Sunday, September 25, 2011

Love - is it?? Part Three

They say life moves on. And that it surely does - with super random pace. Friends get busy with work, relationships, career etc. etc., leaving only a trail of aromatic whispers behind. Nostalgia yes! But more than that a realisation that all is apocryphal, temporary - nothing lasts. Not even love.

It was a bright sunny Sunday. The sun mercilessly stared through the glass panels in Vrihad's bedroom. A severe headache gripped him. Oh yes! Last night was the party! May be the hangover. Vrihad reached out for the empty water jug. Frustrated, got up to grab a bottle from the refrigerator. The television glared and blared at him. Gaping at its night long, committed entertainment to no one in the hall, Vrihad switched it off. Smells of stale beer, dusty shoes, leftover pizza. All leave - everyone - leaving trails of memories behind.

Pavani and Vrihad sought divorce after a seven-years long marriage. Thankfully, they had no children to fight over and further complicate things. What went wrong is futile to think about. After all marriage is not all rose-tinted like a wedding - only smiles, only bling, only sheen. It has to be renewed each day, to be cared for each passing moment. And it is difficult. Difficult to wake up and see the same person every day, difficult to find cuteness in the irritating habits of the other any longer, difficult to keep respecting the passion for work and sense of social responsibilities in the other half, very very difficult to remain cocooned in the former days of courtship. Marriage is lot of compromise, lot of patience, lot of trust and above all lots and lots of commitment. And if any one of these begin being shaky, slowly but steadily, the edifice crumbles.

Vrihad realised a tear drop on the newspaper. The Sunday suddenly seemed bleak and boring. After all, one can not expect each day and night after 30 to be a college-goers bliss. Friends have to have their own family time. Colleagues have to have their space.

Yes, space. And suddenly Vrihad remembered that beautiful day with Pavani. That day when he realised, "This was it that i wanted!"

"Vrihad, i am out for a friend's home warming party. You want to join me?"

"Nah sweetie! I shall pick you up in two hours or so. I would better lounge around for some more time."

Pavani smiled, nodded and shut the bathroom door. This is what he looked for in their companionship. Mutual freedom, space, independence. Not being crushed by unnecessary social obligations, mutual friendship calls etc etc. Grabbing a mug of beer, he lovingly looked at the fresh-out-of-shower Pavani, getting ready for the bash. He went to her and looking deep in her eyes said, "Thanks Pavani! I am so damn lucky to have you in my life! Unlike other women who stifle one with love, you don't. And still you love me so much more."

Pavani's mouth opened for an affectionate laugh and she patted Vrihad on his forehead, "Mr. i-am-so-feverish-last night! Do not forget to pick me up in a couple of hours. I want some time with you too. This space is merely to atone for the day long engagement you have with me."

They kissed and she left.

The apartment, empty and insipid, stared at him all this while. Vrihad realised it was time for him to pay the dhobi, newspaper-vendor, cook...holy crap! He had left the milk to boil in the kitchen. He rushed inside to find a charred pan, staring teasingly in his face. Vrihad drank another glass of water, placed an order for a brunch and tried to occupy himself with the newspaper.

"US decides to withdraw troops from Afghanistan". And this headline transported him to his world with Pavani - only just a few days ago.

"Vrihad, i need to work out a paper for my lecture this Friday, honey! Drop me to Prof. Verma's place. He is a brilliant scholar of international relations. By the time you finish off catching up with Sharad, i shall be done with my discussion too." Pavani peered out of the kitchen cabinet to catch Vrihad shaving in the mirror.

"Yeah sure!" Vrihad muttered under his breath.

On their way to return, Pavani said, "Mmmmmmm....what about a lunch outside today, Vrihad? I am a little busy with work for this international seminar"

Vrihad blurted out, " No Pavani. I want to go home. Can you not reserve these articles and papers on days other than a Sunday. It is the only day we have, honey!"

Pavani glared at him, "Vrihad, it is a mega event. I need to work yar. And this US-Afghanistan thing is too complex and historical to be grasped in a day. I am sorry, i need my space to work. These two weeks i am super busy."

