It is raining!
Winter rain triggers sadness…especially December rains when clouds, cold, gloom and rain create overwhelming melancholy.
Such afternoons become depressing. It is a time when bare day-light is sliding into darkness of early night.
You are trapped in a grey zone!
Rains add to misery. You cannot step out. Cooped up, looking helplessly at the falling rain on empty roads…and the muddles.
It is the same depressing afternoon, my dear!
Can you hear it? Can you feel it? The pattering rain?
Remember the first rains after our marriage? You came in dripping from the door, eyes wild with excitement. After long summer, rains look so good! You had said, smiling. I love getting drenched in the first showers!
I could see the girl in you. Then you had to go suddenly to your paternal home. I could not sleep for many nights. Then, one night, awake, I wrote a letter, my first love letter. I still remember the intense letter:
Do you know you took away my soul with you? Only mortal body remains. Till to-day, I never knew the true effect of love. Your quick departure to your parental home underlined the existing voids in an aching heart. How odd! Married for sixth months only but it seems we knew each other for a century!
How powerful is love in its impact on humans!
Absence makes us realize the value of the presence!
Please grow wings and come back—tonight!
Your reply came after a week. A lyric. It ran:
A laughter loud,
Heard once in those
Long and stuffed rooms,
In gathering gloom.
Those words sounded so divine! I still carry those words inscribed in my solitary heart! Two love letters. Sweet and simple, expressing longings of a separated couple. A romantic exchange that revived me…always.
How rains bring back the past!
It is so refreshing a remembrance!
The icy drops. I can sense them on my skin. Big diamonds from the sky—grandma would say.
Grandma had this habit of muttering!
Short, frail, half-blind, she would talk in the deserted last room. In the darkness, snow-haired granny looked like a ghost!
Being young is always scary in a house of working parents.
Why do you talk to yourself? I had asked.
She smiled. That are my friends you cannot see.
In the room.
Why cannot I see?
Only I see them. Nobody else cannot. They follow everywhere. Said grandma quietly.
I got the creeps; her eyes wore the glazed look.
I slept in the corner room; her muted screams and mutterings would wake me up, scaring me.
She and her friends! Strange!
Now I understand better.
We are becoming the frail grandma. Even I have started talking to myself in privacy. When I hear steps, I grow silent and pretend to read the newspaper. Or do something else.
How the rains can bring back childhood! No other Indian season has got such power of recall and magic. I see my grandma standing there in the lonely corridor and gesturing and talking excitedly, after a gap of almost sixty-five years.
Diamonds! How they sparkle in the courtyard!
The rain drops.
Hear them, my dearest! Feel the wind in your hair, coming in from the open window.
Wind caressing your sunken cheeks. Tingling…like my fingers on your bare back.
You always loved the outdoors. The wind in your hair. Rain on the bare skin. Catching the diamonds from the sky in the outstretched hands. Water drifting from fingers of the cupped hands. Blissful your oval face, eyes half-closed, chin upraised, water coursing down on you…like a stream flowing in the soggy brown fields.
Are you listening dear?
You will run in the open ground, chasing the rain…a kid…in the same pose of delight and adult unpretentiousness.
Come on! You would say during our occasional tryst with Indian monsoon in the outskirts of Goa. I will smile, clicking you and the retreating rain over the undulating plain…a wet slim figure in white, your favouraite colour, against a bleak quivering green backcloth.
The Goan churches fascinated you. You would stop and insist being shot against the imposing facade of the Church of St Francis of Assisi, reverential eyes soaking in the grandeur, material and spiritual, on display.
We would drift in and out of Goa. Or, coastal Kerala.
Rains. Backwaters. Kerala looks magical during monsoons. I got five albums of you against sun-washed horizons, various poses, dimple and shy maiden-smile on your face.
We were so happy!
But it was more than four decades ago…a rare period of pure happiness that came from intimacy and togetherness.
Afterwards, those were mere memories.
You have changed! You would say.
Even you have changed! I would retort.
We would bicker and fight and sleep in different rooms.
Even, same room, same bed, distances happen! You had exclaimed after a fierce fight over a trifle.
I had shouted at you. You had pursed lips, puckered up brows and gone on to watch TV—calm and remote.
I could feel your increasing frigidity towards me. I thought I did not matter anymore or affected you at any level.
We were turning into close strangers, from lovers into mere actors.
Our earlier romance looked a caricature, a ghost!
My increasing paunch and odour was a constant turn-off.
I could not help.
Now, at this moment, all this looks so trifling, irrelevant, when you are slowly drifting into another land of forgetfulness.
I miss you. Our bickering, patch-up, silence.
Now you are beyond all this!
Are you listening dear?
What a life!
Never thought you will lie strapped, a prostrate figure on the cold metal of a hospital bed in a south New Delhi private hospital, surviving on drips, tubes, eyes dilated, slightly fluttering—when a visiting family-member calls out your name softly. Otherwise, it is total amnesia.
So near, yet so remote!
Here comes lightening. It always scared you. It is ominous. Thunder echoes. Darkness increases. Afternoon darkness amplifies helpless despondency. You cannot control the elements and bear them as the Nordic countries do, some like the northern Norway or Sweden getting only a few hours of sun in the winter.
I do not like sunless days. Now, with you strapped down, monitor on, breathing hard, I get hit by utter loneliness.
Alone on this teeming violent mad planet!
My Gawd! What would I do?
