The other day, I was at this darshini (South Indian vegetarian breakfast restaurant) at the unearthly hour of 8am. I was running some errands with my Mom and feeling out of sorts because 1. I’m not a morning person whatsoever, 2. I generally dislike South Indian breakfast foods, and 3. I hadn’t had any caffeine yet.
So my Mom and I were sitting upstairs in the airconditioned section, because I wanted to avoid the madding morning crowd downstairs. We spent some time carping at each other because we were tired and hungry, and in frustration, I started scrolling through Tumblr on my phone, ignoring her and mentally cussing the low network signal.
I looked around and saw that the only other occupied table was the one next to us, where an elderly snowy haired couple sat, calmly sipping their coffee. They were both immaculately dressed, her with her floral dress and string of pearls and him in his semiprofessional attire and sweater vest. Her curled white hair was reminiscent of another era, and she gazed out of the nearby window, occasionally touching her husband’s hand and pointing out a bird or passing car of interest. They didn’t speak. Her husband would look at each sight and smile quietly, nodding. I noted the plain gold bands on their wedding fingers, tarnished by the passage of the years.
The waiters were obviously well acquainted with the couple, and without being asked, they first brought in two plates of idlis (rice cakes), that are accompanied by a bowl each of chutney and sambhar. Wordlessly, the husband handed his chutney to his wife and she placed her bowl of sambhar on his plate. They began to eat; slowly, unhurriedly. I felt strangely calm just watching them and their effortless silence. Once they were done with the idlis, the waiter brought them two plates of dosas (savoury crepes… kind of). Again, they exchanged chutney and sambhar bowls, ate peacefully, and leisurely paid the bill.
After some muted conversation and serene smiles, they rose to leave, clasping hands and nodding and smiling at the waiters. The old man caught my eye and smiled genially. I’m generally too shy to talk to strangers, especially older people, but I couldn’t let them go without blunderingly asking, “How long have you two been married?”
He stopped, ruminating. “A very long time,” he said, looking at his wife questioningly. She smiled at me. “Many years now.” Then they left, still hand in hand.
Of late, my Mom’s constant nagging about marriage is making me even more commitment phobic than I already am, and aging is something that terrifies me greatly. I identify with every lyric of the song “Forever Young,” because to me, aging represents a monotonous similarity and lack of stimulation and excitement… just as marriage does.
But sitting there, watching that lovely elderly couple, I found I was envious of them and their contented happiness. I can’t remember the last time I was wholly content- perhaps I’ve never been. Perhaps old age, and marriage, aren’t things to fear after all. It’s only unhappiness and regret that I should strive to avoid.