Wednesday, July 7, 2010
1950. July 6th, 1950 is the day that Krishnammal and Jagannathan married. It is the day on which these two extraordinary individuals decided take each other's hand in marriage and together become a leading example for lasting change in India. Stepping far out of social norms just to be with one another (Krishnammal a Dalit and Jagannathan from a higher caste), these two married in a time of new possibilities. With India a newly independent nation and the teachings of Mohandas Gandhi well established among the country's people, Jagannathan and his wife were well on their way to becoming two of India's most motivated, dedicated, and tenacious Gandhian followers to ever live. Although I did not have the privilege of knowing either Krishnammal or Jagannathan until very recently (the last 20 years), this couple's love today after 60 years of marriage is a love stronger and more enduring than that of any other couple you will ever meet.
Last evening, I arrived back at my aunt's place in Changelpattu. When I woke around 7 am to the persistent discomforts of sunrise mosquitoes and summer heat, morning meals were served slightly differently than on most other days. After overhearing a long prayer sung by my aunt who had just finished meditating in the room upstairs, the simple celebrations began. First was just Jagannathan's normal three- or four- lap circumnavigation of the living room. Although 97, mostly blind, and partially deaf, Jagannathan still walks in circles around the common room like he's leading a march to the sea...hand-spun, white cotton clothing and a walking stick to lead the way. After settling down in his chair on the front porch of Sathya's house a few hours later, his dearest friend and wife of 60 years sat down beside him. Although Jagannathan often has to be repeatedly reminded of who is standing around him and why they are there, one word from Krishnammal and he seems to remember everything.
She smeared a small line of powder across his forehead, dotted it with a red circle nearly half way in between, and without the least bit of hesitation in her heart or voice she just began to sing. Although I did not understand the exact meaning of this prayer or its significance in the context of my grandparents' anniversary, the beauty of my grandma's voice alone left me completely speechless but with all my emotions rolling from my eyes down to my face.
After singing and sitting in silence for a few minutes, we all moved into the dining room for a especially sweet breakfast.Similar in shape and texture to a famous south Indian snack called a "vadi", this round donut-like bread was deep fried this morning with butter and sugar and turned into something like a mini=donut ball. Although not a big fan of any Indian or American sweets generally speaking, this is one sweet I could most definitely go for every now and again...maybe every 60th years or so!
Among the few people present at this morning's small celebration was a friend of my grandparents who has known and worked with them on a myriad of issues for over 60 years. He was a witness to their marriage 60 years ago and is the only person I know who has been a part of Krishnammal and Jagannathan's life from before they were married, to the birth of their their daughter and son, to today when we find ourselves celebrating over half a century of their lives as a couple.
Although there were many aspects of today that t were completely normal (as normal as my grandparents' life will every be), there was also a feeling of something along the lines of magic that would be used to distinguish this morning from any other Tuesday morning.
It is not about how long these two have been married or how many struggles they have overcome as a couple throughout those years It is about the phrase that pours out of my grandma's heart and mouth nearly every time she is away from him for more than a full day:
"I worry about Appa. Because he is all alone, not just physically but in his mind. I worry about him because when he thinks about who is around him; he thinks he is leading a meeting and people have come to gather with him to take up another struggle. Soon I must go and relay to him all the information of our work, I must go to be with him so he knows I am here".