Sunday, April 13, 2008

The honeymooners

Somewhere in the southern Australian bush, in a small room with a big window, there rocks a rocking chair. On it, facing the window, sits a man, eyes closed, mouth open and head pushed back over the head rest. He is a tall man with limbs that seemed to have known hard labour. A tall elderly lady, hair cropped close, walks in, looks at the figure on the chair for a while, as if to ensure that it’s still breathing. Then she walks up to the chair and puts her hand on the man’s forehead, runs her hands through his silver grey hair and smiles. The figure continues to sleep. She gives the chair a gentle push. As it starts rocking again, she walks up to the window...

The first time I met Nick and his wife Jo was at the Parliament café, Canberra. “Nick walked out of hospital in Adelaide. He wanted to watch Tendulkar bat one last time…” Jo had said. “And he got a big hundred too…” said Nick, grinning as he dug into a cheese pie they were sharing. Tall, tanned and sprightly, Nick looked the quintessential Aussie outbacker who would rush for the bush without dropping his hat. “He must really like you, Nicky” Jo patted his arm, looked up at him and smiled. “Nick played cricket for his state…” “Nick shook his head. “...only at school level.” Jo went on “…and Don Bradman once shook his hand after a game”. Nick nodded “… Yeah! Yeah! But only because he’d played golf with an uncle of mine”. He was still smiling, as if reliving that moment. “Jo and I go to see the Indians play when they’re in Australia; even our daughter never misses. And she always barracks for India. She loves India. She’s there right now in Shaynay, working with orphaned children? How do you say it? Shenai?...

Chennai? Right! Maybe she loves India because she was there even before she was born…” Nick had that faraway look again. His eyes twinkled.

“It was our honeymoon.” Jo piped. “We’d gone to England for the wedding after which Nick swept me away to Germany, bought a big Volkswagen van and drove off for our honeymoon. That was 44 years ago… feels like yesterday. After driving around Europe for a while, Nick..., maybe he thought I wasn’t impressed enough, said, he was going to show me that eternal symbol of love - the Taj Mahal. It wasn’t easy but boy, was it fun”

“One night” Nick continued, “we drove into Damascus. The city was quiet. No lights, no people. We reached a small inn and learnt that there had been a coup. Some days later, while driving out of the country, we had to avoid certain streets because there were bodies hanging from electricity poles. We were scared… both of us.” Jo seemed to remember something “And.. and we picked up that dapper Italian on the Afghanistan border. He said my pasta was better than his mother’s. However, at the Pakistan border, he left, saying he was heading for Lahore. The border-guards asked about him and then produced a list of Interpol fugitives. He was on it! He was a musician in a restaurant and had meddled with the owner’s wife. A murder was committed and he had fled.”

Nick’s voice boomed. They weren’t talking to me now. They were talking to each other, as they had 44 years ago, travelling back in time, hand in hand. “Finally, India. But the Taj had to wait. Driving into Delhi on a very hot day, we were stuck in a terrible jam. For miles, all one could see were heads bobbing. It was a funeral procession. India was paying her last respects to Jawaharlal Nehru. We joined in …”

We sat quietly for a while. Then Jo said “We were blessed to have seen so much. It was beautiful. The Taj, the people... India. A few months later, our daughter was born…”

I was getting late for a meeting. They invited me to their farm. I said I’d love to and meant it. I got up to leave, when Jo walked up to me. “You made his day. I hope you really come. He’ll be very happy. But if you do, do come soon. He doesn’t have long to live... a month, maybe two … lung cancer!” From her window, Jo can see the gum trees that line her porch, the sloping meadow where the cows graze and the little creek that gurgles into the woods. On the porch, to her right, with his head on his paws, sat Thomo, their Border Collie. Thomo was a present from Nick. “He’ll walk with you if I can’t…”, Nick had said. When their eyes met, Thomo thumped his tail on the porch boards. Jo smiled again. They had lived a good life… a full life…

“When the time comes, he’ll go a happy man. It has been a wonderful honeymoon. We couldn’t have asked for more… of each other or of life. I just wish it wouldn’t end. Who knows, maybe it won’t… maybe I won’t be waiting for long.” Maybe you won’t Jo, maybe you won’t. God bless you both.

Till death do us part

“Our wedding was many years ago. The celebration continues to this day.” That’s what a rare few couples would happily state of their marriage, until Fate got envious.

Superman Christopher Reeve was one of those incredibly generous and positive human beings who never failed to touch the hearts of whoever he came across, including Dana Morosini. Married in 1992, their love endured a tragedy when Reeve suffered a spinal injury paralysing him neck down. Had it not been for Dana’s words: “You’re still you. And I love you”, Christopher had claimed, he would’ve long given up. Together they stood up not only to the great challenge in their personal lives, but also contributed immensely to spinal repair research. Chris died in 2004. Dana Reeve followed him out of this world just two years later, in 2006.

No superman, but certainly charming superstar, Shashi Kapoor courted theatre partner Jennifer Kendall and married her much against family opposition at the unsure age of 20. In love and in it as deep as deep can be for 26 years, the two had to but bow to the wishes of fate, when Jennifer succumbed to cancer in 1984. Crediting all that he is to Jennifer, Shashi Kapoor never remarried.

The theatrics of music has also created some abiding symphonies of love. Having personally groomed the music career of Celine Dion – even mortgaging his house towards it – manager René Angélil became husband to Dion despite a 26-year difference in 1994. She more than merely returned the favour when the two renewed their nuptial vows in 2000 in an elaborate ceremony, a year after René was detected with throat cancer.

May their hearts go on and on…


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