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by Barbara Mather
This book is dedicated to the man who said I was his past first and his friend second. My muse ... my inspiration ... my evergreen fantasy ... Had I not met him I strongly suspect I may have gone through my entire life without writing a single line...
Table of Contents
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. How to Kiss ............................................................................................................................................ 5 Life or Death.......................................................................................................................................... 8 Just you me and a condom ................................................................................................................. 12 The Drive Back..................................................................................................................................... 15 Wasted Moves .................................................................................................................................... 17 The Arrow Did It .................................................................................................................................. 19 Breaking Up ......................................................................................................................................... 21 Losing Time ......................................................................................................................................... 23 Fortune in a Cookie ............................................................................................................................. 27 My Loss ........................................................................................................................................... 29 Archie and Betty.............................................................................................................................. 30 Amorous Liaison .............................................................................................................................. 33 The Stalker ...................................................................................................................................... 36 Those three words .......................................................................................................................... 39 The Gift............................................................................................................................................ 42 How do you know ........................................................................................................................... 45 Pragmatic Romantic ........................................................................................................................ 47 Walk the Path .................................................................................................................................. 49 A Beautiful Smile ............................................................................................................................. 51 Emotions ......................................................................................................................................... 54 If I could........................................................................................................................................... 55 Rules ................................................................................................................................................ 56 Gone But Not .................................................................................................................................. 58 Danny and I ..................................................................................................................................... 59 Hopelessly ....................................................................................................................................... 60 Movie Matinee ................................................................................................................................ 61 Doing the right thing ....................................................................................................................... 63 Of Love and Luck ............................................................................................................................. 66 Our equations ................................................................................................................................. 69 To have and to hold ........................................................................................................................ 71
1. How to Kiss
“You are a bad kisser.” I stared blankly at the black Times New Roman letters staring at me from the white background of the email message I had just received and did not understand why it felt as if those words had actually been cast in stone. Engraved almost, they felt unchangeable, immutable as if a divine proclamation had been pronounced upon me. I sat frozen, unable to pull my eyes away from the screen and as the realization of the meaning dawned on me, I felt unsure whether I wanted to burst out laughing or scream out howling in pain. I wish I had chosen the former. In any case I controlled myself. I got up, closed the offensive message, took a short walk and said to myself, “Breathe, damn you”. I did. In two minutes, I was back at my desk, keyboard in front of me, the reply button clicked. But my fingers would not move. My mind would not think. I knew only one thing. That the reaction this email was meant to provoke should not show in my reply. That I should do the exact opposite of what he had intended for me to do. I replied slowly, cautiously, meticulously going over each word so that I could at least sound dignified. “That explains a lot” I wrote back and proceeded to compliment my ex boyfriend on his kissing abilities highlighting the fact that the only thing I felt now was embarrassment that I had not realized this at that time itself when our lips had been so busily interlocked with each other. But then that had been a different time. A different place. A different feeling. I’d been so much in love. He had leaned over towards me one night and said shyly into my ear, “I want to kiss you”. And I had kissed him openly, lovingly without the slightest thought of how I was kissing him. I remembered it fondly as the most passionate kiss I’d had in my entire life. The thought brought a smile to my face. Then tears. I knew it would be months before I could see the humor in this one. I didn’t wait for his reply. I thought there wouldn’t be any. But he must’ve thought that he too would do the opposite of what I expected. His mail contained four short lines the next day. A question, an apology, a clarification (as if he needed to justify his remark) and a patronizing remark. “What does it explain? I didn’t mean to be rude. But your technique is all wrong. I hope you’ve improved since then.” I could reply no longer. I spent hours going to dozens of websites trying to figure out what was
wrong with my technique. At one site in particular, I read the words, “There is really no bad way to kiss,” and I sent a mail to the Webmaster saying, “Ya that shows just about how much you know”. A week later I found myself deep in discussion with my girlfriends over the different methodologies that could be employed and also asked them what their respective boyfriend’s said about their style. I wasn’t surprised to hear that each had been complimented on it. “So it’s just me”, I thought to myself and jumped deeper into unraveling the mysteries of the kiss. It was almost an obsession. I would talk to anyone I could, read shady books and even search the net while trying to stay away from pornography sites. It’s truly amazing the kind of sites that pop up on google when you dare to type a word such as ‘kissing’ in the search box. Nevertheless, my quest continued for several days at the end of which I could probably have listed at least seven different techniques, but would not have been able to implement even one effectively. It was time to practice. He was the quintessential boy next door and he’d had a crush on me since sixth grade. He’d been my best friend all through college. “Perfect”, I thought to myself as I ran to ring his doorbell and flashing my eyelashes in as flirtatious a manner possible, I asked him out on a walk with me. I explained briefly what I wanted to do and why and he seemed remarkably open to the idea. I guess he really didn’t have anything to lose. I put all my learning, into that one short kiss and when I finally stepped back and asked him, “Well?” He was almost reeling over. “Amazing” was all he could muster. The poor guy didn’t realize then that it would have been more to his benefit to tell me that I needed more practice. In any case, I felt satisfied. I thanked him and went off to reply to an email that had been lying in my Inbox for over a month. “I’ve worked on it. You need to give me another try”. I pressed Send. It was months before I finally met him again. I’d almost forgotten the entire episode as we laughed and chatted, enjoying each other’s company. We’d remained close friends so it was easy to talk about old times and good memories. Until he reached out, held my hand and smiled at me. “This is the moment”, I thought to myself. I don’t think I’d put in that much effort in my college exams, but there I was, with the man I had always been in love with, giving it all I’d got. He pulled away first. “I’m impressed”, he said smiling, and he kissed me again. I was so pleased that night that I called my closest friend and told her proudly that he’d liked it. “That’s great”, she said to me and asked cheerfully “How was it for you?”
That’s when it struck me. I had no reply. It was terrible for me. Too much effort, too much anxiety and way too much pressure. It was like a bulb going off in my mind at that moment when I realized that it was awful because it’s not how you kiss, but how you feel when you kiss. I burst out laughing. “What’s the matter?” she asked me. “Nothing”, I replied still chuckling at my wasted hours, “I finally see the humor in it.”
2. Life or Death
I’m depressed. Depressed about the way I’m leading my life, the person I’ve become and all the things I lost along the way. I‘m depressed because this was not how I had planned it to be. When I was 15, I had my life all clearly charted out in front of me. Post graduate by 21, married by 25, kids by 30, a senior management position by 35, a house by 40, Executive Vice President by 45, several million in the bank by 50, a first class world tour ticket by 55, grandkids by 60, retire by 65, dead by 70. It seemed so easy and also so perfect. Except for the mid-life crisis, which of course no fifteen year old would ever bother to cater for. So here I am. Thirty-five. Slightly balding, dangerously overweight, stressed out at work, two kids and a nagging wife at home who ensure that home isn’t the place I go to, to relax. To add to the senior management position I have at work, I also have the Man Friday position at home. The geyser’s broken, the electricity bill has to be paid, pollution check for the cars, admission for the kids and let me dare not forget - a birthday gift for the wife. “Why doesn’t she just pick up something frightfully expensive and charge it to my credit card?” I wonder. “What’s this blasted concept about give me a meaningful surprise gift? We’ve been married for 10 years damn it. What can be more meaningful than that?” I sometimes think that I got it all too early. The perfect arranged wedding, twin sons by the second year of marriage, a great job with an MNC where I’ve been identified as a high potential resource. What is left now for me to struggle or aim for? I’m already on the right track as far as all my ambitions and plans are concerned. Stop right there, my friend. Wasn’t there also a plan to be a happy and content human being? Wasn’t there also a plan to be smiling and cheerful and to end each day as happily as I had started it? Darn the mind. It has this terrible habit of always managing to show both sides of the coin. As I go through life as a robot, performing all the tasks and duties expected of me, I realize that I hate each day. Hate the sunrise; hate the sunset and all the miserable hours in between. The micro level picture stinks. The macro level however is picture perfect. Last month was the closing of a successful business deal in Singapore. Next month is a family vacation to London and Scotland. Next year the construction of my house would be completed (I’m running a few years early). I really can’t decide whether I have it all, or nothing at all. I contemplate suicide. Life has become tedious, where every year adds to CV value and family status but adds not an iota to my self. I am growing on paper, but am not growing as a person. Gone are the days when one could just lie around and read a book, or stretch out on the lawn and eat peanuts all day long. Now are the days when sleep itself has become a scare commodity and lying on the lawn would only result in my wife calling out to remind me that the gardener hasn’t come in for a week.
But suicide would result in a lot of problems for my family whom I love dearly. The shock, social stigma and of course the loss of the provider to the family would be much too harsh on them. “Maybe I should contract someone and get myself murdered,” I think to myself. “That way my family will get millions in insurance money and it will look like a terrible tragedy to the rest of the world.” Win-Win. My mind was made up. I spoke to some truck drivers and by their reference went out and found a guy called Sunny Baba. His mustache was scary enough to put the fear of God in me as he stared at me with his bloodshot eyes. “So you are giving me 150,000 bucks to get yourself killed?” he asked with less surprise than I had expected. “Yes”, I replied. “ I ask only that you shoot me in the head at point blank range, and on a Thursday that way I can avoid the weekly staff meeting. I’ll give you 75,000 now and the rest you can recover from my car after shooting me.” “Pardon my asking,” said Sunny Baba’s thin scrawny sidekick, “but wouldn’t it be easier for you to quit your job and divorce your wife?” “Hell, no” I exclaimed “What would people think of me if I did that?” “It’s really much easier this way”, I added as an afterthought. Luckily Sunny Baba didn’t care too much about who he knocked off as long as he was making some moolah. The deal sealed, I came back home and began to do all the things I wanted to do before I died. I put all the property, insurance and bank papers into a file and showed my wife where they were kept, I took three days off work and spent time with my kids, walked the dog, and surprised my parents with gifts. I even called up a really old ex girlfriend who I hadn’t had the nerve to call for years and was surprised at how happy I was to hear that she’d settled well and was happy, now living in the UK. I felt that I was ready to say goodbye. I wore my favorite shirt, put on extra cologne and took extra long to hug my wife and kids before leaving the house. As I pulled my silver Honda Accord out of the driveway, I began to get cold feet. My life went into flashback mode as I remembered holding my sons for the very first time, the romantic honeymoon I’d had with my wife in Kathmandu and even the employee of the year award I had received when I was younger. “This whole thing is ridiculous”, I said to myself and drove the car back into the house, deciding that I’d just call the whole thing off the moment I get home. Just then, my wife began to scream from the balcony. “Arjun’s fallen off the chair and his nose is bleeding. Thank God you’re still here. We need to rush him to the hospital.” I was in a daze as we lifted Arjun up and put him on the back seat of the car. I began driving to the hospital and
was completely unaware that I was now standing at the very intersection that Sunny Baba and I had decided on for the event. “Keep your windows up,” I said to my wife scared now at the very prospect of what may happen. “I’ll tell him that he can keep the money – I didn’t want it back as long as he left me alone.” My eyes darted left and right as my mind looked for all possible ways to get out of the situation. “The light’s turned green. What the hell are you waiting for?” she began anxiously. Nothing I realized as I drove on. What happened? Where was he? It was Thursday wasn’t it? How come he wasn’t there at the predetermined spot? I drove on in fear - some for my life and some for Arjun’s nose and how my wife would get to hospital if I died, because she couldn’t drive. “He’ll be alright” the doctor said reassuringly as we stood outside the examination room. “Here’s the prescription”, he continued, “Keep the bandage on for the rest of the day”. The moment relief set in, my wife then started a long tirade of how the kids should be more careful, how naughty they’d become, how she’d told me to move the sharp cornered table out of their room and I hadn’t. Somehow it was always my fault. But I was hardly listening as I started the car. It wouldn’t start. “What happened?” she asked, looking over from my left. “I don’t know”, I replied bewildered at what could be wrong with the car which was running so beautifully just minutes ago. Something hard smashed against my window and the next thing I knew, a hand came at my throat and gripped me tightly as millions of tiny pieces of glass fell on my head. ”Sunny Baba, No …” I began between gasps for breath. It wasn’t Sunny Baba. I could hear my wife screaming and Arjun crying in the background as I tried to explain to my assailant that the deal was off and he could take what he wanted. He dragged me out of the car and kicked me twice in the stomach. The punch I felt on my face was followed by blood oozing out of my mouth. I kept telling the man to stop. He didn’t. He grabbed my collar and pulled me up. As I knelt before him, he pulled a revolver out of his pocket and placed the cold steel against my forehead. It was the most fear I had ever known. Point blank range, I remembered I had said. I closed my eyes and waited for the shot. It came. But not on my forehead. It grazed past my arm and I held onto it in agony as the man turned and ran away and I could see my blood flowing out of my body. My first and last thought before I fell over unconscious was that I was really lucky all this had happened outside a hospital because my wife couldn’t have driven me to one. I took two weeks to recuperate in that very hospital and was visited by friends, family and colleagues – even those who didn’t care much for me. I was amazed at how many people I seemed to know and how many of them turned up. I felt thankful for the affection and attention.
“There’s a thin man here to see you”, my wife said one day “I’ve never seen him before, but he says he’s an old friend.” “Has he brought flowers or chocolates?” I asked my wife, laughing “He’s brought good wishes,” replied the scrawny sidekick letting himself into the room. I ordered my wife out and asked him gruffly what he wanted. “Your guy already took the other 75K.” I reminded him. “Baba wants an additional 150,000” he said with a smile. “He figured you’d pay more for your life, than you would for your death.” The bastard, I thought to myself, as I wrote out a cheque for an additional one fifty grand.
