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Friday, March 25, 2005

The Blind Men Who See

This is something I wrote a long time back. Pulled it out of the closet now, as I read something on another blog that had a similar message. And no, there's no scope for heartbreak in this one, as Erratica pointed out!!! ;-)

The Blind Men Who See

When you think you’ve done it all one fine day, my friend, come out with me. We’ll walk and we’ll talk, and we might even walk the talk. No more looking for hidden meanings, no more talking about hidden reasons. I might not even utter a word, for all you know: I probably won’t. Two blind men ambling down the lined road, hands in pockets, walking sticks tapping on the gravel. We might hear yells from the children; we might hear the twittering of birds. We might feel the cool breeze wafting down upon us; we might hear the crunch of pebbles underneath our feet. I’m liable to smile then, and I’d advise the same to you.

When we go walking that balmy afternoon, we could sit under the shade of a tree on a wrought-iron bench. I’m one to rest back and sigh aloud. You might hear me sigh, if your ears are keen enough. You might want to smile a bit then, and sigh in contentedness yourself. You might want to tell yourself that you’ve done it all, seen it all, and it’s time you put your feet up and had a slight snort. You might want to put your hands up on the handles of the wrought-iron bench and let your tap-tapping walking-stick rest against your thigh. It’s a black world we see, we blind men, but what of that? It’s a world simply teeming with life, and our eyes are not the sole instruments to experience that fact.

The trees will shed their leaves that afternoon and the squirrels will squeak. I’m not sure whether we’ll be able to hear either. You might want to blow cool air out through your lips, and turn back inside, relegating the outside to a blur. You might see the faces of loved ones floating by in a dead stupor before you, or those vivacious ones that refuse to stay put. You might smile again at their energy and decide that it’s all a case of not having seen enough and done enough with their lives. You might have wanted to be there for them, to steer them around to a way of life that has reaped you such rich dividends. You might want to lay out a hand and caress their faces, their hair, their eyes. I might even get caught up in your dreams, as I listen to you fondly recollect, and I might even slip a tiny teardrop down my cheek. I might be caught up in the rapture of your moment, and I might even hold your hand in empathy.

I might even say a word or two. Your looks and your glances and your quivers may embolden me enough to hold you. I might simply rub your shoulders, my blind eyes seeing yours, or I might even coax you to emerge from your cocoon. We’re friends, you and I, - we have been since the day we could see each other. We’re older than most couples, you and I, - and like most old couples we have forgotten how to converse. We don’t need to anymore. I can’t see your jowls quiver, or your eyebrows arch, but I can understand them, all the same. All the same, I can sense your dreams and your aspirations and your tiredness. Call it what you will, my fancy or a psychic bond, call it what you will, I believe in it with all my heart, nevertheless. We’re friends, you and I, - we have been since the time we could both see… Doesn’t that say it all...?

We might stay put then, you and I. We might not even say a word, and we would understand it all. No more loved ones wafting by, no more talk about disappointed dreams and fulfilled ambitions. Your empire stands behind you, and your future before you. There’s no scope for worry, my friend, not as long as you and I can still sense… Not as long as you still have You by your side. You might wake up one fine day, my friend, and see that your tap-tapping walking stick no longer lies by your bedstead. You might feel alarmed for an instant at that, but you will not hobble along anymore, will you? This memory might stay with you: the lazy afternoon sun, the squealing children, the chattering birds, and then again, this memory too might flit away. It doesn’t really matter, and neither do I. I could be You and You could be Me. You might turn to your left and then to your right, and I may not be hunched there on my walking stick beside you, and you will still be able to see the garden path before you. Children scampering and birds twittering and leaves rustling as they form a velvet carpet for you to tread on, my friend.

So when you think you’ve done it all one fine day, my friend, come out on a walk with me – and I’ll show you the rest of the way.

posted by livinghigh 7:45 PM... 2 comments

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Sliding Doors

Sliding Doors

Time Zero

The elevator is seamless in motion, and slides up without a hitch that I can feel. It lets me be, free to stand here, and revel in the dizzying effect of being weightless, transported beyond gravity to a fourteenth floor which seems strangely surreal at times, something of a nonentity at others. But most of all, the elevator affords me a view of the breath-taking expanse of ocean yawning below me.

