Over the years, I had often been castigated or, at best, lectured by the few relatives and cronies who, having become aware of the story of my romance with Martin, would shake their heads in resentful condemnation of what they deemed to be a veritable manifestation of my stupidity. Even convivial gatherings would often turn into heated debates into which I was provocatively dragged. While the intensity of their excoriation varied, those “admonishers” unanimously expostulated upon the senseless and irrational “waste” of my life. Often depicted as short-sighted, foolish and, at best, a dreamer, who had become detached from reality, I was perceived by them as needing to have some sense knocked into my head. And so, earnest pieces of advice, all highlighting the vital necessity of marriage, was showered down upon me. Marriage was seen as an inevitability. Whether preceded by love or not, it was an unchallengeable expectation. My unorthodox ideas about the necessity for marriage to be founded on love fell upon deaf ears, and were constantly ridiculed and remonstrated against for being unrealistic. Various attempts ensued to talk me out of “this crazy love that’s destroying your life”. Assuming the role of my mentor, each and every one of them took ardently upon themselves the charge of correcting my “odd and anomic” way of thinking before it became too late.
Tactics of persuasion and dissuasion proved to be equally futile. I held my ground as stubbornly as the “opposition” held theirs. Time, nevertheless, seemed to have turned into a crucially decisive factor. And my situation exacerbated with every passing year. When I approached my twenty-fifth birthday the confrontations acquired greater force and momentum. Early marriages were preferred. By the standard of the day, females were less popular in the marriage market once they had advanced beyond the age of twenty-five. And besides, I was young and beautiful, educated, and from an excellent family. Repeated rejections of suitors raised eyebrows and inflamed gossip. Such exhausting, annoying, and upsetting encounters besieged me almost unrelentingly. Shutting up, however, seemed like an ideal response to all this clamouring tumult that stalked me ubiquitously like my shadow. Having proved instrumental in discouraging irksome intrusions, my apathetic silence also contributed efficaciously towards preventing rancour. Cordiality remained intact. Resorting to such tact came in the wake of a charged argument that had once offended a friendly “persecutor”. Her overly sensitive feminine ego, already bruised by a conventional marriage, couldn’t digest my blunt reply. She mistakenly took it as a barb at her precariously miserable marriage. It took a while and a true endeavour before I was finally able to restore the soured relation. However intrusive she was, the effort, given our long friendship, was certainly worthwhile. At any event, her good intentions warranted my pardon. What truly mattered after all was that from then on I had learned my “good lesson”: maintain silence, nod my head politely and “obediently”, put on an appreciative face, and get away without unnecessary confrontations.
Brought up in the same culture as my tormentors, I wasn’t unaware of the place that marriage occupied in the hierarchy of values for women. Popular proverbs dinned in its indispensability, invariably delineating women’s chief role as occurring within the walls of marriage—“Shadow of a man is better than the shadow of a wall” —or they would encourage haste—“Hop in before you miss the train”. Feelings? Emotions? A pitiful shake of the head would meet one in response, reflecting bafflement and almost sheer certainty of the formidable consequences that spurning marriage would bring on: “Let those feelings and emotions avail you when you end up being an old maid at the mercy of sisters-in-law”. There were times though when castigation ebbed purposely down, only to emerge later on in the guise of heartfelt advice: “Love and intimacy will come with time; children will bind you to your husband”. Notwithstanding, my love for Martin never waned or faded, nor did my sense of fidelity ever waver in the least bit, or shake from its moorings in the face of torrents of beseeching counsel. Compromising my emotions in this overly sensitive area of the heart was not for me. Falsifying or deluding or colouring my emotions was just beyond the imagination of my mind, much less the capacity of my heart. And my body was a sacred temple. It only worshipped one God.
Then again, although I was unduly romantic, my romanticism was hardly ever divorced from the reality of my surroundings. I was, in effect, as much part of it as everyone else was. Observing all the monotony, tepidness, and dullness that characterised the best of marriages, not to mention the appalling evidence of sham happiness in a culture obsessed with face-saving, our love, Martin’s and mine, seemed unutterably precious. And I would unwittingly find myself engaged in comparisons. Invariably these comparisons wound up in his favour. Regardless of the yardstick, Martin, then, or years later, emerged as a paragon among men. He perfectly epitomised my own best standards. First and last, that was what mattered most.
I always viewed marriage as a partnership that is born dead if not solidly based upon the invaluable assets of mutual love and spontaneous, shared emotions. My emotions and feelings were the powerhouse of this unruly part of my being; I could not tailor-make them; they flowed from their own mysterious source, impervious to laws and regulations. My emotions acknowledged no externally imposed censors, flowing along their self-chosen course. I submitted to their power, fastidiousness, and direction. Checking or falsifying my emotions would have caused a ferocious inner turmoil that would have damaged my felicity. Despite ample evidence of marriages of convenience hiding behind masks of contentment, I was convinced that my feelings would not submit to being shoe-horned into a contrived marriage. Having never ever lied about them, my emotions never ever lied to me. Having never been deluded about them, they never deluded me. Every single particular in my body yearned for Martin. I might have been outrageously innocent. I might have been naïve and inexperienced, but in my innermost self dwelt a desiring female who, on account of her shy modesty, lacked the means of articulating her feelings. Martin’s tenderness and unwavering love and attention slowly stoked her feelings into visible life.
Despite my impeding shyness and the strictness of my culture, which disdained ungoverned social openness, I, nonetheless, made no secret of my disapproval of the atrocity of coercing females into marriages they abhorred. Having received a great deal of outside rebuke, my parents’ tolerance of my “wayward” thoughts was inestimable. But then, weren’t my parents the ones who had in the first place taught me the alphabet of love even before I learned to speak? Again, weren’t they the ones who had instilled in me the immortal value of love? Yes, it was they who tutored me in love. It was they who taught me to fight for love with love. Well, since love begets love, it was to be expected that I should face love with love. And marriage is all about love, right?
While other men would have possibly looked scornfully down on my outrageous lack of experience and perhaps derided my naivety, Martin not only respected it, but he worshipped my innocence. He prevailed in a masterly fashion over my impeding bashfulness, won my heart, gained my trust, and transformed the naïve girl into a desiring woman. Martin read my thoughts with penetrating acuteness, and sought my virgin emotions with delicate tact. My heart gave in malleably like a raw piece of argil to the tender touch of his love. Notwithstanding his liberal cultural background, not to mention his painful succumbing to the stringency of mine, he satiated my feminine desires without compromising my ingrained puritanism. Can anyone tell me then how could I not have loved such a uniquely wonderful man? And, having loved him, can anyone tell me how could I ever have forgotten him?
Was that all?
NO, by all means, no. That was just a drop in the ocean.
To Be Continued...