Thursday, May 07, 2009

Umami

Venky, Roma, Chaitali (not their real names) and I had been co-workers for a year about ten years ago. We have stayed in touch ever since. Venky had a crush on Roma but no one took it too seriously because he was incredibly funny and prone to having crushes that did not last more than a week.

Roma was fun and flirty herself but did not consider any of the "boys" we worked with worth her while. She had "higher standards" like the smooth-talking sales dude with gel-slicked hair who worked one floor below us.
Uber-geek, Venky would not make the grade in a million years - or so we imagined.

He persisted with Roma all the same. What is more he remained interested in her for several months. Then the unthinkable happened - he proposed to her and wonder of wonders, she accepted without any fuss at all. Roma and
Venky - they made the oddest couple who seemed to have absolutely nothing in common except being able to make each other laugh.

Chaitali was engaged to marry a good-looking, IIT-IIM alum with a nice job in Mumbai and a sea-facing apartment - husband material does not come a lot better wrapped than that. They had known each other since high-school and were considered an item ever since. The only detour in their fairy tale romance came in the form of Ketan who Chaitali had met during an off-site training event after she started working.

Ketan was completely unlike her fiance. He had attended a small time engineering college and only because his father forced him to do so. Left to his own devices, he would have studied literature and acting. He contributed poetry to a several magazines and was part of a traveling theatre group. He worked only because his hobbies did not pay the bills.

There was an instantaneous spark between them that
Chaitali had never felt with anyone - she had no idea such a thing could even happen until meeting Ketan. He did not offer more than friendship knowing her situation and she never indicated that she might actually consider such an offer. They parted very good friends three weeks later.

Back in the office,
Chaitali told Roma and me about Ketan. She was confused about how she felt about him and wanted to assure herself that she was still in love with the man she was about to marry in a couple of months. Even as she tried to dismiss Ketan as an irrational attraction, she would wait anxiously for him to reply to her emails and agonize over what if he never wrote back.

I met
Chaitali again a few years after her marriage. She mentioned casually that Ketan and her were still in touch and that her husband had actually met him once. I was glad that everything had fallen in place perfectly and no feelings were hurt. She seemed happy and had plenty going on in her life - a child would arrive in a few months making her busier.

Over the years, my contact with the three has been limited to a couple of emails exchanged around the New Year. We just get sucked into the demands of our lives to do more than that. This year, I got a picture of
Venky and Roma in Thailand - the first I have seen of both of them together after their marriage. Venky looks every bit a nerd but a very peaceful and content one. Roma is positively glowing - stylish as always in her white crocheted top, understated yet perfect makeup and swept back hair. In short, a picture of a happy couple who don't look odd together at all.

A few days later there was a picture of
Chaitali and her husband with the Rome in the background. This picture was a remarkable contrast to the one of Venky and Roma. This couple does not have the body language of a content, harmonious pair. Yet at the time of their marriage they had looked perfect together. In this picture they look posed with their plastic smiles. But they look confident and successful as individuals that they are - no one would doubt that they are a power couple.

The pictures got me thinking about how unpredictable marriage can be. In
Chaitali's case the ingredients were perfect and in many ways it has worked out very well. Yet there is the final flavor which perfects the dish - umami. Her marriage is probably lacking that. Roma and Venky started out far from perfect. Roma was not nearly the looker Chaitali was. Venky lacked the academic pedigree of Chaitali's husband. They definitely did not look like a made for each other pair at their wedding. Yet together they are greater than the sum of their parts. Venky is very successful professionally - Roma was key in smoothing out his rough edges.

Blessed are those who can sense the presence of this mysterious ingredient in a relationship because it is what elevates bland to wonderful. Lucky are those who stumble upon it without even knowing that it exists. Then there are those who have everything in their marriage and therefore find it impossible to spot what is missing yet its absence leaves them yearning for something that they can't even describe.

1 comment:

Priyamvada_K said...

HC,
The laws of attraction remain mysterious as always. A person may have all the desirable attributes - looks, education level, intelligence, and heart. Yet there needs to be something more that one cannot easily define - call it umami, spark or chemistry. Without that, one would be left searching while not knowing what they are searching for.

Priya.