All this takes only a few seconds. I enter the apartment complex, the security guard tips his cap in my direction and I give him a slight nod in a salute of my own, I punch in the lift button and the car arrives, and I step in. Steel doors slide noiselessly together in a dream-like slow motion, and I ignore the liftman after telling him which floor to go to. And I turn out towards the glass back of the slithering elevator, looking out at the expanse of glimmering, waiting sea visible from high above Prabhadevi. All of it only takes a few seconds.

I remember my first vision of Bombay. The aircraft was circling around neighbourhoods I had absolutely no idea of, twinkling fairy lights, glinting yellows and golds, punctuated by staccato bursts of white and silver, some megalith Christmas tree spread over a flat expanse, black sea still yawning and gulping calmly from where I was, high up, feeling slightly sick, my ears blocked out because of the air pressure. I remember silly things like that, and I remember falling in love with the city after that view. I try to search for something of that view now, as the lift courses upwards, but it is strangely exhilarating and disappointing at the same time how different characters they all tend to have. Physical manifestations of sea and rock and water and concrete and a jumble of human beings, you’d think the mob mentality would be the same everywhere you saw them, but this night above Prabhadevi in a lift that slithers and soothes and makes love to me in its silence has a whisper that is quite unlike the gentle drone of the aircraft.

And I wonder whether I have lost something, or gained something, or am simply, inconsolably scared to death of something.

Two hours earlier

All it takes is a glance to know that you like someone. That’s so not true. All it takes is a conversation to know that you like someone. Another falsehood. I’m not sure what it takes, I’m not sure what it took, but I’m here, and I like this man opposite me. Perhaps it has something to do with the way he’s looking at me, not too concerned, not too worried, not too formal, but he wants me all the same. It’s something I can tell.

I propel him through the huge shelves to the deo and hair gel section. He’s finicky, he wants a L’Oreal, and the damn store doesn’t have any. I’m amused and I laugh at the state of affairs. It’s not that funny, he says. He has favourites. Well, so do I, and I understand what he means. I squeeze his shoulders in empathy. Shopping can be a terrifying experience, I have friends who can’t make up their minds about a silly handkerchief, but not this time. Both he and I take our time together. We lounge on our own through the warm white light streaming down on the cold white floor, each in our little reveries. This is a first date, something tells me, go and speak to him, find out more about him, so he’s cute, but he’s more than just something to ogle at, go and talk to him, and I stand looking at a dark blue linen shirt, wondering if they have my size.

“It’s perfect. You’ll look great in it,” he says, coming up behind me, his hands around my waist, and it thrills me for some reason. You’re not a virginal little child, you ninny, you’ve been down this road for ages and ages, stop acting like a school child.

So I grin and dimple, and take it off the rack, and look at myself in the mirror with it. “You think so?”

He nods, and shows me what he’s picked out for himself. It’s a white T-shirt with a slogan about tall drinks and teetotalers and I laugh at the silly line. There’s a dilemma though: he doesn’t know which size to pick, small or medium, and I tell him to try them both on. I follow him to the changing rooms and stand outside his little stall, while he goes in.

There’s a guard there, at the extreme end of the changing rooms, maybe he’s supposed to keep an eye so that nobody walks away with the clothes, after wearing them and snipping off the labels with a tiny scissor. I smirk at the thought, and wonder whether I would ever do something like that. It’s quite enticing, really, for a clotheshorse like me. But I stop thinking about shoplifting, when I see him take his shirt off inside the cubicle, through the gap in the door, which he hasn’t bolted. I’m tempted, and I smile to myself. I wonder if I’m blushing. People say I blush very easily. A human lie detector. Damn.

The door opens, and he comes out, whirling around for my benefit. It’s the medium size, and he likes how it feels. It’s nice, I comment, and tell him to try on the small size. All I want, right now, is to see him naked in the little stall, and I confess that I’m blushing now. Thank god, the guard is a bit far away. The door to the stall closes. He’s put the latch on this time, and I sigh. Is the guard looking at me now?

