Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Romance on the Road
I've been telling this story for over three decades now and like all good stories, it just goes on gathering depth and new layers of meaning. Since today is the 33rd anniversary of its occurrence, it seems like a good time to tell it once again.
33 years ago. I was 18 and a wide-eyed peace movement activist. I had just dropped out of college to join a march for disarmament and social justice. We were walking 440 miles (from Boston to Washington, DC) and I, at least, was quite sure the world would never be the same. Certainly my world would never be, though I didn't realize that at the moment.
On September 21st, we had our usual morning meeting before beginning the day's hike. The organizers of our walk (the New York based War Resisters League), in addition to explaining the route and the plans for our reception in the evening, made an announcement and a request. The announcement was that another group, called Indians for Democracy, was also on a march (much less ambitious - theirs was from Philadelphia to New York, a mere 81 miles). Since our paths were likely to cross in the next few days, they wanted us to be aware of their program and their shared concerns. The request was for two volunteers who would be willing to go to Trenton, New Jersey where we were scheduled to arrive three days later, and help with organizing the reception and publicity events. I had a cold coming on and organizing seemed easier than walking, so I raised my hand.
The next day, September 22nd, 33 years ago today!, I was in a car (a Volkswagen Beetle) with one of the people from Trenton when I saw a small group of people approaching in the distance. As we got closer I could see they were carrying signs and walking in a line. "Stop the car!" I shouted to the driver. "Here come the Indians!"
We came to a screeching halt right in front of the group, which had just stopped walking and seemed to be having a heated discussion. Without pausing to think, I jumped out of the car and threw my arms around one of them. There were four men and one woman and I have no idea why I chose the one I did. Neither did he. He told me later his first reaction was consternation and dismay. As an Indian, he was not used to public displays of affection, and certainly not from a total stranger. To make matters worse, one of the others in the group was a much older man whom he regarded as a guru. "What must P K be thinking?" was what - he also told me later - was running through his mind. "Does he think I've been womanizing all this time I've been here in America?"
But the next thing he thought, all in split second formation, was "If someone is going to greet me so affectionately, who am I to hold back?" And he hugged me in return.
After this auspicious beginning, the rest was just detail.
Ravi, for it was he, invited me to attend a meeting they were holding that evening, which I agreed to do. After the meeting, he invited me to join his walk the next day, which was, providentially, a rest day for mine. I met them all the next morning at eight and walked with them for five miles, most of it spent talking with Ravi. As I turned to go back to my own group, he asked me for my address. I wrote it down in a tiny little spiral notebook he kept in his pocket (as he still does to this day!), we said goodbye and he carried on North, while I flagged a passing taxi who gave me a free ride five miles South.
And that, we both thought, was that. Just one more interesting event in our two interesting lives.
But no. There was more in store for us.
For two years, we had no contact whatsoever. I continued on to Washington where I was arrested for the first time; he continued on to New York, where he made his case for democracy in India to the press. I moved to a commune in Massachusetts and a full-time career as a social activist; he returned to New Jersey where he worked half-heartedly at his PhD in metallurgy while devoting his real energy to the struggle against the Emergency in India. How likely was it that our paths would cross again?
In 1978, there was a special session on disarmament at the United Nations. Mobilization for Survival organized a huge demonstration to mark the opening and I attended and was arrested once again. When I got out jail, there was a reporter (oddly enough, he was from India) from the New York Times waiting, and he wanted to interview a woman. I was the one selected, and the story appeared on the front page of the next day's paper.
Ravi happened to read the story. The name sounded familiar to him. He got out his little spiral notebook (nver throw anything away!), found my address and sent me a letter. I replied. Within weeks, we were both hooked. I will never forget receiving his 3rd note - a postcard, with an orange border. As I read it, I said to myself, stunned, "I'm going to end up marrying this guy."
On September 22nd, 1978, two years to the day of our first meeting, Ravi came to meet me again, this time in Fall River, where I was then living with my parents. Two days later, we were engaged to be married. Today, 33 years, 3 children and 2 mini-Empires later, it is still our favorite story in the world, for all its unlikeliness and romance and impulse, for all that it says about faith and leaps and certainty and for all that has come true because we believed in a force greater than ourselves.