My husband has a strange penchant for watching Japanese/Korean language TV  shows with English subtitles . A couple of weeks back , dismissing the protests of the majority (ie me and children) he put on his favourite Japanese series -a wildly popular show called Dr X – but strangely  started fiddling with the remote  soon( perhaps out of guilty conscience ) and then switched to… guess what, a Malayalam movie called The Priest . It was a sordid and supernatural tale of the worst kind. However , reading subtitles, as we watched the scenes( and focussed more on the popcorn )  – there was a scene in which the side hero proposes to the female protagonist . He puts a ring in her orange juice /fanta and she spits it out before realizing what it is – as the fiancé goes down on a knee and proposes. Watching this my pre-teen daughter remarked – “how romantic” and my 14 year old son proclaimed with a smirk  – “disgusting” !!!

But then as teenagers are -cheeky and daring – he popped a tongue in cheek question- “Papa, did you propose  to Mummy in the same way? Please tell me you weren’t so disgusting .” My husband and I looked at each other – and started laughing ,recalling the funniest incident of our lives. The love story part of our lives was long dead -like an old book covered by cob-webs of time . We never talked about it and lost in our daily battles  hardly remembered it . The innocent question was like someone dusting off the cobwebs and picking up the book again.

Paraphrasing the story( as we did for our kids )  – we met during our summer internship in Procter  and Gamble  . He came from the famed IIM Bangalore and I landed up from the nerdy Delhi School of Economics .  I never wanted to come. I was set to pursue my PhD from an  Ivy League but had just applied for fun and got selected . My classmates complained good humoredly – “Divya, kyun hamare pet par laat maar rahi hai?” (Why are you taking away our livelihood when you don’t want to work in the corporate sector )

 It was my first ever flight and my mother was worried both about the expenses ( read here) and about my safety. I  arrived late as my exams got over late -and the day I landed at the “chummery” – the flat where all the interns stayed – only he was present – since he was unwell .  Looking out from the  windows of Amaltas Co-operative  Housing Society on Juhu link road and smelling the sea breeze – we awkwardly said hello.We had  3 hours to chat with each other since nobody else was around  and it created a bond stronger than what either of us – quiet and introverted as we were then – had built with others . In office too -he joined me for coffee breaks(although he was in a different function)  and back in the chummery for a walk after dinner .  We talked our hearts out  during those walks. From discussing what our purpose was ,to how our families were like and even what we looked for in a life partner . Piyush ( my husband ) told me only later that he had instantly fallen for my intellectual charm ( ha ha ) but couldn’t summon up the guts to tell me.

It was the year of SARS and so I was praying that his foreign travel gets cancelled  . However just 14 days after we met – he left to complete the rest of his project in Philippines . I on the other hand was asked to explore the heartland towns and cities of India – Warrangal , Khurja ( Bulandshahar) , Akola and Khamgaon in search of my elusive  project objective to create world class merchandizing processes .

But distance makes the hearts grow fonder . And it certainly did for us . We chatted away to glory – on the Company messenger SameTime and told each other about our days . Him enjoying massages (God knows, of what kind ! :)) in Manila and me sweating through the Warrangal summer of 50 C  trying to learn Teleugu

 Anyhow , soon his project got over while I still had a month to go ( since I arrived late) . While other interns went home or back to campus – Piyush came back to Mumbai – to the chummery . The intern chatter around me  was loud and teasing and I was thoroughly embarrassed  .

He asked me out for a movie but before that he had to get his  paper air ticket changed  ( remember there were these booklets then – with the airline logos etc instead of the current plain A4 printouts) and he requested me to come along . I accepted demurely and rushed out to avoid further embarassment and  teasing .

No sooner had we hopped into  an auto to go from Juhu to the airport – he started telling me the story of how he was telling his sister and mother that he had found his life partner . “ Really?” , I thought to myself , my heart bleeding with envy and regret but  somehow kept listening . Finally, when I couldn’t contain my curiosity and disappointment both – I asked –“ So ,who’s the lucky girl ?” At that moment – Piyush cleared his throat (rather dramatically I remember) and said “ Will you be the mother of my kids ?”

I was flabbergasted , the wind taken out of my sails.  It was a bolt from the blue . The auto driver – intently listening to our conversation over the sound of the howling wind – adjusted the rear view mirror – and gave a sly smirk. He said – “madam haan bol do na – theek thak mulga hai – aai shapath” ( Please say yes – he looks like a decent boy I swear ) The unsolicited advice from the auto wala  made me turn red as a tomato .