Another stall opens, and two men emerge from inside. They’re laughing, holding those big black-netted bags inside which I can see tonnes of clothes. Have they been trying them out, I wonder, or…? The guard evidently shares my suspicions (or so I think), because he steps a couple of paces forward, and the two men stop grinning and laughing and file away past him silently. They head towards the cash counter, but I can’t help smirking at the look on the guard’s face, as he traces them all the way there.

“And what do you think, now?”

“I like this one better. It fits better.” I nod. There’s something sexy about him now, something even better than the idea of him, bare-torsoed in the cubicle, taking his clothes off layer by layer. This leaves something for me to imagine. “I like this one,” I say again, in assent.

He’s frowning. “You don’t think it’s a bit tight… here?” He points towards his chest, and I find the gesture horribly funny. I laugh loudly, and tell him it’s all right, it’s not as if he’s got Pamela Anderson’s boobs, and that the T-shirt looks fine. He’s still a bit unsure, and looks at himself in the mirror, and that’s when I make my move.

Fuck the guard, something tells me, and I move inside the stall with him, and wrap my arms around him. He’s surprised, but pleased, and I roam my hands over his tight chest, on the stretched t-shirt, and over his flat belly. “I like the fit,” I grin at him, winking slightly, and even pat his butt. And then I step right out of the stall and back in the corridor, where the guard is, not quite sure what to make of this split-second of indiscretion. I should flash him a smile too, I think, but don’t.

“Take it,” I tell him, because he’s turned back towards the mirror, looking at his multiple images dancing to his left, right, centre, and I wonder if he can see me leering at him, through the mask of decided nonchalance now on my face.

All it took was a second.

Twenty seconds after Time Zero

Steel doors open, and I say a distinct “thank you” to the liftman in security guard’s garbs, who gives me a salaam, when I step onto the fourteenth floor. A corner of my mind wanders and wonders whether I’m an elitist snob, an elitist ass, who likes getting salaam-ed like this, and another little piece of conscience wags a finger at me, and says I probably am. I’m not a very nice person, but I’m the kind of person who loves you, o, who the fuck am I kidding? I’m tired and I’m high, and I think I like my life and I think I hate what I’ve got myself into.

And all this goes through, in circles and circles, with eagles high up in an imagined blue sky, while time ticks away in a matter of seconds. I’ve pressed the doorbell, and I’m waiting to be let in.

A week before Time Zero

I’ve been telling myself that I can do this, and yet I can feel myself faltering even now. It doesn’t help that he’s here. But then, I would not be able to do it if he weren’t. My world is a conundrum, and I’m the Mad Hatter in Wonderland. (Glad to meet you.)

We were at the hospital, from where he picked up a report for his mother. She’s wonderful creature. She smiles at me, whenever she sees me, and holds my hand, and sits me down, and wants to know about all the gossip going on at my workplace. She pretends to think that her son and I are merely friends, she knows we’re so much more than that, yet she lives happily in her dreams and is happy to see us romp in her reality. Her eyes are always open, and yet, she has a cataract in the right one. O, horrible thought.

But he was so wonderful at the hospital. He laughed and talked with the nurses, flirted with the ramrod straight old lady behind the counter he had to pick the report up from and took her scolding in good grace, said hello to the elderly gentleman behind us in the queue and introduced me to him before they started talking about how his parents were, held my hand while leading me out to the parapet where his bike stood, leaning against the wall, lined with little gladioli pots. It was the going to be hard, I knew, and I wondered why on earth I was about to do it. All my reasons seemed to fly away. I cried and laughed with delirium while he guided the Honda towards Bandstand, and I wished fervently that the world would end and time would stop ticking.

But he can sense it. I can sense him sensing it. He leans over the rocks, where the two of us are sitting, and he strokes my arm. “Sit nearer to me,” he whispers, but I demur, and by the look on his face now, I can sense that he can sense it. It’s a demented, twisted loop over which I ache for control.

Small talk is something I want now. So I start yapping about work, and my trip to Goa, and the beautiful people I saw there and flirted with, and the late nights and the tall glasses of Long Island Iced Teas, and the shifting sand biting and crunching on the beach. Are there crabs here on the rocks, I wonder and ask him, but he smiles and says, even if they are, they won’t hurt us. They’re afraid of us, more than we are afraid of them. I’m afraid of him, even though he can probably sense it. Can he understand it, though?

