He preceded her into the Great Beyond by six months. Precisely six months to the day, she followed in his footsteps. When he died, she wept copious tears all day and all night. Before he died, unable to speak with all those tubes inserted into his throat, he scribbled notes of endearment to her. She kept those notes to her bosom, praying that he would not die, that he would come back home from the hospital. He asked her to take him home. She went all around town looking for oxygen machines that could keep him safe at home. In the end, he did not go back home, for the doctors would not permit him to be moved in his precarious condition. On a January day three years ago, he closed his eyes on the world he loved.
On a July day, six months to the day, she fell silent. It needed six months for her to reach out to him again. Those six months were a painful interregnum for her as she moved around her home, through the silent rooms, touching his books, feeling his clothes, missing his tender voice of love. She said she did not wish to live any more, for he had been the light in her life. With the light having gone out, she wallowed in the dark. She went out to teach her students; she met visitors and spoke to them again and again of what he had been for her. There were the tears she tried to hold back, but they flowed anyway.
Forty years and three months after they were joined in marital bliss, they suddenly ceased to be. Mortality overcame them. And yet it was not supposed to end in this manner, for all love is an uninterrupted celebration of life. When they met in the mid-1970s, he was an officer with Bangladesh Betar and she was attached to his office. He liked the beauty in her and she appreciated the humour and intelligence in him. In a society where conservatism runs deep, he and she made bold to go for liberalism of their own. He declared his love for her. She needed her family to bless the relationship. The romantics that they both were, they saw in sheer pleasure their families' consent to their union. The marriage led to the birth of a son whom both loved to distraction. The child was their world, the new star in their firmament. The child lit up their lives.
In their state of marriage, they were inseparable. He would not go anywhere without her. She would worry if he did not come back home on time from the television station where he had gone to record a programme. Exhausted after a day of teaching at school, she would return to him and know where the warmth was. He, having anxiously waited for her to come home, would make her a cup of tea and see the smile broaden out across her beautiful face. They both smiled a lot, at each other and at the world around them. At home, by themselves, they would sit beside each other, she watching television, he rummaging through his papers preparing his next article for a newspaper. He would travel abroad, on hajj, on tours and would return desperate to be beside her again. She, in her quiet way, would wait for him to be back, to feed him the food she knew he liked, to care for him.
They passed from romantic youth to an even more romantic middle age. He cracked jokes at every given opportunity and she doubled up in laughter. She worried when he complained of illness; and his worries were endless every time she had a headache or fever. He was proud of her singing skills, a reality which came through in her songs on the radio. She loved the way in which he spoke of Tagore and often broke raucously into the songs of the bard. He would go looking for a book in his rich library and, unable to find it, would feel morose. She would step in and in swiftness pull out the book from where it was supposed to be. Only, in his desperation, he had missed it. A sheepish smile would envelop his face. She would throw him a glance that was essentially irritation coated in love.
You do not have many couples like them around you. You have spouses, wives and husbands, who go through life in increasing levels of the boredom which often comes associated with ageing marriage. But they were different. Their love, their attraction, their need for each other grew, to use a cliché, in leaps and bounds. It was more than a marriage they shared. It was a love affair which endured for forty years and would not die. When he died in January, he carried her love with him to the grave. Alone and in a world where the lights had gone out, she felt his love passionately, hoping he was watching over her from his final resting place. Through the monsoon rains, her silent tears drowned out every sound of thunder, every sliver of lightning.
And then she was gone, to him who was her world. After an interregnum of six months, their love of forty years now resumed, with promise of passing into eternity, through the cavernous spaces of the universe. They have found each other again.
And we have a love story we will read, over and over again, in tears and through the sounds of the heart cracking in each one of us.
(The article is in remembrance of Syed Ashraf Ali --- Islamic scholar, writer and raconteur --- who died on 19 January 2016, and Sultana Ali --- teacher and artiste --- who died on 19 July 2016).
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