(1) This was written as a part of a deal, about three and half years back. I planned to revisit it sometime and make it into an actual story (the original deal was to write about a single day on a particular theme, though I have cheated anyway :)), but it is not happening any time soon, I am afraid.
(2) This is not autobiographical at all. I imagined a guy very different from myself writing this; so those of you who know me, don’t think of me when reading this, because the intended mood of the story is quite different. But had this piece been any good, I guess I would have claimed autobiographical influences. :)
(3) God knows that I have had enough trouble people reading themselves into my stories! Did I mention three unjustifiably broken friendships?! All girls! And it is not even me, always. Twice, the girls read my story and broke up their friendship(!) with other people!!! I guess they didn’t broke their friendship with me because we were not friends to start with (which, I’m ashamed to say, I have been thankful for). :)
It is a stump now,
Its art gone,
Its ornaments all gone.
It does not stir with spring
Nor bend like a bow when green
Nor from its flowers fly KamaDevaâ€™s arrows
Nor in its shades are sighs of travellers heard
Or tears of lovers seen.
Only one old bird
Sits remembering something.
â€(â€¬Translated from the Hindi of Suryakant Tripathyâ€™sâ€ â€œâ€¬Niralaâ€â€ â€¬by Vikram Seth.â€)
A speck of fire rose along with the pile of ash and went up in small circles until it collided with the roof above and went out.â€ â€¬I was trying hard not to burn my rectangular chapati and all I could manage was to spread hot ash throughout the verandah.â€ â€¬Sipaâ€™ni and Lipaâ€™ni were laughing nearby and Rupaâ€™ni was still insisting that I leave it to her.â€ â€¬Dipa,â€ â€¬as always,â€ â€¬was standing some distance away with a detached look on her face.â€ â€¬She never understood what she didn’t experience,â€ â€¬and being happy was one of them.
It was a quiet evening.â€ â€¬There was a musical loveliness about the crackles of the burning wood coupled with the indistinct hum of the fire.
I had just baked something frightfully similar to the rags nearby when I was told of my waiting call.â€ â€¬I dashed through the pond and the gate and the grass and the theatre and the salt piles and picked up the receiver.â€ â€¬A dog was barking in the distance,â€ â€¬and held all my attention for the moment as I listened through the receiver.â€ â€¬Finally,â€ â€¬I put it down on the cradle.â€ â€¬I was wondering if I was going to cry when a drop of tear fell down on my palm.â€ â€¬I heard the dogs bark in the distance and remembered that I was yet to roll a round chapati.â€ â€¬I ran back as fast as I could.
â€¬Suresh kaâ€â€™ â€¬was getting married the following week.â€ â€¬I donâ€™t remember everything that I went through that night,â€ â€¬but I was weeping for her and for myself at the end of that night.â€ â€¬And all these years I had thought that I had gotten over herâ€!
Waking up in her house is an elaborate affair for men and a tedious routine for the women.â€ â€¬To avoid waking up into a world that I hated,â€ â€¬I tried to sleep as long as I could.â€ â€¬But Tapan’s offer of the breakfast was irresistible and I finally woke up.
I walked out and sat down in one corner of the verandah and lazily started turning the pages of a Wodehouse while waiting for the others to come down and join me on my way to breakfast.â€ â€¬The pond in the front yard which I had always remembered for rising mists in winter mornings was now being dried in order to catch the fishes for the marriage.â€ â€¬For a moment my ears filled with the sound of rain pittering pattering on the surface of the pond as I lay their remembering the times I had been there trying to push her into the puddles of mud while we raced to jump into the pond every time it rained.
Then,â€ â€¬I heard a familiar laughter and stood up to turn around and see if everyone was down.
Had I been more attentive to the occasion,â€ â€¬I would have realised that she shouldnâ€™t have been there at all.â€ â€¬But I was so glad to see her grinning from ear to ear that I did not remember that it was the marriage of the man whom she had come to love so much in her downfall.
I might have remembered,â€ â€¬eventually,â€ â€¬given enough time,â€ â€¬but the inchoate realization that she might have been smiling at the cousin standing in front of me wiped out all thoughts other than the one of humiliation from my mind.â€ â€¬My face felt hot and my eyes started watering.â€ â€¬I turned back and sat down on the verandah in the middle ofâ€ â€¬all the hustle bustle to continue with the book I had been reading the moment before.
I never let the smile go off my face though.â€ â€¬With great weakness come great will and enough power to hide it.
Then she surprised me with an embrace and a pat on my cheek with that grin of hers still on her face.â€ â€¬Her eyes shone and I knew that they had been for me all along.
Hands on our hips,â€ â€¬and carefree smiles on our faces,â€ â€¬we talked for some time.â€ â€¬She didnâ€™t seem to mind the marriage any more.â€ â€¬So many years,â€ â€¬and she hadnâ€™t changed on the surface except for getting thinner.â€ â€¬The last time she had been to see me,â€ â€¬it was to give me a small teddy bear which she said reminded her of me and to tell me to go win the world and find a decent girl to make love with who could play both the violin and cards.
Everyone was invited for the breakfast except for her.â€ â€¬Probably she hadnâ€™t been invited to a breakfast for the last six years.
