November 23, 2016
When Nicholas and Celestine Quadras celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on a low key on May 16, 2016, they were perhaps a unique couple to reach such a landmark in this region of Tulunadu. Nicholas, born on May 29, 1922 and Celestine, born on March 13, 1930, were joined in holy matrimony in the Church of Our Lady of Health, Shirva, on May 16, 1946. To appreciate their record of over 70 years of wedded bonding, we should cite what Albert Chevallier, English comedian and song-writer (1861-1923) said on longevity in marriage:
We’ve been together now for forty years,
And it doesn’t seem a day too much,
There ain’t a lady living in the land
As I would swap for my old Dutch.
Discerning readers would have noticed that Nicholas was born one year earlier than the comedian Albert died. But it is not a joke to add 30 years to what he crowed about.
Going back to Nicholas and Celestine marrying seventy years ago, it was against the earthy wisdom prevalent then in the Canara Catholic community which said that looking for a bride or bridegroom involved losing 12 layers of soles of the feet of fathers to make a proper sairik (match) which was for till “death do us part” as intoned at the church nuptial ceremony. In addition, there was another dictum in Konkani: “Chedu poisile adije; rede laxile adije” – meaning the bride should be brought from a distant place (so that she doesn’t run away frequently to her mother after every petty quarrel with the mother-in-law) and the buffalos should be brought from close-by (so that if they don’t like the feed or heavy work at the new owners, they would run to their old owners and could be easily located and brought back).
But, in the case of Nicholas and Celestine, they belonged to the same heritage parish of Shirva, she from Kadra-Hithlu and he from Prince Point – some five km from Udupi Power Plant at Nandikur.
Talking of Shirva, located at 50 km from Mangalore, it is one of the oldest churches in Canara. During the conflict between Vatican in Rome and Portugal which had hold over Canara through its colony Goa, the Catholics loyal to the Vatican built a small chapel in 1856 dedicated to St Francis Xavier. The original church, dedicated to Our Lady of Health, which had been built in 1750, remaining under the jurisdiction of Portuguese Goa. (In 1774 Tipu Sultan razed to the ground all churches in Canara except the monastery at Farangipet because its Goan priest, Fr Joachim Miranda, was a close friend of Tipu’s father, Hyder Ali). On September 15, 1910, both parish priests met and amalgamated the two churches. So, Nicolas and Celestine were bonded for life in a united and rebuilt church (post-Tipu) to start their long journey together.
Coming back to the Nicholas family, in those days there were no marriage bureaus or matrimonial websites as today. Relatives and friends of the families of the prospective bride and bridegrooms arranged the matches. In the case of Nicholas and Celestine, the groom’s elder brother, Jerome, working in a telephone company in Bombay, viewed and finalised the bride. As for the traditional bride-viewing ritual, Nicholas says that he saw Celestine only once before the nuptials. It was stage-managed so that as she walked on the village path on some contrived errand, Nicholas, hiding behind some wild bushes dotting the village landscape, had a passing glimpse of his prospective bride. Asked about dowry, Nicholas dismisses it as Rs 400 – which should be a princely sum in those days.
It appears that Nicholas' family was well-to-do in terms of land assets and may not have had liquid resources to splurge on wedding celebrations. So, instead of 12 best men common in those days, Nicholas had only one. No cars or carts to travel by because there were only rough walking paths linking the church and bride’s and bridegroom’s houses – a round trip of 12/13 km. After the nuptial blessing in the church, the wedding party went to the bride’s house for ceremonies and lunch, than to the groom’s house for more ceremonies and a second lunch. Nicholas recalls that there were about 150 guests.
In those days serving liquor (raw without soda or water as now) to guests as they sat on the ground on folded mats to be served on plantain leaves, was common. It was poured into a metal mug from a chembu (a brass vessel) and the mug was offered to the next guests without washing. They claimed: Sorek uste na (there is no contagion in liquor). It was also customary in those days, and even much later, to leave an elderly aunt as escort in the groom’s house for three days so as to protect the innocent bride from the likely impatient groom. Celestine now says she had two escorts staying behind and she says that she knew nothing about marriage or sex until much after her wedding – but she dutifully obeyed her elders.
As sticklers for economy in celebrations, the family formally celebrated on a grand scale the 70th anniversary two years earlier to combine it with the first communion of granddaughter (Mahima) and the jubilee celebration of the nun in the family (Sr Veronica). With their children working beyond Tulunadu, the couple has visited Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kuwait.
Nicholas is active, though he speaks in a low, creaky voice. He has a wiry frame and looks after his personal needs and moves around in the house and covered outhouse using a walking stick. He hadn’t been to school because work on the vast farms became the first priority and also because education, as a passport to salaried jobs, was not a prospect in those days. Celestine had studied up to second standard and is now an avid reader of Konkani books and magazines. They no longer go to church; but the priests bring them Holy Communion and occasionally say Holy Mass at their residence.
Has divorce ever crossed their minds? It is unthinkable for the likes of Nicolas and Celestine. Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet (1803-1882) had hinted at a divorce scenario:”Is not marriage an open question, when it is alleged, from the beginning of the world, that such as are in the institution wish to get out, and such as are out, wish to get in.” For traditional Canara Catholics, the command at the nuptial ceremony is centre to marriage: “What God has joined, let no man put asunder”. Besides, in the village context, not only bride and groom marry but their two families as well. No wonder Charles Kingsley, English clergyman (1819-1875) has said: “Marriage is a lifelong miracle, the self-begetting wonder, daily fresh”.
The vintage couple sired 12 children, with all but one still alive. They have twenty one grandchildren and three greatgrandchildren. Before going further, it is notable that the per capita declining descendants reflects the changing pattern of controlled breeding and responsible parenthood. The eldest son, Joseph, is 68 and the youngest daughter, Janet, is 45. The youngest son, Michael Ex-Serviceman and now working as LIC Development Officer with office at Mulki, stays with his parents in their ancestral house. He is married to Janet, and they have three children – Melric, 10th Std; Melony, 6th Std; and Michelle 8 months. While Michelle is the apple of the eye in the household, the old couple is the centre of attention of all the rest, including one care-giver, Helen, who is devoted to the well-pickled couple.
It is apt to conclude this happy story with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, US poet (1807-1882):
For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself though in another dress
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars invisible by day.
When they look at the stars jointly as a couple, like Nicholas and Celestine do, as on the recent Supermoon night, the joy is greater. Wish them more years of wedded bliss.