Two couples from different generations come together to discuss love

Feb 11, 2018, 10:18 IST | Benita Fernando

Two couples from different generations, one in their 60s and another in their 30s, but both deeply steeped in art, on that crazy little thing called love

Jamal Mecklai, 67 with his gallerist-wife, Pravina, 65, converse with designer couple Aditya Palsule, 34, and Ruchita Madhok, 33. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Jamal Mecklai, 67 with his gallerist-wife, Pravina, 65, converse with designer couple Aditya Palsule, 34, and Ruchita Madhok, 33. Pics/Bipin Kokate

Located in the bylanes of Colaba, Jamaat draws its name from Arabic for "a gathering". True to its name, visitors linger out here in the evenings, but, on this quiet afternoon, we have assembled at the gallery for matters of the heart, rather than art. Pravina Mecklai, the gallerist who established Jamaat, and her husband Jamal,who runs a risk management consultancy, are here. The collector couple, now in their 60s, are known about town for more than just their fine taste in art. Here they are today, as they often do, with outfits that are colour coordinated; Jamal, in a vivid sunset orange shirt, is greeted adorably by Pravina in an orange and fuchsia kurta.

Jamal Mecklai, 67 with his gallerist-wife, Pravina, 65

With us, we also have a couple that has popularly earned the title of being "the map people" - Ruchita Madhok, 33, and her husband, Aditya Palsule, 34. Ruchita, a trained exhibition designer, and Aditya, a graphic designer, lead their Bandra firm Kahani Designworks. The studio has been a central part of the art community in Mumbai, having designed several art books and exhibitions for noted galleries and museums. Ruchita and Aditya, whose love story spans nearly a decade, also create special handy maps that help you get to know Mumbai better in the most unusual ways.

Aditya Palsule, 34, and Ruchita Madhok, 33

Like we said before, we are here to discuss love, and a conversation on the subject will always lead to the most vociferous opinions and experiences.

We have a question for both couples: Has love changed over the years?

And, we have answers for you:

Love like starburst
Jamal: I used to be this speck of dirt floating around. You have heard of The Big Bang? It was like that until I found myself in her arms. That's how we met. There may be more prosaic ways of saying this, but it was, in essence, like this.
Pravina: No, we had a lot of friends in common! Jamal had been working in the US. When he returned to India in the 1980s, I was married, with two kids and separated from my husband. My friends asked me, "Have you heard of Genius Jamal?" I said, "No!" And, my friends went, "He is so brilliant! He topped the joint entrance exam for IIT and is a gold medallist."
But, I didn't think much about IITians. I had studied at St Xavier's, and these IITian boys would come over and just look at the girls. When I first met Genius Jamal, I wasn't impressed. He would wear jeans and suspenders. I thought he was a ridiculous oaf!
Jamal: Oaf is a great word! And, how did you both, Ruchita and Aditya, meet?
Aditya: In London, where we were studying. This was back in 2009. We hated Halloween, and refused to go to any Halloween parties that year. As a student, it was an excuse to dress up in a costume, and we just couldn't be bothered.
Ruchita: A friend told me that we wouldn't go to any Halloween party, but just get dressed and go to a Greek restaurant. When we were there, she added that she had called her friend over, and that he would love to join us.
Aditya: I lived really far away from where we met - it was 40 minutes by bus, and then a train ride. But, I had the evening free.
Ruchita: He arrived really late, at which point I realised that this was an elaborate set-up. Once he got there, my friend gave me what sounded like his bio!

First impression to that little complication
Aditya: After dinner, we headed over to these two famous theatres, The Old Vic and Young Vic, which has a great bar. I ordered a beer, but Ruchita went on to carefully select her whiskey. She asked for an Ardbeg, and I had not known anyone who was that specific about her drink. And, I didn't know much about whiskeys!
Ruchita: But, what happened after that was really interesting. All the bars had shut, so the three of us trooped to the halls [hostel]. My friend went to sleep and we stayed up till 7.30 in the morning just talking. When I had to key him out of the hall, I thought it was great that we had so many things to talk about. He left because the moving man was coming in an hour. Later, I tried to ask him out, but, through our common friends, I got to know that he was interested in someone else. Once, we even went to an exhibition of woodcut type at the St Bride Library, and we totally geeked out over there. However, he just left with a casual, "Catch you later".
Aditya: It was only when Ruchita went home to Mumbai for Christmas, and I had stayed back in London that we chatted every day on Gmail. We had a great number of things to talk about, like art and design.
Pravina: That's so important. You start off as friends. People say you are just good friends and it won't go anywhere, but it is important to start off like that.
Jamal: The first time I saw Pravina, I thought she was so beautiful. She was married then, and I backed off. It was much later, when I saw her and Priyanka, who is our daughter now, that I realised something had changed. Soon, I met her for dinner at her place, and I wanted rum, and she said she only had whiskey. The next day, when I went again for dinner, she had stocked rum.
Pravina: We soon started going out for dinners. Jamal's oafishness had not gone. He always took me to these odd places and I was a five-star kind of person. One day, he suggested we go to Café Royale, and I got dressed up in a pink dress and gold shoes, thinking we were going to the Oberoi. I used to drive, and he suddenly asked me to stop near Regal Theatre. We went to the Irani joint, also called Café Royale, filled with middle-aged managers. I asked the waitress for a Campari and tonic, and she said, "Campari? Woh kya hai?"
So, I asked, "Tonic milega?"
"Tonic? Nahin. Soda milega."
Jamal ordered rum and soda. The waitress took ages to stir our drink. But the music was just amazing. There was a singer who sang in the voices of both Lata Mangeshkar and Kishore Kumar.
Jamal: But I had to woo not just Pravina. There were two kids, too. Karan, who was nine then, was very insecure, and he didn't know what my role was. Once, Pravina and I were going to Sri Lanka for a holiday, and he said, "If you bring me a car, then you can marry my mom."
Pravina: That was my bride price!
Jamal: We got him one of those remote-controlled toy Ferraris.
Pravina: After my separation, I was done with marriage, men and in-laws. But, Priyanka said, "You will carry on in your merry way, but what will happen to poor Jamal?" That's when I thought, if she has considered this, I should as well.