He does. “Tell me what you’ve been going through. You want to tell me something. Are you alright?”

So he’s the one who drags out my confession from me. I was too cowardly to do it myself. Too frail. Too undecided. But if I were undecided, what am I doing here in the first place? Too many thoughts spring unbidden, unwanted, to my mind, and I cloister them away. I have to be honest, but how do I find the words to tell him? Am I even aware that I’m not looking at him, I’m looking at the group of three college boys sitting some distance away, on the rocks, feeling the spray of the sea.

And so it falls like a tonne of bricks, heavy, hard, smothering. “I don’t know where we’re going.”

“I’m not in love with you.”

“I don’t think I’m ion love with you.”

“I want to be in love with you.”

“But I’m not.”

“It’s not fair to you, to not be in love with you.”

“Am I being naïve, saying that I’m not in love with you?”

“You deserve much more, you deserve some one who is so much in love with you.”

Sentences, frayed and misty, with common words and threads that somehow link them together. I’m not even aware that my cheeks are wet, but I can feel his fingers on them, brushing and wiping and strong, and soothing. He tells me not to cry, and I find that ridiculous (because I’m not crying, am I?) and he tells me it’s alright. He smokes a cigarette, and I would rather look at the stream of smoke playing filigree on the darkening sky, than his thoughtful eyes.

“It’s alright,” he says. “I’ve never been with someone so much younger than me. I wondered how it could happen now. But I hoped… But it’s alright,” and he smiles at me, as if I’m the one who’s heart is broken now, “There’s so much more time. It’s alright.”

He baffles me. Yet, it is no more than I expected of him. We sit there on the rocks, talking about work, the boys on the beach, the lovers ahead, one arm around another, and then we feel awkward on noticing them, and talk about mundane matters instead: credit card payments, auto loans, rent allowances, future career plans, and so many little things I would go to a tax consultant for, or to a career counselor.

I take an auto rickshaw back to the station. He remained on the beach, and I moved my fingers through his hair, as he smiled again and again, and told me that it would be alright. I knew it would be hard. Will it last, I ask myself, but don’t really want to find an answer. Is there any fat, bald old man on any tall mountain I can holler to, and ask my future from? What can he possibly tell me that I don’t know myself…

Thirty seconds after Time Zero

Wooden doors remain closed, and I’m exasperated. Bell peals sound maddening to my ears, and yet nobody lets me in. I rummage in my bag for a key, finally.

posted by livinghigh 11:59 PM... 7 comments

Friday, March 11, 2005

The Performance

The Performance

The problem with serendipity is that it never lasts forever, and when it fades at the last, that's when you get to see the silly, sly little shadows popping out from behind the curtains, from behind the drawers and cupboards, though you tell yourself that they were always there. I could never see them, earlier, Aakaash mused, sitting at the chair, his laptop open before him on the oak table.

Serendipity gave me my wife, and serendipity gave me my lover, and serendipity showed me myself. Awful thought, he whispered, half beneath his breath, resting back against the chair, wondering whether Shalini was asleep. A couple of trips to Delhi for the company, a couple of laughs, a couple of drinks, and somehow they had ended up in a cab speeding away from Connaught Place, kissing furiously in the backseat. The big broad Sikh driver had beamed at him, when he left a ten-rupee tip and then rushed up the stairs to her flat. That was how it all started, though it seemed funny now, to think of it as so story-bookish. To think of it all so contrived.

Aakaash sipped the brandy which had stood a silent observer beside the laptop. There were water rings on the oak table where he lifted the chilled glass from, and he idly moved his finger through the rings, marring them, mixing them, feeling the water mixed with tiny (dust?) particles crackling his skin, and he took another sip. The laptop was switched off, a uniform dull black glow. Shalini was somewhere in the flat, probably lying down, probably asleep.

