Friday, April 18, 2014

An Exciting Enigma


COLUMN: Spouse's Turn 

The Norwegian ambassador Arne Roy Walther talks about life with the former journalist Anita Pratap 

Photo: Anita Pratap and Arne Roy Walther at a site of the Kochi Muziris Biennale

By Shevlin Sebastian

Every morning, the then Norwegian ambassador to India, Arne Roy Walther, would get up at his home in New Delhi, make a cup of coffee, and watch the television news. One day, when he was seeing the CNN news channel, he saw Anita Pratap for the first time. “I was impressed by her commentary and realised that she was a special person,” says Arne. “From then on, I watched CNN instead of the BBC to catch a glimpse of Anita.”

A few months later, in 1996, the elite of Indian society, along with foreign ambassadors, had gathered to watch and interact with the Miss World competitors at an event in New Delhi (the beauty pageant was later held in Bangalore). “I spotted 

Anita in the crowd chatting with one of my diplomat colleagues,” says Arne. “She was wearing an elegant sari, and looked far more beautiful than the scantily-clad contestants half her age on the stage.”

Arne sensed his opportunity and hurried across to say hallo to his friend. “He introduced me to Anita and graciously left me alone with her,” says Arne. “I cannot remember what we talked about, but I tried hard to make a good impression.” After a long conversation, Arne invited Anita for a lunch date a couple of days later and the journalist accepted.

At the lunch, the discussion was intense and exhilarating. “I realised that we had the same values and outlook on life, although Anita was born in Kottayam, and had lived all her life in India, while I was born in New York, and had stayed in several countries,” says Arne.

They remained in touch even as Arne and Anita continued with their busy careers. But Arne's hand was forced three years later, when he was transferred back to Oslo. So he proposed to Anita.

He did it the day before she left to make a documentary film in the North-East. Anita smiled, but did not give a reply. But Arne was sure Anita knew about his feelings. “So my proposal could not have come as a surprise to her,” he says.

A week later, Anita returned and said, “Yes.”

Little did they realise that there would be a few marriage ceremonies. The first wedding took place on Guy Fawke’s Day on November 5, 1999, at the Norwegian Embassy in Madrid. Thereafter, the couple went for a honeymoon in Southern Spain. “We enjoyed the beautiful mountains, the scenic coast and the Islamic heritage of the Moors in Seville,” says Arne.

The second event took place at New Delhi in February, 2000. It was a civil marriage on the lawns of the house of the then Union Law Minister, Ram Jethmalani. Signing the papers, Jethmalani looked at Arne, and jokingly said, “Now, just try getting out of this marriage!”

The third marriage was hosted by senior professional Sunand Sharma and his wife Livleen on the rooftop of their home in Delhi home on a full-moon night. “It was the brightest moon in 133 years,” says Arne. “There were two elephants and 128 dancing gypsies greeting the 400 guests.”

The high point for Arne was when Anita tied a thread around his wrist, while Livleen forcefully pressed the palm of his hand to the flame of a candle. “It hurt a lot,” says Arne. “But I endured the pain like a true Viking and proved to one and all how prepared I was to marry Anita.” Ever since, Anita always ties a new thread on Arne when the old one frays away. “As part of the ritual, I still hold the palm of my hand above the flame of a candle, albeit now at a more comfortable distance,” he says, with a smile.

When asked the difference between Norwegian and Indian women, Arne says, “Norwegian women are usually blonde with blue eyes and spend time skiing, while Indian women have black hair and dark eyes and enjoy eating spicy food. However, both are excitingly enigmatic.”

Today Arne is posted to Tokyo, where he is Norway's ambassador. Whenever Anita is in Tokyo, every morning, after a cup of coffee, the couple go for a morning walk in a nearby park. “We talk about what is going on in the world, and tease each other at every opportunity,” says Arne. “Japan is an open, safe and secure society. The culture is fascinating and the food is good. But I always enjoy Anita’s 'meen mappas' and 'payasam'.”

And Arne is also enjoying watching a constantly-evolving Anita. “She is getting younger in spirit, while maturing in thought and outlook,” says Arne. “We both love to travel and meet people.”

Meanwhile, after 15 years of marriage, Arne has some valuable tips to pass on. “Always talk and do things together,” he says. “Give each other space. Benefit from differences in character. Be serious, but also enjoy life. And do not forget the many less fortunate in society and do something for them. We are all one big family in a global home.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)




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