To quote Dickens: ” It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” (well…sort of!)
It was when both Neel and I were graduate students at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and were broke as every other fellow student! We lived in a teeny tiny university apartment with the most meager amenities. We could barely scrape by on the student ‘salary/stipend’ and before every trip to the grocery store had to check for available balance on the credit cards we had ( I have kept one such paper where we had crunched the numbers in my keepsake box). We were newly marries and balancing married life and student life was, to say the least, a bit of a challenge! And I was, on top of that, fresh off the boat and had a whole other set of ‘getting used to’ to take into account!
(On the left is the apartment we lived in, the first floor and on the left is a university bus stand we sometimes took a bus from)
In spite of all of this, we made some of our most treasured memories during this time and met some folks who touched our lives in ways that made the hardships trivial in comparison. They uplifted our spirits and together we all made the best of what we had. We laughed over the silliest of jokes and had some pretty thought provoking discussions too. We got drunk and laughed till we cried! We celebrated birthdays and anniversaries and nothingness too! On almost every Friday night we hung out, cooked together, sang and played the guitar till the wee hours of the morning and came back home with rejuvenated minds, ready to take up the challenges of the coming week.
On a more personal front, Neel and I had our share of bumps that at times seemed insurmountable but we persevered and came out on the other side stronger. Our experiences helped strengthen our love and the trust we had in each other. Eating boiled pasta with salt and pepper for dinner never bothered us nor did the 5$ carry out pizza as birthday ‘treat’! Neel was there every step of the way to guide me and lessen my worries and I hope I was there too to ease his burdens a bit:)
We lived in Saint Paul and it was a beautiful city, as was Minneapolis. When we needed to take a breather, we would often drive out to the bank of the mighty Mississippi, sit on a ledge and breathe deep. We also had picnics by the river bank with subway sandwiches or simply cookies! The peace and pleasure that such simplicity brough was unparalleled. And when we had some time off for vacation but could not really afford one, we drove for about 2.5 hours up north to Duluth and the might Lake Superior welcomed and calmed our tired souls. I cannot say enough about the beauty of the Lake and till date it remains one of my most favorite places in this country. The azure of the seemingly endless Lake along with the green of the pine and the fir trees and the occasional red and brown of cottages, that dotted certain stretches, made for an artist’s canvas. And we always drove back home as happy as clams!
We have come a long way since our grad student days. We have a fuller home and hearth and we have been blessed with our son who continues to be our source of inspiration, strength and happiness and takes away the stress of daily life with his innocence and laughter. We have taken proper vacations, stayed at good hotels and gone out to dinners that do not comprise of the 5$ pizza. But we do not regret any moment from the days when we were a couple of struggling souls trying to find our footing in this world. We cherish every bit and draw upon those experiences in times of uncertainty. That juncture in our lives inspires us and fills us with hope and gives us energy to carry on. The smiling faces from that time are all scattered in different parts of the world now and when we catch up, it is just like old times ( as cliched as it might sound!)…we connect without inhibitions or prejudices and there is no room for judgment on any front.
So, you see, those were kind of the worst of times but also the best of times. It gave us the foundation on which we now step with confidence and that gives us the courage to raise our son the best we can, guide him in the direction that helps him know right from wrong, encourage him to rise up to injustice, and lend a helping hand to those in need.