up until very recently the home in which i had lived longest at one stretch was a villa in king khalid military city in saudi arabia. it was villa #2370. across the street in villa #2369 lived my best friend, hiren, with his sister, manisha, and their little brother. and of course their parents, whose names i, sadly, do not remember: mama and papa patel.
mama patel gave me my first extensive exposure to indian food: a steady diet of samosas of various sorts and desserts which ought to have been served with insulin injections, they were so sweet. she was a warm woman and her house was always open to me.
at some point i found out that mama and papa patel had met only by a parentally arranged marriage and, being american and a boy in his early adolescence, i somehow tactlessly and shamelessly asked whether or not they didn't resent that. didn't they want to have love before they got married, etc.
papa patel was a very quiet man, a relative stick of a figure. the most words i ever heard him speak in one afternoon came during a badminton tournament held on the base during which he did quite well: he would talk to himself very sternly every time he made a mistake. needless to say i got my answer from the round and much more effusive mama patel.
he was an engineer getting ready to move to america when they got married; her parents convinced her that this was the opportunity of a lifetime. and she said, that indeed, she did resent and regret much during the early years of their marriage. they were total strangers to one another suddenly forced to live together and trying to make sense of the habits and desires of the other person. she laughed when she told us that her mother had told her 'that is marriage, but you get used to it'.
she got pregnant a little over a year after they got married and had hiren and manisha in relatively quick succession. she said at that point she had something besides her husband to focus her attention on, and while she may not have loved him at that point, she ceased having time to resent or regret decisions. she had two children to raise.
love came, she said, as the children left infancy and began to become interactive members of the family. she saw him as the father to their children, that he was a good father to them, and she began to cherish him for the way in which he loved and nurtured their children. her love for him arose out of the shared love they had for their children. and now, she said, she could not be more grateful to her parents, nor could she be more in love with a man than she was now. papa patel sat beside her all the way through the story, silently, his arm around her shoulder, proudly smiling.
and when i remember back, 15ish years now, to our own decision to marry, i believe i too would have to tell that rude little boy living in that villa in saudi arabia, that we were children when we got married. we did not know ourselves, let alone one another and could not even begin to comprehend what love really was. how She put up with that person over the first years of our marriage is a mystery. but here we are all these years later and i could not be more grateful...with still so much more to learn.