Vrihad looked at her. He nodded and gave her a peck on the forehead. "Yeah Pavani! I understand. Sorry yar! Wait! What about i cook something for you today?"

Pavani threw a disinterested glance at Vrihad. "It is okay, Vrihad. We shall order."

This was the beginning. Days after the seminar, which was a huge hit in the intellectual circles across universities, Pavani got enmeshed in more research papers, more projects, more assignments, more meetings.....Sundays were Mondays and weekdays were of course, working days. Vrihad's hectic week-long work in the law-firm guaranteed him no respite before ten and sometimes eleven at late nights. He reached home to eat cold dinner, a sleeping Pavani and of course a short night to rejuvenate for a new day.

Slowly, the oil crisis in the world, the judgements on Salwa Judum and the politics of Libya and Tunisia grew more important for both Pavani and Vrihad than catching a movie on the one Sunday they got, cuddling on the sofa once in a while, eating ice-creams from the same bowl - these became 'cheesy, juvenile and nonsensical' gestures within a very short span of time.

Vrihad thought of talking to Pavani. "Pavani, Maa wants to visit us for a couple of days. I was wondering if you could spare sometime at home after classes.'

"Vrihad, i need to work in the library yar. I need references and sources. I can get manuscripts and books issued. But then, you know, work-efficiency is much more there than at home. Why don't you take a couple of days off."

"Pavani, you know the current turmoil in the legal situations yar. I can't, unless i wish to shoo away some very powerful clients. Try to understand Pavani. It is a little difficult. Look, when you worked like a workaholic for your seminars, i did not complain. But do you realise, we have no time for each other now. Look, i am not complaining......"

"Yeah right! Vrihad, i know what you mean. You want me to baby-sit your Momma when you build a lucrative career and i sacrifice my work for being a homely married woman! Brilliant, Mr.-i-am-all-for -gender-equality!"

"Pavani, Relax! I am merely requesting you to spend some time back home, AFTER your classes get over. And not to baby-sit my mom, but to just be here at home, working in the other room if you wish too....It is ok. I shall manage. I shall say, i could not get the tickets or something else. You enjoy your workaholism."

"Vrihad, this is preposterous! Yes, yes, why won't you? After all, i am the one anyway, to carry the tag of being the negligent daughter-in-law always. Go ahead! Do what you want to!" And she burst out in her tears.

Vrihad looked at her in disgust and stomped off.

The door bell rang. Vrihad collected the food and decided to get a quick shower and wash out the morning fatigue before digging in the meal. In the shower the bitter sweet memories of Pavani assaulted him again. How they shared the happiness of Vrihad's first job salary in the quasi-rain of the shower! How they celebrated Pavani's first success in the literary festival's seminar on the rooftop on a moonlit night! And it all seemed just yesterday. How adorable Pavani looked with her wine-sipping lips and ringlets of hair caressing her cheek that evening! Vrihad emerged out of the shower.

Memories are the worst faculties of a human mind. They store so much, they torment so much. Why can we just not live and let things be? Why is it always important to remember birthdays, goddamn "first kiss day","first date day", "proposal day"...and what not! Vrihad stared at the food and felt fresh onslaught of tears on his face.

"I still love her so much. After all the humiliation, disrespect and bitterness that the past few months offered to me with Pavani's new and fresh ways to insult and instigate me, how can i still love her so much? Is she right when she says,"You men have zero self respect when you fall for a woman!' Whatever it is, i love you Pavani. I love you so very much!"

Vrihad got up to grab some alcohol again. Chugging deep gulps of the same and forcing himself to eat the ordered mess of food in the plate, Vrihad realised it was long before she actually signed the divorce papers that she had exhausted herself of the love for him. Just as their wedding was a formal solemnisation of their love in the respective societies they hailed from , those papers were merely to announce an end to their mutuality. He began to feel sick. He began to feel giddy.

