Past 80, and 50 years of married life knocking at the doors, it is time I revisited some milestones in my life:  how I met the lady of my house, to begin with.

Reclining in an easy-chair, watching in silent-mode India-England fourth and final cricket test match with the prospect of India making it to the WTC final against New Zealand. The lady of the house (Aunty, hereafter) supplying half a cup of coffee every hour (more to keep me from dosing off) as she simultaneously raced to recite Lalitha Sahasranaman and Vishnu Sahasranamam alongside her kitchen chores. The trees of Turahalli forest adjoining our Forestview Apartment blowing its gentle breeze in instalments, I couldn’t ask for a better ambience to go down the memory lane.

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The liberation war had just ended. A young nation, Bangladesh, had taken birth. In contrast, the ravages of war, with dead bodies of war victims strewn all over the streets, caused unprecedented public health problem. WHO lost no time to swing into action. I was deputed to help establish an office in Dhaka.

Direct flights from Delhi to Dhaka had just begun, but only twice a week.  I therefore took a flight via Calcutta, with an overnight stay. This stopover helped me to renew contacts with my Palghat friends who had migrated to Calcutta for a living. Among them was a college senior. He visited me at the hotel. His eldest brother lived next door to my hotel. So, he took me there as a matter of courtesy. What was courtesy for him, proved a turning point of my life. “I have found my life-partner,” I said to myself as I saw her.

Now, how do I take it to the next level? One, I was not sure if the feelings were mutual? Two, I don’t even know her name. Three, how to establish contact with her? These and other thoughts converged upon my mind as I lay on my hotel bed, a helpless, sleepless man, otherwise on a serious mission to Bangladesh the next morning.

I chanced upon an idea. I had cash in excess of what an international traveller was permitted. Earlier, when I was introduced to the seven daughters in the house, I had stretched my ears to hear particularly more of what was being said about her – my girl. She worked in a bank. Next morning I packed the extra cash in an envelope, wrote a slip giving my bank account, my hotel address in Dhaka, and rushed to her house as the taxi for airport waited downstairs. To my luck she opened the door. I requested her to deposit the money in my bank in Delhi and confirm to me at the address given. I took a 50:50 chance that while confirming she might give her address. She did; she used her office letterhead: XYZ Bank, Personnel Department,…That was enough.

With her office telephone number and address in hand, and an absolutely gentlemanly ‘thank you’ call to start with, I found gradually my evenings in the Dhaka hotel being spent in correspondence and telephone conversation.  Some of songs that found their way in our tete-a-tete included: Aja sanam madhur chandini mein hum…; Tum na jaane kis jahan mein kho gaye…; Suhani raat dhal chuki, na jaane tum kab aavoge…; Ayega, Ayega, aane wala aayega

Yes, woh aagayi, Humne ghar bhasaye.  A son was born.  When busy in kitchen and the baby cried, she would ask me to take charge. I would sing a lullaby, Dheere se aaja ri ankhiyan me nindiya aaja ri aja re, aaja… to the best of my poor ability. Sometimes it worked; at other times his cries assumed alarming proportions. Lene ka dena pada, the lady would grumble.

Years later, she conceived again. Sitting over a cup of coffee on the balcony in Delhi watching the DTC and Mini buses race against one another for supremacy of the road, we hummed visualizing how the new-born-to-be would be like: Chanda se hoga woh pyara, phoolo se hoga woh nyara

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Decades passed. Gradually different lyrics took center stage: Hum jab hoge saat saal ke, aur tum hogi pachpan ki, bolo preet nibhaaogi naa tab bhi apane bachpan ki. Blushing, she would hum, not on the spot, but while going back to kitchen: Sau saal pehle mujhe tum se pyar tha, aaj bhi hai aur kal bhi rahega

With age getting the better of us, if I ask for an unjustified extra dose of coffee and she flatly refuses, I would whisper into her ears: Ai meri Zohra Jabeen, Tujhe maalum nahi, Tum abhi tak hai hasi, Aur mai javaan… Often it worked – not half cup, but full cup, and the espresso variety.

Now Aunty is 73.  Initially, I helped her learn computer. Now she negotiates me through it whenever I get stuck. She conducts free online classes on Narayaneeyam that packs in 1008 or so slokas the 18,000-odd verses of Srimad Bhagavatham. The first batch of 18 students (mostly seniors) came out in flying colours a year ago. The second batch, in the 30-45 age group, will follow suit in two months. Committed to stay active, she has already lined up a Sloka class for yet another group – this time stotras – Adi Sankaracharya’s Sivananda Lahari, Saundarya Lahari… Simply put, she is the de facto go-to person for religious activities in our 900-family apartment complex.  

The ripple effect? If I utter casually as she passes by: Gori tere naina jadu bhare; she would say: Om Jai Jagdish Hare.

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Our Photos (Then):

Singing my way to 80 2

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Our Photos (Now):

Singing my way to 80 3

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Sundaram Venkatesh

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