Like traces of mayo
on a light spread
I find your love
on hidden corners
of my tongue
Like rays of sunlight
in a lost mosque
in Old Delhi
I find your love
in the sudden warmth
on my face
Like the hard pinch of salt
after a morning near the sea
I find your love
on my dried skin
Like the faint scent of coffee
in Mylapore side streets
I find your love
the filter of my lips
Like the whispers
of sleepy children
in grey classrooms
I find your love
in the tremor
of my faltering voice
Like set stones
in a night sky
pierced with stars
I find your love
in slow glistening
on my forehead
Like the memories
of a cold winter
I find your love
in the long-withered flowers
on my grave.
I saw her even as I went in. Though I didn’t pay attention then. She looked the same. Like all the regulars I was used to seeing, at Mocha Adyar. She fit right into the familiar, and my eyes let her blend in. Into dim lighting and low voices, into the smell of coffee beans.
As they say, the human eye sees only what it wants to.
I was looking for the corner place I loved, where I could put my feet up on the couch and read.
I found it.
My fingers went to the Flipkart bookmark. And Turkey came alive. I was reading Orhan Pamuk’s ‘My Name is Red’. It’s a stunning tale, told from viewpoints of paintings, dead men, dervishes, dogs, colors, artists and murderers. Delicately written and intricately detailed, the book represents more than the story itself – it shows us the evolution of Islam as a religion, the interpretations of its beautiful teachings into something darker, it shows us the art of the miniaturist, the skill of an artist. It had me captivated.
I only looked up because my coffee had arrived.
And there she was again.
She wore glasses. That’s the first thing I noticed. Duh, of course. There was a jute bag on the table. Must have been something handmade. Um, I don’t really know. She looked like she’d value something like that. I’m just guessing.
Long, black hair, a strand of which she was twirling with her finger.
Feet on the table.
In the other hand – a book. Ayn Rand. The Fountainhead.
Now if you haven’t read ‘The Fountainhead’, you certainly should. It’s a seminal work by one of the world’s most revered writers. Ayn Rand was a firebrand, and her philosophies, contained in her books, are the same. Objectivism continues to thrill, enrage and move people to this day, and I myself have been witness to charged discussions on it at the Romain Rolland, Pondicherry’s old French library. I should warn you that reading the book is not easy at all. It took me more than a month and I had to go back to certain passages again and again. But you should take that time. It’s an important book.
She had a faint smile, eyes down, a finger holding the corner to turn the page. I wondered which one of Roark’s antics she was smiling about. Then it disappeared, that hint of tiny delight. Her expression went neutral, then serious.
I sipped my coffee.
The finger kept twirling the hair. Pretty as that was, I hoped she’d let that strand rest. But no. She kept doing it.
And she kept reading.
Writing is, by definition, a very lonely exercise. It needs concentration, imagination and practice. It needs hours of dedication, hours of devotion.
Reading is different. It’s not lonely, in fact, far from it. When you read, you are with the characters, within stories. Actually, you don’t ‘read’, it is the tale that takes you along, drags you in, slowly, unconsciously, opens your eyes to places you have never seen, or indeed, might never see.
The irony is that something so lonely can produce something so comforting.
You can get lost inside a book. I know. I have.
She was lost. I could see it. In her gleaming eyes as they moved across the timeless print, in the way she leaned forward into the book as if she wanted to fall into it. I watched her in intervals, tearing my eyes away from my book, and I could see myself in her sometimes, in the way that we see mirror images of ourselves in puddles of water as we walk in the rain, snatches of reflections caught in traces of time.
She was in New York, in the 1920s. I was in 16th century Istanbul. And we both were in Chennai, in a coffee shop in a quiet street, with an old tree arching over the door, in the 12th year of the 3rd millennium.
As I walked out into the night, I stole a last glance at her. She looked up then. And gazed straight at me.
I stepped outside and kept walking.
I did not know her, that girl in the coffee shop, but I sure would like to.
Its an evening. Like most winter evenings.
