A few weeks ago I wrote about how the husband and I got together. It’s a dinner party staple and I love how people react to the fact that he proposed the day after we met. But that really is nothing, compared to how my parents got married.
This week, if my dad had still been alive, they would have been married for 52 years. I love the story of how they got together and I used to make him repeat it all the time.
So here it is, in HIS words, as I remember him telling me…
“Basically, I was an engineer doing very well with a great company in Calcutta, East India far away from my home in South India. Life was good, with plenty of parties to keep me entertained. One day, because my company were so impressed with me, they offered me the chance to go to London to train further and spend a year working with a top company there. I had always dreamed of visiting London and so this was an opportunity far too good to turn down. However, my father wrote to say he wasn’t very happy about me going all the way to London and was convinced if I did, I would come back with an “English lady”. I wrote and told him that I had no intention of looking for a wife there but he replied saying he wouldn’t let me go unless I agreed to get married first ! I tried to reason with him but he was adamant and so with some irritation, I told him to go ahead and arrange a marriage and I would turn up for the service.
Meanwhile, your mother had just taken her A-levels and failed. Her father told her to re-take them or she wouldn’t be able to go to university and she announced that she couldn’t be bothered and anyway she didn’t want to study any further. Her father was furious and told her she HAD to do them again or else he would marry her off even though she was so young. In her typical, rebellious way, she told him to do that then as she didn’t care and whatever he said, she wasn’t going to university.
Both fathers now found themselves in the unenviable position of having to find partners for their children when actually that had never really been their plan. Both men were key members of the community though – my father was the headmaster of a highly successful school and your mum’s father was the area bank manager. A match between the two families was ideal and so the two men met and everything was agreed upon. All it needed, was for me to be introduced to the girl to see if we liked each other. My mother wrote to tell me all about her and how she was a renowned beauty and very strong-willed and independent just as I would like. She asked me to come home and meet her but I wrote back stubbornly to say I trusted her judgement and to go ahead with the marriage preparations and that I would be back a few days before the wedding. My poor mother wrote several letters pleading with me to come home earlier, but I refused.
Your mother was also showing high degrees of stubbornness and refused to go and meet my family saying it was my job to go to her. Her father said she had the option of stopping the wedding if she would only go and meet my parents but she continued to say no, even though she knew that meant the wedding plans would then go ahead.
I arrived home three days before the wedding. By this time, there were caterers on the estate, creating the most delicious food for the hundreds of guests that were expected for what was to be a highly prestigious wedding. It all made me very nervous and I suddenly wanted to go and meet the girl but I realised that I wouldn’t now be able to say no after all the expense and preparations that had gone into this huge event. So, I decided not to bother and to enjoy my last few days of freedom instead!
The day of the wedding arrived. Your mother’s grandfather was a well-loved vicar and so when I turned up at the Church with my family, I was overwhelmed to see that the place was full of Bishops from all over India who had come especially for the occasion. The pews were already packed with guests who had come early to get the best seats. Lots of people were shaking my hand and telling me how lucky I was to be marrying such a beautiful young girl from such a good family but suddenly all I wanted to do was run. However, it was too late. I was guided to the front of the Church, where I sat sweating profusely until I heard that the bride had arrived. I turned briefly to look as she walked up the aisle but was told by a very strict priest to keep my eyes forward and so I only noticed that she was in a white saree with a veil covering her face. And almost as soon as I saw her, I forgot her. Was she tall, short, fat, thin… I just couldn’t remember and even though she was now by my side, I couldn’t look at her as the very strict priest was glaring at me.
The service started and seemed to go by in a blur until I was asked if I took this woman to be my wife. The desire to run had come back. What the hell was I doing? I was about to make a decision that would affect the rest of my life. I could be stuck with some awful woman who might make my life hell. Why hadn’t I agreed to meet her? Why hadn’t I written to her at least, and got to know her through correspondence? Why had I been so stubborn? Everyone knew her father, the bank manger, didn’t smile much in case it encouraged people to ask him for money. What if she didn’t smile and had no sense of humour and refused to laugh at my jokes? What if she turned me into a miserable, boring man? What if she didn’t want to come to parties with me? Oh no, I felt sick!
As the nausea started to rise, the priest asked me again, in a louder voice if I took this woman to be my wife. If I could just see her, if I could just see her face, I would know instantly if I was making a mistake. But she was facing forward and the veil meant I couldn’t see anything. I willed her to look at me but she continued to look ahead and I still had no clue as to what sort of wife she would be. I could hear the congregation buzzing as people started questioning what was going on and I noticed one of the Bishops standing up and walking towards me…
This time the priest prodded me as he asked again, if I took this woman to be my wife. And suddenly, your mum’s head whipped round to glare at me. Even through the veil, I could see her gorgeous big eyes flashing with anger that her family could have set her up with an obvious mute and I thought, if she’s got eyes like that she’s got to be all right, so I smiled and said “Yeah OK” and laughed to myself as I saw lots of eyes rolling, partly in relief and partly with despair that I might not be quite the perfect match they had all thought I would be.
But I now knew, that everything was going to be just fine.”
I loved to ask my dad if he regretted his rash decision and he always answered that even though the flash of anger he saw in the Church should have been a warning about her fearsome temper, she had a heart to match those huge eyes and so….. no.