Published: 13th February 2018
Valentine's Day: What's it like to fall in love in the time of library cards?
Sithanthi Alfred and Alfred Victor talk about falling in love in the 80's against their family's wishes and getting to celebrate their 27th wedding anniversary today
Bengaluru's Frazer Town — with its brooding trees, British-style houses, Anglo-Indian and Iyengar bakeries, idiyappam sellers on their early morning rounds, the sound of the Beatles emanating from houses, the quaint churches, the bustling mosques, the artistic temples and of course, its vibrant people — holds a special place in the heart of every Bengalurean who has grown up in the Cantonment area. It was in this good old town where Alfred Victor and Sithanthi Pujar first laid eyes on each other.
Sithanthi, who was then 16 years old, had just moved into town with her big boisterous family. She first caught a glimpse of Alfred when he was playing football with his friends on the street. Sithanthi's elder brother soon became friends with Alfred, often visiting his house for a good beef curry, something that his own mother would be horrified by.
Like any other love story from the 80s, there were failed cartwheels and bike stunts, and stolen glances during the many unnecessary trips to buy coriander for the tenth time that day. "In those days, romance was in the facial expression; looks conveyed everything. There was this one time when he was riding his cycle and tried to do a wheelie and fell right on his face. It was hilarious," recalls Sithanthi.
Retro Love: In his letters, Alfred would always sign with a female name to maintain secrecy and later started to sign it- Love, A
Eventually, Alfred gathered the courage and wrote Sithanthi a letter, asking if they could meet. "So, we got into a rickshaw and went to Cubbon Park and shared a bottle of Fanta. Back in the day, Bengaluru used to be so beautiful; just a walk in the park would make a splendid date," she says, with a smile. "Since I was a literature student, I had to have a British Council membership. So, we would meet at the library often, besides catching all the latest films and taking long walks in the park. Couples used to be quite modest then, unlike the couples of today," she says, laughing.
But the good times would soon end. Forget inter-religious, people today are still being killed for inter-caste marriages, so imagine falling in love with a person of another religion all the way back in the 80s. Sithanthi and Alfred did not kid around; they knew what lay ahead of them. So, when the time came for Sithanthi's family to move again, a break-up seemed natural.
"We decided to forget about each other because we knew that there was no way our parents would have ever approved," she recalls. But then something happened. Alfred met with an accident and broke both his hands. "We had a mutual friend who lived in the same neighbour. She came home to tell me what happened. So, I decided that I would go and visit him. But the minute I set my eyes on him, I knew that I was going to marry him,” narrates Sithanthi, smiling sweetly.
I told him to think about it clearly and if he still wanted to be in a relationship with me, I asked him to wait at the bus stop opposite my college gate, in the evening. I walked out of college to find him standing there, waiting for me. And that was it
Sithanthi, who was studying in Mount Carmel College at the time, then wrote Alfred a letter saying that the only way they could be together was if he was sure of marrying her one day. "I told him to think about it clearly and if he still wanted to be in a relationship with me, I asked him to wait at the bus stop opposite my college gate, in the evening. I walked out of college to find him standing there, waiting for me. And that was it," she blushes.
But the two were in no hurry to get married. "We both knew that we were about to go against our families, so there was no way we could depend on them for anything. We decided that we had to become as independent as possible before taking the next step," saysSithanthi. So, the two worked hard in college. Alfred went on to first land a job with the railways and then with a government bank, while Sithanthi went on to work for Macmillan Publishers, a job that was tailor-made for her.
Throughout this time, their parents weren't oblivious of the relationship. At one point, Sithanthi's father also threatened Alfred of dire consequences if they continued to see each other, but it didn't stop them. "Today, you might call it career-driven, but back then, we were just determined to find jobs. So, both of us studied hard and ensured that we landed good jobs," Alfred tells us.
Soon, the proposals started to pour in for Sithanthi, being the first daughter of a highly respected government official. "One day, a prospective groom came to see me and my relatives started to discuss marriage. The next day, when I was getting ready for work, my mother asked me to stay home. So, in a fit of rage I just walked out," she recalls. For the next few days, Sithanthi stayed at a friend's house. "We considered a register wedding or an Arya Samaj wedding, but then I realised that religion was important to Alfred, so I suggested a Christian wedding," she adds.
Despite her parents’ obvious unhappiness, all their other relatives came forward to support the wedding and when her parents realised that she wasn't going to change her mind, they decided to finally accept the relationship too. Things continued to be uncomfortable between the two families even after the wedding, but everything changed once the couple had a child a year later. "After that, everyone always obsessed over the child and competed over who would love her more. Nothing else mattered," narrates Sithanthi.
So, does marriage mean the same thing today as it did 25 years ago? "The meaning has definitely changed over the years. When we got married, it was more a duty that we were fulfilling as a part of the community. Now, it is only about the two individuals, which can be a good thing, but they both have their pros and cons. But 25 years ago, all that mattered was that we were sincere to each other and everything else was secondary," concludes Sithanthi.