The dreary, tired sun recording the last remnants of a dying day. The cold seeping in through the void the light leaves in its wake.
I’m looking at the waves.
Messengers from the depths of the ocean, they never stop coming at the shore, professing their love, no matter how many times they are sent away.
They just keep coming. And coming.
They suck the sand from beneath my feet. My jeans, folded up, are still getting wet.
Do I care? Not very much.
I walk along the shore, my IDs dangling in my hand, not because I might lose my favorite sneakers, but because I like the picture of myself that way.
I like the theatre of it, intentional though it is.
You see, the seasons hold memories. When they change you can’t help but remember what you once thought you had forgotten.
The smell of corn. The spices on it. The roasted-over-fire-on-the-beach version.
And I feel myself slipping. The pain comes in waves. And keeps coming. Fitting, really.
You’ve seen the dark and you’ve seen the light,
the sides of me that I’m trying to fight.
I’m bruised and I’m broken, I’m made of glass.
I shine for a moment, but I shatter fast.
I’m more alone than I sometimes think I’m.
I’ve brought a book along. I sit on the sand, and read a few pages, but there’s too much in my head to fight.
I usually try my best to win that fight, but not today. I like feeling depressed at times. It is definitely better than feeling nothing. Which I also feel a lot of.
Kids trying to shoot balloons with air guns. Ice Cream stalls. The Chatwala. The Flower sellers. Cotton Candy. Me.
Coffee. Maybe that would help.
There’s a Barista just opposite. I get myself a Latte. The hot, brown concoction has a smile on it. I smile back. It’s the least I can do.
I’m back outside. On the ledge. Facing the water.
It’s dark. The stars are out. I can make out a few constellations. I have forgotten their names now, been so long since I watched the sky.
I sit there, coffee in hand, bound by my own chains, as the black of the approaching night threatens to engulf me in all its eager glory.
I’ve found it hard. To forget.
But you know what I found even harder?
How it felt. To be happy.
Because I have no scars to show for happiness.
I give up, I said finally to the cold sky.
I walk back to the bike, the world around me a blur, wondering if tears can freeze.
The movie ended with Aamir prancing around on screen. The credits came up & I walked out, drawn along with the crowd of happy, laughing people, who, like me, had enjoyed the movie immensely. A gust of cold wind hit me from the window on the side on the stairs. I looked out & what I saw confirmed my suspicion.
It was raining.
The monsoon’s arrived here in Hyderabad. Started about a week ago & hasn’t really stopped since. The cold is a weird, seeping kind of cold, something that cuts into your very senses. I like it. I always have.
I wait for this new cold coffee Krushers they’ve introduced, from the KFC below. It’s a special KFC, managed by people who can’t talk nor hear; you have to point out your orders. It’s quite close to our flat, and Anand & I end up here quite often. There’s something about these people, some of who now know us quite well now. In spite of being different from the rest of us, the smile never leaves their faces. I try to think about living like that, in a world where there’s no such thing as sound, no such thing as music, and it fails me. I can’t. It could have been so easy for them to say that they were not good enough, that they were embarrassed, & stay home. They chose otherwise. In our daily lives, we see courage & character in so many forms. This is one of them.
I sip the cold, frothy coffee & walk out into the foyer, where a lot of people are waiting for the rain to stop, or at least slow down. I stand there for some time too, and look around. One small kid loses her balloon in the wind. I grab it & give it to her. She says a shy, cute ‘Thank you’ & runs off to her mother. My eyes fall upon a girl fiddling with her boyfriend’s shirt buttons. I smile involuntarily. He catches my eye & smiles, suddenly self conscious. I take that to be my cue.
I walk out into the rain.
I’m wearing a red, or rather maroon, sleeveless sweatshirt. Hadn’t realised that I’d been wearing this one. Memories have a bad way of coming back to you when you least want, or expect them to. My flat is just down the road, about a five minute walk. I pull the hood up over my head, bury one cold hand into my jeans and sip some more coffee.