Pavani got home late and announced calmly, in her usual, sophisticated, pretty and silken voice,"Vrihad, things are just not working out between us. We don't talk, we don't laugh, we do not spend time together. Look, it is none of our faults, you know. Reality post-marriage is different. We become habituated to each other after sharing so much after a couple of days. There is no romance left in our lives, Vrihad. Let us call it off."

Vrihad looked at her in dismay. "Pavani, are you saying we should consider divorce?" His voice shattered, just as a crystal glass on a concrete slab.

"Oh! Come on, Vrihad! Don't be such a Puritan! It is ok. It is not the end of our lives yar. We can still be friends. Just that, off late, i have realised it is increasingly becoming taxing for me to see you around. I confess honestly, Vrihad, i do not feel anything for you anymore. Forgive me, Vrihad, but please let me go. I can't bear all this."

"Pavani, you merely need a break, sweetie. Nothing more. Look, i have seen you all these years. Trust me, give ourselves some time. It will all work out."

Pavani looked at Vrihad and said, "Vrihad, you do not know about it perhaps, but i am also involved with this colleague at work."

Vrihad looked crushed.

He broke down, all of a sudden. He signed the papers and asked her to leave his apartment at the earliest. Pavani was inconsolable too.

Before leaving she hugged Vrihad. "Vrihad, i am sorry. I know i have hurt you. But trust me, when i say this. It just happened. This equation between us. Just as we gelled so well because we had common passions to talk about, Aniket and i bonded for the common interests in the subjects. It makes work easier for us. It makes lives simpler for us."

Vrihad looked at her with a stone dead expression. "This 'us' and 'we' does not include me, Pavani. I am a crumbled man. I have lost faith in myself."

"Oh, come on Vrihad! As it is you are so busy with work. Trust me, all this will fade away with time. See, anyway, things have changed between us drastically. You never compliment now. We never enjoy quiet times together. All that is left to our marriage is crumbs of leftover exhibition of lust - nothing more, Vrihad. Which, by the way, is easier to procure anywhere."

"Pavani, are you punishing me because 'i' did not have time for you? Because "i" fell short of love for you? Is it always necessary that men pay compliments every alternate day to their women in order to convince them of their love? Is love all about words and crooning sweet nothings in the ears all the time?"

"Vrihad, you are indirectly accusing me now. May be it is a mutual fallout. Maybe it was a wrong decision to begin with. But whatever it is, Vrihad, it is all over from my end. You look out for yourself."

Pavani said this and left the apartment, robbing the house of its homeliness.

Vrihad had had enough of beer and food for the day. He slouched on a sofa, opened his laptop to finalise tomorrow's work schedule. Work was the best way to drown oneself, apart from beer, of course.

Vrihad opened a mail that Pavani had sent, perhaps moments ago.

"Just wondering, is love never enough? Sorry for what i did, but next time, i say from experience, you do not try to immortalise change in forced permanence. I loved you exactly as i loved Aniket. Nothing more, nothing less. But even that was transitory, Vrihad. However, i would not leave him for the simple reason that i can not keep changing men in my life as fresh clothes each day. Just realised that it might be difficult to continue to love eternally but it isn't to live without it. You just need to grow immune to its call. Maybe i learnt it from you. Thanks."

Vrihad deleted the same and twisted his face in a cynical smile. Yes, love indeed is never ever enough, wondering if it ever was, would he have failed in making her understand all this?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Love - is it?? Part Two

It was deja vu. Similar words had reached him six years ago.

Samarth hurried back to his apartment to check his mail the last time. Was he dreaming? Did she actually say she wanted to see him? Clutching the next flight ticket to Delhi, he made his way to the airport. Aparna's melting voice ringing clear in his ears.

"Samarth, i want to meet you once."

No sooner did he hear this, than he got the first flight to her city. Among the many sordid moments in their relationship for the past couple of months now, this call convinced Samarth that they might just be together again. For the last time. He would make all amends. He would change for her completely. He would do all that she ever wanted, and much more. Aparna's innocent and reassuring smile clouded all his apprehensions with hope now.

