The ceiling fan whirs noisily overhead.
My mind is unnaturally calm.
Having heard me come in, Ma is coming out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her saree’s pallu.
I had been away for six hours. She knows it has been done.
She just wants to confirm. “You did not do it, right? Please tell me you did not.”
I simply look at her, throw my dupatta on the sofa and go to the balcony.
I do not want to explain. Or listen to her. I want calm. I want to be soothed. I want the moon and his countless star wives – band-aids to the gashes on my heart.
One doesn’t always get all that one wants. I can hear her raving in the kitchen. And the pained cries of the utensils on whom she is venting her anger.
“It was a match made in heaven. Heck, did she not choose him herself?” Clang.
“Four years. Where were all her high-sounding philosophies all these years?”
“Doesn’t listen to anybody. Everybody is a fool except her, you see.” Splash.
“Poor boy. How did I give birth to such a stone-hearted bitch? My bad luck.”
“Stupid Dosa. Don’t burn now. I have enough trouble in my life as it is.”
I know that she is deluding herself with all that. Her only worry is “Who will marry her now? After an open affair with that boy.. Especially when it comes to be known that she ended it herself for no reason?”. Thankfully, it is easy to tune her out. After all, I have been doing it for as long as I can remember.
I should have seen it coming years back. Ah.. I was blindly in love and did not give it much thought. Whenever M ran his stubby fingers through my hair and proclaimed “I love you so much. I can’t live without you”, I had smiled and brushed it away as sweet-talk – not to be taken seriously.
Now, curled up on the cold floor in that comforting foetal position, I can see my our flash-back projected in eastman color on the full moon.
There we are.. me eating at the dining table.. M is sitting on the floor close to the TV, tears rolling down his cheeks. He is watching the climax of that dumb movie Ek Duuje Ke liye. On-screen, Kamal Hassan and Rati are jumping to their death; off-screen, my hero is adding to the background score with his sobs. I tell him to stop the water-works. His eyes still glued to the TV screen, he says “How can I not cry? Look at them.. Tch. True love.”
Disgust is visibly written on my face. I command the TV to play the music channel using the remote.
Mahinder Kapoor is crooning “Chalo ek baar phir se, ajnabi ban jaaye hum dono” from behind Sunil Dutt’s boyish face. Beautiful song. Timeless lyrics. There he goes..
“Taarruf rog ho jaaye, to usko bhoolnaa behtar.
Taaluk bhoj ban jaaye, to usko todnaa achchaa.
Woh afsaana jise anjaam tak laanaa na ho mumkin..
Usey ik khoobsoorat mod dekar chhodnaa achhchaa.”.
Brilliance like that can only be translated crudely.
“Come let us become strangers once more.
An meeting that has become an ailment is better forgotten.
A relationship that has become a burden is best broken.
That story that can not be taken to its intended end..
it is best given a beautiful twist and left at that.”.
Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics.. bless that enlightened soul.
M’s turn to paint disgust on his face now. “If it is true love, how can he let it go like that? Useless fellow. Attempts to make his stupid justification sound convincing with beautiful words. Coward.”. The channel changes abruptly.
It is Shahrukh killing us with his crying now. Devdas. If Ek Tukhe Ke liye was dumb, this one is dumbest. In no time, M’s water-works restart. I can’t help saying “Stop crying for that selfish dumbo.”.
“What do you mean? Poor fellow has lost his true love. He is heart-broken.”
“Bull-shit. If he had truly loved her, he would have realized his mistake, apologized for hurting her, accepted reality and moved on. He would not have become this good-for-nothing alcoholic zombie wallowing in guilt and loss.. He would not have become that wreck wallowing in everybody’s sympathy and feeding as much guilt to his parents and Paro as he himself swallows. He does not love her. He wants her. That is why he can’t accept not getting his lollipop and is putting up that magnificent sulk-tantrum. Idiot is deluding himself and others by labelling it as truuue louuuve.”
“What crap! Don’t feed me convoluted ‘philosophy’ just to get the remote back.”
I give up and reach for a book.
May be I should have persisted then.. shown him that I was serious and explained my point.
