“It might seem strange to kids these days, but the first time I met my husband was at the mandap of our wedding,” smiles Mukta Verma, a retired government registrar, as she narrates the story of how she found the man of dreams.
Mukta was born in a small town in Bihar. Growing up with nine siblings, resources were limited. But even at the time, her advocate father and government school teacher mother, made education a priority for their seven daughters and two sons.
Mukta was homeschooled until class five, and she joined the government secondary school in Class six.
“Our lives were very simple back then. We studied, met people, spent time with our family and listened to the radio. Travel was a luxury, and we didn’t have that kind of money either.”
Sanjeeva was the eldest of five children to a government high school teacher and a homemaker. When he married Mukta in 1985, he was a first line manager for a pharmaceutical company in Patna. He started working at a very young age and travelled almost 15 days a month.
Echoing Mukta’s words, he says, “Where we grew up there was no tradition of the couple meeting before they got married. I remember the day vividly; I had returned from a tour when my uncle and father informed me that my marriage had been finalised. When I asked, where? They said, ‘We are not supposed to inform you,’” laughs the man, who retired as an Assistant General Manager.
One of the first things, Sanjeeva, asked Mukta after their marriage was, “What are the places you have travelled?”
Mukta had only travelled to Gaya and Varanasi once. She also informed her husband that she had never owned a passport.
His quick reply was, “We have to apply for a passport because we’re going to travel the world together.”
“When my husband first told me that we would travel together, I was so happy,” she says.
Mukta and Sanjeeva have been together for more than 34 years, and their love for each other and travel has only grown stronger.
Despite their hectic schedules, where Sanjeeva was constantly touring for work and Mukta was transferred, the couple made it a point to travel to the different parts of India every six months. Initially, it was just the two of them. Eventually, their children and the entire family joined them, and their travels through eye-catching locations such as Jammu, Vaishnodevi, Kathmandu, Shimla, and many more, only added to the beautiful memories they made together.
The couple recalls a funny anecdote from their first trip to Darjeeling, which was their honeymoon.
“We were travelling in a bus. As it was raining heavily, we tried to shut the window, but landed up breaking it in the process. So, we spent the next 12 hours getting thoroughly drenched in the rain!” says Sanjeeva.
As the years passed, the couple kept ticking off more and more travel locations within the country off their list. The next big dream was to travel to Europe.
It was at the time that tragedy struck the family. Mukta was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It was in October 2005. When I went for a checkup, the doctor immediately confirmed the tumour was malignant, and the only option was to undergo a mastectomy immediately. I was shocked and didn’t know what to do,” recalls Mukta.
A mastectomy is the medical term for the surgical removal of one or both breasts.
“It was a major shock to the entire family and me. But we had to take a stand. We immediately decided to go ahead with the procedure and came to Mumbai from Patna, for her treatment,” says Sanjeeva.
Just when they thought she was out of danger, in 2016, her medical results revealed a relapse. Her body had become resistant to the drugs, and the cancer had spread to her bones, lungs, and brain. She had to undergo rigorous radiation and chemotherapy for it.
“It was the course of her treatment that made our travelling plans abroad even stronger. When I spoke to her radiologist, he appreciated the thought and encouraged us to travel.”
And so the couple’s first trip abroad was across Europe, and ever since, there has been no looking back. They have travelled to London, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy and most recently, Russia.
“We sit together mapping the places we want to visit. Once we are back from one trip, we plan the next. I saw how the first trip motivated her. I don’t think our travel plans will stop anytime soon.”
Truly the world is their oyster.
Shedding light on her favourite countries to travel, Mukta says, “I truly enjoyed walking the streets of France, Italy, and Switzerland. The architecture, the sculptures, the memorials—everything narrates the rich history and culture of these countries. It is almost as if you see the past come alive.”
From the works of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci that were way ahead of their time to the medieval cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, that was burned to the ground; she loves it all.
“The transport system in the Netherlands is awe-inspiring too. People mostly cycle there, while some use trams and buses. The streets are empty roads and pollution-free. I enjoyed visiting five colleges at Oxford University, where the main hall had photographs and canvases of scientists, philosophers, litterateurs, etc. I also loved the synergy that exists in the architectural style in London and some of the heritage buildings in India.”
When asked their secret to a happy marriage, Mukta says, “We ensured that we never got our work home. We kept our professional and personal life separate. When my husband was at work, he gave it his 100 per cent. But he never brought work pressure home. His time was dedicated to the family. Once he returned, he would be the most supportive husband and a doting father. To young couples, I say, whenever you find the time, even if you have limited resources, travel together. You needn’t travel abroad. India too has beautiful locations to explore.”
Sanjeeva signs off, “Mutual understanding is the most important value that binds a couple together. Place your family first. Ensure to make time for them. Life’s meaning lies not just in a successful career but finding mental peace too. Travel is the best teacher.”
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)