by Ruchira Khanna
October 17, 1970
One of the shores of the river Ganges is bustling with heavy laughter, with soothing music playing in the background, and dozens of people are mingling with plates in their hands. The women are walking carefully on the cobblestone path in their heels while the men are in their dress shoes. It is the month of October when the calm winds have made their way from the Himalayas. People have begun indulging in warm, comforting foods such as warm milk with saffron and nuts and scrumptious sweets such as jalebi, rabdi and gajar ka halwa.
All these are laid out elaborately on a table in one corner, and individuals neatly dressed in a uniform are serving it with a courteous smile, while accepting compliments from the guests with frequent nods.
In one corner are two majestic chairs occupied by a couple. The lady is adorned with jewelry and is wearing red, shimmery clothing. Her hands are henna’d. Her face is glowing although she is exhibiting a mix of excitement and nervous now and then. Interestingly, she gets into a conversation with whoever would approach her, but when the young man seated next to her who is clad in a formal suit, is clean shaven and has his hair neatly set would exchange dialogue with her, she would pause, blush, bite her lip and look down while responding.
“Here’s to the newlywed couple!” cheered the groom’s dad with a teacup in his hand. Everyone around was quick to raise their cups as they gave their good wishes. The couple smiled coyly as they looked at each other.
This couple that were now joined in holy matrimony were my parents. As per the Hindu tradition, my dad had traveled from Delhi to my mom’s maiden home in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. They married there and were driving back to Delhi when they took a halt near the banks of the Ganges for refreshments arranged by my mom’s parents. After that, they continued with their journey homeward bound.
They lived a happy and blissful marriage of 40 years.
Life After Marriage
Throughout their marriage, they experienced highs and lows amidst financial, emotional and physical crisis. As a couple, they strived towards the ups, rejoiced over them, and tried to beat the lows. Sensibility, humility, compromise, patience, forgiveness, and generosity were the main factors that strengthened their bond.
During those 40 years of being happily married, this beautiful couple created my brother and me. The four of us made an opinionated yet supportive family, respecting each other’s boundaries yet being caring and content with each other's company. According to my mom, as an elder sister, I was very possessive of my brother and made sure he would get everything after me. I would even keep a share of cookie for him when offered. I taught him the alphabet and helped him learn to read. My brother returned the favor of affection when he grew into a darn sensible teenager and would look out for my safety when we would be traveling during the wee hours.
We sure gave justice to the definition of ‘family’ by going through all the emotions of whatever life had to offer together.
Life Takes A Turn
Unfortunately, life had something more in store for us. My dad, who was a hard worker and kept his family his priority, got sick. His sickness was detected very late as the disease he had contracted showed no early symptoms.
He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in stage 4. He had this intense desire to go back to work and had his briefcase next to the bed that used to motivate him day in, day out. The disease had spread to his bones that made his pain unbearable. His eyes welled up with tears because of the pain, but he held a strong, contagious urge to get better and get on with his life. He could not bear the burden of being dependent on people and so, struggled with a brave heart and a smile on his face. There were times, we used to give up, but his determination to fight it made us keep rowing our boats. Until the end, he was making plans to visit places and travel. Towards his last few hours left on this planet, he realized that the Almighty had something else in store for him, so he made sure he rewarded all the attendants who looked after him in the hospital and bid adieu with a peaceful expression and a gentle smile. In the end, he succumbed, but he fought hard and bravely.
He passed away at the age of 65 in the second week of October 2010.
As per Hindu traditions, the body is cremated and the ashes are scattered in the Ganges, which we did on October 17, 2010.
The irony here lies in the date and the age.
On October 17, 1970, my father and mother became a couple, and after 40 years of marriage, they lost each other’s company. The date was the same, and the river Ganges was the witness to their union and now their separation.
After six years, my mom breathed her last, also at the age of 65. Her ashes were also immersed in the river on October 17.
All of this makes me ponder. Is the date significant for the death and birth of a body? Is the date of any importance when two souls unite in matrimony or is it just an ugly coincidence?