7th July, 2012
I watched the rain from behind the glass window, as it fell softly, silently on a warm July night. The wet brooding darkness gazed at me from the other side of the glass. There was a sense of loneliness akin to us, me and the darkness. The raindrops trickling down the glass pane outside and the deafening silence within the room, was stifling me. I got up, poured myself a drink. With the ice cubes clinking in my glass I slid open the balcony door and stepped out. The rain had intensified. The sleeping city below me was getting drenched.
It has been almost fifteen years that I left the city and though I paid a short visit after a span of four years yet I hardly had time to look at it. The wound of not having you in my life was still raw. I had little interest in anything else other than meeting my mother and my old memories.
This time, however, the city looked cleaner smarter and unfamiliar and I have come to it with pangs of anticipation throbbing in me.
I missed its old world charm, where I spent my college days studying medicine, where you happened in my life – the aging houses, their shuttered windows, close terraces, the maze of narrow lanes, the roadside tea stalls, the neighbourhood sweetshops , where each corner had its own story to tell.
The rhythm of the rain made me go deeper into introspection and I realized that I never got used to living without you. Now, isn’t it amusing, since we have never lived together? You were and still are more of a desire I have always wished to live with. This deep desire for you spread its root far within me and I have grown fond of spending my quiet time with you through this diary. Here, in these pages, somehow you become mine. After traversing through a lonely life for decades, this desire was on the verge taking a shape. It was only a matter of few hours for you to become a reality. This thought made me restless.
I took a swig from my glass. It slithered down my throat spreading a sense of calm. My initial years abroad made me a loner. I travelled far from my home with the burden of repaying a huge debt of my deceased abusive father. My mother and my younger brother were struggling hard to live a decent life back in India. I nosedived into work when an inland letter came from you informing me about your marriage. There was a snide remark about my lack of commitment and courage to take the relationship to the next level. Your letter is still with me and my eyes often caress your words.
I learnt that you were getting married to a brilliant young professor of economics, Probal Chatterjee. He was well known among students of the college para (neighbourhood) for his debating skills during college days and I too heard him once. Life lost all its colours and turned monochromatic. I withdrew into my shell and the cold alien country where I knew none, became my saviour. The roads, the buildings, the people and everything around was not even remotely familiar. I was all alone with my grief with none to share it with. Gradually I learnt to live with it and found that it suited me fine to be with myself.
I visited India four years later when my mother and brother had settled well after the initial struggling phase. I had repaid the debts, our house had remained ours and it was in a better shape.
I went back to Grey Street, knowing fully well that you did not reside there anymore. You were in Delhi, where your husband worked. My uncle’s house and yours had almost a joined roof, the houses being so close to each other. The desolate sight of both the houses standing still during the dusk hours of that autumn has remained etched in my memory till date. I never felt so empty as I did on that day and had walked back silently towards the bus stop. I did not meet my uncle and his family, though I had stayed in their house as a son for some years.
As evening set in, I wished I would become a shadow mingling with the descending darkness and gradually get reduced to a speck and finally nothing of me should remain. A piercing pain knifed through me, I got up in a cab and headed towards a central Kolkata bar where I had been on the sly with my friends during my Medical College days.
I drank till the bar had remained open and remembered spending the night at Sealdah Station platform, unable to catch the train back home. I lied to my mother after reaching home. She reprimanded me for not calling up our neighbor, who had a residential telephone. I looked into her eyes and I knew immediately that she could make out that something had gone wrong. We could read each other instinctively without exchanging any words and without having the same mental wavelength. After going to UK I used to write her long letters and she used to answer by starting with the words,” Sneher Babu.” Nobody called me Babu since she passed away suddenly following a massive heart attack a year after my visit.
During the one year she had brought up the topic of my marriage and I had kept on dillydallying. Anita was already in my life. She was passionate, independent, cheerful and the fact that she never bothered me about settling down with her, drew me towards her. I loved the way she seamlessly fitted into my life and apartment without claiming any special space for herself.
