It’s another kind of love.
The nearest our grandmothers may have got to saying, “I love you” in Oriya would have been “I like you!” And even that would have been said with a blush. Dad’s mother, Ma, left us too soon. We were away in England in the sixties and I used to conjure up her smiles from black-and-white photographs fitted into triangular corners, pressed lovingly in the few surviving albums, with tissue paper overlays that rustled each time you turned the pages.
My maternal grandmother, Aaee’s been gone a decade now. But I can still see her, smiling endearingly, licking her paan-stained lips, chuckling over our torrent of questions on the silliest of topics, including love, her eyes crinkling in amusement. As she sat to clean the fish to be served for lunch, she’d say, “Haan, you better know how to clean the insides of a fish. Or else it will be so bitter that love may not save you from the comments!”
As for us, young teenagers, we would talk endlessly of falling in love, drinking champagne, daring to have a “love-marriage”. All Aaee would say was, “Bhack! Watching too many cinemas.” Yet she would always pull open the corner of her pallu, hand over some crumpled rupee notes so that we could go for the first evening show in the only cinema house in Dhenkanal — furtively, so that our grandfather, Aja, would not spot us. An uncle owned the cinema hall. He refused to take money for our tickets and even rewound the movie reels for us if we were late and had missed the trailers. Aja did not want to be obliged to his wife’s nephew, so he would frown heavily, shaking his head in despair!
Then I turned 17 and it was time to say goodbye before leaving for Delhi University. Sad to think about it even now, the tears they shed, my elderly grandparents, as if I would never see them again. There were no lectures about getting married. Aaee would say, “You must study. I’ll come stay with you when you are in the IAS.” She had been a child bride and became a very young mother. What had she dreamt about as a little girl? I should have asked her.
Now, it’s all so different. Two strong personalities, almost the same age, shared years of worrying about the children - from school to college; through sickness and through sadness. Watching them grow and recede from our lives. We have learnt to confront financial problems, resolve conflicts, balance opinions. Think about medical care. Grow old. We now acknowledge it and accept our imperfections. And realise that in the end, it may be just the two of us. We have learnt to accept each other as time has changed us — the expanding waist, the dental bridges, the need for reading glasses. It’s another kind of love.
First published Feb 18, 2005 Indian Express