She was a stranger in the house that she had every right to call her home.â€ â€¬I couldnâ€™t have helped her no matter how much I tried,â€ â€¬and I certainly didnâ€™t want to do it at her expense.â€ â€¬I kept my remarks to myself and had a very nice breakfast.â€ â€¬These days I had excellent breakfasts,â€ â€¬because I had finally lost the illusion that I could change the world around me.
She tried to lie,â€ â€¬but I knew everything already.â€ â€¬Perhaps she needed the assurance that I loved her as much as I ever did even though she had once brushed it aside.â€ â€¬Even though it didn’t mean a thing now to anyone except for me.â€ â€¬I realised that finally it means something to her too.
We had first met in a musical concert.â€ â€¬We were playing Pachelbelâ€™s Canon; â€¬violin and guitar,â€ â€¬she and I.â€ â€¬She was a terrible player and couldn’t be bothered to play her violin with any amount of attention.â€ â€¬But what she lacked with the violin she more than made up for by her expressions.â€ â€¬She looked so goddamn serious and passionate while playing in spite of all her frivolity that she made me want to walk up to her and kiss her every time she got that stage look on her face.
â€I couldn’t help but figure out that we were distantly related.â€ â€¬And then there was the rain and I had to drop her home.â€ â€¬Numerous card games and dinners at her house later,â€ â€¬I told her that I was in love with her to the point of distraction and that I couldnâ€™t possibly be expected to spend the rest of my miserable life without her.
Of all the things she could have done and said in reply,â€ â€¬she laughed and told me not to be a silly ass.
It is always like that when you are young and fall in love.â€ â€¬She means the world to you and she doesnâ€™t want to deal with it.â€ â€¬I grew up with a wounded heart,â€ â€¬not knowing if I would ever live again.â€ â€¬I did live,â€ â€¬but I was never young again.â€ â€¬And love though I did,â€ â€¬it was never with my heart again.
And letters from her piled up in a corner to be picked up randomly to be cried over during the lonely nights when I wake up silently from the monotony of my sleep only to be reminded of her,â€ â€¬to find no one sleeping next to me,â€ and â€¬to stare at the rain crashing silently against the glass windows for the rest of the night.
I touched her hair and listened to her and held her hand in my hand while she told me all about the marriage that happened and the one that did not happen.â€ â€¬Ohâ€! â€¬How could she pour so much of her affection where it was not cared forâ€? â€¬The man did not love her,â€ â€¬and she didnâ€™t know it.â€ â€¬She didnâ€™t know so many thingsâ€ â€“ â€¬but I spared her the suffering of knowledge,â€ â€¬for all her sacrifices had been a waste.â€ â€¬She had suffered greatly,â€ â€¬and she had suffered for nothing.
We played cards after the breakfast.â€ â€¬Everyone insisted that I be paired off with her,â€ â€¬we had been great partners in the old days.â€ â€¬I didnâ€™t see how much it was going to affect me.â€ â€¬Every single movement of her brows brought back to me the memories of my happiest days with her,â€ â€¬which made me only sad.â€ â€¬Every time her lips trembled,â€ â€¬uncertain whether to part or not in the moments of indecision,â€ â€¬I grew more and more restless,â€ â€¬for I had forgotten all about them in these years.â€ â€¬She acted with all her gracious gestures as I remembered them,â€ â€¬but the spontaneity and seriousness of her adolescence had been replaced by the indifference of her maturity,â€ â€¬and it made me melancholic.â€ â€¬I found that I had stayed back with the girl I fell in love with,â€ â€¬and life had moved on.
â€Over these years,â€ â€¬I have thought less and less often of her.â€ â€¬She is like a scar that doesnâ€™t hurt any more,â€ â€¬one that I remember only when I see myself in the mirror or touch it by accident.â€ â€¬Sometimes I think of what would have happened had my love been answered with love,â€ â€¬but it doesnâ€™t make me very sad.
I never stopped playing cards.â€ â€¬I have come across many other gracefully exasperated women playing cards,â€ â€¬but I have always associated those gestures,â€ â€¬the slightest of which was enough to bleed my heart at one time,â€ â€¬to the one who really made my heart bleed dry.â€ â€¬It doesnâ€™t bleed any more,â€ â€¬and I never see anybody but her.
For sometime I was lost between my cousins,â€ â€¬almost all of whom are would-be engineers,â€ â€¬talking about their lives,â€ â€¬studies,â€ â€¬movies,â€ â€¬stupid profs,â€ â€¬booze,â€ â€¬girls,â€ â€¬all the usual topics.
We went for a walk and had all the kids for company.â€ â€¬Half of them didnâ€™t even know the poor fellow who was getting married,â€ â€¬which I thought was sort of funny and appropriate and nice in a way.â€ â€¬Tapan displayed tactfulness for the first time in his life and took care of the children so that we could have the walk to ourselves.
I am perpetually out of cash.â€ â€¬I donâ€™t mind it that much,â€ â€¬really,â€ â€¬except when I canâ€™t offer to take the girl I am so desperately in love with to a dinner.â€ â€¬She is never short of admirers,â€ â€¬and she has been kind to everyone but me.
I didnâ€™t sleep till she was back from her dinner.â€ â€¬I am in my bed right now.â€ â€¬I could have kissed her good night,â€ â€¬but that would have embarrassed me.â€ â€¬I am too conscious of all that I feel and it always shows up.
I wonder what is there for breakfast tomorrow.