They met in their small little corner in campus where it had all begun. Samarth had reached much before Aparna arrived. The days just flashed by his eyes. Aparna shedding those tears and looking at him with those searching eyes, his hug which she said reassured her that she could make all wrongs right given that he was with her, their first kiss, their stretched conversations on life, Brecht, sex, career, Marx, malignant cancer cells - everything, everything under the sun jolted the bygone Samarth from this version of him that lay all ruined and incomplete, all half in her absence. Samarth knew, just knew that Aparna was his life.

Aparna came and sat down. Not even a moment passed when she looked up at Samarth and said, "Look Samarth, it is all over. I know you could have been convinced by all these months of ignoring you. But i just needed you to see that i am happy with my status quo. I just needed you to see that i do not need you anymore..."

Samarth cupped her face in his hands. Teary-eyed and almost broken, he muttered, " But i need you Aparna. I just can not live without you. Look, things will work out. I assure you with finality this time. I will do exactly as you say. But please, for godsake, do not leave me alone."

Aparna got up and went out to get coffee. Samarth cried and fresh onslaughts of memories and moments all gone assaulted him in her absence. Aparna was a charming, vivacious girl - very popular for her beautiful ways and intelligence. She was this girl who made things go right just by her magical presence. And suddenly from this one day, she refused to smile. She did everything that she was supposed to do but it seemed as if she was punishing herself with her own life. It was then that Samarth chanced to come in her life. What began as a partnership in the annual cultural festival of college developed into this meaningful, inspiring relationship between them. Aparna got hold of her life ravaged by her widow mother's malignant cancer status and Samarth got a new dimension to his life with this wonderful girl's presence in his life. Together they broke university records academically, coincidentally got into the same work profile in the same company. They had begun to believe that all was perfectly planned for them from above. They were happy. They were just brilliantly happy.

And this one day changed life for them forever. After their job training, Samarth got posted in far south and Aparna was given the prerogative to settle in her hometown given her family condition. They bade emotionally choked good-byes to each other. Perhaps unaware that life would change for them forever.

Aparna came back. She handed over him his coffee mug and insisted on thrusting that sandwich in his hands. After a few silent sips of their once favourite coffee, she began, "Samarth, it is not always necessary that two good people end up making a perfect couple. We all were kids when we indulged in this love-shove business yar. Look at this. I was emotionally wrecked at that time. I found a genuine friend in you. And, come on, you did confess, didn't you, that to date the most popular girl in campus was like the coolest part of this relationship for you? Samarth, we needed each other, mutually. We were friends with benefits. But it ought to get over yar."

Samarth looked at her with utter disbelief. "Aparna don't tell me all that you said right now was true! I did not date you because you were the most popular girl in campus! Never Aparna! I stood by you because i did not want to see a talent as you go waste over her family issue. Love was gradual between us, Aparna. We did not date like star-struck couples. We thought about each and every step all through before we plunged into a commitment. Please do not say we were friends of benefits, for godsake! Aparna, do those evenings of togetherness hold no meaning at all? Do those converstions on......"

"Oh! Shut up Samarth! I am independent. I am smart. I am beautiful. Earn as much as you do. It is juvenile to think Samarth that college days' romance last forever. I need a man different from you, you know. I can't imagine wasting my time and emotions in managing a guy all my life. I need a man. I need someone who is more mature, much much more mature than you. Someone who is strong enough to be able to hold me, control me. Someone who inspires me. Someone who is better than me in all respects, Samarth. Someone i can look upto. Someone who treats me as an equal because he can afford to do so, because he is better than me. Because he isn't insecure about losing me. Someone who respects me for what i am because he believes and trusts his own love enough to guarantee my love for him for the rest of our lives. Samarth, it's all over between us. Look, i am sure, you would be thankful to me to have made this call early on in life before much damage is done."