My son and daughter both broke-in  in unison – “What?!!! Really ?!!  He said that ? And you married him after that crass a proposal ?”

“You really are an idiot , Ma” my son chimed in .

“ In which century do people propose like that ?” exclaimed my daughter . Did he give you some roses or chocolates or cards atleast ?

“Are you crazy ? Why would I do that?” butted in my husband finally , trying valiantly  to defend his honor.  “ Why does love have to be about chocolates and roses?” he challenged .

“But really , proposing in an auto ? That stupid a proposal ? Nothing remotely mushy like ,I love you ? And how and when did you finally give her the ring ? My son asked.

“There was no such ring , ok ? All this happens only in the movies .  Don’t get too influenced by that .I gave her the ring in our engagement ceremony – Piyush battled on .

“And which movie did you watch ?” Shubham , my son bantered . He was thoroughly enjoying our discomfort and embarrassment now.

This time I jumped in . “He was supposed to show me Harry Potter but showed me Johnny English instead” I guffawed .

“Really , Johnny English?” ( Johnny English with  Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson) as the lead character is a slapstick comedy )- “You seriously are crazy”, my son said shaking his head .

“And then what happened?  Did you say yes ?” – my daughter was impatient to hear the rest of the story . But then the rest of the story – of what my response was , how our parents reacted and what happened thereafter can be made into a mini series on Netflix . So, I stayed quiet.

“ Did you atleast give her some nice roses and chocolates on Valentine’s day or some gifts?” asked my daughter-trying to get some response from Piyush this time,

My husband  philosophized – “Our understanding of love being about roses , chocolates , diamonds and mushy poetry is stemming from  powerful social conditioning . Because its so powerful – people follow it without question . That’s why on Valentine’s day every woman expects a rose. That’s the normal . But was that always so ? What is so normal about it ? Can’t love be expressed without these ? 

 “De Beers profits immensely  from the diamonds are forever tagline . Because gifting a diamond ring has become the accepted ritual of proposing marriage . It is seen in TV series , movies and stories so ubiquitously  that it establishes itself firmly as the norm to be followed .”- he continued.

“But you never get her any gifts too” ,as my son uttered this I was so proud of him – for standing up for me(and may complaints) . “ Nothing on her birthday , your anniversary or Karva Chauth or any other occasion. How’s that being  romantic ?”

But my husband – the unbeatable debater – remained unfazed .

“Whoever said giving gifts is the way to express love ? Its about making a person feel special . Why is it that if I don’t give gifts my love is not true and I don’t care whereas if I serenade her with gifts – then I am considered hopelessly in love inviting reactions of awwww- so lovely  This couple gives couple goals.” Instagram is not the real world guys . Come out of it .”

The discussion continued but I was lost in thought . Indeed social conditioning is  very powerful and influences so many of our  beliefs without us realizing it . There was a time when women did all the housework and it was normal- that was the social conditioning  – now #sharetheload is the new campaign to change that and husbands working in the kitchen are supposed to be the new normal .

While  I was lost in thoughts – my husband dished up a nice coffee and snapped me out of my reverie . “ Remember the good old days?” he smirked . “Remember the good days , not the bad ones” he mused ,” then the love will stay young”. We had just a had a bad argument in the morning and were both simmering . Laughing together  about the autowala proposal wiped out the bitterness and revived the fond and loving memories again  . So ,we discovered Formula #1 – for staying in love – remember the good days , the loving days , the funny days when you are feeling down and out and hopeless and bitter . Its sure to revv up your spirits and keep warm the embers of love in your heart.

 Also its the advice of acclaimed Love Gurus .When our marriage hit a rough patch(years after the autorickshaw proposal ) ,a counsellor advised us to read through John Gottman’s 7 principles of making a marriage work . Gottman  assesses in something called a Love Lab ( how corny ) if a relationship will last based on certain cues . According to him  first  signal of the strength of your relationship and the strongest predictor of, if your relationship will survive any storm is how fond memories you have of the time you first met and your initial days .

We often forget the lessons which keep us happy and going and this one was a gentle knock reminding me of what I had forgotten.

As to what happened – after the autowala proposal – stay tuned for more.

PS : Thanks to Meera Om for her inspiration

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