The Story Of Us

IMG_7126 This blog would be incomplete without the story of how we happened to get married.

I abhorred the thought of an arranged marriage and had been managing to reject and/or be rejected successfully by all the “boys” who were potential grooms. I had no solid plans of how I was going to be married, and yet for it not be arranged. And being the eldest of 5 daughters, I was kind of blocking the way for my siblings. It was a responsibility that was cramping my style, a bit.

I was practically just floating along. And that’s when I met him — at the ripe old age of 24, as I  was getting close to spinster territory. He was someone at work, transferred from Bombay to Madras, where I lived. TDH – in the language of Mills & Boon, and Silhoutte romances of those days – tall dark and handsome. What every Indian girl wanted in her groom.

I was one of two females in my team of about 8, surrounded by guys, working with Railways officers/staff who were mostly men. I had seen my share of misoginy, and guys who couldn’t look a woman in her face while talking. I sensed he was different right away – different in a good way.

Quietly confident, great at what he did, without a need to be loud about himself, well read, smart, and with great work ethics. We became good friends, going out for work lunches, doing crossword puzzles in the off-site location (Central Railway Station of Madras) whenever we had time while implementing the ticketing system for the Southern Railways. He easily won all the games we played (okay we had some downtime) which made me mad, but also made me admire him for he never gloated. He would bring copies of horoscopes of potential matches his mother got for him, and we would go through them together. A railway officer with a very qualified sister-in-law (iyengar, me being a mere Iyer :)) had his eye on him for a potential brother-in-law, which I knew and used to tease him about.

And then one day there was a big problem with our software, and it was pretty tense for a day. He was handling it, and had worked through the night (the railways in India never sleep, trains run 365 days a year, and they were our biggest client). I spoke to him from home in the morning. Later, a co-worker who had been with him when I spoke said to me: “I saw him smile for the first time since the problem started (it had been a long day) when you spoke to him”. And that was my clue that there was something.

Sometime later, the railway officer above had a surgery or broke his leg or something, and we decided to visit him together. Yes, in India, especially those days, the lines blurred a bit. Anyway, we went, and afterwards, he asked me if I wanted to go to the beach (my beloved Marina beach). We went. I still had no clue where any of this was going. You have to remember this was the 80s India, and a boy and a girl standing within ten feet of each other was cause for scandal. But, I never was one to worry about what other people think, and didn’t think twice about going out with him. So we went, and talked. And then he said: “I wish you were an Iyengar”. Not “I love you”. Not “I want to marry you”.

(I was born in the sub-caste of brahmin community known as Iyer. He was born in the Iyengar sub-caste. While it helped that we were both born in the Brahmin community, it wasn’t altogether common for marriage between the sub-castes. We didn’t know how his parents would react, I knew for sure mine would be relieved)

We talked a bit more. Still no proposal. He said let’s go to Dasas for dinner. It was a new continental cuisine place by the owners of Dasaprakash, a fancy place in Mount Road (Anna Salai) then. It served strange (for those days) food like baked pasta, and leafy salads. As we checked out the buffet and were sitting, he said “look there” and pointed to someone. As I turned, and looked back at him, he had removed the rose from the table, and was hiding it behind him. When I turned around, he popped it and finally!!! said the magic words.

The rest, 28 years later, is history. His father asked if it was okay that he had only known me for three months. His mother guessed that it was me. His grandmother, bless her heart, wanted me to pierce my nose for the wedding, and also become a proper Iyengar by undergoing the branding ritual known as samasrayanam, to which his mother said no. I do have a cool mother-in-law!

Well here we are, 28 years, 2 children, and 3 grandpuppies later. It’s been quite a ride. We’ve both seen the good, bad, and the ugly – of life, and of each other. And remained best friends. We still laugh together and that is the most important thing for me. As I was looking for some deep writing online, I came across Kahlil Gibran’s poetry. More than his writing on love, and marriage, these lines on friendship hit a nerve with me.

Here’s to our friendship! Looking forward to continued friendship, and companionship, as we journey to our sunsets.

“And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”

~Kahlil Gibran on Friendship


Destiny. And A Math Class.

This post is about destiny. In the form of a random math paper that was part of my college curriculum. And the myriad ways my life meandered but eventually, despite my many attempts to stray, guided me to where I was supposed to be. Sometimes it was literally by the scruff of my neck, with me screaming bloody murder.