"Aparna, don't tell me, you manipulated my emotions all these years. Don't tell me i was all but a temporary need for you. I feel used, Aparna. This is not what you were. Ok, what is it? Am i too clingy? Did i ever stop you from doing what you wanted? For Godsake Aparna, what is it?"

"Don't shout, Samarth! I have given you enough reasons for my decision to part ways. I am bored of this love between us. I am bored of this routined call everyday and prying questions about how my days were, whom did i meet, what did i wear and so on and so forth. I need someone who is settled, not a struggler trying to get his way through. I want stability in your and my life, Samarth. However hard you try you can not jump four years hence and work things out for us. It is over because i am no longer a person who lives in the present. I have changed. I think about investments now. I envision a future better than what it can be with you. Samarth, i called you because i wanted you to see the new me."

Samarth gazed blankly at Aparna. She was not the girl he knew. She had changed. He got up and said, "Just answer me one question Aparna? Did you ever love me, even once?"

Just then her phone rang. She picked up and asked the person on the other end to wait outside. She got up and hugged him.

"Take care of yourself Samarth. You need to support your family. They have huge expectations from you. Trust me, five-six years down the lane, you will not regret this decision."

She moved out of the campus, got in the taxi that stood there waiting for her. In a few moments it disappeared on the winding roads. Shattered, Samarth came back to Chennai.

And after these six long years he got this mail. He re-read it once again. Tears rolling down his eyes, he got hold of his car keys. The flight was to leave for Delhi in another hour. He was wondering what could he possibly do with that condolence visit? Should he actually go?

He read the letter for the umpteenth time.

Dear Samarth,

By the time this letter reaches you, i shall be gone forever. I was detected with cancer too in the later stages of Maa's illness. I knew you already had lot of stuff to take care of back home. I did not want to be a burden on you. I spoke all that i spoke that day to make sure you work hard enough to get to the place you are now. And well, i am happy that you did. Just do me a last favour. I have bequeathed my property to the nursing home for cancer patients. Please see to it that it reaches the requisite hands in time.

I needed to fight against myself to do this. Forgive me and carry on with your life.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Love - is it?? Part One

Siddhant frantically looked for that one emotion in Avani's eyes. But all that could pass in those dark recesses were indifference, a cold detached air. She wasn't mad at him, she did not hate him, she did not ever accuse him with anything. She was merely cold towards him. Siddhant stood as hungry for her love as the street urchins are for one decent meal in a day.

"How do you manage to look so beautiful all the time, Darling!" Siddhant said and planted an obligatory kiss on Avani's cheek.

Avani looked at him straight and asked, "For how long are you going out Siddhant?" He looked at her again, a little perplexed.

"Avani my work profile demands travel, dearie. I can't help it. And you know i can't afford to take you to all the places i visit for work, don't you? Why do you always complicate things for me? Look, you knew this even when we were dating, right? I need my space. I need my sanity to work in peace. Avani, be the girl you were ya! You had this spark. You were vivacious, naughty, full of life, you were MY Avani. What changed for you so drastically yar? We are married. But that's about it. Why have you changed so much? I am getting sick of this Indianised, archetypal feminine self in you!"

Siddhant slammed the washroom door and left the bedroom to Avani, as cold as the dead stones on a winter night. The sky had begun to embrace the bleeding early morning sun on the horizon. Avani got up and made her way into the kitchen. She had to finish off with preparing breakfast and fixing up lunch for the day before Siddhant could drop her to her college on his way to the airport.

"Avani, i forgot ya. Take Maa for her routine check-up today. And yes on your way back from work, ask my secretary to hand over to you the file for a collaborative project with Sanders& Brothers. Yar, i am sure you could write a really decent proposal for the same. And mail me the same by late evening. The success of this project has the potential to make us the best service providers in the country. Avani, i am so happy ya. You indeed are the best." With this Siddhant placed his hand on her hands and lifted it to kiss her. Avani moved away and reached out for the steps on the college gate."

Siddhant reached for dinner that night. "Hey sweetheart! I am sorry i was rude today. Took the last evening flight to catch you for dinner. Well, i shall take the early morning flight to work out the rest of the stuff there. I am at the door. Dying to see you." Siddhant beamed through the call.

