By Abhisarika Nayak:
Very early in my life, I learnt the difference being alone and being lonely. To be alone was a state of self-sufficiency. It implied the ability to enjoy time alone with my thoughts. Being lonely on the other hand is something I have learnt only after your forced eviction from my life.
It is an odd sensation. You always said, “Unhein hum yaad karte hain jinhein hum bhool jaate hain.” Could I say I miss you? I don’t think so.
You’re ever present. In me, with me. Each time the muezzin calls out the azan, I think of you. Sometimes, when I read something particularly interesting, I wish you were there to read it with me. I’ve heard songs and wanted to share them with you, Begum Akhtar’s ghazals, in particular.
I’ve watched political debates with the vague notion that there’s a point of view missing there. I wonder what you’d have said. How would you see a particular incident? Sometimes, memory fills in the answer. At other times, my imagination has to suffice. I don’t think I’ve undertaken a single journey since you left when I haven’t missed you by my side.
There are days when the sight of someone enjoying a plate of rice brings your image to my eyes. Embarrassing as it is, every time I hear the songs, ‘Hoke Majboor Mujhe’ or, ‘Hamari Adhuri Kahani’, I tear up. You’ve turned me into the same sentimental, foolish girl I’d sneered at once, which goes to teach that being judgemental brings retribution.
Do you lie awake going through my Facebook profile like I do? Do you follow me on Instagram? Do you frequently open my DP on WhatsApp and look at my status to get an idea of my frame of mind?
In essence, does your life still revolve around the minutiae of mine? I don’t know. I do wish though that you do all these things just as I do them. Do you remember, you once referred to yourself as a disease? I’d laughed then. Now, I don’t know. Ironically, that is exactly how my father referred to you. As cancer, a disease that had to be cut out of my life. I did tell you, you were very much like him, didn’t I?
On the surface of it, there’s nothing missing in my life. I’m happy, and my work doesn’t suffer. I go out, laugh, meet people. And yet, I have the saddest eyes I have ever seen. My own laugh grates on my nerves, seem too loud, too unnatural.
Before you came into my life, I dressed up for myself. Then, I found you enjoyed seeing me dress up, enjoyed watching the process as I applied lipstick, mascara, kohl, as I changed my lingerie to match my dress. Now, I miss your eyes tracking me when I dress up. You’re a constant presence characterised by your constant absence.
My life before you entered it was happy. I didn’t have a care in the world. How do I explain my relationship with my parents? Yes, they were, ‘Helicopter parents’, but there was no doubt I was the centre of their universe. I couldn’t understand children who didn’t get along with their parents. I simply had to express a wish, and it was fulfilled. And yet my darling, I was never happier than in that short year with you.
If you’re reading this, you might as well laugh because I had never cried in my life as I did in that short, beautiful time with you. In many ways, you taught me to cry. Before you, I had simply not had the emotional sensibility. Before you, I had the emotional range of a teaspoon, as Ms Granger would put it.
You teased me, do you remember, that I had to be the only girl alive who wept as if her heart was breaking every time she was faced with the evidence of the love she evoked. On some level, I suspect, I knew we didn’t have a future together. I was pragmatic and practical. The foil to the romantic, the dreamer in you. And yet, by the end, you had transformed me. I wanted to dream. I was dreaming. And that is why, sometimes, I hate you with the same intensity that I love you.
Did you know that was possible? I didn’t. Shall I tell you something even more strange? I love you with the same intensity I love my parents. I’d abandon the world for them, so would I for you, but they asked me first, and so we stand where we stand today.
I hate you because you didn’t listen to me when I told you to dream with caution. You didn’t heed me when I said the world would be against us. You taught me to dream like an idealist, and I hate you for it. You weren’t the first man I loved. I remember telling you my past at the outset and telling you I doubted I could ever love you as much as your predecessor, but you proved me wrong.
I love you as much as I love myself, and I’m a raging narcissist. But I also hate you. And I hate my parents. I was brought up to believe that religion didn’t matter. That a man’s heart should be the only measure of his worth. And yet, you belonged to the wrong religion, the wrong region. Shall I tell you something? Had my usually stoic parents not cried that day, I would not have surrendered to their wishes. Had you come for me, I would have left with you. But they cried, and I surrendered. And you didn’t come, so I stayed where I was.