When I was getting ready to choose my track of higher studies, I chose, by a very scientific process of elimination, a solid and safe Commerce degree—known in India as B. Com.

(This was my process: didn’t like science, so engineering and science degrees were out; an Arts degree was not solid enough for the prestigious bank employment that was the dream of the entire middle class society back then, ergo the commerce track)

I almost ended up in a BA Economics course, since I couldn’t get in my chosen major, in my first college of choice. (And, honestly, my “marks” from higher secondary were damn good! My belonging to the so-called “forward caste” put me in an unfortunate demographic that had a tiny percent of quota in most colleges—a misguided attempt by the caste heavy Indian system to correct an injustice by inflicting more injustice—but then I digress).

Destiny calls: So I went to classes in a different college for 2 weeks until destiny, and my aunt, who knew someone who knew someone in my first college of choice, intervened and got me in the program at the Ethiraj College for Women, Chennai. Two weeks after classes had started. Two weeks after I had given up all hopes.

Back to my story: This degree had a single mathematics paper. This was important, but I didn’t know it then. I was just happy I had escaped the other, conservative college with a strict dress code and a principal who was the original Miss Trunchbull.

I finished college, in the first ever experimental batch of evening college. This turned out to be the best thing that could have happened for my laid back style of studying.

My amma says she doesn’t recall me ever studying. “You were always listening to music while doing homework, I don’t know how you passed any exam!” Classes were in the afternoon from 1:30 to 5:30 so I got to sleep in, got to watch all the tv programs offered by the single channel Doordarshan, do my homework leisurely in the mornings listening to Vividh Bharathi, and escape the morning rush.

I started applying to the much sought after bank jobs, the “moksha”—safe, solid, “permanent”—like that meant anything. I also started going to classes for ICWA (Cost Accounting)—always had to have a plan B.

No jobs were working out. And then, this huge opportunity was presented to me (being totally sarcastic here). There was a 3-month period when my aunt’s brother and his girlfriend (who at that point was just a friend, but I figured out something was up between the two—scandal!) who were both fresh out of med school, opened a clinic/hospital in Anna Nagar West, which was way out there compared to Anna Nagar East, where we lived. They needed a receptionist. It wasn’t a difficult job, they said. Boy, were they right!

Off I went every morning, my lunch packed. Some days both of them would be there, and the 3 of us would chat, gossip, play cards, whatever. Some days they would go out to get supplies for the “hospital” leaving me alone in that house/clinic/hospital. There were not many houses nearby, but one was being built across my place of “work”. So on many days, it was just me, my lunch dabba, and the construction workers. I started carrying books to read to while the time away and to keep my active imagination from running away.

My career as a blossoming receptionist at a hospital where the doctors were always out, and no patients ever came, came to an abrupt end when I chanced upon an advertisement by a computer company called CMC.

CMC was inviting applicants all over India to take an entrance exam to qualify for their classroom training/ hire program. By this time, I was practically an expert in taking entrance exams, and said what the heck, I’ll apply. Never seen a computer in my life. Had no idea what the company or the job was about. The only requirement was, get this: all non-science applicants needed to have completed at least one math paper in college. Hey, it was practically begging me to apply!

I got through the entrance exam and was called for an interview. They selected 80 candidates from all over India–40 with science/engineering background, and 40 who were from a non-science background. I got selected, went through the 4 month classroom training, passed another final exam in programming languages (COBOL/Pascal), and got hired in the company as an employee – System Trainee Batch 1!

Destiny calls: I had really, really wanted a bank job or an accounting job. Didn’t get either. But ended up as a computer programmer, at age 21 with little knowledge about computers. Oh to be young and daring!

I did well, apparently—a natural love for problem solving led to a love of programming. Two years later, I was put on the project to implement the application called IMPRESS for the Southern Railways—it stood for Integrated Multitrain Passenger Reservation System. CMC was implementing this all over the country, Delhi (Northern Railways) having been the first.

Destiny calls: my management had slight reservations about putting me on the team since it involved supporting the railways 24 hours/365 days, and they were not sure of having a female on the team. And this was one of those “turnkey solutions” that was immensely valuable to the company, its reputation at stake. The railways is like a mini government within India. We were bringing on a whole nation of railroad travelers to computers—folks who stood in long, slow moving lines for hours to book train tickets. A trailblazer project by all accounts! But CMC was the most progressive company I have worked for in my entire career—I won this one, and they put me and another girl on the team.

