COLUMN: Spouse's Turn
Payal Arora talks about life with Vice Admiral Satish Soni, Flag Officer Commanding in Chief, Southern Naval Command
Photo by Mithun Vinod
By Shevlin Sebastian
When Payal Arora met Satish Soni for the first time at her parents’ home in New Delhi she was a bit disappointed. At that time, she was reading a lot of Mills & Boon romances with their tall, dark and handsome heroes. “That was what I had in mind,” she says. “He was fair but, at 5’8”, not tall.”
Soon, they started talking. Payal was doing her final year of law at Delhi University. And unlike most girls, she was interested in outdoor activities like trekking and playing basketball. In fact, Payal had represented Meerut University, where she did her graduation, in basketball.
“Two things were very important for me,” she says. “Satish should not have any objection to me pursuing my outdoor activities. Secondly, I was an avid fan of [American writer] Ayn Rand and her books, ‘Atlas Shrugged’ and ‘Fountainhead’. Dagny Taggart [of Atlas Shrugged] was my heroine. I believe in capitalism, rather than communism or socialism, and the will of the individual to make his way through life.”
Satish said that he was interested in sporting activities himself. And, yes, he had read ‘The Fountainhead’. “I don’t know whether he had actually read the book or just a synopsis, but I was so happy that he knew of Ayn Rand,” says Payal, in her office at the INS Venduruthy, Kochi. “That was a big plus. I gave a mental tick.” In the end, she said yes.
Within a month of that nod, the marriage took place on April 24, 1983, at Delhi. For their honeymoon, the couple flew to Kathmandu. There, Payal’s most interesting experience was a visit to the Pashupatinath temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “It was grand,” she says. “There were these beautifully carved idols of gods and goddesses above the entrance.”
The couple returned and began their married life at Kochi, where they initially stayed at a friend’s bungalow in the now posh area of Panampilly Nagar. “At that time, Kochi was sparsely populated,” says Payal. “In Panampilly Nagar, there were not many houses. What struck me were the greenery and the cleanliness. The people were very warm.” Now and then the couple would go to the Sea Lord Hotel on Marine Drive and listen to a band perform. “Those were nice times,” she says.
Payal also has nice things to say about her husband. “Satish is very sincere about everything,” she says. “He is upright and honest. But this keeps the family [son Karan, an investment banker in Hongkong, and daughter, Kanica, who is a Delhi-based teacher] on the straight and the narrow path. In fact, our children have imbibed the same values. They are honest and upright, too.”
A big plus regarding Satish’s character is that he is an extrovert and enjoys meeting people, be they children, youngsters, adults or seniors. “Satish is down- to-earth, and never thinks that he is a notch above anybody” says Payal. “In other words, he can relate well to people, especially to his own children.”
But now and then they did correct him. “They would tell him, ‘Papa, you are ordering us around. We are not officers or cadets. We are your children’,” says Payal. “But he cared for them deeply.”
A few years ago, Satish, Payal, and their daughter, Kanica, had gone for a holiday to Bhutan. “Kanica had sprained her ankle before the holiday,” says Payal. But when a trekking opportunity to climb a sacred mountain called Tiger’s Nest, in the Paro Valley, came up, Kanica insisted that she wanted to come. “I just walked up to the top in one-and-a-half hours,” says Payal. “But Satish helped Kanica along, and, slowly and steadily, they came up. It took three hours. I really appreciated his care and concern.”
Of course, Satish has his drawbacks. “He tends to be a perfectionist,” says Payal. “And he can get angry at times. But he never shouts, instead he becomes very quiet.”
Asked how her husband had changed over the years, Payal says, “In the early years, he was soft, sensitive and idealistic. But now it has been tempered by reality. He is tough, physically as well as mentally, a good speaker, and has become practical.”
Payal is also practical. At one point of time, she was working as an assistant company secretary in a private firm. But the hours were long and irregular. “I realised that it would not be possible for both Satish and I to have careers,” she says. “I quit for the sake of the children. These are trade-offs in life, but I have no regrets, because everything has turned out well. Today, my work as president of the Navy Wives Welfare Association keeps me busy and happy."
And Payal has simple tips for a happily married life. “You have to be mentally prepared when you are entering matrimony because it is a sacred relationship with the other person,” she says. “You should not have unrealistic expectations. Your marriage will last if you have one thought at the back of your mind all the time: 'I have to make it work'.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)