’
‘Well, I don’t think it’s stupid.’ I say. ‘What’s wrong with having a day to celebrate love?’
‘Bah!’ And for a moment there, I’m sure he’s going to add ‘Humbug.’ But he doesn’t. Instead he continues ‘This was all okay when we were younger, but…’
‘Oh, so you mean that romance has to die now that we’re an old married couple.’ I’m trying to keep from getting upset but it’s not really working. I’ve got my hands on my hips. ‘ Since we’re boring old parents-of-3-kids, there’s no concept of anything to do with fun, spontaneity or surprise, right?’
‘Hey.’ He’s clearly trying to lighten the mood. ‘We’re fun and spontaneous. That’s what led to 3 kids. And weren’t you surprised about having twins? And…’
‘Forget it.’ I mutter and go back to reading my book. Or pretending to read it.
I’m really thinking about whether this is finally it. We’ve been married 12 years now. I’m approaching my 35th birthday. It may actually be time to give up on trying to revive that spark. The first few months of our courting, even the first few years of our marriage. When it was just the two of us, no family, no full-timers, talking late into the nights, aching to get to know each other more fully. Cut to the present, where a lot of the conversation seems to be along the lines of ‘It’s your turn to put them to bed.’
Vijay can see that I’m peeved. Usually his default course of action in such a scenario is to pretend that he hasn’t noticed, in the vague hope that I will come out of it myself. But today, he seems to sense that it’s cutting a bit deeper than the usual irritation, and ventures. ‘Does this stuff really matter to you?’
‘Nope.’ I say glibly. ‘Just another day, right? How do such little things matter?’
‘Right.’ He says, relieved. ‘Just a little thing. After all, the bigger thing is that we’ve been married eleven years.’
‘Eleven?’ I can’t believe it. ‘It’s our 12th year anniversary this month, and you don’t know that?’
‘Yes, yes,’ He says hastily ‘Eleventh, twelfth, it’s the same thing…’
‘It is NOT the same thing.’ I hiss, slamming down my book. ‘This is too much, Vijay! You don’t understand the value of an important occasion…’
‘Our 12th anniversary is an important occasion?’
‘More important than any other anniversary? Now, don’t be silly…’
‘Vijay, just forget it.’ To my surprise, I can feel tears welling up. My husband is not only unromantic, he’s downright callous. ‘ No, the 12thannivesary doesn’t mean anything.’
‘Yes, well, you know, it’s not even like a golden or silver anniversary…although those are silly too, after all, why would…’
‘I DON’T want to DISCUSS it.’ I am totally fed up, and rise in a huff from my bed and start heading out the door. I fumble to put on my shoes near the front door. I can hear him calling me to wait and not be silly and do I know how cold it is outside, but I don’t care. The kids are asleep and I feel like getting some fresh air.
A blast of chilly wind hits me in the face and instantly I’m wishing I had grabbed a jacket on the way. This light sweater won’t let me survive long out here. It’s been a long winter in Delhi. Instinctively I start to walk briskly, and then break into a jog. It’s been a while since I got some exercise out in the open and running always helps to clear my head.
Is it perhaps the fact that my sister just got married, and I am just fresh from the wedding madness, and my own wedding seems now so long ago, and rushed by comparison. The memories have almost faded. There was no Facebook in 2003 either, so I don’t even know now where all those photos are. Were there even digital cameras? I can’t remember if we had one at the time. I pick up the pace and start jogging faster. In pretty good shape for a thirty-five year old has-been, I think to myself grimly. I’m practicing Yoga through the week and teaching Zumba on the weekends, and it helps. What’s the point though? Vijay never remarks on how well-maintained I am beyond saying stuff like ‘Don’t get any skinnier.’ Which is what my Mom says too. So much for that. Or stuff like ‘Wow, is this your Jhansi Ki Rani pose?’ when I’m doing Yoga in the mornings. It actually is the Warrior, but it pisses me off, the way he teases me when I’m trying to be all centered and calm.
The thoughts whirl around in my head and I’m not really watching the road all that closely as I circle around the block, but a quick flash of white fur catches the corner of my eye. Cat, scared by my presence, disappearing over a low wall. And this brings back a memory from last year.
Vijay and I were jogging together in a bid to get more fitness time and togetherness time ( which lasted until the kids decided they also wanted to go on Mama-Daddy’s-night-walk). We were secretly competing with each other to see who woul dlast longer and completed another block without stopping for breath, although we were also occasionally conversing between gasps. Suddenly, a cat, a black one, darted across the road. I know my husband’s idiosyncracies well, and one of them is the tendency to be ridiculously superstitious about things like this.
‘Did you see that?’ he gasped ‘A black cat just crossed the road.’
I was about to protest that we were NOT going to change our route just because of a silly superstition, when I noticed that my husband had instead of slowing down, sped up and shot ahead in front of me. I ran to catch up with him and he was already past the point where the cat had crossed the road.
‘Hey. Wait up.’ I shouted and ran faster myself until I was finally by his side again. ‘What’s with you?’
‘Nothing.’ He muttered, breathing hard. ‘Last round and then we’ll head home?’
I glanced up at his impassive face and he pretended not to notice.
It hit me with a flash as to what he was doing. He sped up and ran across what he considered a bad luck zone. So that he’d be the one to cross it first and not me.
We went home and never spoke about it.
I’ve slowed down now as I head home. I know now who was the one being silly. I remember reading in a book by Eknath Easwaran, one of my recent discoveries, about how true love is when the well-being of your partner matters to you more than your own. And in that department, I must confess, I feel I have a lot to learn from my older and wiser husband.
He’s stood by me through thick and thin, and that matters a lot more than Candy and Roses and a single day like Valentine’s Day.
I let myself in. He’s waiting in the drawing room for me and making a snack out of some leftoevers, even though it’s pretty late and he has an early morning flight. I come and sit down next to him. There are a few moments of silence.
‘Want a Paneer Pakoda?’ He ventures.
I look at the greasy, cold, unappetizing looking thing he is holding out to me.
‘Okay,’ I say agreeably. As he is handing it over to me, it falls to the carpet.
I bend to pick it up, but he takes it from my hand immediately, replacing it with another with a ‘Here, take this one.’
I smile at him and proceed consume the replacement Pakoda. It tastes pretty good. After a moment, when he thinks I’m not looking, he discreetly brushes off the fallen Pakoda against his sweater once and then pops it into his mouth.
We sit there in contented silence, munching our Pakodas. I’m thinking to myself.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Honey.
I hope someday I can be as romantic as you.