On the day we were leaving, I was looking out of the car wistfully. We were past the beach in a blur and now whizzing by the Baga road and suddenly I saw a bungalow. It did not stand alone and proud amongst a quiet locality as I remembered it from years ago. It was surrounded by shops and establishments, and ugly electrical wires were jutting out from the stores, and almost touching the bungalow’s boundary walls. And yet it seemed familiar. Like an old friend. A past life acquaintance suddenly making an appearance in this life. And then, I saw a restaurant. It was called Plantain Leaf.
Vikram Seth took it and turned a page. I felt the colour rise to my cheeks. Because this copy of A Suitable Boy was bought in 2003 - a year when I was still incredibly dreamy-eyed and foolishly romantic. I had a habit of scribbling something down on every book I would buy. On this particular book I had scribbled, "... There goes a Pantaloons top and a new leather purse. But oh, the pleasures of buying a book..."
However when we reached the enclosure that housed the goats, the husband got so excited that he forgot all about us and started feeding the goats with the enthusiasm of a child. I had to go back to the entrance to buy another packet of goat feed (I am not sure if that's the right term for it, but can't remember now what it was called) because the husband wanted to feed the goats some more! I remember the friend and I standing at a distance, with smiles taking over us faces as we watched the husband getting absolutely thrilled with the goats eating out of his hand.
While the list of mother-in-law problems is varied, sometimes whimsical and bordering on weird, and at other times full of annoying issues arising from deeply rooted problematic attitudes towards what a daughter-in-law's place in the family is all about, one theme seems to come up almost always. And that is, a large majority of Indian women experience some form of unpleasantness from their husband's mother. The degree, of course is varying, and I do not know whether it says something about the nature of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships in general or is something peculiar to Indian culture and society. Now that unpleasantness could stem from a sense of not being liked or welcomed into their new families or it could go deeper with sensing a hostility from their mother-in-law, or the pressure to conform to their mother-in-law's way of life and beliefs.
Sometimes when we travel, the husband and I are often the only people in a restaurant who are Asian or brown. A lot of people at the other tables know each other, especially if it is a small town or village and I feel as if we stand out by our brownness and our relative lack of knowledge of the food on the menu. Sometimes, it leads to funny things. Like ordering a pudding that isn't sweet, a cheese that is moldy but not gone off and good to eat, or a lobster that attempts to fly!
My rucksack is now frayed at certain places, and is worn for use. But I love it and want no other. It still makes my heart dance, and so it accompanies me everywhere. Since its maiden trip to Belgium, it has been to the Yorkshire Dales, Swindon, Cornwall, Swanage, Malta, Turkey, Sweden, Powerscourt House and Gardens, Wicklow, Bray, Howth, Kinvara, Enniskerry...just about anywhere I have gone. It has been on treks, on walks and trails, to waterfalls, on a hot-air balloon in Cappadocia, to a grand palace in Turkey, to castles and parks, to public gardens and shopping arcades...
The thing is, travelling or vacationing together is like a marriage. You have to give up on some things, and your spouse will give up some, there can hardly be ever a perfect 50-50 in that give and take, and both of you have to adjust. Yes, that great Indian word that is said to solve every problem in a marriage - 'adjustment' - also applies to vacationing together.
We are now under a strict lockdown but I can still remember two things from the small break we undertook between the lockdowns. One is the laughter and joie de vivre of the host of the bed and breakfast where we stayed at, and the other is the sea - the vast swatches of the scintillating brilliant blue that seemed to flutter like a school-girl's ribbon, sometimes to our left, and sometimes to our right - as we wound up and down the Connemara region.
I still remember all the laughs from our trip to Sweden. How we missed the train, and (unsuccessfully) tried to run after the right one, how we mistook Schnapps for some kind of a ginger drink, and the way we solved the mystery of the see-through door of our hotel's bathroom... the laughs never just stopped.
We lost him in his birthday month. On the 23rd of December. He died of an aortic aneurism, and as he lay on the hospital bed, awaiting his surgery, he called my mother and me to him and said, "Aruna, I had promised to outlive you. I am sorry that I may not be able to keep that promise. This surgery is difficult and complicated and I may not survive it. I apologise to you for all instances in our married life that I may have been angry or unreasonable with you."