3. Just you me and a condom
“You know what all this is, don’t you?” he asked me, all too seriously one day. “What?” The words everlasting love, soul mates and unending romance popped into my mind. “All this is maya … lust,” he stated candidly. “Is it a bad thing that I lust for you?” I asked, my fingers crossed. “Lust for anyone is bad”, he proclaimed. lust (noun): An intense or unrestrained sexual craving. I would’ve thought he’d be flattered, but no such luck. Whatever society can’t understand, control or appreciate, is deemed bad, taboo, wrong, to be stopped and kept in check and this idea is engraved all too deeply in many a Indian mind. “Put all your morality aside for a second”, I told him earnestly. “Then would you sleep with me?” “I’ll be honest. It’s a tempting thought, but no.” “Why?” I wouldn’t let him off so easily. “The consequences wouldn’t be worth it. I just couldn’t do that to Mike”. Mike (my ex-boyfriend): A very nice, friendly, good human being. Unfortunately, we had no chemistry. Mike’s best friend and I on the other hand shared a bit too much chemistry and to add to the complexity of the situation, Mike still harbored feelings for me. “You know what people do to each other?” he continued. “What?” I listened attentively. “They use each other to satisfy their senses. But one must control one’s senses”. “Why should you control it? Don’t you love me?” I asked, looking for my silver lining. “I do not love you”, he replied without hesitation. “Then what was it you felt for me that night?” I had tears now in my eyes. That night (mutually understood code word): It stood for the one night of intimacy that did not finally (for better or worse is debatable) end in sex. References to that incident were made by both of us all too frequently as we grappled to come to terms with what it truly meant to us as individuals and what we meant also to each other. “It was a mistake. My body just took over my mind.” He was at least clear where he stood in this entire mess. “How can you say that? Do you regret it?” I was grasping, now. “Sometimes I do.” “But it was so amazing!” I exclaimed, still unbelieving. “Good for you,” he shrugged. Good for you (phrase): Used frequently by him to undermine any enjoyment that he may have
had in our relationship and to highlight his indifference to any suggestion that what we had may be even remotely special. “So what am I to you?” I asked him hoping to hear anything other than the word ‘friend’. “A friend” he replied. He never gave ‘right’ answers. “And you want us to just put all that we felt behind us?” “It’s better that way. We can be friends if we don’t have this stuff between us.” “But you mean the world to me.” “I don’t mean anything. I’m nobody. All this is just an illusion”, he said, exasperated. Sometimes I wondered if he thought that I was on the rebound and didn’t appreciate the idea. rebound (verb): To recover as from depression or disappointment. Just getting out of one relationship and into another often undermines the depth of the new relationship lest it have occurred only because the person was let down by the first one. “Too bad you feel that way”, I said trying to make light of a somewhat heavy situation. “I think you and I would’ve been great together.” “Don’t tell me you still want to …. What was it that I did to you anyway?” he seemed pleasantly surprised. “Ah the heart wants what it wants … there’s no explaining these things … who was it who said that? Woody Allen, I think”. I tried to sound cheerful, now. “Take some time … figure out what you want”, he said gently. “I know what I want”, I replied very sure of myself. “What?” he queried, as if he didn’t know. “I want to have a relationship with you.” “What kind of relationship?” he asked, curious. “Sexual?” “We can start with that”, I said, winking. “I just don’t understand you”, he said waving the suggestion away. “Do you think people fall in love first then have sex or have sex first and then fall in love?” “I wish I knew”. He was smiling now. love (noun – in this context): A feeling of intense desire or attraction toward a person with whom one is disposed to make a pair; the emotion of sex and romance. We were stuck now in a deadlock, with me being completely sure that I was head over heels in love with him and he being equally sure that though he felt something, it certainly wasn’t love. Unfortunately neither is there a clear definition, nor consistent symptoms and hence therefore, no conclusions either. “Anyway”, he said, continuing. “You lost your chance.” “I know. You sure opportunity isn’t going to knock twice?” “What would you do if it did?” he asked a naughty smile emerging on his face. “Keep a condom handy.” “What?” he said scandalized. “That’s all we need right? Just you, me and a condom.” I was enjoying, myself now. “You’re crazy”
“So I’ve been told.” crazy (adjective – informally in this context): Immoderately fond; infatuated. Intensely involved or preoccupied. Foolish or impractical. He was right. At that moment, I was all of these and more. “I’ve never met anyone like you”, he shook his head in disbelief. “Careful, you’re on the verge of being nice to me”, I teased him. “You’re messing with my mind.” “Nah. Just want you to give it a chance” “It all just happened too fast.” He was speaking softly now. “Is there ever a perfect time?” “I’m not ready. I can’t say yes.” “As long as you don’t say no …” “All this-“ “Maya?” I cut him off. “Darn it, yes.” maya (noun – Hinduism): The power of a god or demon to transform a concept into an element of the sensible world. I don’t know if I’m the God or the Demon in this context. I only know that he, me and a condom … it just sounds perfectly sensible to me.
Definitions courtesy www.dictionary.com
4. The Drive Back
It’s the drive back that I hate most. Like most Indians who come to the US first on H1’s then slowly manage their Green Cards, I too bought a silver Honda Civic. “How typical”, my friends back home would say. But I don’t care. It’s typical because it’s the best choice and well, so many Indians couldn’t be wrong. The leather seating is nice, so is the music system. The automatic transition is comfortable and so are the six lane highways. And yet, it’s the drive back that I hate most. It always starts the same way. After all I take the same route at the same time and tune into the same FM channel every single day. As I drive back on the Interstate highway towards the small town where I live, I know that in my comfort zone, things remain the same. But in my mind, there is no comfort zone. It quickly starts to wander, taking me back a couple of years … When there were two of us. She sat beside me talking constantly about things. Some I cared about, some I didn’t. But I always listened. I liked hearing her blabber on and on - it was her vivacity that I loved most. Her interest and opinion on anything and everything and her determination to make it heard. It was her voice that I adored. Talking to me, asking me, being with me every step of the way. And yet when I turn and look now to my right, there’s nothing but an empty seat. And memories. Many, many memories. A fleeting moment enters my mind. “I just don’t believe in all this astrology stuff. It’s nonsense.” And I looked at her and said, “These things are true. I’ve experienced so much of it in my life.” “Ya, after wasting hundreds of dollars on phone calls to guru’s, you would have. How can you live your life based on what some horoscope reader says? The way I see it it’s a lose – lose situation. If it turns out right, you’ll be superstitious forever. If it turns out wrong then anyway there was no point so why start it in the first place?” There was no convincing her. And I never even felt the need to. I just smiled and listened on to another 15 minutes of this is ridiculous and that is useless. She was different from me, different in perspective, different in attitude; different even in the way she spoke. And yet, she was wonderful. It’s at that point that a smile always crosses my face. She really was wonderful, and we had many good times. Eating, partying, watching movies, just hanging out – plain simple everyday stuff which never seemed to be plain when we were together. The smile grows wider as the memory continues.
“I have a surprise for you”. “I don’t like surprises.” “Ok then maybe I should just wait for you to find out for yourself.” “Hey are you going to tell me or not?” “It’s a good surprise.” “Tell me or I’ll have to come and pull it out of you.” “Ok. I bought you a year’s subscription to your favorite astrology magazine. Now it’ll be delivered to your doorstep and you won’t have to go hunting for it at bookstores.” “You’re crazy.” “So I’ve been told.” I was touched and amazed at the same moment. And that was how it was with everything she did. She’d playfully come and ask me ever so often if my horoscope said that today was the day I’d find the girl of my dreams. She’d hold my palm and tell me that she could read it and that it said I’d soon be falling in love. And she was right, because I was. Why didn’t I tell her? Why did I just let her leave? Why did I never try? It’s at this point that the smile leaves and the solemnness sets in. Then the debate begins. Should I have, if I had, what if she had, maybe this and maybe that … too many questions and not a single answer. My mind takes me back and leaves me there. I wriggle and struggle with the often-repeated questions that constantly throw doubts on my decision. And I know that I have regrets. For the missed opportunities, for the fact I will never know what could have been and regrets too that my mind is still not fully convinced that I made the right choice. The road sign says my exit is up next. My mind looks for an exit but can’t find one. My heartache continues, for I am caught in a time warp where every memory can take me from a smile to a tear. Every blissful memory is a bitter one in disguise. And I know that it is true that love is simply the hangover left over from the binge of falling in love. I am more tired now than I was when I left the office. For that was just a day’s work whereas this is the misery of a lifetime. And as I park my car and close the door behind me, I am relieved that am home. Home where I am once again in my comfort zone, for I have chores to do, TV to watch, a meal to cook and friends to talk to. For my life is full and hectic and happy in all ways but one. The drive back that I hate most.
5. Wasted Moves
“Why does he fight his most difficult battle against the woman he loves?” a question posed by the black back cover of Ayn Rand’s masterpiece “Atlas Shrugged” referring to John Galt’s quest to destroy the person he loves most – Dagny Taggart because she did not share his belief on how this life should be lived and neither did he share hers. Why indeed, I wondered as I pulled myself up briskly, pushed back my shoulders and looked him squarely in the eyes, as I braced myself for what was inevitably about to erupt into a gargantuan fight. “Leave me alone”, he said without blinking, the anger in his eyes creating tiny flames of red emerging from the lower eyelid and moving upwards towards his pupils in a manner indicative of wrath overcoming his entire body. “I can’t do that”, I replied as clearly and calmly as I could muster without allowing him to hear the decibel level that my heartbeat had reached. I looked at him silently while he pondered his next move. He looked tired. He looked lonely. He looked unhappy. Nope, I reassured myself, it isn’t time to leave him yet. “Why don’t you understand?” he pleaded. “Why don’t you explain it to me?” I prodded. “I don’t owe you an explanation”, he replied defiantly. “You have never given me an explanation. Maybe it’s time for one now.” I wasn’t backing down. Had I understood the intricacies of chess, I would no doubt had realized at this point that my black queen was close to being evicted from the virtual black and white chess board that served as living room of the modest apartment we’d shared for the last six months. In chess, it’s called wasted movies i.e. any move that does nothing to strengthen your position. As far as I could understand of today’s outburst, I assumed he believed himself to be a victim of over affection and I was the perpetuator of such clinging-ness that he was no doubt beginning to feel claustrophobic in our two-bedroom three thousand square feet sea facing condominium. Had I said too much and done too little? Or had he assumed too much and cared too little? Had I made an elephantine mistake or was he just looking for an excuse? It is indeed true that along with beauty, the entire perception of a person’s personality and intentions lies wholly in the eyes of the beholder. And my beholder’s eyes now red with frustration and annoyance seemed at that moment to be painting anything but a pretty picture. What followed therewith was an extended monologue on all my faults and mistakes and all the reasons, which made me anything but a suitable
partner for him, in his life. Not to be left behind, I followed it up with an even longer list of justifications, counter allegations and emotional manifestations of my misery that he was forced to pause for a second as if in realization that neither of us was actually listening to the other. We were both tired. We were both hurt. We’d both said our piece and as expected, the words were rendered fruitless. It was time for him to make his move. “It’s over,” he said quietly. “I don’t want to talk to you again.” I stood facing him in complete anguish unsure of whether to call his bluff and let him go or beg him to stay. It was my last chance. “I can’t live without you.” I said equally quietly. That’s checkmate i.e. to attack the opponent's king in such a way that it cannot escape. Note that the king is never actually captured. The inability to escape from attack is what constitutes checkmate. And I wanted nothing more in that instant than to be able to hold onto him. “You need help and I can’t give it to you.” He was losing his patience now. “Don’t do this. I love you”. I reached for his hand as if hoping to remind him of all the times he’d held onto it so tenderly as if it were the most precious thing in the world, to him. Check i.e. any attack by a piece directly on a king. When a king is checked it must immediately get out of check. He pulled his hand away and shook his head remorsefully. “I hope I don’t hear from you again”, he said, exasperated and then moved towards the door, retrieved his coat and proceeded to walk out of my home and my life, a gesture that he knew without doubt was for me, nothing short of my worst nightmare. The game was over and as I screamed “You will hear from me” at the non responsive back of the white king’s piece moving away from the now desolate chess board, I had a sudden sinking feeling that it was I who had lost the match. What went on in his mind after he slammed the door and pushed the elevator button, I will never know. What went on in my mind after he slammed the door and I collapsed onto the floor is a sensation I shudder to remember and fervently hope I never experience again. They say there are three steps to getting over someone. Denial followed by anger and then finally acceptance. They don’t say how long each takes. I never stopped calling him. He never started returning my calls. In the case of stalemate, the king is not in check and has no legal moves. Why? There is no answer. It’s just a hopeless game people play.
6. The Arrow Did It
I never felt his arrow strike. It was an absolutely ordinary day in my ordinary life. Neither too hot, nor too cold. I was neither too busy, nor too relaxed. Neither happy, nor sad. My colleagues and I were gathered around my cubicle, contemplating going for a movie that night. Somewhere in the heavens, Cupid was busy shining his arrow. “A little bit of gold dust, a dash of angel powder … Ah it’s almost ready,” he said to himself. Then he picked up the love brush that lay beside him, a gift from his mother Aphrodite, and wrote out the seven-letter name with bold strokes on the arrow. “All set for today” he thought to himself, his impish smile betraying the mischief he was up to. I was never introduced to him, but I was aware of his presence. My boss had called him down to help me out with some configuration settings on my machine. I sat and followed his instructions, but I wasn’t fast enough for him. “Mind if I drive for a while?” he asked and without waiting for a reply, took control of the mouse and keyboard. I sat patiently by his side, watching. Cupid took aim. “Must get it absolutely right, the first time”, he said to himself. Twang!! He released the arrow from his bow and watched it glide downwards from the heavens, slowly at first then faster as it made its way towards the Earth. “So you’re coming for the movie?” he asked me. “No” I replied. “Why not?” he queried. It was a question I wasn’t prepared for. Well, I don’t know you and your friends was what I wanted to say. “Generally” was what came out, instead. “That’s not a good reason at all,” he said softly, still looking straight into the monitor while tinkering with my machine settings. The arrow was gaining speed. It cut through the clouds creating a silver path of light behind it, which illuminated the bright blue sky. He turned to face me, caught my gaze and held it. Our first eye contact. Then he arched his eyebrows, looked straight into my soul and said, “I don’t mind”. Zonk. The arrow went straight through my heart and I never knew what hit me. He’d turned away but I was still staring. Was he just flirting, I asked myself? Did he want me to go? Why was I so nervous all of a sudden? The only person who knew the answers to that was watching from a far away place.
