“I’m going to do something crazy”, he speaks into the microphone. “Whenever I give a speech, I always forget to mention my wife, so Neela, please come here and join me.”
A skilled storyteller, Swapan Kaku had started the speech with stories of his son, Ronnie as he staged an elaborate FaceTime appointment with his parents to introduce them to a new member of their family– not a fiancee as they were hoping for, but instead, a newly acquired puppy! The storyline was well crafted, his timing impeccable, flowing between humor and poignancy. He finished what we thought was the end of the speech with a gracious welcome to his new daughter in law.
But then, the story continues with an unexpected turn.
Neela Mashi weaves through the tables, somewhat reluctant to join him. She is not one for public speeches, and prefers being backstage.
Swapan Kaku waits for her at the back of the ballroom dance floor and faces the tables of friends, family, and friends who have been promoted to family over the 45 years he has known them. He holds the microphone in his left hand, while his right hand, quaking gently, hangs by his side.
Neela Mashi finally reaches her husband, and shifts her gaze from one point to another, as Swapan Kaku turns to face her and continue. It’s as if there aren’t 200 pairs of eyes on them, as if they are the only two in the large room.
I am wide-eyed — Bengali fathers typically share their warmth and love only in very private settings. The entire room is silent as we are vigilantly focused on this couple, married 45 years, standing face-to-face in the middle of the ballroom.
And then… he starts with the melody of a Drifters song from 1960. Our ears collectively perk up to hear every lyric, seize every emotion of what we anticipate will be greatness.
“You can dance — every dance with the guy who gives you the eye, let him hold you tight…”
Swapan Kaku serenades Neela Mashi as if he was a teenager newly in love, as if they have never faced financial challenges with his business, as if she did not receive chemo for her breast cancer, as if he never had a stroke and never heard a Parkinson’s diagnosis from his doctor.
“…You can smile — every smile for the man who held your hand beneath the pale moonlight …”
There is no music, only the sound of Swapan Kaku’s voice, and the beating of our enrapt hearts as we watch someone offer his raw self to another human being, and knowing that this is the greatest gift one can ever give to another.
“But don’t forget who’s taking you home and in whose arms you’re gonna be…”
Tears well up in eyes — women’s as well as men’s — across the room. We are aware of the good fortune we have to be witnessing this tribute to marriage at its best– as an institution supporting Love and humanity.
“So darlin’ save the last dance for me…”