He took the brandy and abandoned the oak, the laptop, and walked into the bedroom. She was sitting there, looking out the verandah to the quiet street outside. It was past eleven, GK's M-block was silent, the shops and their glitter had closed in for the night, and he could see that she had been crying. It all made him feel terribly weary, suddenly, and he would have wished she wasn't there, would have wished that he wouldn't have to go through this tonight. He had enough on his mind already, with Geeta -

The phone had rung, almost insistently, once, then twice, and Geeta's voice had called from the next room, "I'll get it!" (Was there a hint of anxiety there, on hindsight) but he had picked up the receiver the very same time she had. And he had heard them.

"I've missed you. I haven't seen you for so long - "

"Probir, I told you not to call at home. Everyone is here - Ma, Baba, Aakaash - "

"But they didn't answer, did they? And besides, I had to hear your voice."

"Now you're being silly, Probir."

Aakaash had stood there, impassive and silent till the conversation lasted. When he heard the click announcing that Geeta had replaced the receiver, he did the same. Probir Banerjee was his first cousin, his mother's sister's son, and he was a regular at the house. It seemed strange to stand there, listen to his wife and her lover, it seemed stranger to walk out to her then, hug her from behind and tell her that he had to leave for Delhi. It seemed strange not to mention it to her, not to shout or scream or rant or wonder why. That was the most important reason, the one he couldn't figure out, and that was the reason why he had done none of that screaming or raving or ranting. That was the question that had given him this headache, that even the quiet of a GK evening and the soothing burn of a brandy could not ease. Why. And not even Shalini, sitting there, on the edge of the bed, in her black negligee could answer. But he would have to ask her, in any case, and that seemed to make it worse.

"I met my parents for lunch today, Aakaash," she said, still not looking at him, and he knew what it was all about. This would not wait, it had waited earlier when he had brushed it under the carpet and she had seemed only too eager to do so herself, but it would not wait anymore. "You know what it was about…" she said, letting it hang in the air between them.

"Of course I do," he said, and sat on the bed behind her. His hands snaked up on either side of her, and rested on her shoulders, kneading them, feeling the tension she carried on her mantle, and she shook her head slowly from side to side, as if indicating, that this was not enough, it would not suffice anymore. And for some reason, he thought about walking along a beach.

"Did you tell them about us?" It would be a sandy beach, white sand, white surf, something as beautiful as Kovalam. Something as secluded as Gokarna, completely veiled from human habitation, separate, alone, where he could stand for hours in the surf, feel the lapping waters and imagine - what?

"Yes, I did." There was a choke in her voice, he could tell. She was going through hell because of this, because of him, and he felt guilty about it. This was not the way it was supposed to be, was it? It had all promised to be so easy, from that first time they had kissed scorchingly in the back of that cab from CP, and that first time that he had made love to her here on this bed, on these sheets - it seemed ages ago, and he felt old, but was it really that long ago, a part of him rebelled against memory.

"I don't know what to do, Aakaash. I don't know," her voice sounded strong and calm now, and he patted her shoulders, like a soft reward, a further appeasement, an inducement to tell him more. "I thought, at one point of time, I could handle this. I thought I could make this work. But I don't know about this anymore."

He nodded, even though she could not see him. She was still looking straight out through the verandah, at the night, where a lone mango tree burst out from the grassy yard, and its leaves peeked in through at her bedroom, like a thousand little prying eyes that demanded merriment and amusement. He wondered whether they were amused now, and a smile crinkle at the corners of his mouth for some reason. "I know," he breathed softly, and he wondered if he heard her.

"Is there anything to us?" He could sense the hope in her voice, and the tension in the leaves, like an audience, on the perch of a climax in the movie, waiting, waiting, holding in their breath, wondering what would come, but knowing the answer already in their heart of hearts already -

"I don't know," he said, kissing her right shoulder tenderly. She took it calmly, not flinching, not shuddering, not hoping, just accepting, and he wondered again when on earth it had stopped being so easy. The audience was used to this - one climax postponed for awhile, while a diversion came on the scene.

Shalini traced a design on the sheet in front of her. Her knees hurt, from sitting on the bed in the same position for too long an interval, her shoulders were stronger now, her stomach was still contorted, and her hands were free on the silky satin bed sheet, as they roved, finger nail by finger nail, flicking and experimenting, and her brain was telling her things her father had told her earlier that day, while her heart was still hoping and wondering - "Will you leave your wife?"