“Through for the day”, he snickered as he wrote down the two names in his diary. I was still in a daze. I went for the movie, but didn’t follow it. We all went to a diner for dinner. I couldn’t eat. I laughed at the chatter but couldn’t speak. All I did was smile. A smile that originated from where the arrow had struck and grew in intensity as it moved towards my lips. A smile that put a glow on my face and exhilarated my soul. A smile that I took to bed and woke up with, in the morning. The sky was blue the trees were green, yet I had not seen their beauty the day before. Meanwhile Cupid was shining another arrow. Another name, another life, another day. For him the ritual was unchanged. I followed him around like a love-struck puppy for a few months. Was a passionate lover for a short while, until the green-eyed monster caught up with me. Next came the phase of the heart broken romantic – still waiting, still hoping. How many more phases are there? Haven’t I seen all the hues of love already? The only person who knows the answers is watching from a far away place. When I get up there, I’m going to take this up with the management. The winged child should not be allowed to fire a single arrow. For when he fires two together he creates joy and happiness. But when he fires one, he puts a little bit of sadness in along with the love. No, no day would ever be ordinary again.
7. Breaking Up
“Let’s just be friends” The worst and yet the most common line in the history of break-ups, and it was coming my way. “No, we can’t just be friends,” I wanted to say. “We’ve been through so much together and knowing how I still feel about you how can you even suggest such a thing.” was what was on my mind. “Sure.” was what I said, instead. There were two inherent reasons for my choosing to go along with him, at the time, other than the fact that it was the best one word response I could think of at the time. First, of course, the gravity of the situation escaped me at that moment and friends I felt was a loose enough term to suggest that we would be keeping in touch, though about what I did not dare to question at that point. Second and more importantly, I felt that something was better than nothing and if I said no, now, I was likely to lose him entirely. Yes, saying yes was surely the right way to go. Now, the very concept of friends who were previously in a relationship needs to be more clearly defined. If we go out together, would it be a date or would we be hanging out? How often can I expect to hear from him now that relationship rights have been revoked and yes of course the most important of all – how am I expected to react if he tells me about or introduces me to his new girlfriend? Complex situations, which require simple answers. No, this may not quite have been the right way to go. My distress was compounded further by the fact that every time we spoke, he would not only bring up the past, but discuss it at length and create issues about things that were in effect no longer relevant. Analysis paralysis I believe it’s called. On top of all this, I wasn’t quite getting the hang of “chilling” on the relationship that, of course was now a friendship and I found myself too worried, too hassled and too involved in the things he said and did. Dear oh dear, this is certainly not turning out to be the right way to go. Distress morphed into desperation as we began drifting apart. No wait a second. He was the one drifting and I was the one holding on. “Why haven’t you been replying to my mails?” I pestered, one day “I’ve been busy.” He replied matter-of-factly. “Too busy to send me back even a one liner?” I snapped
Oops, was there a line somewhere there that I had just stepped over? By the look on his face, I’d say there probably was. The lines were hazy, the rules unwritten and the mistakes were piling up. I don’t think this had been the right way to go. Its anguish when the final bombshell drops and lo and behold, there’s someone else in his life. He gives the news calmly, and waits for the expected response of - “I’m so happy for you.” Tears filled up my eyes, pain takes over my heart and yet I say the words expected of me. “That’s great news. I’m so happy for you.” And when it finally sinks in that I’m really not that happy for him, I realize that I never really wanted to be friends either. I already had enough friends, I recollected. But with him, I had always had more than friendship on my mind. Yes, now I’m sure it had been the wrong way to go. There are broadly two schools of thought as far as handling break ups are concerned. One believes that a clean break should be made. Make a decision, say your goodbyes and then snap, cut all ties in one quick motion and never look back at your past. The other school of thought believes that a gradual severance of ties makes for a smoother transition phase that eases the pain somewhat. I believe that the breaker is always part of the first school whereas the breakee is part of the second. The reason is simple. The breaker wants to move on while the breakee wants to hold on. To some little hope or thread or illusion. The breaker accepts the pain, the breakee delays it. And then of course there are those breakers who simply don’t know how to break up, so they end with either a “Let’s be friends” or “I’ll give you a call sometime.” In any case, if you do have to break up, what is a good way to go? Can a guy and girl who’ve had a relationship actually still be friends or even want to be friends? Now this essentially depends upon the feelings of both at the time of breakup. If it was mutual, then maybe they could be friends. But then, whether a breakup could actually ever be mutual is a debate in itself. However if one still has feelings for the other, rest assured that friendship might work but only at the cost of some major heartache for at least one of the two. Breaking up is hard to do For you loved me and I loved you. Holding on is harder still For you are drifting as I stand still. But saying goodbye is by far the worst For its only in the end that it truly hurts.
8. Losing Time
The pounding in my head grew louder and louder as I struggled to lean over and reach for the edge of the park bench, to hold onto it and steady myself lest I fall over in the excruciating pain of the moment. The voice of my heart though usually clear and precise was dimming and I could hear it only in the distance, screaming in agony for help. But the words did not reach my lips. I could feel a curtain of blackness moving in from the back of my head, moving swiftly towards the front, to cover my eyes, shut the lids and take away any semblance of control I had over my body. I remembered neither the fall nor the grip of the strong hands that went around my waist to break the fall. I remembered neither the cause nor my savior of the moment. I only heard about it later from those who had witnessed the extraordinary scene at the park where I had been jogging. "Amnesia", proclaimed the doctor who walked in half smiling, half frowning when he saw me sitting anxiously on the hospital bed, propped up by several pillows, talking to the nurse who was explaining at length how I had gotten there. He proceeded to give me a detailed analysis of the temporary medical condition that had been inflicted on me and also went on to confirm that neither he, nor he expected, I, knew who I was. There wasn't any identification available on me and all he managed to offer was "You probably live somewhere close to that park. That would be a good place to start." I was bewildered, shocked and angry all at the same moment. I couldn't believe it had happened to me. What was I supposed to do, now? Walk around like a Jane Doe and hope that someone would recognize me? Fear and confusion began to wreak havoc in my mind and I fell asleep praying that it would all be over when I woke up. "It’s all over", the nurse who'd become my oldest friend told me while laying a soothing hand over my forehead to push back the stray strands of hair. "Is it?" I asked, not sure what she meant. Four people walked into the room at that instant, all relieved to see me. I was introduced to my parents, my husband and my four-year-old son. All four faces watched me hoping to see a flicker of recognition. I recognized nothing. I felt nothing. They wept, they laughed, they told me how dear I was to them and how glad they were to find that I was all right. I felt worse. In the morning I was alone, wondering who I was. In the afternoon, I was still alone even though I'd been told who I was. The months that followed were terrible on all of us as I grappled to come to terms with what I was and what my life was like. I was told that I was a housewife and that I took great care of my family and my home. I asked my parents if there was something else that I had wanted to be. They said that I was perfectly happy as far as they knew doing exactly what I had been doing. I
asked my husband what my hobbies and pastimes were. He could not recollect anything significant. I asked my son what we would do together in the evenings and he replied that I would watch him play on the swings. I was told about my life as if someone were reading out my resume. I was a graduate in English from a reputed college but I hadn't pursued my education further as I had gotten married right after graduating. I liked to cook, watch movies and read books. It all sounded so general. Like it could've been attributed to anyone. It just didn't seem to be me. And nobody seemed to be able to explain me to me. It had been three months since my condition when I decided I wanted to do more with my life. I wanted to go back to school, I explained to my husband one afternoon. "What do you need to study further for?" he asked me, surprised "It’s not as if you need to work." With forced gentle patience I managed to convince him that I wanted to learn not work, and that I needed to do it to find myself again. That summer, I joined a certificate program in journalism. Not one of the best schools, but located close enough to my place to allow me the freedom to balance both my home life and my school life. And that was where I met him. He was the brightest student in class and a couple of years younger to me. When the entire class was asked to state their reasons for taking the course, he’d said, “To write … the truth, the reasons and the consequences”. And I’d said, “To find something in myself … a goal … a dream”. We spoke often. Over assignments and class birthday celebrations and soon even over a cup of coffee. He never seemed to bother me with personal questions about my life, which I never felt comfortable explaining to anyone anyway. It was always a, "Did you read that article on female infanticide the other day?" or something like, "What do you think about the selling parts of bodies from the morgue scam?" And I realized that I looked forward to those discussions more than anything else. Those were the moments when I had no pressure of who or what I was supposed to be, or act like. Those were the moments I felt light hearted and young and free. And they were by far the happiest as well. I did soon begin to figure myself out. I liked cycling along the dirt track that ran through the huge conservation area that formed part of the green belt of my school. I liked humming old Simon and Garfunkel songs in the shower. I liked chocolates and pastries above all other food and I rarely cooked. My family began to figure me out as well. A totally different me, according to my husband who remained bewildered yet understanding about the changes I was going through. The problem of course, was that the new me was almost certainly in love with someone else. A
difficult, somewhat impossible and definitely strange situation was unfolding in front of my eyes, where the me of today, here and now sat laughing under a huge banyan tree with my classmates as we rushed to complete our homework for the day, and the me of the years gone by smiled cheerfully at me through the pages of our photo albums that showed my husband and me cuddling in the streets of Venice or laughing over fries and coke at a roadside café in Paris. I was now living two separate lives. One that I was bound to by a past, a commitment a decision that I had made. And one that I wanted to have, dreamt of and hoped for each day. “If only I could go back”, I thought … but you can’t go back in time. “If only I could start again”, I hoped … but you can’t relive your life. There's no denying it. If there's one thing you can never get back in life, its time. And I was learning this the hard way. Everyday I waited for the moment when I'd see an old photograph, hear a special song or phrase that would remind me instantly of all the things I'd forgotten. Or maybe I'd suffer a second collapse, a bump on the head or a fall from the stairs that would instantly bring it all back. Not just the memories, but more so the feelings that I'd had. I wondered if I'd remember then all that I felt now. I wondered if I would be able to merge into one what I felt then and what I felt now. And every day I hoped less and less that that moment would come. It was my graduation day, at the end of the year and we stood next to each other, posing for the class photograph. After the obligatory hugs, congratulations and shaking of dozens of hands, I found a quiet moment by his side. "So, where do you go from here?" I asked. “I’ve got it all worked out”, he said cheerfully and proceeded to tell me all about his grand plans for moving out of our small town and into the city, the jobs he'd applied for and the offers he was likely to get, the work he'd do and the life he'd live. It was a beautiful sight – his vision of what lay ahead. He spoke of it like a lover caressing his beloved. He spoke of dreams and plans and hope and determination. I wondered then if I had also planned it all out, if I was actually living the way I had planned to. Had I fulfilled my dreams or lost them? "What about you?" he broke into my thoughts, “Found your dream?” "Only to realize that it will always remain one", I replied solemnly. “Why should it?” “Some things are better left that way” I shrugged, remembering only too well all the obligations that I could not walk away from. “You know what’s more important than fulfilling your dream?” Before I could answer, he added, “ Finding a new one to chase.”
“What if I lost my way halfway through that dream and didn’t remember anymore where I was headed?” “If you don’t remember it anymore, it isn’t your dream anymore. People change. Dreams change” “Don’t you think I should go back and find it?” “No. You should go forward and find it.” He smiled and walked away to join another group of friends. I closed my eyes slowly as I watched him walk down a path that was opposite to the direction of mine. That is the only snapshot I have, of his. Over the next year I slowly began to remember all that was so obviously a part of my life. Everything had been so set so streamlined so proper. It may have continued that way forever. And yet it was different now. Neither better nor worse. Just different. I had taken up a job with a monthly women’s magazine and traveled for an hour everyday from the city back home to my family who’d endured all the changes I’d gone through, patiently, quietly. When I watch my son play now on the swings in the park near my house, I do not blame time. For it wasn’t the time I’d lost that changed me. It was the time I’d found and the new person it found within me.
9. Fortune in a Cookie
“An unexpected relationship will become permanent”. The message from inside the fortune cookie stared me in the face and I stared back, first at the broken cookie, then at the scroll-type message within, and finally at the man seated opposite me on the table. Was it an omen, a premonition, or a warning for what lay ahead? There were so many thoughts cramped up in my head in that instant that I was truly able to appreciate Bill Gates’ phrase “@ the speed of thought”. It was the first time that we were out together and he looked terribly handsome as he sat there chuckling at what his fortune cookie said, completely oblivious to my state of mind at the time. I’ve always been a superstitious person. I have a lucky pen, a money plant that I never dare to neglect, and a set routine that I never defer from. But treating a fortune cookie as a message from God was a bit much, even for me. For the moment I relegated the incident to the back of my mind and joined in his laughter. As we sat in his car in the parking lot just below my apartment, we chatted easily, neither of us wanting to break the momentum of a lovely evening by saying goodbye. I had the urge to lean over and kiss him on his cheek. I had the urge, but not the nerve. For all technical reasons it was not a date. We were just two friends, out to dinner and I had no intention of spoiling that. By the next afternoon, I knew I was falling in love, because I had completely lost my appetite and my interest in anyone or anything else. It had certainly been unexpected. Yet it was neither a relationship, nor did it have any chance of becoming permanent. What struck me with a jolt was that I wanted it to be. It was probably the best time of my life – as falling in love always is. The smallest smile would give me the biggest thrill; a shy look would accelerate my heartbeat; and happiness was found in the smallest, simplest gestures. I was looking at the world through rose tinted glasses. To be honest, I really had no idea what he was thinking. But there was an undeniable chemistry, visible even to the most disinterested passerby. We went out several more times, after that but always with friends. I had developed a certain level of trust and comfort with him, and before I knew it, I was telling him my most intimate secrets. And he began to reciprocate. That was when the bombshell fell. He was in love with someone else. As he told me all about her, over the phone one night, it was time for me to make a quick decision. I knew that I would rather have his friendship than nothing at all, so I put my feelings aside and spoke to him as any friend would. And our friendship continued. An impromptu trip to Atlantic City changed all that. We were an eclectic group of five. The night was young, the lights breathtaking, and the spirits high. I was the only one winning on the tables and as he lost hundred after hundred, he seemed to become more and more charming. I stuck to him like araldite, content to just watch him enjoying himself, and join in the occasional
hug whenever he won. Maybe it was the cool sea breeze on my face as we walked along the boardwalk after we’d lost all our money, or maybe it was the way he looked at me that night, but I knew then that there was no turning back for me. It took four glasses of rum and coke, for me to collapse into his arms and declare my undying love for him. In my inebriated state, it was a shock for me to hear his crisp response. “Shut up”, was all he said, as he proceeded to help me walk back to my apartment. He seemed neither angry nor surprised as he tenderly tucked me into bed while I continued rambling. The next day it was my turn to listen as he teased me and narrated some of the stuff I had said. Somehow, I wasn’t embarrassed and instead of laughing it off, I chose to admit my feelings. He acknowledged it, but said nothing. Surprisingly, there was no awkwardness between us, and as my feelings grew stronger, I noticed that he also wasn’t exactly lacking in affection. The problem now was that I wanted to know how he felt about me. No, let me rephrase that. I was dying to know how he felt about me. The tussle between the mind and the heart is one that the former rarely wins. Every time I broached the topic, he would avoid me. And I was relentless. In his endeavor to avoid my questions, he soon began to avoid me and before I knew it, everything had gone horribly wrong. For several months I continued to try and keep in touch, but to no avail. “I’ll call you back”, were the last words he said to me. As I put down the receiver, I knew by the number of times I’d heard that phrase before that it was finally time for me to walk away. The truth is that our loves, our relationships and our desires are all in our own mind and tend to remain as temporary or permanent as we allow them to be. For me, his memory, his touch, his smile, is etched forever in my mind. My relationship with him is the most permanent thing in my life. And that’s the way I want it to stay. I have no interest in getting over him or moving on or trying to find someone else, simply because my relationship with his memory continues. Each night that I go to bed, each morning that I wake up, he is right by my side. And I am still very much in love. Well maybe this wasn’t exactly what the fortune cookie had meant or planned it to be, but it’s prediction was certainly right.