It’s not as though I didn’t have the opportunity, but how could I take a step as radical as running away when I wasn’t sure of my welcome? I had nowhere to turn and yet, one sign from you, and I would have come away. You only had to gather the courage. I wish I could explain how conflicting it is to hate, with every fibre of your being, the same people you love with every fibre of your being.
Have you ever read a Wodehouse novel? The trope of the daughter of the house falling in love with an extremely unsuitable boy and being exiled to the family estate with no means of communication to the world outside is common enough in them.
Have you laughed at the young girl’s misery, every movement under scrutiny, every moment under surveillance? I’m sure you have. So have I. Wodehouse is too brilliant a comic not to laugh at his plots. And yet, now that I have lived through it, with my access to all means of communication taken away, I wish I could explain the sensation to you.
It’s no laughing matter, for one. It’s a feeling of such utter loneliness; the darkness is so absolute that it’s a wonder I did not lose my mind. I was not mistreated, make no mistakes. I am too well loved to be hit or to be kept under lock and key, but it was still a prison. It was still abuse.
I wish I could explain the feeling of betrayal I experienced when my parents, who had all my life, taught me to be a strong, independent woman, took away my basic rights of being an adult.
While the Prime Minister’s JAM Yojana worked to bring mobile phone access to every citizen of India, mine was taken away. The UN declared access to the internet a basic human right; I lost that right during that terrible time. I went wherever I wanted to but was always accompanied, never alone.
There was no word from you. Everywhere I looked, the walls seemed to be closing in on me. It didn’t last of course. God bless your best friend, who became the courier between us. And then, that was all the impetus I needed to find a way to get in touch with you. However, as long as it did last, it brought me the truth of what you’d always stated, That I lived in a golden cage. Comfortable, in luxury, but still, unfree. And for that, I will never forgive my parents.
I can understand their concerns to an extent. From a third person perspective, I would perhaps have the same concerns. Religion notwithstanding, the difference between our upbringings was too great. However, it wasn’t insurmountable. Yes, I had had concerns about fitting into your family, and I had voiced them to you, but I loved you, love you to be precise, and none of it mattered. It hadn’t mattered while falling in love with you, so why would it matter while spending my life with you? And no, I wasn’t naive. Considerable adjustments would have been required, but as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. But parents are parents. I understand why they did what they did, but I do not approve of it, and I won’t forgive them for it. Neither will I forgive you for behaving like Raj from DDLJ, for telling me that their approval mattered. You didn’t ask me to come away with you. You told me we’d get through it. Did we? I’ve been told by mutual friends that you’ve moved on now, and I find I can’t even begrudge you that happiness.
There were so many times that I was close to having a nervous breakdown. I told you I feared I was going mad. Twice, I wrote a suicide note. Twice. But I couldn’t do it. Shall I tell you why? I thought I’d talk to you one last time. You became my light. In those lonely nights, darker than I could have ever imagined, you became my beacon of hope. You gave me the strength to carry on. You told me, “Jaan rahegi, to kal le liye ladenge.” If you have moved on, I can’t fault you for it. You did not abandon me at my loneliest. It would have been so simple for you. All you had to do was stop keeping our clandestine appointment. You could have just stopped being online. You didn’t.
Despite everything, you came every night. With that simple action, you ensured my eternal love and gratitude. I told your best friend once that I owe some of my sanity to him because in those early days before I found a way to contact you, he brought me news of you. I’m telling you this today, that I did not lose my mind, that I came through those terrible times, is in a great measure, thanks to you. That I pulled through, is my strength of mind, but you gave me that strength.
Do you remember, I once wrote to you? You wrote me so many letters. So many missives of your love and I wrote you, but two. And yet, do you remember what I wrote in that last letter? I told you I couldn’t live without you. I told you there was a difference between living and breathing.