The audience was all ears now. The tree rustled gently outside her bedroom.


Geeta's birthday, and Geeta looked lovely. She had the classic Bengali large eyes, lined with kohl, and her nose was sharply wrought, her cheekbones receding upwards into a faint blush, her lips thinly set, her forehead crowned by a huge red circle she had painted on it. Aakaash smiled and kissed her cheeks, and whispered in her ear how beautiful she looked, and she coloured. He had pulled out all the stops for her - they had a corner table next to a tall French window that had a spectacular view of the city below them, the quartet played Happy Birthday for her, and she loved that, they had spoken of so many little things in the way new lovers did. It was almost as if the five years in between had never happened.

"So, how long have you and Probir been seeing each other?"

He had timed his arrow well, he saw, from the widening of her eyes, the slight incredulity in that little jerk of her head. She had been surprised about this, now, but did that mean that she had expected it all the same some time, he wondered in silent conflict within himself, but then brushed it away. This was his moment, he realized, the time when he would confront her, and tell her about everything - about herself.

Geeta looked down at the fluted glass she held in her hand, and looked up again, across the table, at him. It was an answer from her that he sought, and she decided that she was strong enough to give him one. Let him hate her, despise her, make a mockery of her. The twinkling lights in the city below seemed to want to say something to her, but she would deal with them later. They all had a place to wait, a turn to take, she decided, and hers had arrived. Should I smile? What would that mean? "A little over six months."

"Six months," he repeated, and let it hang in the air. Aakaash looked down at the white table cloth, finely crafted, silky smooth to the touch, and it reminded him of a satin bed sheet on a bed far away, in the apartment of a girl who was so far away now. It wasn't in Geeta to lie about it, she wouldn't have done so. She was strong, and who knew that better than he? She would tell him everything, and suddenly that thought was more frightening than anything he had contrived earlier.

To think of it all so contrived…

And before he had a chance to quell himself and ready himself, that question he had long laboured over made itself known. He looked out at the smiling city lights and he again thought about an expectant audience, and before he could stop himself from churning, he asked in a rapid intake of breath that seemed to come after an eternity - "Do you love him?"

I don't need to know! I don't want to know! God, I didn't want to ask that! Let her not answer - O, please, let her not answer. But Geeta did answer. Almost immediately. "No", she replied, not looking away from him.

He could sense the audience getting more restless. Somewhere inside the restaurant, the quartet was playing another tune at another table, there was applause from that quarter, and turbulence in this one. Geeta was looking down at the table cloth too, sometimes at the fluted glass that she had placed there, sometimes at him, at his own face, and he wondered idly whether she could see his dilemma, whether she could know that he was so close -

"You don't love him?" he repeated hollowly, not sure whether to give a loud whoop of joy or dissolve into hysterical sobs. His hands clenched the hand-rest of his chair tightly, and he begged the audience to quell their blood lust for a few seconds more. He would give them their lust, he would give them their blood, all he needed was time, he thought, all he needed was time, "Then, why?"

Aakaash rejoiced now to see her weakening. Her eyes were quivering, and yet they still hadn't declared defeat - magnificent! The lights below seemed to blink even more tempestuously, and he wondered whether he could hear any leaves rustling. He wondered whether her shoulders were tense now, whether there would be any good if anyone touched her now, helped her along, and yet, he did not want that salvation for her. It was his time, time for him to know why. He was clear that it was his time, as she answered softly, "Because, I wasn't… sure - "

"You weren't sure? Of what, may I ask?" Just the right amount of iron in your voice, Aakaash. The cuckolded husband. The angry, violent husband who's found out that his wife's been sleeping with another man behind his back. The right amount of sarcasm, anger and - most of all - betrayal. It's her error - she's the one who's been caught at it.

Finally, Geeta's eyes fell. She sat silent for awhile, even as he perfected that look of supreme condemnation on his face. The waiter came and placed the bill on the table. With a flourish, Aakaash signed the credit card slip, and the waiter took it away. He got ready to rise from his seat, determined to walk straight towards the car, letting her trail behind him.

