Once upon a time, two young people met at a wedding.
No, it was not love at first sight. It was their own wedding they were meeting at.
Arranged marriages were not uncommon then, and he trusted his patriarchal father’s choice. All he wanted was someone who would adjust well to his military life.
She was made of slightly bolder stock and had asked her mother to find her a partner who would not drag her far away from her large and loving family.
Alas, neither of them had accounted for his maternal uncle who was the headmaster at her school. Who decided they were meant to be, and thus, it was writ in stone that they were to wed, ideal or not.
He was a dashing young Major in the Indian Army, and she was an even younger teacher at the local primary school.
Her family were aghast, no one had ever married into the military, they might as well have signed their daughter off to the unknown. But she was the oldest of nine siblings, there were other daughters to be wed, and the groom’s family were ‘good stock’. Besides, her sisters had seen his photograph at the headmaster’s house and assured everybody he was more handsome than Rajesh Khanna (who was the leading Bollywood star of the time, and very much the heart throb of the heroine of this tale).
Our hero had similarly been assured that she was beautiful, a graduate, and modern enough to take his lifestyle in her stride. And he was thirty! The junior captain in his regiment could not marry till he did, which forced his hand, if nothing else.
They laid eyes on each other, bashfully, amongst all the good-natured teasing, as they were being wed by the priest. Neither were disappointed, but had to pretend a degree of coyness, as per norm. Later that night, in the privacy of their own room, away from prying eyes, they formally introduced themselves to each other.
Over the years, the children always begged for more details, ‘what did you say to each other’ they would ask? Safe in the knowledge they would never need to marry men they didn’t know. And it was always the same reaction. Side splitting howls of laughter when he confessed, he had shown his new bride card tricks to break the ice. She always stood up for him in later years, ‘they were excellent tricks,’ she would say.
He also gave her his Regimental brooch, which lay unworn, but precious, in her dressing table drawer. She gave him a book of Bengali poetry, which she had always wanted for herself, so not knowing his tastes, it made pragmatic sense to buy that.
They knew from the very start that they would have a good marriage, make a decent life for themselves, and perhaps enjoy each other. They never expected to fall in love with each other and sustain that emotion for fifty-five years.
In later years, he reminisced about the evening he realised he had fallen in love with his young bride. Soon after their wedding they had been to a dinner party at the Officers’ Mess, and he left early as he had an exercise the next morning. Riding home on his Lambretta scooter, he had a niggling feeling that he had forgotten something. Entering the flat, he remembered, as he saw the curtains she had fabricated out of her sarees. He had forgotten his wife! He had even forgotten he was married.
Racked with remorse, he rushed back, to find her weeping, surrounded by other ladies, all assuring her that men were mad and not to be trusted. His CO gave him a telling off he never forgot and ordered him to take two days off to make up to her. Which he did. Serenading her with his awful tone-deaf rendering of romantic songs. It didn’t help that he didn’t know the words of many songs except Cliff Richard’s Bachelor Boy, which didn’t really amuse her.
This is an ordinary story. The next six decades were full of all the mundane and humdrum chapters which make up a real marriage. Adventures had together. Battles won together. Some lost, also together.
But the story has an extraordinary ending. Because they died, you guessed it, together.
He went first, and because they could not bear to be parted, she followed within weeks.
And thus, they lived happily ever after!