She had been the only person after my mother with whom I felt comfortable sharing many of my thoughts. She knew how I felt about you, she called it an ‘obsession.’ I don’t think she ever felt insecure or jealous about it since she knew you were more of a mirage in my life till the day I spoke about you calling me and asking me to come to Kolkata. She became unusually quiet hearing this and after three or four days left a note saying that she was going on a bird watching tour and would not be coming back to the apartment again. She had packed meticulously and did not leave behind a single trace of her. I could make out that she was terribly hurt and felt like a child who had spilt the milk and did not know how to clear the mess.
I had never proposed marriage to her, she too never mentioned it being aware of the ways of my migrant heart.
When I lost my mother Anita absorbed a lot of my pain just by being there. With my mother’s death many deep rooted associations with people, places or things just drifted away from my life without me being very much aware of it. I did not go back for the last rites, rather finished it off at Gaudiya Math where Anita arranged for offering ‘annajol’ to the departed soul.
I think I became temporarily incapacitated to feel anything about the loss till we drove to stay in the countryside for a weekend where I broke down and cried for hours. Anita just let me be. I wept and cried and wailed bitterly till I fell asleep and woke up with a heavy head. Later I realized it was the heaviness of the void and that it has remained within me till date. I thought her death to be an unfair conspiracy against me and turned my face off from the world that did not have her in it. I forgot that my younger brother faced it all alone, meeting relatives and completing the last rites the way she would have wanted it. I was too weak to face it, too coward as her son. I have been haunted by the feeling that she must have felt let down, just the way you felt that I could not rise to the occasion of proposing our marriage to your parents. I have been a person who failed both the women I loved and of course later, Anita too.
I looked out into the night, it was drizzling lightly. The rows of lights along the Eastern Metropolitan Road looked like fairy lanterns weaving a dream. A dream it had been for sure, the evening when I saw you unexpectedly at a gathering at the Sinha’s near Wimbledon and the day almost six years since that evening, when you finally called me up.
A beautiful blue saree had draped you in an amorous way, complimenting the womanly charm. You looked prettier and fuller – the gifts of marriage and motherhood perhaps, I mused. You were busy talking with someone when your eyes fell on me and right at that moment it seemed that the world had only you and me in it and time and space and nothing else mattered anymore. The years in between melted into insignificance. We did not talk and neither could I stay there for long. I was formally introduced to Probal and I learnt he had come for a seminar and you had probably accompanied him. I left the place and drove back in a fazed state with hordes of memories jumbled up within me.
This meeting triggered in me something which lay dormant all these years, the urge to find out more about you. I had seen pain in your eyes and it pulled me to you like a moth to a flame. I could make out that Probal had a world of his own and his erudition and success had rendered in him an arrogance and aloofness from the rest. I just wondered whether you belonged to his world or you too was another person belonging to the ‘rest’.
I got my answer when your call came. The world, brought closer by internet, stood still with the shocking news of Probal’s death in a car crash. I kept on thinking of you and gathered that you were back in Kolkata and was working as a counsellor at a child development centre, incidentally run by a friend’s wife. I could not bring myself to call you in spite of having your number.
Finally you made the much awaited call and I boarded the plane to meet you in the rains.
7th July, 2012
It was raining, I could hear the hum of raindrops outside. Deep within me there was a silent downpour with the untying of each knotted emotion. I lifted the shutters of the window and found the rain blurring my sight, effacing all boundaries and I thought of you.
The house was quiet, only Dadabhai was playing raga Gaud Malhar on his sarod. His notes rippled through the night and while eddying in my heart stirred up feelings that had been put to rest. I pushed open the window, a cool breeze gushed in like you, caressing my face. Your uncle’s house stood in silence. They do not live here anymore, the house, like an old album has remained; hoarding our memories.
