Malaysia has this rule that people wishing for Permanent Resident status cannot cross the country’s borders for 5 years. At least that was the rule in the 1980s. I think that, too, affected Aruna (Anu). Perhaps if she had been able to come and go to India to see her family and homeland, things may have been different.
The day five years was completed, Anu packed her bags for a long visit to spend time with her family. This was in 1987. I remember the huge excitement at this end. Our Anu was coming home. Sadly, on that very trip she lost her mother. Over the years, I have seen that the loss of a loved one is a life altering experience. Now, as I write this I am wondering if that life altering event also accelerated the changes in Anu. After all, mothers are a much needed anchor no matter how old you grow.
For a full month after Anu came home, we had the time of our lives. Her mother, Pushpa Wala (Aunty to me), ensured that. Happiness reigned. Every night the family whooped it up after dinner with friendly card playing sessions, hilarious banter, and jaunts to the coffee shops in The Taj, Oberoi and President in the early morning hours. I don’t think I have ever laughed so much at any time in my life.
Aunty was like that. A larger than life figure who was also full of life. She could make everyone laugh life away.
Fittingly, that’s how she also went….laughing her guts out. This was in Srinagar where she had taken Anu to visit her branch of the family. Here’s a picture of Anu’s mother in her younger days. I know she looks serious here but trust me, Aunty was the personification of a jovial, live life kingsize figure.
The sudden loss of Anu’s mom came as a huge shock to everyone. Here, let’s spare a thought for Anu. Her first visit home after 5 long years and she loses her mother. That’s one way to look at things. The other perspective is to see the experience in a positive light and feel that at least, she got to spend a really great time with her mother and family just before. And, was with her when she took her last breath.
JJ was bereft on hearing the news and arranged to immediately fly down. Two of Anu’s aunts and myself went to receive JJ at the airport. He was so emotional, he was uncontrollable (he was also dead drunk). He wanted to immediately fly to Srinagar to be with his Anu and just wouldn’t listen to us that it was better we wait for the family to return to Mumbai. I had to chase him all over the airport and even the Air India office in Nariman Point. Finally, I managed to calm him down and take him home.
I think her mother’s death left Anu bereft. Was it then that she began changing?
Well, not really. The change in Anu’s personality was inevitable and caused by her reaching out to who she always wanted to be and what she desired from life.
The first time I noticed a big change was when I was with JJ and Anu in KL in the early 1990s. The usually quiet, subservient Anu was snapping JJ’s head off. Oh, they had their differences and spats over the years but this was different. There was such anger in her voice and body language.
We were going somewhere in the car when one such incident happened. At that point in time, I clearly remember this thought going through my head, “Anu has changed. Who will I talk to now?”
That’s human nature for you. Self-driven always. Yes, I was sad to see Anu changing but the thought should have been, “This is not Anu. I should find out what’s wrong.”
You see the demure, turn a deep pink shade, Anu had suddenly turned into a Jhansi ki Rani*. The Indian queen, Rani of Jhansi, turned warrior from being a dutiful queen to seize India’s independence from British rule. Like her, as I later found out, Anu was rebelling against always being led by JJ and what startled me, myself!
Till I discovered how she felt, I never once thought that she resented being dominated. I am sure neither did JJ. We just always assumed that she was happy to go along with whatever plans we drew up. Especially JJ. People who know him will understand what I mean when I say JJ is a whirlwind, rushing to stampede anything and everything in his path to achieve whatever he wants. It’s always a question of ‘Watch out World, here comes JJ.’
We each have our own inborn personalities and desires. So, JJ and I weren’t really dominating her; at least, not consciously. I guess if at all we were wrong, it never struck us to ask her what she wanted to do. And somewhere, I am sure Anu acknowledges that at one time, it suited her to have people like JJ and me with her.
The years when Anu was transforming and reinventing herself were difficult ones. Think of it especially from JJ’s perspective. It must have been really hard for him to first understand and then accept the changes in Anu.
It was hard for me too. Anu was pulling away from me. You know that when a friend who always put you ahead of everything suddenly begins telling you she’s busy. She once even told me I need to find new friends.
But I am the persistent sort and I didn’t let up till one day in utter exasperation she wrote me a letter actually telling me that she had spent her life being dependent on first her parents and then, JJ and me. And she didn’t want to be that way anymore.
Was I hurt? Of course I was. So much so, there was this one time that I refused to call her when she landed in India for a visit. I remember my mother asking, “Why haven’t you called Anu? Didn’t she arrive last night? Aren’t you going to see her?” My mother must have been startled when I replied saying, “If she wants to meet me, let her call.”
But here’s the thing. None of us really let go of the relationship. Not Anu. Not JJ. Not me. Here are some pictures that say ‘all is well in the Trada household and the Anu-Lata BFF world.’ But the pictures tell only half the story. We were hanging in there but all was far from well.
The friction went on for several years. Until we had all adjusted to the changes in each of us and the new equations.
JJ gets a lot of credit here. Once he overcame the initial shock, he was supportive in what Anu wanted to do. She even went out and got a degree in law. Besides learning Odissi dance, the sitar and Hindustani classical vocals. I must once again encourage you, the reader, to learn more about Anu’s endeavours in The Thing About Success.
Somethings, however, never changed. JJ being JJ more or less refused to change himself and to this day spends every evening with his friends in the nearby kadai kopi (coffee shop). Here, Anu gets the credit for accepting JJ for who he is. She told me once, “It struck me one day that it was wrong of me to even expect JJ to fit the mould of my ideal husband. Why should I even try to change him?”
Anu also gets credit for learning Gujarati, some Malay and working at developing close relations with many people and families in Malaysia. Ask her today if she will come back to India and the reply you will get is, “My life is here, in Malaysia. What’s more I think life and people here are nicer.” She doesn’t miss India anymore and hasn’t for many, many years now.
That’s how JJ and Anu slowly and painfully came to terms with themselves, each other and life. Today, JJ does his thing and she does hers. If you ask me, that’s the best sort of marriage! Together but with each having their space to face personal demons, discover hidden talents and achieve individual life goals.
As for the BFFs? Slowly but surely, things settled down and peace reigns on that front as well. I think it helped that over the years, I became so quiet and subdued (people in my office won’t agree) that Anu is the dominant BFF. Not me! Talk about a role reversal!
Jokes apart, my life had me on my toes for a long time, ultimately mellowing and wearing me out. Regular readers of this blog would know that through stories such as Bumped down to earth, and Angels with a stethoscope.
These days we sit, as two budhimas (old women) in companionable silence. After 40 odd years, we have little left to yak about anymore. We only exchange notes on aching shoulders, torn knees and cataracts. Or, we fret over the next generation! Here’s a few snaps of JJ and Anu as they are now along with one of the BFFs in Ankor Wat (that’s my sister, Sudha in the background).
Kahani khatam (story over). Or, is it going to be a case of Abhi Picture Baki Hai, Mere Dost? The last few words in Hindi became a catch phrase post being popularized by a Bollywood film Om Shanti Om. It means “the picture is yet to be completed.” Well, I hope not. I have had enough excitement to last me several lifetimes. Now, I only look forward to JJ and Anu dancing to Feelings at Trishay’s wedding and for these BFFs to be in peace.
Featured Image Credit: Aruna Trada & Lata Subramanian in Hyde Park, London. From Family Photo Archives.
*Jhansi ki Rani – Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi (1828-1858) was an Indian queen who became a famed warrior. She was one of leaders of the 1857 Indian mutiny against British rule.