Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Alone and Together

COLUMN: Spouse's Turn 
Sasikala talks about life with the politician N. Venugopal

Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram
By Shevlin Sebastian
In the early 1980s, every now and then, Sasikala would see N. Venugopal, the Congress politician and current chairman of the Greater Cochin Development Authority. He would drop in to her house at Palluruthy to meet her father, Vishwanathan Menon, a leader of the party.
After a while, Venugopal's family sent a marriage proposal. “My father liked Venugopal a lot, so he had no objections,” says Sasikala. “But I had a negative view. I felt that he was a bit harsh. He rarely smiled or laughed.”
Sasikala told her father that she did not know whether Venugopal's silent behaviour was suitable for somebody like her. “I am an outgoing person, who laughs and smiles a lot,” says Sasikala. “My father said that just because he does not smile, does not mean that he is not a good person. He told me Venugopal did not have any bad habits.”
So Sasikala said yes. The marriage took place on September 10, 1983, at Mattancherry Town Hall. But for Sasikala, the unforgettable experience took place after the event. When they went to his home at Panayapally, near Fort Kochi, Venugopal told his wife that, next morning, he would be going for a 16-day camp for politicians. Since his parents had died early, there was only Venugopal's brother and his wife for company.
I felt very lonely,” she says. “In fact, I cried many times during those two weeks.”
Incidentally, before he left, Venugopal promised Sasikala that when he returned, he would take her to Kashmir. “That trip is still to take place,” says a smiling Sasikala at her home in Kochi.
Nevertheless, Sasikala is a fan of her husband. “He is a loving and caring husband,” says Sasikala. “He has given me a lot of freedom. Whenever I asked for something Venugopal has said yes. He knows I can be absent-minded. There have been many occasions when I have cut or burnt my fingers, while working in the kitchen. So when I am doing the cooking, from 11.30 a.m. onwards, sometimes, he will call and say, 'Be careful about the gas'.”
One reason for Sasikala's absent-mindedness is because she is a writer. She has written the lyrics for 60 songs, including the recent Jayasurya starrer, 'Jilebi'. “After our marriage Venugopal told me that he did not have a problem in me having a writing career,” says Sasikala. “But he would not accompany me to the studios. I was okay with that.”
As for his negative points, the primary one is of absence. “Because he is a politician, he is hardly ever at home,” says Sasikala. “If I call him, on the mobile, he will say he will call me later, but will forget to do so.”
For Sasikala it has been a learning experience, to be the wife of a politician. In the early years, when her husband would be attacked in the print media and the television channels, she would get extremely upset. “I would get a migraine headache, and take pills to calm down,” says Sasikala. “My husband said, ‘This is politics, a game. Don't take pills and damage your health’. Now I don't get angry at all.”
For Sasikala, her enduring happiness has been that Venugopal has allowed her parents to live with her. “Most husbands would have said no,” she says. “Not once has he complained about this arrangement.” Her father died a few years ago, but her mother, who is 80 now, continues to live with her.
The couple have two children, Vignesh and Lakshmi. While Vignesh, who has a MBA, runs the popular DYU Art Cafe in Bangalore, Lakshmi, who has a doctorate in economics, lives in the same city, and is the manager of several music bands.

As father, Venugopal has been soft. “He would always say yes to whatever they wanted,” says Sasikala. “However, in the earlier years, the children missed the presence of Venugopal a lot. It was I who took them for films and outings.”
But Venugopal has been making amends. Last year, the family went to Malaysia and Hongkong for a holiday.
When they were in Kuala Lumpur, Venugopal would get calls all the time. “So the children and I begged him to take the important ones and avoid the rest so that we could enjoy our holiday,” says Sasikala. “He has a habit of taking every phone call, whether it is at midnight or the early morning.”

It was while they attended a laser show at Kuala Lumpur that Venugopal got the idea to replicate it in Kochi. “It is now a popular show at the Rajendra Maidan,” says Sasikala.
Asked whether her husband has changed over the years, Sasikala says, “Earlier, if I spoke ten words, he would say one in return. But now he talks a lot more, and tells me about what is happening in his career.”
Of course, for Sasikala and the family, the biggest disappointment took place when Venugopal was slated to be Mayor of Kochi in November, 2010, but, at the last moment, the post was denied to him. “We were all very upset,” says Sasikala. “But my husband told me later that in politics, anything can happen.”
Finally, regarding tips for a successful marriage, Sasikala says, “Give freedom to your husband. Don't nag him. Don't be suspicious. We must trust our spouse. Secondly, it is important to adjust to all types of situations And, lastly, learn to make good food all the time. Husbands love that.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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