Style : Triplet
A fool am I to have known love, yet let it fall away Or a fool am I to have believed That love was here to stay Condemned am I to live on now in misery Or blessed am I To have still the amorous memory The precious treasure that my heart holds dear Was but a fleeting episode In the other’s wretched year Eternity stretches far beyond what even the sharpest mind can see In the waking day I walk alone In the dark hours the heart breaks free My burden is heavy, weighing down my soul The only respite is hope One day again I will be whole Tomorrow, the tears will dry the wound will heal and the longing will cease But my muse my love my evergreen fantasy Today my loss is all that I feel
Archie and Betty
If this was Riverdale and he was Archie, I’d surely have been Betty. In fact, I’ve always been a Betty. To those who believe that comics are not a source of educational reading let me say that you all are terribly misguided. As a young teenager in school, it should not be in the least bit surprising that one would associate himself or herself more with the characters they see at Riverdale High than those they would read about in Shakespeare. For though his characters were great with not only depth and several different shades of gray, they were also a part of serious plots or emotions, of a world not many can relate to or understand easily. Riverdale High on the other hand, is for everybody. Everyone knows a Reggie, a Dilton and a Moose and surely everyone knows a Mr. Weatherbee. So as millions of kids the world over flip through the pages of their Double Digest’s, it would seem important that these comics put forth something more than just the frivolous antics of a bunch of school going kids. I do believe that the writers actually take this responsibility seriously. Some of my strongest belief’s stem from stories I had read in Archie comics. For instance, there was one in which Archie sees a ball roll past on the road, in front of his jalopy and he slams his brakes. When Jughead asks him why he did that, he explains, “Where a ball is rolling, it’s likely that a small child would be running right after it.” Till today, I slam on the brakes every time a ball goes rolling across my path. But of course, I’m Betty. The sweet girl-next-door who always wishes she were Veronica. To be gorgeous and self confident, to have all the guys fawning over her, yes that would certainly seem like a perfect life. “When you’re second best, you have to try harder”. Betty’s motto soon became mine as well. And I do remember trying harder. I worked on my speech and expression, on my dress sense and accessories, even on my hair and my figure. It’s not rare that a girl who’s becoming a woman is confused by her identity and feeling of self worth. It’s even less rare that she goes through several different phases and experimentations before she finds out how she’s most comfortable with herself. But before I could, I met Archie. The quintessential adorable young man who was popular and funny and a big hit with everyone in school. The catch? You guessed it – Veronica. He was smitten and followed her around like a lost puppy just waiting to get even so much as a tiny smile from her. As Betty does, so did I – try every possible route to get closer to my Prince Charming. And as Betty does, all the time, I too, failed. We remained friends, of course, but the effect it had on me was that I started believing that I was truly second best.
Cut to ten years later. I’m older, more mature now. I found the man of my dreams. As fate would have it, our first date was to go watch Nurse Betty. No actual relation of Renee Zellwegger’s role to that of Betty Cooper of course, but it all seemed strangely familiar. The knot in my stomach, the flushed smile and the fact that I was at a constant loss for words in his presence indicated to me that I was going through the motions of falling in love. “It’s not the color of your hair or skin that counts,” Betty had quoted towards the end of one of the stories, “It’s what you make of yourself.” I decided that this time, I would be Veronica. I tried to always look my gorgeous sophisticated best, stay as aloof and nonchalant as possible and of course never miss out on an opportunity to flirt with other guys. And it seemed to work because Archie did seem to be following me around. But we are who we are, and soon enough my Betty instincts took over and Ronnie found herself relegated to the detention room. There are a lot of wonderful characteristics after all that Betty has – perky, optimistic and bubbly, her faith in people is unshakeable and her loyalty to her friends unbreakable. Then one day, I saw him sitting on her desk, running his fingers through her colored blonde hair and gasped, “Oh no, not this”. Hardly surprising then that the next time we spoke he mentioned to me “You really need to use some herbal conditioner on your hair – I believe it works wonders.” Yes, indeed there’s only one thing really Veronica Lodge has that Betty doesn’t – Archie! None of my little plots and schemes seemed to work. I was destined forever to play second fiddle. “Are you sure blondes have more fun?” I asked a friend, one day. “You could if you wanted to, you know. I’ve been seeing how that cute guy on the third floor looks at you.” she replied. But everyone knows that Betty’s heart always has and always will belong to Archie. What everyone may not know is another thing that Betty says – “It’s not always about how you feel, but also about how you can make the other person feel.” “I hope you like these books that I bought for you,” I said, running up to him one day.
Yes, Betty will always be Betty. Whether Archie’s eyes ever open up to the fact, is anybody’s guess.
It was time to say goodbye. Both sat apprehensively at the edge of their seats unsure of what to say or do next. She sat leaning back against the bucket chair with her hand bag held over her chest and he sat hunched forward as if he were about to burst into sprint on the word go. All around them, at the airport, people were saying their goodbyes. Hugs and kisses, promises to call upon reaching their destinations, handshakes and even a rare set of tears between a parting couple. Everyone seemed to have his or her own unique way of bidding farewell. “What will ours be?” she asked herself as she glanced once more to her left to look at the man seated beside her. He looked thoughtful and visibly uncomfortable, she noted. “How will it end?” she wondered, “with a long drawn sobbing farewell or a crisp and professional goodbye?” It may just have been a one-night stand. A lustful meaningless sojourn, a fling or promiscuous indulgence on their part. Or it may have been a passionate though directionless love affair. The intimacy of their rendezvous had surprised them both for they had known each other for barely two weeks. And because she was married. Their first meeting itself had been electric. She was in town visiting her cousins and a mutual friend at a party introduced them. He’d been intrigued by her carefree honesty and she was taken with his unabashed inquisitiveness and witty remarks. It was pure chemistry at work as they laughed, chatted and drank till a friend butt in innocently to inform them that it was well past midnight. “Would you like to go for a movie tomorrow night?” he’d asked indicating his interest. “I’m happily married, you know” she’d replied not wanting to withhold anything. “Don’t married people watch movies?” He didn’t blink. She’d accepted and it had been a whirlwind fortnight after that. They enjoyed each other’s friendship and company and were careful to stay within their boundaries. Both would say it happened quite by accident. Both would be wrong. Walking her home one-day after an evening out with friends she’d slipped and broken a heel at the edge of the pavement. He’d helped her up and refused to let go of her hand till she reached home. At her doorstep, she reluctantly pulled her hand away and said, “I’m leaving tomorrow, you know. Can’t believe I’ll probably never see you again.” “I’ll come and meet you, don’t worry” he’d, said his charming nature trying to make light of a somewhat heavy situation. “Ya, my husband would love that,” she said sarcastically. “I’ll flirt with you right in front of him” he replied, unperturbed. She smiled and succumbed to the urge to kiss him on the cheek. It’s just affection she assured herself as she leaned over. The events that happened thereafter would best be described as an inevitable chain reaction
that would clearly prove that it is truly only a myth that men and women who are attracted to each other can ever just be friends. Both were ready with their set of excuses when they met again the next day. She’d been tortured with thoughts of where she should have drawn the line. At their very first outing? At the time he’d held her hand? Or when she decided to kiss him? He had been uncomfortable about how she would react to all this and irritated that he’d let go of himself like that. “I’ll drive you to the airport”, he offered, “We can talk”. Yep, we sure did everything other than talk, last night she thought to herself. It was a one-hour drive filled with justifications from both sides that ranged from a simple, “It happened too fast. I wasn’t thinking straight,” to a more disturbing, “I’ve been lonely”. Yet neither was ready to apologize for something they’d both enjoyed and had also wanted. And neither was ready to talk about what happens next. “So this is it”, she said to him as she heard her flight announced over the loudspeaker. “I’m not sure if I should ask you to stay”, he said quietly not making eye contact. “I’m not sure I could.” “This whole thing was a big mistake. It was all wrong,” he repeated for the umpteenth time. She shook her head and replied, “Then how come it doesn’t feel all wrong?” “Soul mates” he said, trying to be charming again. “Do you think people fall in love first and then have sex or have sex first and then fall in love?’ “You’re asking the wrong person” He didn’t want to get into that. “Just give yourself time to find out what you want.” “What do you want?” she asked, hoping for an answer. “I want you to go back and be happy” he replied quite sure of himself. “What if I couldn’t be happy without you?” “That’s not an option,” he told her trying not to sound blunt. “I don’t even have anything to remember you by, not a snap, nothing,” she moaned in despair. “All the memories are in your mind. You can’t lose them,” he said soothingly. “I love you”. She was emotional now, and grasping. “Don’t say that. Not today. Not ever. We have our own lives to lead”. The loudspeaker had the last word as it announced boarding for the flight. A short quick hug and a “Take care” before he propelled her towards the security gate. She stood glued to the floor for several minutes just staring at him as though taking a mental picture to remember him by. “You will never die for me. Nor age, nor fade.” He remembered Joseph Fiennes dialogue from “Shakespeare in Love” and knew for a moment what it was like to lose someone you never had, to love someone you could never love. He waved to her silently hoping that the good times they’d had together would remain unblemished in both their hearts.
It always ends with a reality check, she thought ruefully, tears streaming down her cheeks as she turned away. Good times are like a really short dream and then you wake up and face the consequences for a lifetime. “Wake up” he said to her softly, running his fingers through her hair. “You have a flight to catch.” “I’m still here?” she questioned, amazed to discover herself still in bed with him. “I’ll drive you to the airport”, he offered, “We can talk”. ”Oh no, I thought it was over”, she groaned in misery realizing only too well that the ‘rest of the lifetime’ was now what lay ahead.
I stood across the road from the dark teakwood door that was entrance to her house. I stood drenched and shivering in the rain, misery and loneliness taking over my whole body. I stood waiting, hoping to catch nothing more than just a glimpse of her as she returned home from work. Two years ago it had been different. We’d return together – laughing, chatting and berating each other’s idiosyncrasies. And she’d cook me dinner as we lazed around and watched TV, enjoying the present moment as most people usually forget to. And then one day it all changed. She’d told me in no uncertain terms that it was over. She’d had a great time, but she didn’t really love me and now it was time for her to marry the man her parents were about to choose for her. I’d struggled to come to terms, to understand and appreciate her position. I was unable to do so. Those who knew me said I was a hopeless romantic. Those who didn’t gave me dirty stares wondering if I was a stalker, standing there across the road for over an hour, outside her home. I wasn’t sure anymore which one was right. I’d called her incessantly for over six months. I’d sent her cards and flowers, even letters and poems. Nothing she said or did could hurt me enough to keep me away from her. I was even happy when she made me miserable. “As long as she’s still talking to me”, I’d say to my friends as they shook their heads in disappointment, watching me fall apart day by day. The black car came screeching to a halt outside the front door. She always did drive too fast. I smiled to myself as I saw her emerge from the passenger seat looking stunning as always in her formal suit and high heels. I was just about to catch my breath at her beauty when I saw a man get off from the driver’s seat. I felt a shiver run down my spine as I realized only too well the situation that was unfolding in front of my eyes. He held out his hand to help her cross the small puddle that stood between her and the sidewalk and as she took it, she suddenly turned around to look behind her as if sensing someone’s eyes on her back. I moved hurriedly to hide behind a large oak tree and prayed that she hadn’t seen me. I stopped going to her place after that, and began to tune my mind towards the road to reconciliation. Things had changed. She’d found her happiness elsewhere and it was time for me to do so, too. I stared often at the coffee mug my friends had bought me. “Time heals all wounds,” it said and I said that to myself frequently, for the need to convince myself was larger than anything else. I spent the next year mostly in self-pity, convinced that God had done me wrong for no plausible fault of my own. I thought of her often and of the times we’d spent together. Her memory had become a habit and it tortured me often. I wondered if I was still in love with her
or if I was now in love with my own misery. No answer came forth, as is often the case in a scenario that seems simple to everyone other than oneself. My parents from their end also began pressuring me to settle down, and I relented by allowing them to send me photographs of perspective brides. But I didn’t quite see myself as married to any of them. I had adjusted well to my heartbroken Romeo image and was content to continue with that, for the moment at least. Sad songs, long drinking sessions with friends and over involvement in work were working well for me. On my 30th birthday, my friends introduced me to a very attractive new colleague who seemed to take to me in an instant. Her company was therapeutic and we hit off instantly, making a date for our next outing way before the night was over. My friends joked that I had finally broken free, but I only wondered if it were nothing more than a consolation prize. Life certainly got better in the month after that. Sad songs were replaced with evenings at trendy lounges, drinking sessions by wine and gourmet cuisine and work became what it used to be – just work. My memories hadn’t faded, but I slept better, joked more and laughed at almost everything she said. Her companionship was just what I had needed. “You’re sounding cheerful today “, my mom said over the telephone, surprised to hear my chirpy voice when she called early in the morning. “Yep, all’s well”, I said, “What’s up?” What followed thereafter was a detailed description of a very close family friend’s daughter who had just completed her MBBS and was the ideal spouse for me. “Mom, I told you not to look for girl’s for me,” I protested, but my mother would have none of it. After seeing her son miserable for so long she was convinced that the only solution was marriage. I thought for a long time after I put the phone down. Thought of the only woman I’d loved, and then of the woman who had become my best friend and finally of the woman my mother wanted me to marry. And I knew what I had to do. I took her out to dinner and explained that the times we’d had together had really been amazing but that I had to soon marry the girl of my parents’ choice. “So you didn’t really love me”, she asked, upset but not surprised. It was rhetoric, so I let it go and was sad that we could no longer remain friends. She continued to call for several months after that, but I was never able to really talk to her properly or even explain my reasoning. I thought of her for some time, but got too busy with all the preparations for the wedding. My wife-to-be was smart, beautiful and witty and as I got to know her more and more, I began to believe that I could truly be happy again. It was months before I finally met her, but when I did, I realized that my mother truly knew me best of all and thanked God for giving me another chance.