I walk past one of my company’s stores. The green neon shouts out at me ‘Heritage Fresh’. The store manager is locking up. It’s about 11. He must just have finished the accounts for the day. He can’t recognize me, not under the hood. I don’t want him to.
I walk on.
Cars & buses go past me in a blur of light & sound, some of which go to Hi-Tech city, the huge IT special economic zone to the west. Client calls from the US & the UK, some of my friends tell me, have to be taken after this time. Bus no. 147 comes towards me, the digital board on its top flickering in the rain, and at last dying.
I sip the last of my coffee & see a trash bin a few metres away. I look around. There’s no one. I position myself, lock my feet & throw the plastic can into the bin. It falls in with a dull thud. I do a Kobe Bryant spin right there. It’s almost midnight on Banjara Hills Road no.2, right opposite the Harley Davidson showroom, Hyderabad City, and if you’d been driving on this stretch of the urban jungle, you would have seen a boy doing a jig in the middle of the road and wondered “What’s wrong with him?”
There’s office tomorrow & I’ll have to go & work. Even if it is a chance to learn & perform, it still registers as another dreary day at the workplace. I just hope that it doesn’t kill this part of me, the part which still loves doing stupid things, which still wants nothing more than a coffee and a walk in the rain to keep smiling. I don’t wanna get caught up in this life, this corporate race. That’s just not me.
The rain’s slowing down a bit
I walk on, pulling my ipod out for the final song of the day. Quite fitting, really, as it’s Adele I stumble on, as she sets fire to the rain..
I let it fall, my heart,
And as it fell, you rose to claim it
It was dark and I was over
Until you kissed my lips and you saved me
My hands, they’re strong
But my knees were far too weak
To stand in your arms
Without falling to your feet
But there’s a side to you
That I never knew, never knew.
All the things you’d say
They were never true, never true,
And the games you play
You would always win, always win.
But I set fire to the rain,
Watched it pour as I touched your face,
Well, it burned while I cried
‘Cause I heard it screaming out your name, your name!
For those who are coming in now, I’ll repeat the reminder – this post is a continuation of the earlier two. So if you’re new to Raghu & Priya’s story, read the earlier posts before you read this one.This is the third & final part of the story.
For those who have been following Glimpses from the beginning, Thank you, for all those messages and tweets and calls, telling me how much you liked & enjoyed the story. You guys were awesome & I hope my writing doesn’t disappoint you, now, or ever.
I got quite a lot of questions. The most common question was if I played football. No people, I don’t. I play cricket and if you can make it to Amrita University, Coimbatore on the 9th of this month, you can watch me play in the white and red of Amrita School of Business. I’ll be the guy wearing number 88.
I unlocked the door & walked in. My watch said it was quarter to six. My timing was good. 6 laps around the block in 45 minutes. I still had some football in me. Maybe I could’ve played a bit more. Maybe I should have gone for the job that Air India offered me, I’d have been part of their football team, played in the National League & maybe, just maybe, in National Colours.
I smiled to myself. I’d never have taken the job. Ever. There was a reason why.
The reason was asleep in the bedroom across the hallway.
The reason had a name. Priya.
I opened the door, as slowly as I could, and there she was. She never could wake up in the mornings. The only times she used to was to come to my matches when we were at University. There she was, at one time the girl I loved, now, the woman I call my wife. She was exquisite even when asleep, actually, especially when asleep. As if nothing could ever disturb her. As if she was just that, her beauty eternal, frozen in time and space, never to be destroyed, something perpetually magnificent.
I walked up to her, removed a golden strand of hair from her eyes, twirled it behind her ear, bent down and kissed her.
The grin never left my face as I removed my tracks and trainers and walked to the kitchen. You never could tell with her. Sometimes she would want coffee, sometimes she’d have none of it. Sometimes she’d want orange juice. Sometimes she even wanted my Gatorade. As I said, you never could tell with my Priya. She was always like that.
I took out the coffee from the refrigerator. It’d been a hell of a ride with her. But it’d been worth it, every step of the way. From the day it dawned on me that I just had to be with her all my life, the day we had told our parents, the madness after that, and the day we’d won, at last.
