To eat and to love

+My boyfriend was a meat-eating Hindu and I was a vegetarian by birth, a Jain.

“Divorces take place over the dinner table.” Dad sounded ominous. I had broken the news that I was dating a guy I was studying with from the law university. This was way back in the early ‘80s. We hoped the relationship would segue into marriage, ultimately.

Marriages in India, of course, mean that you are not only marrying a person but also their entire family. Their consent, opinions, approval, everything goes into the baggage a.k.a., the institution of marriage.

My boyfriend was a meat-eating Hindu and I, a vegetarian by birth, a Jain. His native language was Telugu, mine Kannada. Hindi, by default, was our national language and English, our British legacy, which we embraced wholeheartedly.

My dad’s fears concerning eating habits and divorces amused him. We believed in equality; in an individual’s freedom of thought and actions. So in love, there was no space for doubts. We only heard the cuckoo bird sing on the mango tree and the temple bells ring in the distance.

A man with progressive ideas, my dad still worried about our food conventions. Unlike other Indian fathers, he did not weigh in criteria like status of the groom’s family or how financially well placed they were.

My guy’s parents were traditional, and they were keen to arrange a bride from their community for their first born son – tall, dark and handsome, well educated and soft spoken – who had many parents vying to hook him to their daughter.

Six years later, we got married. His parents didn’t attend the wedding. They sent his siblings and an aunt and uncle to check out the marriage, withholding their blessings for a bride, knowing very well that she was yearning and praying to seek just that. A honeymoon was out of the question and we went back to our jobs the next day, to build a home with our love and modest income.

It was division of labor from the first day of marriage. I cooked. My husband helped with the other chores at home. By this time, I was looking for more challenges in cooking.

Content in being a newly wed and enjoying the freedom of living alone with my husband, I decided to surprise him and cooked my first chicken curry without tasting the gravy. My vegetarianism wouldn’t allow me to touch any broth with meat in it. I was confident as a cook, trusting my instincts while adding the right amount of salt and other spices.

“You always surprise me! Thanks, this is delicious, but you don’t have to do this, you know,” my husband purred, happily. I zoomed ahead mastering the techniques of cooking non-vegetarian food without testing the salt or spices, pouring my love into the kadai, unconditionally.

Dreams cost nothing. And dreams change all the time. My husband became a serial entrepreneur instead of a civil servant and me, a rolling stone gathering different kind of moss, exciting and meaningful.

Human beings are ingrained to adapt. We excelled at that. In spite of unexplained fertility issues, we were lucky to enjoy parenthood. Our life turned 360 degrees when our daughter arrived home in 1995 and the sun shone like never before at home.

Soon, we will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Our daughter is a sophomore in a university and we are settling into our new role as empty nesters, slowly but surely.

My in-laws, who boycotted our wedding, welcomed me home within three months of our marriage, and now, I am the daughter they never had.

I am also grateful that my husband and I are able to appreciate our different food philosophies. So in, love, there is no space for doubts. We only hear the cuckoo bird sing in the mango tree and the temple bells ring in the distance.

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