It was raining heavily the night that I first brought her over to see my place. As I got off and ran to the passenger side of the car to help her off, I felt as if someone’s eyes were on my back. I turned abruptly, my eyes searching across the road to see if anyone was there, but saw no one. ****************************************************************************** She stood across the road from the entrance to his house watching as he took someone else in with him. Those who knew her said she was a hopeless romantic. Those who didn’t gave her dirty stares wondering if she was a stalker, standing there across the road for over an hour, outside his home. She wasn’t sure anymore which one was right.
Those three words
If there was ever anything that I was truly desperate for, it was to hear his lips utter the three most overused words in the history of mankind. The three words that have changed lives and given immense happiness and joy to some while destroyed hopes and dreams of others. Those who have heard them would undoubtedly agree that they are the sweetest words one can ever hear in one's life. Especially if the one uttering them is the one person you hold dearer than all others in the world. That one person was him. And those three words had thus far eluded me completely. It was my endeavor in my meeting with him that day to draw out the same as quickly and painlessly as possible. It had been three days since I'd opened my heart to him and laid bare in a moment of boundless vulnerability and such immense strength that even I was amazed at the ease and confidence with which they had flowed out. "I love you", I said in no particular fashion with no unique mannerism and no remarkable distinctive tone. It was my eyes I was relying on, to convey the rest. Full of affection, desire and sincerity, I hoped only that he would see in that instant what he meant to me. If he saw it, he did not show it. If he felt it, he did not move a muscle. The clock ticked two seconds. My heart pounded like it had already waited two lifetimes. He looked at me quietly. I looked at him with such deep rooted turmoil that alarm bells started going off my head making me feel like I was standing directly under the crown of the Liberty Tolling Bell on the Fourth of July. It seemed that it had struck noon. Unable to wait any longer, I reiterated, "I said I love you." This time there was a marked emphasis on the second word, a hint of despair and an almost pleading look in my eyes. "I heard you" was his only reply. The bell seemed to have come loose and was about to fall over and deposit the entire 44 pounds of copper it contained onto my head. I walked away sheepishly mumbling the most listless "Fine" I could muster, without the slightest idea of what to do next. As far as I was concerned, there were only two acceptable responses to my declaration of love for him. The "I love you too", which is the preferred and much desired option and the "You know, I think you're great but ... ", disappointing but not wholly unacceptable option. Where did "I heard you" come from? What did it mean? Did he need time? Was he unsure? Did he mean no? I had been ready to express my love for him. Why wasn't he? An endless barrage of questions invaded my mind and all I could do for the next two days was to stay as far out of his range and sight as possible. It was just too embarrassing to face him again. For some reason (known only to him) he didn't feel at all self conscious about facing me again. It was early evening when he popped his face out the driver's side window of his car and smiled
at me. I felt a vigorous tug at my heart and it wasn't just my knees that felt weak, but there was a hollow feeling in my stomach that made me feel elevated and delirious all in one instant. "Want to grab a coffee?" He asked politely and yet it sounded like a command. An order or directive received from one stronger than oneself and I obliged willingly as I got into the front seat next to him. Somewhere within the 5 minute drive to the Starbucks just down the road I decided that I had to make him say it. He didn't. I started by asking him what he thought about my proclamation. He said he already knew. I asked him how he knew and he said it was written all over my face. I asked him if there was anyone else. He said there wasn't. I asked him what he felt about me. He said "What do you think?" It was exasperating and entirely futile as he fence sat every question of mine. You'd think he was a diplomat trying not to solve the India Pakistan crisis. But my crisis had now elevated itself to bright red i.e. high alert. The confidence I'd felt just a few days ago that had prompted me to go ahead and stake claim to his heart was diminishing at the speed of sand falling through an hourglass. The lack of any formal response from his end ensured only that I continued to hang onto his every word and action like a dying man hoping only that he can be granted enough encouragement to take that one vital next breath. And there was no shortfall of that encouragement. In fact there was no indication at all from his end that there was the slightest tension between us. We spent a lot of time together. Whenever we'd go out he'd reach out his hand and hold mine tenderly. He'd smile and push back a stray hair that wandered onto my forehead. He'd joke that I cooked badly and yet gobble up everything I made for him. He'd lean close towards me and smell my hair and all too often he'd expect me to be available for some plan or the other that he'd made without even consulting me. And of course I was always there. I wondered often how everything was so obvious, so perfect and yet so meaningless without the commitment of those three words. How the next month passed for him, I will never know. For me it was an endless flurry of moments one after the other, separated only by those in which I saw, spoke or spent time with him during which time my heartbeat ran riot and all other moments which were deemed irrelevant and a complete waste of time when it seemed like my heart did not beat at all. In time I began to appreciate his affection for me. He bought me a beautiful silver bracelet for no reason at all. He took me to New York to see an exhibition that he had no interest in seeing. He dropped and picked me up from all sorts of places at all times. He brought wine over for dinner whenever we ordered pizza and he spent a whole lot of time on my living room couch watching movies that we'd picked out together at Blockbuster. Maybe the actions he did were more meaningful than the words he did not say. Maybe what we had was more important than what we said. On October 17th, I called him up from the airport to tell him I'd be out of town for the next
couple of days. There wasn't any obligation on my part to tell him, and yet we'd both have been surprised if I didn't. There wasn't any obligation on his part to offer to pick me up when I came back and yet we'd both have been surprised if he didn't. "Will you miss me?" I asked him as I always did. "Na", he replied as he always did. "I love you", I said as I always did. He kept quiet as he always did. "I said I love you", I repeated as I always did. "I heard you" he replied as he always did.
I smiled happily and told him what time to pick me up.
I stood at the glass window looking at the bright gold necklaces displayed on the necks of mannequins that neither had a head nor a body. I stood there lusting like a child desperate for that forbidden ice cream. I stood there like a woman outside a car accessories shop or in my case, a man outside a jewelry shop, eager to go in but ill at ease in what was obviously not my most frequently visited shop. After a long deep breath and several doses of assurance that many men surely do this all the time, I stepped inside the door. A little bell seemed to jingle as I entered announcing to all that a prospective customer had just walked in. I couldn't help noticing that all the sales persons were women and all the customers were couples and families. They must have wondered what I was doing there, a tall serious looking man with a formal shirt, tie (trousers of course) and a laptop in one hand. "Can I help you sir?" a lady across the counter asked me politely. "Yes. I'd like to buy a necklace please." "A gift." I added a second later as if I needed to explain to her what exactly I needed it for. "Certainly. Can you tell me what range you're looking at?" The question took me completely by surprise. Is that the first thing they ask when you buy gold, I wondered? I had been expecting to be asked about who it was for, for what occasion and of what style. "I don't really have a range in mind", I said casually, recollecting instantly that gold had hit an all time high after the Iraq war. The truth was that I did have a range in mind. It was my first gift to my someone special and I didn't want her to get nervous if I went overboard with what I bought. Simple & classy was what I had in mind. Something she could wear every day. It was my first gift to her for the first birthday of hers since I'd known her and for the first time we'd been apart since we met nearly 8 months ago. That's a lot of firsts, I thought to myself. It needed to be spectacularly special. After looking at several plain chains all of which seemed terribly run of the mill, I switched to chains with pendants. A pendant seems right, I thought. It makes the gift more personal and yet not as ostentatious as one of the sets with matching earrings. I rejected all the heart shaped pendants ... too clichéd ... shook my head at all the teddy bear and horseshoe pendants ... too childish, and politely refused to even consider the alphabetical pendants ... too name tag-ish I felt. With not much left to chose from, the sales lady who didn't seem to look all that friendly anymore, passed in front of me a rectangular suede laden tray that contained in it 28 pendants of different God's. Ganeshji seemed to be the most popular. I didn't know how to choose between all those who undoubtedly controlled my life, so I spent a thoughtful moment trying to recollect which God she believed in. I didn't remember us talking much of religion though I did know she was deeply spiritual and went to the temple every weekend. And then I remembered a little silver statue of Lord Krishna that I had seen placed on the dashboard of her car.
My eyes darted across the 28 pendants and rested finally on one of Lord Krishna Intricately designed and just perfect in size, I knew that there was nothing else I could buy for her. I paid, took my first jewelry purchase lovingly in my hand and walked happily out of the shop. When I spoke to her that night over the phone, I had it always at the tip of my tongue, wanting so much to tell her and yet wanting as much for it to reach her as a surprise on the day of her birthday. She was a software engineer and had been sent onsite to the US as part of her project for a multinational client. She'd be there for three months and we'd miss spending her birthday together. I walked into DHL the next day with the nicely gift wrapped gift in my hand and found to my shock and astonishment that they would not courier a precious item to the US even if I made a declaration of the same. I called up five different courier companies, even one whose slogan was "We deliver anything, anywhere". They all refused. I bought a book, a shawl and slipped the gold chain into it and sent the courier without declaring the gold chain only to get a call two days later saying it was blocked at the airport and would have to be returned to me. Her birthday was now just two days away and her gift lay solemnly in my palm. Since I'd run out of choices I sent her an Internet gift instead. A chocolate cake from 1800-flowers and hoped sheepishly that she wouldn't be disappointed. I debated sending her something else. A blouse from macys.com, books from amazon.com or a perfume from dior.com. Each gift paled in front of the shining gold image of Lord Krishna that still lay solemnly in the center of my palm. The fact is that I didn't want to give her a gift for the heck of it. I wanted to give her this gift. This very special, lovingly purchased gift that seemed to be able to say something about my feelings for her. Something no other gift could. On her birthday she thanked me profusely for the cake I'd sent and I felt miserable knowing what only too well what I had wanted and instead what it had turned into. I could not bring myself to tell her that I had bought her something but failed to send it to her. A month later I spoke to her boss in her India office and found out that one of her colleagues was traveling onsite to the very same office. I quickly re-wrapped my gift and delivered it to the person traveling. Though he did not know her personally, I ensured he was equipped with all her contact numbers. A month late is not bad at all I convinced myself. Two days later I received a phone call from him saying his trip was cancelled and could I please come and pick the package back up. As Lord Krishna sat smiling again in my palm the next day I began to wonder whether it was fate that was preventing me from completing the gesture I had planned to. I wondered if I should take it as a sign and not give her the gift at all or if I should see if I would be third time lucky. For better or worse, the third opportunity never presented itself.
I stood at the periphery of the barred area seemingly attempting to protect arriving passengers from the onslaught of their well wishers and peeped through the sea of heads in front of me on tiptoe every 2 minutes as I waited anxiously to see her beautiful face again. I caressed the red velvet bag with the gold chain that I was carrying in my pocket and smiled inwardly of the smile that would no doubt invade her face when I placed it in her hand. I smiled at the thought of it hanging around her delicate neck and hoped always that it would bring her luck and happiness. Something brushed against my leg and I looked down to see an urchin less than 5 years old looking sadly at me with his right hand pointing to his mouth telling me he needed to eat something. Before I could react I heard her voice calling my name. I looked up and pulled my hand out of my trouser pocket to wave to her in acknowledgement. My hand pulled out with it mistakenly the red velvet bag and it fell from my side, depositing itself into the right hand of the beggar child. If he was shocked, I was aghast. As his fist closed over it, my arm reached out to grab his. Before I could, he ran. Before I could move, she had her arms around me, her lips brushed my cheek and she whispered gently into my ear, "I love you". I was too dazed to react. I wanted to push her aside and run after the juvenile kid but she didn't seem to let me. In a split second it was all over. Two months I had it with me. Two times I had tried to send it. Too long I had waited to see the happiness it would bring her. "What happened?" she asked me moving my face to look at her instead of the direction in which my gift had disappeared. "Felling bad that you didn’t get me a gift is it?" she said indicating that she had noticed some people holding bouquets for their loved ones. I had still not spoken a word. It was a nightmare. "Auntie", someone said all of a sudden, pulling at her skirt. We both looked down and in front of the hazy picture of the little thief I saw an outstretched arm and a familiar red velvet bag. "Yeh aapke liye hai (This is for you)" he said as if it was his gift to her. I wanted to reach out and strangle him and stepped forward to complete my mission when she bent down gently, ruffled his hair and closed the red velvet bag back within his palm. "Tum rakh lo (You keep it)", she said without even opening it as if she were touched enough at his gesture without knowing of course the depth of it and I watched her speechless as she smiled happily watching him skip away. "How sweet", she said turning to me with a smile of utter thrill and amazement. A smile that made her eyes light up like fireworks on Diwali. "The sweet child was giving me an empty velvet bag!" I caught my breath as saw the smile I had waited so long to see. I never told her the story. I never bought her another gift. I know that nothing I ever buy could replicate the smile she smiled when she thought that little street urchin was giving her the gift of an empty red velvet bag.