Wow!! We’d been through a lot.
Her father had been unconvinced. He’d looked at me once and went into heart attack style convulsions. He’d wanted an IAS or summat, you know, one of those guys who listen to whatever their fathers say, get straight A’s through everything, wear shirts and button their collars, hold a handkerchief in their hand all the time and when asked a question, look at their Dads for inspiration. Translated – he’d wanted a geek. What’d he get? Ummm. Me.! No wonder he reacted the way he did. I’d have been surprised if he hadn’t.
But in all that, he’d said just one thing that made sense, one thing that I knew he was right about. He knew I wanted to play football and that I would chase my dream. And he knew that it wasn’t a stable life. I might have to move a lot, travel a lot, and be away from home. The pay would be crummy. I had no idea if it would be enough to give Priya everything I wanted to give her. I couldn’t take her on that journey. It was the life of a travelling athlete. It wasn’t the life for a married couple. He was concerned about his daughter’s future. He was her father, and he was spot on.
I asked him for time.
My mother was another story altogether. You see, it’s easy to handle threats and harsh words. What cannot be handled are tears, high pitched wails, and statements like “Was this why I sent you to college? To bring a girl home and tell me that you want to marry her?”
This sounds pretty straightforward, right?
Well, it isn’t!
This would be accompanied by several spoken and unspoken insinuations that I’d somehow committed an unforgivable crime. “You want to spoil the family’s standing in society”. Whoa! Why would I wanna do that, of all things? Dad didn’t mind actually, but coz Mom’s performance was worthy of a Golden Globe, he too pitched in.
All this lasted till the day I brought her home. My sister was transfixed, with one look she was sure that I should marry only Priya and was on our side throughout. I’d expected that. Sisters are made that way. My mother, ever the headmistress of her school, grilled her, much the same way Priya’s father had grilled me. The difference was, Priya had the answers. I always knew that Mom would be convinced once she met Priya. I was right. It may be also because of the fact that by then Mom knew she had no choice in this whatsoever. That was tough, but we did it.
The coffee was almost done. She liked it black. I didn’t know why. I liked it with milk and sugar. I always had. We were both very different personalities, as I noticed sometimes, but it all somehow came together, like magic. But I suppose our love is exactly that – magic.
I took the two mugs to the bedroom. She was as I’d left her, peaceful, her tranquil face lost in a world of dreams. I tore my gaze away from her face and looked out the windows, at the light of an approaching winter morning.
I had had a choice. I could’ve chosen her and football, or I could’ve chosen just her. She’d have been alright with anything. But I couldn’t take the chance. What if something went wrong? One injury, one sprain could take down my career. She would have had to struggle through my early playing years, until I made it big. If I made it big. And that was a big If. She would have wanted me to follow my heart and she would have stuck it out through everything that came with it. She loved me. She would do it, happily. She would face it all. That I knew.
But could I do that? Put her through all that?
I loved her more than she loved me. Or so I like to argue with her.
I chose her. Just her.
Do I regret it?
No. I don’t. Not for one moment. Not ever.
No achievement, no accomplishment of mine, would ever be complete without her. When I had won the University Cup, I had searched for her piercing brown eyes in the crowd. When I’d got through the placement process for Caterpillar, I’d run to her like wild dogs were after me. When she’d got through her interviews for Tata, I’d been there outside, and held her hand when her name was announced. I don’t know about other people, but that’s the way we were. We still are.
My place was beside her. It always would be.
“What are you thinking?” said the voice I loved. She was by my side. She could do that. Walk through the house with no noise whatsoever. She looked up at me, with that gaze that could see through me. She knew what I was thinking. But then she always did. She shuddered. It was cold. I put my arms around her.
“Liar.” She said and smiled.
I passed her the mug. She snuggled closer to me and had a sip of the dark brown liquid.
“Are we going out today, Raghu?”
“Do you want to?”
“Then we are babe. Of course we are.”