Avani opened the door with her enchanting smile. She hugged him and muttered a muffled 'Thank You' in his ears. Siddhant was greeted by the party in progress. He just figured out it was Avani's birthday he completely missed out on. Any probability for a shop being open at this unseemly hour was an impossibility. By then Shashwat, Avani's best childhood friend and her colleague now had opened the wine for the night and raised toast to Avani's beautiful charm. Siddhant stood enraged. He stomped off to his room making a hasty retreat from the party. Avani got back in a short time winding up the party soon.

She snuggled close to Siddhant. "I knew you would come today. Somehow i just knew you would".

Her doe-eyes filled with the mist of her unending love for Siddhant. She hugged him tight. Siddhant harshly pulled himself away and said, "Stop playing this emotional drama now. Why the hell did that bastard turn up? Just because i happen to be out for business tours, you presumed the right to compensate for my time by calling him over in my absence? Avani, since how long have you guys been doing this? I know i was late, i know i was negligent. But in that case how does that good-for-nothing lover of yours have the right to give you a surprise celebration in my absence? He could have collaborated with me, right? We could have planned things together, right? Do you think i am a fool, Avani? Tell me, for how long have you been sleeping with him? "

Siddhant held her arms so tight that they began to hurt. Avani could barely speak. Tears flowed down on her cheeks incessently. Just then, one of her glass bangles broke and tore her skin on the wrist. She got up and left. The next morning Siddhant left without a word to return a week later as scheduled.

Avani realised she was pregnant. She was happy. Very very happy. She waited for Siddhant to return for lunch, prepared his favourite meal and draped his favourite saree. Siddhant came over late and on learning of the news took her in his arms and together they weaved dreams on the fabric of the life to come. Suddenly, his phone rang. He hung up in a while and said," Avani, yar go for the check-up alone. I know you are a strong, independent girl and anyway would have desisted me from doing this. I am sorry but i am out for another month now."

Avani gaped at his face and nodded. She kissed him a goodbye and cried the whole day, cancelled all her classes and drowned the house with her wails and moans after Siddhant left. Something had snapped in her today.

The days stitched and unstitched similar patterns on their marital trousseau for two years now. Avani asked Siddhant for a divorce. She said she will take care of Maa but does not wish to continue in this house. She said something had failed to keep the home they made in this concrete alive. She said she wanted to shield Mrinal from all this. She said she wanted her own life back. She said because Siddhant is busy, she would take all responsibilities of Maa as long as she is alive. Avani said she wanted her space. She said she wanted to breathe out of love. She assured she would fulfill her roles as a mother and a daghter-in-law without seeking any response and assistance from Siddhant. She said she wanted to be freed of his 'love'.

Siddhant looked at this new Avani. As beautiful as ever. Her mauve saree carefully draping the sleeping Mrinal. Her unkempt hair loosened all over her waist.

"Avani, you have changed. Why are you talking like one of those feminist women from your goddamn novels and recommended movies? I love you Avani. I am sorry. But don't look at me like that. Don't seek divorce. I would crumble without you. Please come back, Avani. I would love you more than Shashwat. I would keep you happy Avani. Please don't go away."

Avani looked at Siddhant with an icy cold, detached yet compassionate look. "Siddhant, i am moving out from the place. I have left the job and have decided to settle in the hills and work with the tribals. Do me one favour. Attend Shashwat's wedding on my behalf today evening. He has decided to solemnise his live-in with Gauri after six long years of togetherness. I am taking Maa out for her check-up before we move out tomorrow. Sign the divorce papers and leave it with the advocate. I am leaving to never come back. But take care of yourself.

She said this and gave him a a lingering look. There was care, there was calmness, there was responsibility, there was compassion, there was honesty, there was HIS Avani's confidence. However hard he searched in those beautiful eyes, he could not find love. It seemed as if he was never there with her ever. It seemed he was not what he had been.