How do you know
“How do you know when it’s true love?” asked a somber seventeen year old. “Ummm … well, you just know,” replied an awkward adult. “But how?” the teenager continued. “You know in your heart.” I replied, trying to sound confident in all my vagueness. “Well what does it say?” she continued to pester. I had just about a minute to flashback through my life. I first fell in love when I was in my early teens. He was the tallest, handsomest, smartest guy in school and several years my senior. He was also the guy who never spoke to me in all of the three years that I knew him. Nah, I don’t think that was love. I next fell in love in college. He was the perfect guy. Confident, intelligent, impeccably dressed and most importantly, he knew who he was, where he was going and how he planned to get there. He also spent all his time telling me who I was, where I ought to be going and how to get there. Nope, that wasn’t love either. I fell in love again when I had just started working. I was dating the quiet, shy overachiever who wanted to please and help everyone. And that was all he seemed to be doing. Working, building a career – that was above all else. Was I third time lucky? I think not. So it was left to a thin, broody, complicated younger guy to steal my heart the next time. Whenever he was in the room, I’d feel my heart race, even as my mind reminded me that I’d been there, done that. When we went out, I tried not to be swept away by the romance of the moment. Still, I remembered every word he ever said, every smile he ever smiled and everything he ever did. “Come on, didi, please tell me, how do I know?” the anxious words broke into my thoughts. “I really don’t know what to tell you,” I replied as the heartache and pain of a broken romance flooded back into my memory. “Just tell me what you think,” she said with a pleading look on her eager face. “Just tell me what you think,” I had asked him, several years ago. “I think we’re just infatuated with each other.” He had replied crisply. “It’s better if we just remain friends,” he added as an afterthought. I’d turned my face away to wipe the tears. So it isn’t meant to be, I thought to myself. “I think everyone has their own definition of love and it takes sometime before you can figure out what yours is.” I told her softly. “What’s yours?” she asked me, equally softly.
I tried hard to formulate a sentence that would satisfy her. A sentence that would explain how my feelings on love had changed from seventeen to twenty seven. A sentence that would talk about love for a spouse, a child even a belief. A sentence that could define love? I doubt if I could formulate one even when I am seventy seven. I sighed and looked at my younger sister, not knowing where to start. Not knowing even if I was the right person to answer her question. I wanted to tell her to ask mom and dad, after all they’d been married for over thirty years. But before I could present a cynic’s view of love, she started off - “Didi, he’s so good looking and everybody keeps saying that he really likes me. He’s the most popular guy in school, and he’s so, so nice. In fact yesterday when I spoke to him … ” The incessant rambling of a teenager’s first crush. Yes, I thought to myself. This is love. “This isn’t love,” my best friend had said to me. “Its unrequited. It’s useless and you’re wasting your time.” she reinforced. “What matters is how I feel about him, not vice versa, right?” I argued back. “Wrong. That’s just plain stupid, I hope you know, because the day he gets married, even if it’s to someone he doesn’t know at all he’ll still love her more than he ever cared about you simply because she’s his wife and you’re not.” Cruel, but true, as friends often tend to be. “ …. and that’s when she overheard him telling his friend that he thought I was cute … so do you think I should call him? Didi? Are you listening to me?” “Yes, of course” I said pushing all other thoughts to the back of my head as I had, hundreds of times before. “So do you think it’s true love?” she asked me yet again. “The only thing that matters, my dear is if YOU think it’s true love.” I emphasized. “But how do I know didi?” Back to square one, I thought. How had I known? Despite everything and everyone, how had I known? Had I known or had I decided? I couldn’t remember how I’d been so sure. I finally sat my lil sis down, put my arm around her shoulder and said simply, “You’ll never know if it’s true love. You’ll know only whether you want to take the chance to find out. And that very big decision will be taken by your heart, because it’s the only one who will know.”
Style : Quatrain It wasn’t a moonlit night Nor even a bright sunny day It wasn’t over a romantic dinner Nor on a sandy beach did we lay
It was indoors and under a white tube light On yet another tiresome office day That our eyes met and held each other’s gaze For how long, neither could say It wasn’t his quick-witted banter Nor the smile he flashed my way It wasn’t even the way he was dressed Nor the attitude he did portray It was the way he’d looked at me And then softly said my name That he took my breath away And on my heart he had laid claim It wasn’t a whirlwind romance Nor a courtship you may say It wasn’t a sluggish wooing Nor an irksome dilatory display It was a friendship that began to blossom With every passing day It was the fondness that grew and grew And soon love did friendship betray
It wasn’t through a touching love letter Nor a romantic melodious song It wasn’t through a declaration of love Nor a sense of a commitment lifelong It was over a rum and coke And some gourmet Indian cuisine That I put my hand on his
And from my heart I did come clean. It wasn’t euphoric agreement Nor did a smile emerge on his face It wasn’t a rueful response Nor of remorse was there a trace It was a gentle and evasive look As he glanced at me to say We’ll talk about this later You are not yourself today It wasn’t ever spoken about again For there was never an appropriate day It wasn’t even forgotten For neither could keep the feelings at bay It was with time that each began To understand the other’s way It was then that the love was deepened It now transcended time and space It wasn’t a flirtatious fling Nor a frivolous love affair It wasn’t an amorous liaison Nor a passion of despair It was the tacit affirmation Of a love so very rare The unuttered implicit attraction That will be nurtured with utmost care. And so it continues Till this very present day So much both have to say That neither can yet convey
Walk the Path
There’s a big difference between choosing the path and walking the path. As I sat waiting in my car at the crowded intersection for the traffic light to turn green, I couldn’t remember where I’d heard the saying. Couldn’t even remember what was said to be more difficult – choosing it or walking it. I only knew that it was bloody tough and I was running out of time. It all started with a phone call three days ago. A voice from the past greeted me with a “Recognize me?” I didn’t and said so irritatedly. It was a busy day at work. I’d just gotten out of one meeting and was late for another and here was someone who wanted to play guessing games. When he said his name I felt my body shaking under the advent of a mild earthquake. Two years I had waited for this call. Two years I had hoped and prayed and waited. Every day for those 730 days I had played out the scene in my mind and here it was now, out of the blue – slowly turning into reality. I had always believed the call would come. Even when I was lo and depressed, I had always believed deep down that he’d call someday. And so I had planned for it. There were so many things that I had to say. My mind searched wildly for all the rehearsed dialogues and statements, accusations and proclamations, but it only drew a blank. I replied quietly, “Hi. How are you?” The next thirty minutes passed in a whirlwind and I was only amazed at how we were able to converse as if it had all happened yesterday. We picked up exactly where we left off and it instantly felt as if those two years of loneliness and anxiety had never happened. “Why are you calling me after all this time? You were so angry last time we spoke.” I was bewildered and wanted to understand his reasons. “I just stepped onto my balcony and happened to think of you. Can’t control the mind right?” he said plainly. I had lived with a mind that had tortured me with mixed feelings for two years. Yes, I knew better than anyone that the mind couldn’t be controlled easily. Tears began streaming down my face and I didn’t know whether they were tears of joy, or tears of the pain that I remembered, back once again to torment me. “I shouldn’t have called,” he said finally. “I’m glad you did”, I stressed before we said goodbye, in case he was too blind to see how happy he’d made me. Three years ago, we had parted ways. Sadly, it was not amicable. I was elder to him, from a different background and community and we lived in different continents. It was difficult to make it work. He’d believed that we had a love that could never be and I believed we had a love that deserved a chance. We fought, argued, cried, hurt each other and finally just stopped speaking because we could not define the status of our relationship.
After spending a year holding onto some hope and then another losing it all, I finally succumbed to parental pressure and got married. My husband was a gem of a person and I believed myself to be both lucky as well as reasonably happy in my new life. Except that I had never been able to let go. Everything he had said and done, every memory every moment was embedded in my heart and he’d truly never been far from my thoughts. The fact that I had got a call from my ex-boyfriend who I had declared to everyone as the love of my life, a year into my marriage was not something I planned to share with my husband or anyone else for that matter. He was still unmarried, of course, so what had he gotten out of doing this? I couldn’t figure it out. Horn’s started blaring behind me and I realized the light had turned green while I was still standing at the intersection. I was parked in the center lane and I looked around somewhat lost not being able to choose whether to take the easy way and just go straight or attempt to cut into the right lane and take a right turn. It was shortage of time that prompted me to make the easier choice and go straight. If I had turned right, more horns would’ve blared, some people would’ve abused me or screamed at me, making the entire experience difficult, unpleasant, uncomfortable and probably not worth it. I had read all about reading omens and learning to listen to the heart in the renowned Paul Coelho book – The Alchemist. I was looking for an omen now and wasn’t sure if going straight on the intersection was it. At first I tried to get out of the sticky situation by reasoning that there was simply no choice to be made. After all I had not been propositioned. It was only a friendly call and all other aspects of my life remained the same. And I certainly did not intend to leave my husband for something so frivolous, after all my ex had had his chance right? But as each romantic memory flooded back into my mind, I realized that for my heart, there was a decision to be made. Did I intend to go through life always feeling that I could not get the man of my dreams or should I begin to treat my husband as the love of my life? Did I always want to feel unlucky at what I had lost or did I want to look ahead at all that I had gained? “Soul mates”, he had said to me as we had held hands one day. Maybe in my next life, I hoped silently. For life is not about consolation prizes. As my husband calls up and asks me if I want to go out for lunch, I realize he also deserves the hundred percent that he always gives. That it isn’t his fault his wife has always compares him to someone he doesn’t even know. That it’s more important for us to love those who love us, rather than hold on to those who didn’t. It was time for me to walk the path that I had chosen, albeit begrudgingly. “Sure sweetheart”, I say to him with a smile on my face, “Shall we try Chinese today?”
A Beautiful Smile
My biggest fault is that I fall in love too easily. When asked during ragging in my freshman year what turns me on, I had replied innocently “A smile.” “Then you must be getting turned on a lot” a smart alec senior had remarked. “Not everyone has a beautiful smile” I retorted. But I never understood my own definition of a beautiful smile. Is it a perfect set of pearly white teeth peeping through a pair of lips open just wide enough to create a tiny dimple on the cheek or is it a wide end to end smile that covers the entire face? Before I could find out, and way before I saw him smile, I fell in love with him. He was the serious type. Young, ambitious and mature way beyond his years, he carried an aura of self importance that ensured everybody gave him the level of respect he demanded. I was told that he wasn’t in the category of what one would term ‘friendly creatures’ and I kept my distance. But fate had other plans. Our paths crossed often and not all meetings were God created. My roommates and I had invited him and some other close friends to dinner one night. I wasn’t much of a cook, but my contribution – rajma (kidney beans) were at the center of the table that night. He seemed to enjoy it and mentioned it once briefly. He was the quietest of the group preferring to just watch us and let his friends carry on the conversation. Somewhere in the middle of dinner, he got a call from a friend and spoke to them at length about a cute waitress he’d met at this Indian restaurant he’d been to. It seemed to cheer him up considerably and when he returned to the living room, he launched into a verbose explanation of the events that had led up to his receiving that call. We all listened carefully at his delight and embarrassment at being teased about liking the waitress. As dinner drew to an end I realized that I was still evaluating the kind of person he was and wasn’t quite sure what to think. As he was the only one who lived across the road to us, the others got into their cars and left. My roomies and I decided to walk him to his house. He was embarrassed and asked us not to do so. “Come on it hardly matters – we were going to go out on a stroll anyway.” I reassured him. My friends fell two steps behind and he and I walked silently down the road. All of a sudden he turned to me and said, “Can I ask you something?” Though I said “Sure” with a high degree of confidence, I realized that my heart rate had increased drastically. “What perfume are you wearing?” he asked out of the blue.
“Poison” I replied amazed at when he had possibly gotten close enough to smell me and worried whether he had liked it or not. “Why?” I continued not sure if it was a good sign or a bad one. “No reason” he replied flatly. I thought about it all night long. Was he being nice and inquisitive or was he making a pass at me? I hadn’t the foggiest idea. I just knew that I was considerably shaken by the question. Over the next month, we spent a good amount of time together. We’d become part of this huge gang and went out together a lot – movies, pubs, dinner, even games of Uno. Life became predictable. Until I saw the smile. As expected, it was most unexpected. “Can I ask you something?” I asked him one day as we sat in his car waiting for our friends to join us. “Sure” he replied oblivious at what was about to hit him. “Are you attracted to me?” His first reaction was a muffled laugh that showed his shock as well as his amusement. Luckily he didn’t snicker too long. Instead he looked at me and the slightest little smile appeared on his face. It was almost like an I’m-not-sure-I-should-but-I-feel-like-it smile. I was flirting and he liked it. I was watching him closely and he liked that too. “What do you think?” he asked back unnerved. “That’s not an answer”, I said impatiently as I turned away embarrassed. He seemed to think for a moment, the tiny smile still remained on his face and I began to get irritated. “Either tell me or say you won’t”, I said rather rudely not enjoying the heavy silence. Then the smile began to broaden. Naughty, seductive, amused and definitely pleased. I could see so many feelings in it that I was amazed at how revealing a smile could be. Unfortunately I couldn’t find it in me to smile back because I was too anxious to hear what he’d say next. “Why? Are you?” he asked me, grinning now, an eyebrow arched rather high, curiosity taking over his usually poised exterior. “I asked you” I said, harassed now and agitation beginning to set in as I saw our friends walking towards the car. The conversation was over. I spent another restless night, thinking. I was convinced it was a bad sign and I lost count of the number of times I derided myself for doing something so foolish. I reached office at 10 the next morning to find an email that I’d received at 6 am. There were only three words in it. “Yes I am.” I smiled, thrilled. “So what are you going to do about it?” I typed back and pressed send.
“Nothing” it came back. “Why?” I pressed send again. “There is no reason” he replied. He smiled a lot more after that. He smiled when I told him he should buy the book ‘Tuesday’s with Morrie’, he smiled when I joked about my cooking and he smiled when we went bowling. Each smile was different. Some showed affection, some showed amusement, but none was as sensual as that one had been. The movies, dinners and outings continued. The questions didn’t. We parted several months later and continued to be close friends. I received a call from him a year later, full of excitement at having just gotten engaged. He’d called to invite me to his wedding, which was in a couple of months. After several minutes of Congratulations and questions about his fiancé, followed by stock taking of all of our friends and what each one was up to now, there was suddenly a moment of silence. “Can I ask you something?” I broke the awkwardness of the moment. “Sure”, he replied. “How come you never initiated anything with me? What was wrong with me?” I asked, the question still nagging my soul. “You don’t make good rajma”, he joked. “Come on, tell me seriously”, I pestered. He was quiet for a moment. “Well to be honest”, he said finally, “remember that day when we were chatting in the car?” “Yes”, I remembered only too well. “It was going so well, but I was surprised that you just didn’t smile." "And you know” he continued, “Nothing is quite as beautiful as a smile”.