And then she spoke. Distinctly. "I wasn't sure of you, Aakaash. I wasn't sure of where I stood with you - and even now, I'm not." And she got up and walked out of the door, leaving him in his chair, dazed.

From somewhere, somehow, he could hear thunderous applause in his ears.

posted by livinghigh 11:12 PM... 12 comments

Friday, March 04, 2005

Frailty, thy name is...

Frailty, thy name is...

There are times when love withers away and even though you try to hold on to it, and tell yourself there's more where it came from, you can't keep on fooling yourself. But then, I can't tell you that to your face, for then you'll squint and sigh, and look at me as if I'm a mad man, or worse yet, an infant, and this is just a childish fling I'm having, not understanding, not wanting to understand, that love is about compromise.

That's one thing I find hard to accept. Maybe because I'm the romantic you fell in love with. That love is all about compromise. I know what compromise is about, I've been there, done that, have had my fair share of submitting when I didn't want to, taking when I'd had enough, but I don't ever want to compromise on this last bastion of mine. Is that too terrible a thing to ask for?

But when I look at you, I won't be able to tell you these things. When I look at you, and see the happy glow in your eyes, I will melt, and hold your hand, and pretend that everything is perfect, that I see a future for the two of us together, rose bushes and long highways, hands held together, words of love and passion murmured into your ear, a silly song sung for no reason at all. That's because you believe in some things, and I do not. Does that mean I'm frail, or does that mean I have no discipline inside of me?

Does that mean I'm beaten?

Things I won't forget about you:

1. The fact that I call your eyes wicked, not cute. Your eyes that dance and excite and twirl to no end.

2. That long, long, long walk we took on the stretch of road from the Gateway to the Radio Club, night, partying balloons, noises that erupted, lone gaslight from a lone archaic lamp, hands holding and squeezing, the world at utter chaos and our world an oyster of peace.

3. Buying that bauble at the Kaala Ghoda Festival, cheap, imitation stones, priceless beyond compare, glittering, teamed up with mehndi for your hands, cheap, imitation, priceless, laughter, cheap, real, expensive.

4. Candles on the floor of my apartment, on the windowsills, on the bed sideboards, on the table top, on the cupboard top, tall flames, swaying and sashaying, still sentinels in a gusty breeze, and my hungry, hungry lips and my hungry, hungry soul that needed to devour you, and have you close to me for the entire night.

5. That short walk behind Athena, watching trawlers, boats, speeders course their way through the water, point out the Navy land far to the left, near the Gateway, the awestruck lovers sitting here and there in the shade, in the relative desertion of the day, tall banyan trees covering us with their shadows, and a single kiss exchanged that thrilled fingertips that touched.

So many, many more instances that evoke so much, and weaken me when I think about you and me and nothingness. Was it all worth nothing, you would ask me, and I would have no answer. I would have an answer, but it would not help if I gave it to you, for what would I say? Yes, you meant a lot to me, yes, I love you, yes, you mean a lot to me, yes, I'm being foolish in leaving you for I don't know when I will next find someone as magical as you, someone to love me as much as you do, yes, yes, yes, I'm a fool, but then you would glint triumphantly at me, and say these are all reasons why I should stay... Yet, go I must.

Silly, stupid sentiment. Sentiment battles with the sea, an odd line my imagination throws up, as I sit here, waiting for you, gazing at the Gateway which rears up its head; like a tall ornate four poster bed. There are crowds about, balloon-sellers, pimps who roam even during the day, unafraid of the consequences (should I learn something from them?), families on a Sunday romp, squeals and shrieks and laughter and excitement, and through the haze, I see you coming towards me, eyes laughing, hair waving, lips creased into the most divine smile I have ever seen you throw my way. I laugh, and I hug you, (do you hug me too tight?), and I will myself to be strong, strong, strong, if only for a day, if only for an instant, if only for a second.

Inane conversation follows - "Marvelous day", "How's work?", "You want to eat something?", "I had to wake up SOOOO early today, I'm SOOO tired!", "I love you", "The other day, I heard this outrageous piece of gossip", "God, that kid is SOOO cute!", "When do you have to be back?", "My shoes are killing me?", "Coffee?"

