(Continued from below)
A few weeks after we split, I remember bumping into S: he asked about you. I was still reeling under the new sense of freedom I had acquired after the split, the loss hadn't sunk in. I must have been in a talkative mood, for I remember we ordered several rounds of coffee—we were at that South Indian place you and I used to frequent ever so often, with its laminated table-cloth and steel tumblers and davaras and wooden benches.
We broke up, I said solemnly. He was taken aback: ‘But, you seemed so happy. I met P last month, he said you both were going strong’. I made a mental note to tell P not to air his assumptions about my personal life to all and sundry, and proceeded to explain, like a talking head on television, the reasons for the split: one, two, three, four, I reeled off reasons. S had tried interrupting and I remember saying, in the same clinical vein: ‘Let me finish, you will get a chance to speak soon’ (See what I mean by talking head?).
It was a good show: I had done this often in the recent past and I was getting to be adept at it. Just the previous week, I had put on a similar performance for Uttam, who, subsequently, seemed thoroughly convinced that the break-up was the only logical option available.
But S was different: younger and wiser. He listened to what I had to say, waited patiently for me to finish and watched as I slurped my fourth coffee, fully pleased with myself. You speak like a lawyer, he said eventually, but when did love and logic become best friends?
Later that evening, one I had whiled away staring at the skies from the terrace with not a shred of responsibility on my mind, I received an email from S. It had no subject, no greeting, and abruptly began with an extract from Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines:
“ … It is because that state, love, is so utterly alien to that other idea without which we cannot live as human beings—the idea of justice. It is because love is so profoundly the enemy of justice that our minds, shrinking in horror from its true nature, try to tame it by uniting it with its opposite [...] in the hope that if we apply all the metaphors of normality, that if we heap them high enough, we shall, in the end, be able to approximate that state metaphorically. And yet, between the state and it’s metaphors there is no more a connection than there is between a word, such as a mat, and the thing itself … ”
Underneath, in stately Times New Roman, was the sentence: “Lawyer saab, what do you think?”
My reply to that email was characteristically flippant, reflecting the state of my mind: ":D"
Some memories, surreal, stand out. ‘Memory resides at the intersection of truth and imagination’, your balding literature professor used to remark, drawing circles in the air with a bent forefinger.
But, what if, as in this case, the truth feels so impossible that it seems imagined?
I do not know why we climbed the tree: I did, because it was one climb-worthy tree too many to resist. Growing up where I did, in the midst of mangoes and guavas and neems and peepals, trees seemed to exist to be scaled, their branches beckoned me— bent forefingers wagging, ushering. It was a quiet afternoon, the sort where lunches snoozed in blown-up bellies. The odd bird purred contently, the traffic beyond the college’s walls was refreshingly absent.
Half-way up the tree, I turned around, and crinkled my nose: coming? You had a desirable body, but it would be a stretch to call it athletic—I half-expected you to decline, even look down on my own childish urge to climb trees. Instead, you threw your bag on the unkempt lawns and made for the tree.
The scene remains etched in my mind: your nose-ring glinting in the afternoon sun, your bag—abandoned, gay—it’s many hues standing out against the soft yellow-green of the grass; and the guitar that, on cue, strummed in the distance: C-G-G-C.
In seconds, you were beside me, perched somewhat uncomfortably on a strip of dull-brown that nonchalantly bore our combined weights; I stood up, my head brushed against a branch, we were showered with dry, crisp leaves, you rose too, we kissed, my hands slipped under your kurta, you shut your eyes, we kissed some more, the branch underneath began to crack, you wrapped your legs around my waist, hoisting yourself with the help of the base of a branch above that snaked from the trunk, I bit your neck, you threw your head back, the branch cracked some more, tilting precariously, more leaves swirled and swung, the sun hid behind some clouds, I used my free hand to grip a branch above, the branch beneath our feet broke, my legs dangled free, you almost shrieked, but then, when we didn’t fall, your legs wrapped themselves tightly around me, relief flooded your face, tickled your eyes, your eyes sparkled like ripples caught by summer sunlight, and there we were, two souls torch-lighting into each other’s beings, dangling from trees and breathlessly kissing, barely concerned about how our arms would ache afterwards, or the mini-fall that would bruise our knees and elbows, or the tree-huggers joke that would haunt us for months to come, but we didn’t care yet, because then, that moment, you were there and so was I and even the passionately poor voice that accompanied the guitar strumming couldn’t distract us from knowing it.
At our best, art spoke to me. You lit up and exposed sides of me I hadn’t explored previously, allowing art to seep into and imbue these corners with life. An evocative passage, filled with direct, bland prose, but brimming with poignant meaning— the sort I would dismiss previously as unimaginative— seemed to tease out a wry smile, a soft tear.
I have always been cinema’s genial uncle, nodding encouragingly at all the bilge that passes for mass entertainment. But, ever since we met, these darkened halls have come to seize me by the scruff of my neck: I have scarcely come out of a theatre—pop-corn and butterflies swirling and dancing in my insides—not being affected by it all.
Indeed, people speak of how love is blind, I sometimes find it laughable. If anything, love is blinding: every pore in your being is alive, a crackling receptor of a profound, sensory assault. As your brain grapples with the impossible task of indexing, neatly filing and storing all the beauty and the madness the world constantly churns out and one you’re only now suddenly experiencing, love, in a wonderfully self-referential manner, drives home the fact that love is incomprehensible. To love is to first give in, then give up.
In some ways—and I say this without the sentimental extravagance of the romantic, but the pragmatism of a logician—you made life speak to me.
There is a photograph of us somewhere: you are saying something, your forehead is creased with exquisite, premature lines; I listen on, rapt, my eyes hidden behind my spectacles. Between us is an upturned fork, I cannot tell whose hand holds it, I cannot even tell if there is a hand holding it all. There is a sense of timelessness to the photograph, not because it could be from today, but because I do not remember when exactly it was taken.
I can guess, however.
We seem happy, like we haven’t yet tired from reaching out to the other’s hand in the middle of a conversation. On the other hand, it feels like we are no longer bewildered by love, no longer willing happenstance to bend on demand: we don’t exude that aura of utter assuredness—of togetherness, of deterministic meaning— that marked the first half of our time together. The fork that stands between us, apparently defying gravity, seems to stand for something larger, something indescribable but appropriate.
I stared at that picture for long, watching something within me swell and ebb, hiss and leap. In that instant, my mind shot through our galaxy: words, images, conversations—all garbled and clear, quietly overwhelming—flickered in its wake, the incandescent tail of a shooting star.
A proud sadness descended upon me, the kind usually reserved for martyrs: it felt like something great had fleetingly touched me and escaped me forever. And, like martyrdom, the essence of this greatness lay as much in its occurrence as its subsequent vanishing.