The groom says, “Together we will protect our house and children.” The bride promises, “I will be by your side as your courage and strength. I will rejoice in our happiness, and you will love me and me alone”.
I was watching “The Sky is Pink” with my husband a few nights ago. It was a film made by filmmaker Shonali Bose, based on a true story and starred Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar. I am not going to give you a detailed account of the film, you can find your evening for a teary screening. Or maybe not, here we go. The young narrator of the film suffers from SCID, a disorder that takes her life when she is 18. The relationship of a couple trying every trick in the book to bring life and happiness to their child is just heart-breaking to watch and yet you admire their strength and resolve. There were moments my husband and I squirmed with discomfort and counted our blessings for not being placed in that gut-wrenching dilemma. Not only does a situation like that test you as a parent, but it also tests you even more as a couple. It is a time you need to trust each other’s decisions, bring strength to your family unit, and yet find moments that make for happy memories. The film left us drained, tear-stained, and clutching hands as we watched a set of parents burying their child.
The vow a man makes to protect his home and children may be a bit dated or even sexist for our times, these roles are traded between a couple in many households today. And is being the breadwinner enough? It’s true, the financial security that a good job and salary brings is not enough anymore. Whether dad or mum, you need to be emotionally supportive, be an active sympathiser through boyfriends, girlfriends, bad grades, lost races, and then make sure you don’t miss a parent-teacher meeting at school and be labelled as disconnected! So, when my husband missed a Zoom meeting this week at our son’s new school for something he is passionate about, a game of golf, I wondered what the 10 landscaped couples on my Mac thought while I sat on my portrait screen. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I will never know, as it was the first time I was seeing them all. I will sit there providing both courage and strength and let my husband know he is not being judged the next time we are on one of these calls! If we are ever at a social event with these lovely people post COVID, I will even hold his hand and let him know that I rejoice in his happiness when he plays golf and will continue to love him, provided he loves me and me alone! That way, I will be keeping my end of the bargain in promises we made that we don’t quite remember. If we did not bring a little fun and frivolity into our daily lives, we would have a very dull existence.
My son was recently asked in an interview what he thought happiness was. It’s a difficult one for a 13-year old and we were amused by the spot he was in. As children grow, we can no longer protect them from uncomfortable or new questions and situations. I realised that we have gone through several years never answering this question ourselves. Should happiness be based on success and achievement or should it come from eating your favourite meal or enjoying the imperfect holiday? There is no right answer. We need to groom our children to enjoy the small moments in life and also find resilience when things don’t go their way. The animal instinct is to protect our offspring from any danger or harm, but protection is equally about preparing the young for challenges to come. We are going against the grain to let them fall and let them get hurt so they can explore their own vulnerability. Equally, we are supporting them with a shoulder to cry on because acknowledging disappointment and defeat will hopefully hold them in good stead when the path ahead is both bumpy and narrow. And then again, they need to know that if they are ever in need, we will be their rocks, standing strong against adversity when it comes their way. This is the best promise of protection we can offer our children as they turn into adults, and I’m exhausted by the thought even as I write this! I want to celebrate resilience and humour by passing both those strengths on to the ones I love most. I hope they grow up to find tenacity in laughter and courage in reaching out when the chips are down. I want them to be able to find their own meaning of “happiness”.
Weddings in India are so much about ritual and ceremony that the vows we make are almost lost in that noise. As we walked around the sacred fire and pledged to bring courage, protection, strength, and joy to the union called marriage a decade and a half ago, I must remember that happiness came when we emerged from our toughest times. Stability, resilience, and above all contentment are the base of what happiness means to me: if joy and laughter decide to grace us with their time, they will be the cherries to my pie. Happiness for me is when we celebrate birthdays, it is when I find sweet mangoes in a country that does not grow them, it is when I hug a close friend that I have not seen in a long time. And it is still happiness I feel when we clutch at each other’s hand after a sad film, knowing that we brought comfort and solace to each other in the smallest of moments before the lights went out.
– The Railway Woman