The tech-nique of love
Jamal: I had often wondered, even before I met Pravina, that if you meet a girl somewhere, what do you do? There used to be just one landline phone, and in some houses not even that, and you had to get her phone number or write letters. I am curious about how the anticipation, the terror - oh, she hasn't called yet! - how does it square with things today? Romance is romance - that can never change - but the details are different.
Pravina: Letters would take so long to reach. It would take 100 rupees a minute for a call those days, which was a lot. My salary was '500. We would try and speak in code, so that the others in the family couldn't figure. It is funny in hindsight.
Ruchita: We started dating before smartphones and Skype. So, we are also old-school in some ways. Soon after we started going out, I was in Italy for 10 weeks on a student project. There was poor Internet connectivity. It was also prohibitively expensive to call between Italy and England. So, what I wrote and drew in letters, he would get them in 48 hours. I used to sketch scenes of the village or the little castle we were staying at.
Jamal: You had to be a lot more trusting.
Aditya: WhatsApp changed things. The pace at which you can contact someone and know everything about a person on Facebook, is something else.
Ruchita: I think people don't express themselves the way they used to.
Jamal: The expression is different, but the essence is the same. But, what I miss are the grand, tragic romances like in A Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera, where people wait for each other for 50 years. You don't see that now. I will wait for you darling, forever [looks at Pravina].
Pravina: But I am not going anywhere!

Love is loaded
Jamal: Did the distance and sense of anticipation help foster that sense of commitment? "Commitment" is a foolish word, it's too intellectual.
Ruchita: Yes, the term does not seem natural, it feels forced.
Pravina: It sounds like an appointment. You hear things like that these days - commitment phobia. For both of us, this was the second time around, and the word "exclusive" was used a lot in our generation.
Ruchita: Friends would ask, "Is it serious?" We figured early on that we weren't dating other people.
Pravina: The other phrases that confuse me are "dating" and "going around". But you only "go around" with someone because you love them, or you are checking them out.
Jamal: And, despite all this, people don't use the word "love" much today.
Aditya: Yes, it has become a loaded word. I think it comes back to the whole idea of commitment.
Pravina: But they are quite cool with ending a message with "love you!" And, if you are American, then it's worse - love ya. It has become a trite statement.
Jamal: But, don't ask me for advice on marriage and love. All that is too intellectual. All you need is love. Once you have that, you have everything. And, surprise. You must surprise your partner as often as you can.

Couples that art together
Ruchita: Working in the arts came out of our interests
and our love for London. We saw so much there; we wanted to bring that environment to India. Since we run a studio together, it's pretty serious and we try to be mature enough to draw the line between home and work.
Pravina: But do you take your work home or take your home to work?
Ruchita: We try not to. And we try and do the mature thing at the studio when we tend to have creative differences; he tends to
push the technical aspects, and I tend to push the creative aspects. The team knows when to talk to him
or to me.
Pravina: I always found it difficult to continue at home together and work together. I need my space.
Jamal: And I enjoy art.
Pravina: When we disagree on which artworks to buy, I have a standard thing: If you like it dear, keep it in your office.
Jamal: When I met her, it was a done deal for me. But, she, you know, took some time. And, then, one day, we bought a painting together at a charity event at Jehangir Art Gallery. And, I said, "Come on darling! What are we talking about still!"
Pravina: We love travelling. Last year, we were in Venice, and our anniversary coincided with the opening of the Venice Biennale. We love travelling to Kochi and Goa for the same reason. There are so many art events to see there.
Aditya: We used our student discounts to the max in London. I had a passing interest in theatre, which
was encouraged more with Ruchita.
Ruchita: The places we visit would invariably have four galleries. We chose Paris for our honeymoon. There was food, wine and art. Jaipur is next on our list, for a number of museums and art events have opened there.

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