After hours of travel, we arrived in the beachy town of Mamalapuram, where cows vye with motorbikes and trucks for road space, and colorful boats are beached on the sand along with locals with fishing nets and tourists in bikinis. I started cruising the beach and the dusty streets for that glowing elderly couple who may hold the key to future wedded bliss. On the street, there were very few couples: mostly groups of men and groups of women. I approached two older women in colorful saris, with intricate nose rings and coiffed grey hair and smiled and asked if they spoke English. They looked at me oddly and, figuring I needed directions, tried to summon the English speaker a few yards over. Strike one.
Feeling like that perfectly zen older couple was not to be found, I retired to the hotel for dinner and a stroll around with Blair. On the hotel grounds, we came across an open-air, corporate karaoke party, where a big group of locals was singing and enjoying snacks. There was a quiet, middle-aged couple sitting in the back, leaning on a concrete ledge that separated the party from the beach. They looked content and comfortable together, he in his polo shirt and she in a purple sari, watching without speaking, sitting in sync and without tension. I awkwardly approached them and asked what the party was all about. They didn’t know, and apparently were fellow party crashing voyeurs.
This began our conversation about life, love and family. “Here in India, we like to be always around people and constantly connected,” the husband told us. “And in a city like Mumbai, where we live, even though you’re always around people because of the crowds, you’re not always connected to the people you love. It’s the most important thing, and much simpler and easier in a small town like this.”
Their secret to their 20 year marriage, they joked, is to fight every week, and to have the larger family unit involved with them and their two children. Our conversation moved away from the connection between the two of them, and to the importance of building a strong family dynamic for everyone now and in the future. A healthy family unit, extended across states and generations, seemed to be the glue that holds the collective (and the pair) together.
We parted ways and they thanked us for coming over to talk to them and for the conversation… apparently, it’s a (delightful) rarity to be approached by foreign strangers seeking the secret to love. I’ll continue to ask people along the way and encourage you all to do the same — you may be surprised with what you walk away with. What I loved about the experience was the ability to get out of a predictable travel pattern, the excuse to connect with locals in a new, deeper way and the way in which conversions of this nature bind us together as humans, all seeking the same basic thing across borders, classes and cultures.
Thanks, Chrissy Gaffney, for the fabulous challenge… Look forward to hearing all of your experiences and the secrets that you uncover!