A cloud passes across my moon.. as if to announce a new scene.
I am walking through hospital-smell ridden corridors looking for room number B-17. M’s sister had called me. He had attempted suicide – slashed his wrist.
His mother is seated by the bed-side. Feeding him some soup. She doesn’t meet my eyes. She had never liked me.
Ours had been a live-in relationship for the past two years. My family had come to accept it after making the customary weak noises of protest. M’s mother could never digest it. No.. not it.. she could never digest me. Different caste. Atheist. Above all, dangerously liberal, independent and out-spoken. Not ‘family stuff’.
I keep my conversation targeted at M. I am angry. “What was this now? Emotional blackmail? To arm-twist your mom to accept your love?”.
M glares at me. “I am not a fraud. I really wanted to die. My lazy blood simply did not flow out fast enough.”
He looks away. “They said my sister’s marriage is not happening because of me. No one wants to marry a girl whose brother had strayed – to a different caste, and into a sinful live-in relationship. They left me with no options – I had to leave you.”
His looks in my eyes. “You know I can not live without you.”
I stare speechless. The sincere honesty in those wet eyes has shocked me into silence.
M’s mother is weeping. She holds my hands and says she is sorry. That she wants her son more than she hates me and my caste. She would no longer oppose this relationship. She simply wants us to understand her situation.
I am staring into space, not really listening to her. My mind is made up.
I promise. I would move back to my parents’ place. We would not marry before M’s sister gets married. I would behave a ‘normal’ girl to M’s sisters future in-laws.
I promise myself that I would stay strong and do the right thing.
It has been a year since that day. I live with my parents now. M’s sister will get married in a month. M is very excited at the thought of our ‘line being cleared’.
The proclamations of “I have no life without you. What would I do without you?” have increased in frequency. M refuses to take any decision without me. Last moth, he attended a job interview in an old shabby shirt because he did not have a decent shirt and would not buy a new one without me. His weekends are filled with sadness, bitterness and restlessness if I don’t go over to his place.
He had refused multiple assignments that took him out-of-station because he could not imagine not having me close by. Against all kinds of protests from me.
The final bell rang two days back. I had been expecting this day. I had accepted an on-site assignment. Two months in Beijing. M was livid.
“How could you be so selfish? Career? Opportunities? More important than me? More important than ‘us’? I have given up so many of these ‘opportunities’ for you!”
The fight had been followed up with a Sunday filled with “Please don’t go. Don’t leave me alone.”, “You don’t love me enough right? You don’t care about me. You don’t care about my feelings.”, “If you go in spite of me begging you so much, don’t bother coming back. Chudail.” etc.
Sigh. It was time. I had to keep the year old promise to myself. I had to be strong and do the right thing now. I had buffered it with enough time and support. I had to tell him now.
Today, I went over and told him. That his “true love” for me is more want than love. No.. not the physical want. Simply the overwhelming desire to have me by his side – for everything, for ever.
I told him. That love and want are different. I love ice-cream. But unless I want it badly, I would not throw a tantrum and sulk if I am not given ice-cream. Excess of want is addiction. It leads to withdrawal symptoms and worse.
I told him. That I wanted to be loved. Not wanted more than loved.
He had progressed even beyond wanting me more than loving me. He simply needed me now. He is addicted to me.
I told him. I wanted to be there for him forever. Not because he desperately needed me. Only because I wanted to be there for him. But that is clearly not happening. This burden of being there for him as an obligation towards this “love” is too heavy for my shoulders.
I told him that I am breaking up with him. My way of kick-starting his de-addiction process.
I listened to him rave and sob for six hours, trying to explain myself all the time. I don’t know how well I did on that.
Am I selfish? To want to enjoy love and not by suffocated by it? For wanting not to feel like oxygen to another soul? For wanting not to feel like cocaine to an addict who would be a wreck if I leave for a day?
I don’t know. May be I am. But I treasure my peace of mind more than any kind of companionship, love, praise and saint-hood. Hope he finds his.
I can’t brood for long. I can’t afford to. I have a flight to catch and a monster of a suitcase to pack.
I have a life to live. In peace. Without being addictive or addicted.