Now things were in place for the most wonderful thing that happened in my life. The single math that paper got me in to this job, and the job that put me in this project.

Flash forward 2 years: a new guy from Bombay joins the team in Chennai. His name was (is)…yep, Rajagopal. His reputation precedes him—he was apparently a superhero. TDH! (for those unfamiliar with the romance industry it stands for tall, dark and handsome).

This was March of 1989. We were engaged on July 13, 1989, and married by February 5, 1990, having had a whirlwind courtship that mostly involved doing the daily Hindu crossword puzzles, (hey, we were at the Chennai Central station 8 hours a day), combing through the horoscopes of prospective brides his mother received for him which he asked me look through and advise (those girls were doomed), and supporting the Southern Railways, and weekly visits to the famous Parthasarathy temple—(the only reason I went was for the yummy puliyodarai).

I sometimes imagine my possible alternate lives had destiny not intervened at each juncture and shudder. If I had continued with the BA Econ program; if I had gone into the Cost Accounting program after graduation; If I had gotten some boring bank or accountant job. All of these and a few others that I won’t go into, were huge disappointments but there was an invisible force that was steadily directing me to my destiny.

At each turn I had to be dragged kicking and screaming; shouting at the man above. I fought every move. I now understand what patience it must have taken for that power above to love me enough to not give me what I wanted at each turn, because something much better was in the works. Every now and then, I stop and thank him/her for rescuing me from myself!

There was a plan. There’s always a plan. All it takes is faith. And lots of patience, especially for someone like me. I read somewhere that we decide our lives before we are born. I just wish we would also remember it after we’re born.

You always get what you deserve, what is meant to be yours. I think, no, I know, I got the better end of this deal.

To my love, my life.

The yin to my yang.

The calm to my storm.

The rock to my crashing waves.

Happy anniversary!




My Annoying Valentine

He annoys me (and the kids) with his bad jokes.

He cannot watch anything without rewinding frequently to catch something anyone missed – most of the time something trivial and makes no difference to the plot. We all groan when one of us says “what was that? I missed it” because that means the next 10 minutes would be this: he would stop, rewind, go back too much, then forward too much, you know the drill. All that to catch up from exactly where we left off.

He cannot sing. Period. But insists on it, especially when we are watching Super singer and I am really trying to be the armchair judge.

He praises my food all the time. He also praises really crappy food. Does the man really know good food vs. bad?

He doesn’t know to buy small quantities – of anything.  Coming home with a crate of a shampoo he is trying out is not unusual. A shopping list to him means “get started with this and keep going”.  I remember the early years of our marriage when I was still a bit polite about starting fights – he once came home with about 25 plants from a greenhouse – to our 2 bedroom apartment. And,  I had to literally take away the credit card from him when he used to watch the QVC channel.

We cannot watch a movie without rewinding multiple times through the credits – I know, this sounds like the same as #2, but stay with me – it’s a bit different. When a movie ends, I turn off the tv and go to bed – or continue to sleep, as the case may be. But Raj would scroll through the credits, rewinding back and forth to read every single name, may be do some google searches on something interesting (!) he found and insist on waking me up to tell me, especially if it’s a Hollywood movie and he spots desi names.

He has been known to get the most unromantic and most utilitarian gifts – read this for more insight.

He is quite the Miss Chatty Kathy when I’m winding down at night – I have my book, my music and am in the zombie zone – he is catching up on his Facebook feed or NewYork Times, and wants to read out everything he’s reading.

He insists on reading out all the signs during long interstate drives.

And the list goes on – of all the things he does just to annoy me. At least that’s my version.

And yet…

The other day we were talking about how I cannot stay under the same roof with anyone in my family for more than a few days without wanting to rip my hair (even better, theirs) out from the roots.  My family would totally agree this is mutual – (L)GVRJ speak up if you don’t. We all need a continent or two, and an ocean, between us to be a happy family.

And it hit me that he is the only one with whom I have never felt, in 24 years, that I cannot live with him in the same house one more day.

Happy belated anniversary, my love!