Riku was sleeping soundly on the bed, I pulled his sheet over him. While looking at him something from deep within welled up and filled my eyes. After all, Probal’s death was more of a loss for Riku, than for me. I was already a loser when Probal died. I felt sorry as I looked at my son’s sleeping face.
When Riku was born, he filled our world with a strange kind of happiness. Life had never looked so beautiful earlier. Our days and nights were bathed in rainbow hues till he joined a Montessori school nearby and we were told that he had difficulty in following instructions. Later the term ‘autism’ gatecrashed into our lives.
Gradually my life changed, he had to be sent to a special school and I too had to learn the ways to handle him. Riku was a happy child, living life in his own rhythm and gradually after patient stitching and re-stitching of my frayed weary nerves, I learnt his ways and later could teach him too. My love, strong and adamant, forced its way through while Probal’s being demanding and conditional; lost itself midway. For him it was a huge disappointment.
As I got more and more involved with Riku, Probal got busier in his own world. He used to take us out for dinners and bring home gifts from abroad as earlier, but somewhere, a distance like a dark shadow was growing between him and us. I used to feel left behind initially but gradually I got used to it. The estrangement; like a layer of dust had settled in.
In the meantime, Riku was doing very well in school. When I gave Probal this heartening piece of news he looked at me in a strange way; as if what I said was highly amusing; what good can an autistic child do? He would never become ‘junior’, never another Probal. I knew from the look in his eyes that our worlds were different. Riku was the cause of this rift and at the same time the sole reason why I stayed back with him. Riku needed a father and I needed his financial support to bring up Riku.
You were far away from my life Arin. I had learnt that you were single. It had puzzled me since I thought you must have been seeing someone as you did not reply to my letter. When I met you at the Sinha’s I could see the flickering flame of old feelings in your eyes. Your eyes made me believe that our love was true. My memories, like crushed petals beneath ravenous time exuded a lovely fragrance, and by and by everything surged back to me.
I remembered how it all began. The summer sun was browbeaten by angry grey clouds and raging winds, a prelude to the Nor’westers. I was hurriedly picking up the dry washed clothes from the clothesline when a gust of unruly wind blew away a gamcha (indigenously woven light towel) from the heap of clothes over to your shoulder. You were about to enter your room in the attic when this piece of cloth stunned you by its sudden arrival. You turned back, saw me looking at it helplessly, asking you,”dao, give.”
A sudden naughtiness crossed your eyes, you replied, “eshe niye jao (come and take it back).” You did not expect I would come, but in no time you found me standing on the threshold of the door demanding that the gamcha be returned immediately. You challenged me to step in. Needless to say I walked in, my confident gait must have befuddled you. The sky cracked and a flash made me bump straight into you. You too had gathered enough courage to plant a hurried kiss on my lips. It was a first time for both of us and we were thrilled.
The excitement of our first bite into the forbidden apple reverberated in us for days to come till we indulged in more of such stolen moments. That storm tossed April afternoon had perhaps scripted the prelude to a tale of drenched emotions that would last as long as we would live.
I had not wept since long. My tears had betrayed me when I saw the lifeless body of Probal. I had already packed for Kolkata when the call came from the hospital. There had been a nasty showdown with him the previous night. For months I had a hunch that he was dating his colleague Simran Kaur and finally I read his messages. Probal accused me to be an ill-mannered rustic woman who was insecure enough to check her husband’s messages. I had had enough. I threatened to report against him and his young lady colleague to the college authority. This unnerved Probal, he collected his things and stormed out of the house informing me that the marriage was over. I sat through the night simmering in rage and humiliation and finally booked two flight tickets for Kolkata.
We did come to Kolkata later, after his last rites got over and I had finished all the formalities.
The fact that Probal had left me has remained a secret that I have only shared with my most loyal confidante, my diary, and I have intended to bury it in its pages and move on.
My desire for you wafted in the moist air like the fragrance of kath champa blooming in our backyard. After a long time I wept. Finally you have come and we would walk in the rains.