The truth is, I have only taken in breath after breath since you were forced out of my life. I haven’t lived a single moment. Since the last time you quoted that ABBA song at me, promising me a tomorrow, I have gone to bed with your voice in my ears. Do you remember all that poetry you recorded and sent me? I’ve made it my lullaby. Do you ever listen to my voice? To all the songs I sung for you? Do you ever cry in the middle of the night because listening to my voice gives you a physical ache? Like your heart has been squeezed and wrung? Do you remember the last time I saw you? I can still picture myself as I climbed the stairs towards the parking, looking back to wave at you and you waving at me.
Had I known that was the last time I would be able to see you like that, I would never have left. I’d have taken you in a little longer, held you tighter. Do you now kiss someone else in the same alleys you kissed me in? Do you recite poetry to her in the dead of the night? Recite all the poetry you want, just don’t love her more than me.
And yet, I can’t even ask that of you because even in those dark nights while I struggled to maintain our private appointments, while you waited for me, you told me I only had to look within myself to find you, that my endurance was your strength.
You told me that anytime I had doubts, I’d find you in my own heart. That we weren’t two people, but one. Did you know you said the cheesiest, corniest things in the most serious way imaginable? From anyone else, the same words would have made me laugh, cringe even. From you, they gave me the strength to go on. That is how deeply I loved you.
Do you remember that sunny, winter’s afternoon when you asked me if I wanted your babies? The night before that you’d told me you wanted to marry me. That cold night, I wanted nothing more than to burrow deep into you and never let go. The physical distance between us made that impossible. I had to contend with imagining my pillow to be your chest and burrowing into it. Sometimes, I wonder, what would we have done had we not lived in this day and age? What if we belonged to the age of pen and paper? The mobile was so instrumental in shaping our love that I can’t imagine how we would have managed in a time before it. But do you remember that afternoon?
Before you, I had been very clear; I wanted one daughter. Just the one. That afternoon, lying in your room on that sun dappled rug, I wanted to have a whole cricket team with you. Sons exactly like you. Daughters, my splitting images. I remember, I nodded shyly. I never told you exactly what visions you had conjured up. I never told you I wanted to lie in your arms, just as at that moment, for eternity. I never told you I wanted to be heavily pregnant, your child growing within me, lying in your arms, while you read to me, and I corrected your pronunciation. I never told you I wanted to attend mushairas with you on cold winters’ evenings under a star laden sky or musical performance at Kamani on a muggy summer night.
I never told you I wanted to walk around the city of my upbringing, the city I love, on foggy winters’ mornings, when everything is mysterious, and the ugliness of the city recedes. I never told you that on lazy summer Sundays, I wanted to spend the day under you and over you, glistening with sweat, shivering, shaking, in spite of the heat.
We chose our children’s names, but did I ever tell you how I imagined their upbringing? But that, you had already imagined. You had imagined our future and our children much more thoroughly than I had. When I thought of our children, I could only think of you, rising over me, swelling within me. Partaking in that oldest of rituals. I could only think of your eyes as they softened in those final moments. I could only hear your voice as it broke on my name. I could only think of that little life we would have made, cradled against my breast, suckling. And I could only think of you, suckle those same breasts that would someday feed our children.
But you had imagined the atmosphere they would grow up in, the composite culture that would shape them. Do you ever cry for the loss of those dreams? For those children, who, in all probability, will never be? For that home that will never be? For those lazy summer afternoons, those foggy winter mornings, those cold nights that will never be? Or have you already remade those worlds with another? Have you, after promising me a lifetime, moved on within a month and a half?
You promised to come for me. Does that promise mean anything? If I was honest with myself, it doesn’t. How many times have you made the same promise to how many others? You’ve often enough referred to me as the Radha to your Krishna, the Amrita to your Sahir, but that would imply a Rukmini in your future, and an Emroz in mine.
Will our love even last that long? I could go through life loving you, but I can’t promise I’d lie in wait for you. The question is, could you love me always? Do you, even now, persist in your love for me or has that phase passed you by?
I don’t have the answer to any of these questions. What I do know is that I didn’t know loneliness before you. I didn’t know grief before you. I didn’t know loss before you. Now, I do.
I miss you.