She sips her mocha and watches him. He's distracted, she can tell. But he's not ready to tell her yet, and she can wait for him. She's waited for him for so long already. To give himself to her completely, the way she's surrendered herself. At times, she feels a twinge of ache, whether he will really ever summon up the courage to tell her - and what then?

Courage can go both ways, her father used to tell her, when she was young, on the shooting range. It can make a man, or it can destroy a man. And the man doesn't know till the very last instant what it is he has signed himself up for. She would listen to her father's voice, gentle and strong, undulating yet firm, holding her hands steady on the gun, as she fired. Courage was a dangerous thing, she had learnt in her own life, so she smiled at this man across the table from her, who seemed distracted, and flashed silly smiles her way, and asked her what dessert she would like to have.

"What are you thinking of?" he asked her, somewhat at calm now, helped by the strong reassurance in her sea-green eyes. Strange that something that ought to terrify him in his moment of truth should so embolden him, he thought vaguely, but let it pass.

"I was thinking about something my father had said, a long time ago," she smiled, and brushed her hair back, and sat back on the chair. "Something about what makes people the way they are, and what people do themselves to change that."

He gave a nervous laugh, "That sounds very high-brow to me."

"Does it? Perhaps... It seems so commonplace to me, really. To imagine that a person can change his own life in an instant, with a word or a gesture or an action - in ways that even he cannot know the consequence of - "

He reached out a hand and touched her palm. She was cool to the touch - amazing, he thought, after that walk along the Gateway in the afternoon. But this was the way he liked her best, when she had these little thoughts that came to her unbidden, and she shared them with him, at ease with herself and with him, as if this was the way it was meant to be, an eternity of semi-silence together with no awkward pauses. He wondered why those awkward pauses came to him, alone, when he was without her, and yet, when she was there, they seemed to - disappear?

And he asked himself again that hated question - was it because he was frail?

"What do you think about weakness?" he asked her, suddenly, pushing his finished cup of cappuccino away to one side, and squeezing her hand gently again.

"Weakness? I'm not sure it exists, really."

"That's just the eternal optimist in you talking," and he felt the tide of familiar irritation again - this was how he hated her, with her self-assured swagger and her turn of knowing almost anything there was to know under the sun, that there was good, good, good under the world, and nothing else... Well, she was wrong, he was sure, and she would learn that, he was weak, and not all of her imagined strengths could save them, because he was weak, it was just the way he was, and yet, there was no room for compromise.

She laughed now, "No, it's not. It's not weakness I'm worried about, to tell the truth. It's courage. The feeling of having too much of it. The feeling of being invincible, when you think you have it. My father used to tell me that. Courage can drive a man in either direction, when he thinks he knows the answers, but does he really? He thinks he's doing the big thing, the right thing, but how on earth does he know what will happen in the future - one, two weeks, one, two months... it is imagined courage that scares me the most, not weakness, because weakness is also the manifestation of an imagined lack of courage - "

Something was stirring within him, the fear - and he suppressed it with a laugh - "Sounds like too much imagination to me!"

Her only response was a smile. He would understand, though he would pretend not to. That was the way he was, and she had accepted him for it. There were other more important things than surety she looked for in a person to be in love with, other more important things, and she had found them in him, though he still seemed unsure of his worth, of his importance, of his courage - but she would give him his time, she thought, she would give him his time.

"Shall we go?" she smiled again, her mocha done.

It was the moment of truth now, for him, and he hesitated. But it was the moment of truth, he countered against himself, and so he must not hesitate. Compromise, but not in this. I have to learn for myself, I have to decide for myself. I have to find love, even if the search kills me, and though I may be frail. So I stop, and squeeze her hands again (am I seeking some sort of affirmation from her?), and the glinting sea-green depths of her eyes suddenly makes it easier for me to tell her what I must. It's about my life, and I may be selfish, but I warned you about me a long time ago, and I must not let memories (happy memories!) divert me now... Jumbled thoughts, a kaleidoscope of ideas and reasons, and I finally say, "No. Let's wait awhile. I have - something to tell you..."

She knew what it was.

posted by livinghigh 1:28 PM... 9 comments

Talk nineteen to the dozen?
Child's play, really...


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