“I love James Bond.”
It had been 21 days since the lockdown began. My husband was folding our freshly washed clothes, as I put the new ones out to dry. We were in the balcony which we otherwise kept locked because of our hyper excitable three-year-old, who was now mercifully having his post-lunch nap. Without him around to terrorise us, we’d begun to use the time to catch up on household chores and this newly established routine of folding and drying the clothes together gave us a few quiet minutes at our favourite spot in the house. We usually spent those minutes discussing “The Future” – it was nearly week 3 of the lockdown and though genuine despair was still a week away, we’d begun to feel the first stirrings of a sense of anxiety with dispiriting news all round.
We touched on all the usual, stock topics – how our parents were faring back home, how long we should wait before sending our son to school once it reopened and what if things got worse. With the sun directly bearing down on us, it got uncomfortably hot, but our son was still sound asleep and we were reluctant to leave. Shielding his eyes, my husband suggested that maybe, we should rewatch old favourite movies to keep our spirits up.
He: “I love James Bond.”
Me: “Oh, yeah?”
“I haven’t watched a Bond movie.”
(He froze. Then, having recovered …)
“Even the ones with Pierce Brosnan?”
“No. Why? Was he any good?”
“Oh dear God.”
That night, we watched Golden Eye. He waited for my reaction as Agent 006 reappeared in a thrilling twist, and guffawed when I asked whether Bond marries Natalya Simonova in the next movie. It was the most fun we’d had in ages.
We had an arranged marriage nine years ago. Our families had known each other for a few years, but we managed to meet only twice as I was in Dubai and he in India. And while this might sound like the beginning of a horror story to most millennials, it actually worked out pretty well for us. My sister, who I trust with my life, was very good friends with him and vouched for his strong personality. I was young – too young to worry about “what ifs” – and happily moved cities to be with him.
But that city happened to be Mumbai, and having grown up in laidback Dubai, I was laughably unprepared to adapt to Mumbai’s manic pace of functioning. En route to my new workplace, on day 2, I phoned my stunned husband from Sion station and wailed with absolutely no shred of dignity, for being pushed into the wrong train.
Work, a desk job at a national newspaper with graveyard shifts, kept me busy. We both commuted very long distances for work. Our weekly offs never coincided and all this led to a challenging first year of marriage where we barely saw each other, but tried to stay cheerful by emailing each other reviews of restaurants we hoped to visit one day, and fantasising about what we would order. The few short vacations, whenever we took them, were jam-packed with things to do, and left us more drained than before. We loved each other and talked all the time but did we, I worried, ever really speak to each other? Was it normal to be so consumed by life that I knew he takes the 7am local to Goregaon every day, but that I didn’t know his favourite colour? Was it okay that he knew I don’t wear sleeveless tops, but not that it was because I struggled with weight and self-esteem issues, well into my adulthood?
But things settled, as they always do, and as we approached year six of our marriage, we had a baby. I quit my job and we moved even further into the suburbs. I quickly enrolled in mother-toddler groups and was pleasantly surprised when in our get-togethers women often spoke, among other things, about the evolving nature of their marriages. They candidly spoke about fighting a growing sense of disconnection. We had all opted to be mothers relatively late in life and were acutely aware of how blessed we were, but we also wondered: Do all long marriages, after a point, revolve around everything except the actual Marriage itself?
Once home, in the quieter moments, I thought about my own marriage. We were happier than ever before, but were we also closer? We were raising our son on our own with no help and it, understandably, left us overwhelmed, overstretched, exhausted and, sometimes, irritable. My friend from the moms’ circle put it best: “They all say a baby brings you two closer. Maybe as father and mother, but as husband and wife? Not in the first few years, unless you have an army of helpers.”
As we approach our 10th anniversary this year, I often find myself reflecting on the past decade. Over the years, we learnt each other – who took longer to apologise, pet peeves, eccentricities and quirks, secret enemies and favourite bosses. But there was always that moment of anxiety at family get-togethers. Someone once mentioned that my husband used to paint and play the violin as a child. I nodded along as if I knew.
When a lockdown was imposed in the country last month, I was working on an article where a psychologist spoke about a rise in the number of marital discord cases. By then there were also reports of “record-high numbers of filings for divorce” in China. I wondered about the scores of Indian men and women who were, for the first time, locked up with their partners of 10/20/30 years with nothing else to keep them preoccupied. Would they, as all those marriage therapists say as if on loop, finally “indulge in shared interests that do not involve the children”? Or would they finally come to the stomach-churning realisation that after several years of being together, they had in fact, unbeknownst to them, drifted apart?
After Golden Eye, we watched Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. I gave him my copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to read (“Too dark,” he declared, before returning to a dog-eared Asterix & Obelix). We also learnt a lot more about each other’s childhoods: Growing up, he adored his grandfather, a fascinating man who was recruited by the army during World War 2 although he didn’t fight in the war. In return, I spoke about growing up in Dubai and how although it was largely an idyllic childhood, I didn’t enjoy school and didn’t have many friends there. I asked him about his violin classes and he sheepishly admitted that he ended up bunking most of them and that his only motivation to go was this home-bred turkey which he fed on his way – a story that was corroborated by his mother, who recalled being puzzled while washing his shorts as mysterious grains of rice stuck to insides of his pockets.
We no longer spoke about worst-case scenarios; instead we discovered, with great joy and some shock, that we both loved Phantom and Mandrake the magician comic strips as children. We attempted to give our son a haircut but it looked so disastrous that we had to shave his head and, as if we didn’t have serious doubts about our parenting skills at this point already, dressed him up as a gangster in my gold jewellery. “Sounds like a second honeymoon,” said a friend. And it was.
The lockdown, in spite of all the anxieties that it brought with it, helped us take a breather and reconnect in a way that, nine years in, feels absurd, yet delightful. And once it ends and things limp back to normalcy, I know life as we once knew it will return in full force, with all its joys, insecurities, surprises and uncertainties. But at least this time, I know his favourite colour.
Anu Prabhakar is an astronomy nerd and die-hard Agatha Christie fan, Anu hopes to solve a crime mystery à la Hercule Poirot before shooting off to the moon someday. Until then, she is an independent journalist based in Mumbai and tweets at @AnuPrabhakar_