In happiness always The sky is blue The birds are chirping And problems seem few In sadness there is A dark dreary night An endless silent moment And no hope in sight For a father it is His baby’s giggling smile For a son its always His mother’s comforting isle For a lover it’s a glimpse Of his beloved’s alluring face As he catches his breath And the heart begins to race Neither language nor religion Not even culture combined Can bind together a people Like emotions do humankind
Style : Couplet If I gave you a dozen good reasons to stay Would it stop you turning your cheek away? If I gave you all the love you need Would it stop you from leaving me to bleed? If I took away the pain you fear Would it stop you calling my love mere? If I could be all you wanted from me Would it stop you from thinking there is no we? Alas my love I have struggled in vain I have tried and failed and oft gone insane Why is it Lord that trying isn’t enough? Why is it that love is so very tough? Why aren’t I the perfect fit? Why will it be another to whom he’ll commit?
If I could
Rule Number 1: Never sleep with someone who you do not love when you know that she loves you. Rule Number 2: If you do sleep with someone you do not love when you know she loves you, never say that you love her when you don’t. Rule Number 3: If you do sleep with someone you do not love when you know she loves you and you do say that you love her when you don’t, then do not dump her the next day, without explanation. He broke all the rules. He broke all the rules but I could not bring myself to hate him for it. I tried to think of exceptions to the rules, justifications for his behavior and when I had contorted enough of them, I tried to convince myself they were true. I was ready to believe any reason at all other than the one that was most obvious. They say hindsight is always 20/20. My vision is still blurred. They say time heals all wounds. Mine just gets deeper. They say if you love someone, set him free … I say I just don’t want to. He never believed that I loved him. He was ready to call it by any name. Loneliness, affection, passion, lust, desire, infatuation, he had used them all on me. All except love. That was not an option for him, for it existed in his mind in someone else’s name. I always believed that I never loved anyone as I loved him. Loneliness, affection, passion, lust, desire, infatuation, I could not call it by any other name. Love encompasses it all and holds us within. I was sure of it. Our biggest sore difference was evident, and we did made a futile attempt at trying to adopt one to the other’s way of thinking. He could not convince me to just stay friends and I could not convince him that we were meant to be lovers. The process proved impossible and painful and was aborted without further ado. We stood now, poles apart. Literally, physically and also mentally, spiritually. The bodies stopped meeting long before the minds ever could. “What boggles my mind”, I had told him once “is how two people can be together so close so similar in their passions and needs, and yet be thinking such different things.” “What boggles my mind”, I continued, “is how two people can be so similar in bed but so different in life”. My mind remains boggled, my questions unanswered. Most people would say a relationship could not possibly exist if the protagonists of the same do themselves not understand what the bond is built on. Most people would say that we do not
have a relationship at all. It is nothing but the bond of a single moment that still holds us together. A moment that held us captive in the intimacy of a feeling that only two people who have bared their souls to each other can experience together. “We are living in an illusion,” he said one day, tired and defeated after another lengthy argument. “This has to stop”, he stressed, not wanting to talk or think anymore about our solitary rendezvous. “Please don’t so this to yourself”, he pleaded with me. I did not understand. I did not approve. What did he think I was doing to myself? Did he not understand that I would break too, if the illusion did? Did he not understand that that was what kept me going? Did he not understand that even while I accepted, I did not believe? For too long I had been married to a memory, attached to a feeling, in love with a moment. For too long I had lived in a world created in my mind. What would happen now, if my world collapsed? The road to self-destruction was coming into view while the road from happiness grew smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. In the few spurts of clarity that I experienced, I asked people to help me. To be my saviors, to pull me out of the rut, out of the tornado that was taking over my soul which I had neither the will nor strength to fight. No one helped. No one could. I had lost sight of all ambitions, plans desires, hopes and dreams that I had other than the one fleeting moment of happiness that I had experienced. The one moment that could not go back to, could not recreate could not relive. Death seemed like the only good option left. I pictured myself often on my deathbed wanting nothing more than to see him one more time. To ask him, to understand ‘Why’ and I see myself in greater pain then, as I know that he will not be there. He will not answer and I will not know. Am I a sore loser who could not get past a simple thing as heartbreak? Would I feel less hurt if everyone in the world agreed that I had been wronged? Would it be easier to let go if I were not deluded into believing that he loved me once, if even for a fleeting moment? Would it matter to me if the world condemned me for not letting go? Our species believes too strongly in overcoming. It believes in strength and resilience and in bearing a burden. Because my mind is blurred, I question their belief. I rebel against society’s notions and acknowledge that I prefer to succumb. That I have chosen my fate consciously, knowingly, willingly. That I prefer to hold onto a memory as the cornerstone of my life rather than attempt to push it into the depths of my mind where I could no longer remember the sensation I once felt. I prefer as he did, to break the rules. And I hope only that as I did, he would also not be able to hate me for it.
Style : Quatrain Three years today Its exactly the date Destiny had planned A tryst with fate Like an oasis in the desert Was his love to me As I walked the arid land Endlessly The heart would flutter As never before The words I'd utter Were sensible no more The smiles The Lord Gifted me each day Were but a loan of delirium To soon be taken away Its gone its past My mind reminds me each day Yet in can never be over For in my heart it stays
Gone But Not
Style : Limerick Lonely was I and so too was Danny I fell for him and he for the nanny "Grow up" was what he said to me As he rushed to ask her out to tea Leaving me to cry out for my granny
Danny and I
Style : Monorhyme
Each night at three I awaken abruptly Step out onto my round balcony Gaze at the stars burning oh so brightly And wonder if at all he's feeling lonely Reach out to him I would willingly To his worries and fears I'd listen attentively But the thousand miles stretch in between cumbersomely And I know I could not even dream daringly For a day a time when he looks lovingly At my face, my hand in his securely It’s half past the hour I notice dejectedly The moon no longer smiles at me cheerfully And I walk back and lie down quietly, hopelessly
It all started because of Fiza. Or was it because of Nurse Betty? I’m not so sure exactly, but if I had to blame to someone, it would have to be the movies. The typical Indian mentality that many of us have doesn’t easily allow people who don’t really know each other to go out on dates. How then are a boy and girl expected to get to know each other? The answer lies of course in going out with a huge jing bang of friends and then trying to sneak in some solo time with the person you actually wanted to go out with. At twenty seven I’m not sure exactly why either of us were still using these outdated tactics, but nevertheless I saw him actually inviting five to six people from work out to watch a movie when I had the distinct impression that I was the only one he actually wanted to go with. He kept insisting and informing everyone that Friday was his movie night and he was going anyway so he was doing us a favor by inviting us to go along. We didn’t mind, of course. Five of us ended up going for Nurse Betty that night. The two of us, two of my friends and a friend of his. The vague, interesting or maybe even slightly funny thing was that we didn’t speak to each other at all throughout the movie. His presence on my right ensured that I was on edge for the entire two hours, keenly aware not only of his presence but also his supposed depth of involvement in the otherwise dull movie. It’s been said of course that if you want to get someone in a romantic mood, you should take him or her for a comedy (as opposed to a horror flick that many regard incorrectly as the right environment to get someone into a romantic mood). This happened to be neither but then we’d only just met each other so for acquaintances I guess it was good enough. We said goodbye politely at the gate of our building where we us girls were sharing an apartment and I wondered silently as he drove away as to what would happen next. “Want to go for a movie tonight?” I saw his smiling face peer over my cubicle at work the next Friday. “Which one?” I asked back trying hard to suppress my excitement even though I really didn’t have any intention of being choosy. “Fiza”, he informed me and then went on to detail at great length how a friend of his had got some extra tickets for this first day first show kind of event. “Sure” I replied happily. It was then on the pretext of how-do-we-get-in-touch-with-each-other that we exchanged phone numbers. Later that evening I informed my roommates that I was going out for Fiza only to be bombarded with an, “I want to go too!” from one of them who then made me call him up and ask if there was an extra ticket for her to join in. After a sufficient amount of people calling each other up, we were set to go. This time we did speak to each other. First on the drive to the theatre, when we actually fund
out the absolute basics like where he was from, what he’d studied, how long he’d been at that company etc, etc. We also chatted over a pizza before the movie, then a general, “how are you liking it?” during the interval and finally a discussion post ending on what was right, what was wrong and of course what could have been better. I guess we could officially be termed friends now. It was already turning into a late night, but we decided to stop in at a diner and have a bite anyway. I spent most of the time watching him as he spoke earnestly to my friend and asked her a ton of questions he had not bothered to ask me. I kept quiet, realizing that it’s often easier to talk to almost anyone other than the one person you really want to talk to. By the third week, we’d become movie pals. We brought home videos after spending hours at Blockbuster, we’d watch all sorts of movies at my place with my roommates; we searched the local halls every Friday for new releases and promptly watched anything that was considered even remotely watchable. It was another Friday evening when we were planning to go out again, this time for Bait but somehow no one seemed free that night other than the two of us. After several persuasive attempts at asking the others to make it, we decided to go anyway. This time we spoke to each other quite a bit as I checked with him on some of the dialogues I’d missed, he asked me for gum and we both smiled a lot. Not only did it go off really well, but we also enjoyed each other’s solo company thoroughly. Most interestingly, none of my roomies batted an eyelid at the fact that I’d gone out with him alone, as we were “good friends” now. It had now become a case of ‘sher ke muh mein khoon’ (the lion has tasted blood). The problem facing us now was how to not take anyone else with us for the next Friday movie without making it obvious to anyone what we were up to (not even each other!) So after much scheming, plotting, planning and subconsciously avoiding people we managed to make it a date for The Contender. That was one movie I did not watch at all. The moment we stepped into the theatre and selected a pair of seats towards the corner of the hall, it turned into a romantic hand holding, flirting and smiling endlessly event that ensured neither of us followed the escapades of Joan Allen in the President’s office. That was three years ago. Today as I get into bed next to him, after tucking the baby to sleep and ruefully narrating the events of a long tiring day at work followed by housework, he gently runs his fingers through my hair and asks me “Want to go for a movie tonight?” “Which one?” I ask back, disinterestedly. “Well, there’s a new Quentin Tarantino movie just released,” but even before he finishes his statement he knows it’s useless as he looks down and sees that I’ve fallen fast asleep in his lap.
Doing the right thing
They say you get a nice warm feeling inside, when you do a good deed for someone else. I shuddered at the sudden chill that sped through my body like an electric shock runs through a human life in just a few seconds. Maybe it was the cold December breeze blowing silently through the partially open window to my right or maybe it was the anticipation of the loneliness that lay ahead as I stared down the empty corridor to my left. It had all started with a single indefinable moment that has the unfortunate privilege of holding the title of ‘life changing event’ for me. It was the moment that I had met him. In a room filled with people his eyes were all I could look at. His words were all I heard. His movement was all I saw. Till then I’d been driving down the highway of life confidently, in control, cruising at top speed with a clear vision of my destination and then suddenly, abruptly for no reason at all I swerved and took an unnecessary left turn that took me onto a side track, a path I didn’t know, hadn’t seen before and worse of all didn’t know where it was leading to. I was love-struck, vulnerable, helpless and confused all at once. I got to know him, but I didn’t know myself any longer. My well maintained priority list of life collapsed into a one-point item and I knew only that all of a sudden nothing else in life seemed remotely important. And all I could do was attempt to spend every living minute by his side. It must’ve been a match made in hell. As if the devil were trying to flippantly tip over the scales of a somewhat balanced life that the opposing winged team had granted me thus far, setting instantly in motion the wheels of a torturous journey ahead that I had no chance of either forfeiting or aborting. To say that my feelings weren’t reciprocated would be an understatement. To say that he was amused and bewildered at my proclamation of undying love for him would be an assumption. To say that he told me clearly and precisely that nothing could ever happen between us would be a fact. A fact that I chose primarily to ignore and mostly to relegate to the back of my mind as an impulsive and incorrect decision on his part. So what if I was older and only ‘friend’ material in his eyes? People grow to love one another don’t they? “You can’t make someone love you,” he said to me wisely one day. “You can, if you be everything that they ever wanted you to be”, I replied stubbornly, my naivety visible to everyone other than myself. And thus began my journey. To prove that I was right. To prove that one must always keep trying. To prove that good things happen to those who wait. I turned vegetarian, took to drinking his preferred red wine instead of my standard vodka and orange juice and even attempted to learn his native language, a dialect that was completely foreign to me. Then of course there were the mails, the birthday gifts, the ‘trying-to-be-friends’ chats and numerous other small irrelevant gestures all of which ensured that even at the end of
three years I hadn’t progressed an inch in my endeavor to cross what was now an ocean that lay between us. Yes mine was definitely the story of the stranded puppy in the rain. Picture this. A stout but cute little puppy is standing along at the curbside staring at the lights turning from red to green and back. And then along comes this man, who just happens to stop and take a good long look at the pup. He picks up the pup and spends sometime playing, laughing, joking as he strokes the fur on the little dog’s body. Light hearted moments that they both enjoyed together. After that, he puts the pup back down, says bye, gets up and starts crossing the street as if in a rush all of a sudden to get on with his life. Little wonder isn’t it that the pup follows him all the way home and proceeds to wait for the man everyday come rain or shine, hoping to recreate some of that magic. Of course this man has neither the time nor the need for the pup, so what happens then is the inevitability of the puppy standing one day in the pouring rain, howling at the top of his voice, calling out to a man who isn’t even looking out the window. Unfortunately, I’m the puppy. I realized soon that he had started looking for his soul mate. His matrimonial on a leading website ran something like - Seeks bride Well educated, from a decent –respectable family, very fair & height above-5'-3”. For an instant, I considered applying. For only an instant though ‘cos I knew I qualified on the first two requirements, but I was neither very fair nor over 5-3”, and 2 out of 4 were definitely not good odds. A wise man once said that if you want to win, you must choose your battles well. All battles aren’t worth fighting and some battles aren’t even worth winning. It was time now for me to either walk away or to be truly the friend he expected me to be. Unfortunately I already had too many friends and that was never quite what I had in mind for the two of us. As I had turned to wave to him from the back seat of the taxi cab after we’d said goodbye, I saw the image of his shrinking frame through the window as the cabbie proceeded to promptly speed away. That moment often challenges the current top spot for life changing moment but always loses out because of a trivial nagging reason – that I could have prevented this one. Life certainly didn’t get better after that. I wished often that I could say simply that I just don’t remember the last time I was happy. Instead I remembered it all too well. That brings me then to this very day when seated in front of my PC in my study on a cold winter night I began to type an email that was completely out of character for me. It must have been divine intervention at work as I went about requesting a dear friend of mine (also from his community) to help in finding a suitable match for him. The request, response and counter response happened so fast that I was still reeling under the impact of the plan that I myself had initiated never realizing the full meaning of what I was doing.
When he called to thank me for doing it all, he asked politely “What made you do it?” “My stupidity” is my only reply. Yes his wedding is fixed. Yes I do plan to attend. Yes, he’s quite happy, and I would be too, I guess, if it weren’t for that sudden chill that returns routinely to run through my body.
Of Love and Luck
These were not the best days of my life. I saw myself on my 27th birthday as a lady who had it all … or nothing at all depending on how one is valuing. For the past twenty seven years I had managed to live by the mantra of ‘Jo hota hai atchay ke liye hi hota hai’ (whatever happens, happens for the best). An optimist’s version of looking at a glass of spilt milk and thinking to himself that it was best that the milk lay now in a white shapeless pool on the dark wooden floor for had he drank it all it wouldn’t have been good for his cholesterol. Not many would agree that I had cause to complain. Good job, great friends and family and a jet setting lifestyle that all who knew me envied. But complain I did, for man by nature is greedy. I indulged in several one sided negotiations with the Lord himself, but lately all my requests placed aptly at his altar alongside an auspicious hundred and one rupees, had been ignored. Things had started going wrong. Just that morning I’d lost my third opportunity to make a trip to the US. A trip I’d had my heart set on for the last three months. A trip that would no doubt reunite me with my one true love. The one for whom the flame still burned bright. The one who had been present even in his absence for each day of the last three years since I’d seen him last. Yes, absence does make the heart grow fonder, I sighed inwardly, lost deeply once more in thoughts of a time gone by. Nostalgia they say is an emotion you just can’t fight against. It comes when its least expected, triggered off by the most innocuous song or gesture or expression, lasts as long as it so desires, its repetitiveness not once diminishing the emotion it recollects and leaves abruptly one day just when you think that it’s finally settled down. All I had was memories and I was beginning to feel like the unluckiest girl in the world. “Not a good time to buy a lottery ticket don’t you think?” He always spoke candidly, his sense of humor amusing only him at that moment. Or I suppose I should say he always typed candidly. For we were at most instant messenger friends, at times email and e-cards friends and on rare occasions SMS friends, but that’s about it. Life was now a far cry from the times we’d sat at the office canteen sipping slowly on our cups of coffee, neither one of us in a hurry to return to the rigmarole of daily work. I’d been onsite as a consultant to his company for two months. I met him in my third week there and it just seemed like a string of related events kept happening to ensure that we spent at least an hour a day together. If we didn’t meet at work, we’d go out for a drink in the evening. If we missed the evening cocktail we’d hook up for dinner. If we missed dinner, we’d chat on the phone. If we missed the phone call, a plan would immediately go into effect the next morning on the next movie we could watch together, ensuring that we met at work sometime to discuss it. If we didn’t meet at work … Two months. I hadn’t even got a chance to tell him how I felt and it was already time to say
goodbye. When we’d said our farewells, it had been more like a ‘see you again tomorrow’. There was still so much to say and do. It seemed impossible that we wouldn’t be meeting again tomorrow. Or the day after. Or the week after … It seemed impossible . If my trips to the US kept getting cancelled, his trips to India included stopovers only in Bombay and Pune. Too often I cursed S.M. Krishna for not getting the Bangalore International airport operational quick enough. Too often I wished I could find a good reason to be at the same place at the same time. Too often I wished that fate would intervene just once again, as it had the first time. But fate is a busy lady and opportunity most certainly never knocks twice. “Where have you been for the last two weeks?” I typed angrily one day. “I wanted to speak to you before leaving for London. I’m going tomorrow on work for a week”. “Hey that’s great”, he typed back. “ I was just there last week – the weather is amazing this time of the year”. Luck certainly didn't seem to be on my side. “Its Shani”, the astrologer told me. “Seven and a half years of Shani,” he reiterated. “But don’t worry, you’ve less than a year to go”. Somehow it didn’t sound as comforting as it was meant to. After a long session of recommended stones to better my life, I was left at exactly the same place I’d started. With one more negative point. I couldn’t fight fate. “That’s what started it all”, I tried to explain completing the verbose narrative of my story to a friend one day. “Ok, let me get this straight”, she decided to indulge me, “you think that bad things are happening to you ever since you met him with the objective of preventing you from meeting him again?” she asked, patronizing. “Yes”, I exclaimed, “that is exactly it.” “Hmm”, she was thoughtful now. Surprised but not amused. “What do I do now?” I queried. “We need to get you a punditji to ward off the evil”, she replied with the confidence I needed to hear. “Really, can they do that?” I was hopeful, but uncertain. “Certainly,” she continued, “my cousin Dolly had the exact same problem. Well maybe not exact but anyway she was terribly unlucky. It said so in her janampatri. So her parents got this massive havan undertaken for her and just about a month after that she promptly got engaged.” “That’s great”, I was beginning to see some hope. “Let me know how to contact the punditji.” “Tell me again why we’re doing this, dear”, my father, usually a very patient and understanding man, seemingly failed to get the point of the havan I had managed to set up for myself and my family on a Sunday morning.
“Aap bataiye, punditji”, I said, passing the buck. Punditji had thick glasses, a chandan smeared forehead and disheveled hair pulled back roughly into a long ponytail. He was busy setting some leaves below some pots, but he looked up nevertheless and launched into an extended monologue educating my father on the advantages of getting one’s house cleaned of evil spirits that may be causing misfortune to the family members. It was an after hour of chanting ‘swaha’ and pouring ghee that he proclaimed the havan successful and proceeded to join us for the mithai and lunch that my mother had been nice enough to prepare. “Done”, I thought to myself, satisfied. “All I need now is patience”. A month later … “All I need now is faith”. Another month passes by. “All I need now is hope”. And yet another month passes by. “These paths are destined never to cross again”, I typed bitterly onto the chat window one day, adding a sad face emoticon to stress my misery, for I knew all too well that neither of us could or would change his path. “These paths crossed, don’t you see the good in that?” He sounded cheerful or so I thought, for it had been months since I last heard that voice. Na, I didn’t see the good in anything anymore. If I had a dollar for each time he tried to cheer me up with one of his somewhat philosophical remarks, I’d no doubt have a small fortune by now. Enough to splurge on myself at Fifth Avenue, but probably not enough to make me feel the same light heartedness he felt. “Chat with you soon?” I asked before saying bye. “Next time I’m up this late, yeah,” he typed back. Yes, long distance relationships were never meant to work. Maybe some people are luckier than others. Maybe some people try harder than others. Maybe it’s all about birth place and time. Me, I just felt like the unluckiest girl in the world.
My mother would not be proud. Not solely because she raised me as a fiercely independent feminist but more so because she insisted always that God created men and women equal. And that was the only way to treat them. Looking at him approaching now through the restaurant window where I'd been seated at the table waiting anxiously for him for the last 20 minutes, I knew for a fact that he and I were not equal. Six months ago, we'd met in very different circumstances. I was as they say young and wild and free. He was decidedly more seasoned, restrained and somewhat burdened. How and why opposites attract will forever remain a mystery to me. Suffice it to say that we had something, but that something had nowhere to go. I stared at him unabashedly as he looked both sides then crossed the road headed in my direction without even the hint of a smile on his face, and wondered what effort this meeting would be drawing of him. We'd eaten at the very same restaurant at least half a dozen times before. At lunch time during work, on Saturday nights after a movie and even at vague times of the afternoon or evening when one of us would suddenly be in the mood for a samosa or a mango lassi. It's amazing how some moments seem to be special only when you're looking back at them, for when they are taking place, they are taken simply for granted. He avoided my eyes entirely and sat down instead after greeting briefly the glass topped table and probably also the mat and the plate that lay on it. He sat with his arms crossed over his chest as if he were shielding himself against any verbal attack that I might thrust upon him. I wished only that I could tell him that all I wanted to do was hear his voice and see him smile. Instead I asked him if he wanted to try the buffet. We inquired after each other's health, not happiness. We verified that things were alright at work, not at home. He spoke sparingly, pushed his food around his plate a lot, got up for a refill whenever I sat down after one and didn't ask me even once how I'd been since I'd seen him last. The same man who used to pick me up, take me out to lunch and chivalrously pay for it also, so many times before was now behaving as if his mere presence was a huge favor that he was bestowing upon me. Six months ago when he'd held me in his arms and promised to write to me every single day that I'd be away, I had not the slightest doubt that he'd miss being with me. And now I sat in front of him knowing all too well that all he wanted to do was get up and leave. It's not as if he was running away. He'd changed his mind, that's all. And he'd faced his responsibility and told me clearly that there could never be anything between us. He'd been patient and decent and let all my tantrums and emotional outbursts pass. And then he told me
again that there could never be anything between us, even if all I wanted between us was a couple of smiles. His being married probably had something to do with it. But it wasn't just that. There was something about me that bothered him and I didn't quite know what. "We are different", he explained to me several weeks before as if I didn't know the obvious. "We don't gel". My first reaction had been to assure him that I could be as similar to him as he wanted. My second was to try and convince him that similarity was not a factor that determined happiness. "You can't make me happy' he said shaking his head. 'Don't get any wrong signals from me', he said with renewed emphasis. "You're wasting your time. There's nothing here for either of us." Lunch was over before either of us could get beyond details of the weather. Not surprisingly, he said he didn't enjoy the food at all. I picked up the tab. He shrugged, got up, put on his coat and started walking towards the door where he stopped for a moment to chit chat with the manager who was asking him why it had been so long since the last time he'd patronized this restaurant. I was still looking at him from over 10 feet away as I put on my jacket and saw him smiling broadly at the waitress as she passed by him. I lowered my eyes, now full of tears. It was obvious that some things were just not meant to be. He walked two steps ahead of me all the way to the car park and I didn't speed up to catch him. He turned around and waved half heartedly as he got into his car and drove off. I didn't wave back. But I knew that had he stopped for a second and taken my hand in his, I'd have collapsed onto my knees and begged him never to leave me. I would have cried and pleaded and said that I couldn't live without him. And I knew that even six months later a simple hello from him could cause me to be deliriously happy. Maybe that's why he'd never say it. There is always one who loves the other more. So you see mom, God may have created man and woman as equal, but the equations that we ourselves have created ... they are never equal.
To have and to hold
He said he lost a little respect for me the day he found out that he wasn't the first man in my life. I didn't say it, but I lost all respect for him the day he said that. Not just because I had loved him unconditionally, unrequitedly, unrestrainedly for the last four years but more so because he hadn't loved me in any way since the day I confided in him the details of my now obliterated past.
"I respect you", he had told me, days before my confession. "I would never distance myself from you". Sometimes I think it was too early for me to have tested his not-so-obvious feelings for me. But when a man holds you in his arms and says that he loves you, it's difficult not to believe that that love can overcome anything and everything. In my case it was a past that I could never change. My only choice was whether to declare it myself or allow it to be overheard, or discovered in some surely dramatic way. Perhaps there was even a good chance that it never be discovered at all. But did I want to take that risk? Did I want to hide something from this man whom I was now contemplating a future with? I chose not to, on the grounds that a new relationship was about to be forged and it was best that it be forged on solid, truthful, honest ground. Big mistake. What happened instead was that the relationship was not forged at all, leading instead to the melting away of whatever little bonds were left holding the two of us together. For three and a half years we kept in touch, politely, briefly, irregularly and discussed everything under the sun except how overnight he transformed from a smitten lover into a withdrawn adversary choosing to wound me at every chance he got rather than confront his own hurt at having discovered my previous liaison. The fact that the latter was over way before I met him didn't seem at all relevant. "I wish you had never told me", was what he said to me one day. "We were about to get involved", I tried to explain. "How would you have felt if I had let you get involved with me and then you would have found out?" It would have hurt a hundred times more, I wanted to tell him. "I told you because I loved you", I reasoned to someone who did not seem at all open to reason. Didn't work. After 42 months, I found myself at status quo and no clear clue on where to go, from here. "So what were you expecting?" he asked me when I dared to mention that the four years I'd
invested in our relationship seemed not to be giving the dividends I had hoped for. "Well, I at least thought that you'd think of me as more than a friend", I replied sheepishly like a school kid caught on the wrong foot when asking a question that seemed to the teacher as though it were completely irrelevant with reference to the topic being discussed. "You are a friend. It will never be more than that." I knew he genuinely believed that. I only wish I could accept it too. "How did it come to this?" I often wondered without answer or consolation. Somehow I knew that I was responsible for my own state of affairs and yet I never knew what I could possibly have done differently. I hadn't had a perfect life. I certainly wasn't a perfect person. But was it really such a bad thing that I had actually loved someone else before I met this man? I just could not understand how my love for another person a year before I had met him somehow managed to undermine my love for him, in the present ... right here, right now when there was not a single thought in my mind and in my heart other than my complete devotion to him. Why was it just not enough? I suppose it has something to do with "Till death do us part?" I mean how many weddings do you go to where the bride looks into the groom's eyes and says affectionately "To have and to hold, in sickness and in health ... till four years are up." No. People certainly believe that you love once and that one love is the most important of all. That one love means everything and if you're one of those who've fallen in love 2 - 3 times, well then ... you're not the one. In the US today, 50% of couples get divorced. Pre nups are getting more and more popular and with Elizabeth Taylor's eight weddings, J Lo's three and Britney Spears quickly going in for her second, I have to wonder whether these people are just too foolish in love or too optimistic. For me, it's a lose-lose situation. Love him I will ... probably not till I'm old and grey, but still for a very very long time. I can't help feeling resentful though that my love doesn't have any value for him. Even if he knew it was just to be four years ... could he not enjoy those four? Fortunately or unfortunately it wasn't my choice to make. He's quite sure that he'd much rather be alone. Well, maybe his wait will be worth it. For the rest of you also waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right ... if Mr. Somewhat Right or Ms. Almost Right comes along ... I'd still say give it a chance ... but only if you can continue to respect them for whatever they are.
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