We were companions for more than five decades and fought and made up like other couples.
I never thought we will also age and reach expiry dates.
Death and sickness are for the others. We are immortals!
How vain and false an assumption!
Now, you and I, in this semi-private room. I am holding your hand in mine…as we did, when we visited the Vasai Fort, near Mumbai.
You always loved ruins. Particularly, the monumental ruins. Fort-ruins cast a spell on you. The citadels, ramparts, bridges, minarets, barracks.
I can hear history. You said, visiting the Red Fort in Delhi. The Mughals, the British, the Indians.
I can hear the cannon balls booming, the massacres, the war cries, the blood-bath.
Crazy! I thought. How one can hear the dead!
I was wrong!
The dead never leave us. They hover over us.
One can never bury their dead permanently.
I can see the dead. In my age, past suddenly becomes real. Like hazy afternoon, it links a dying day with upcoming night…a threshold area connecting present with past.
Ruins, decay, and a few lessons in life.
Nothing remains as it is. Things change. Empires decline…and new ones rise on those ruins.
We would see the young couples escaping oppressive city in the ruins of Purana Quila in New Delhi on winter afternoons. Couples, linked, sitting under shades or lawns. The library of the Emperor Humayun, from where he tumbled down and died three days later, looks desolate on windy afternoons. How the structures survive as symbols of lost cultures!
We are left with ruins! You had commented, sketching the library, from the lawn.
What? I asked.
The debris of relations only. You said and smiled mysteriously.
Again, I had lost you and your enigmatic personality.
Was it about me?
Now, holding your soft hand in mine, I understand.
We are left with the debris of relations only. Nothing is left except the departing shadows, fleeting outlines.
See, it is raining heavily. Gloom has gathered and intensified. A rough wind escapes inside, ruffling your head again.
What! I see my grandmother and mother clearly before my startled eyes, two figures tentative, quivering shadows.
Believe me. Each morphing into the other, then into you!
Even Maa had stopped talking to us before she died. She would also talk to herself in her dying days, few days of great agony and pain. She talked to her Maa and granny. At that point, I thought this disease might hit you also. But, it did not. In fact, busy as we were, we hardly talked. After a point, elderly Indian couples perhaps do not talk much, withdrawing into shells.
Work separated us.
You toiled in your office, commuting long, working late.
I did, in my office. For the family, we sacrificed.
Same family does not understand us now!
What an irony!
The kids are happy with their families.
We are alone; two of us, despite their living close in proximity. Even they hardly call or meet.
And now you are in coma!
Can you hear me darling!
I feel terribly lonely!
Who will care for me after you are gone?
Your absence, painful, reminds me of your sweet presence!
In fact, I have begun noticing you in last few days only. Days when you were wheeled into the ICU, then moved to general ward and then back to semi-private room. I began feeling your phantom presence hovering over me, your silent love, your sacrifices that were unseen.
The way you cooked, washed, shopped, cleaned and cared for all of us.
How I could never gift the advertised diamond necklaces or silver rings because we both were poor middle-class Indian working as slaves for surviving in hell! No respite. No money to spare. You dressed modestly. I did humbly. We walked, skipped Dutch parties, in order to meet educational expenses of a growing family.
When the maids would not turn up, you toiled on holidays and Sundays. In last decade, we avoided long-distance trips and cinema to save money in a country where all food items cost more than even gold!
We had evolved into mere automatons!
To-day, holding your hand, I reminisce and understand the value of love and togetherness.
Now, it is too late.
You are beyond all this humbug.
Doctors say you will not live long.
You are in coma. On life support.
How fragile is life!
It mocks our ambitions, unbridled desires.
Medicine can delay but not prevent decay and death.
After you move out of this bond, I will remain stuck, alone.
Your memories might help.
Now I realize your value: You were created as super-woman for our selfish reasons. We defied you and used you as a woman, my dear.
I wish I could talk to you more, walk into the moon-lit courtyards, arms linked. Could laugh with you more and more…run with you on an open ground in Goa or admire the heritage sites or listen to your songs…things that made us both human and artists.
Let me tell you, my dearest wife, you mean so much to me. Now, with you sinking rapidly into the oblivion, I realize this bitter fact.
Debris. I wander in the ruins.
And once we had almost split up!
I had seen this message on your cell-phone in the late night—woken up by the beep in the dead of night, while you slept like a log. A short message of remembrance at 12.30 am—- and secretly followed you to the bus-stop and seen this tall well-sculpted younger man talking to you, both boarding the same chartered bus to NOIDA and seen both alighting from the same bus in the evening, for more than seven days, your smile divine, your gait light, eyes beaming. When later on, Saturday night, I confronted you, you denied everything. When I persisted, you said cruelly, Cannot a woman whose husband is not working for last three months, talk to a friend working in another office?
I was stunned!
How you have changed!
Leave the job? I had thundered.
Who will look after the bills? You were cool, distant, triumphant.
Who is he?
A fine man…kind. Nice. A friend. Things forgotten by you.
I was devastated by these icy remarks.
Oh! I could barely manage, a pain bursting inside and sundering my heart.
He is so fine! I remarked viciously, a loser.
He is a polite guy, a co-traveller. That is all. You had concluded firmly and moved to your side of the bed.
I had continued to toss. A downsized man, unwanted by the system. You had become more brazen and often praised him in order to insult my joblessness and enforced stay at home.
It had become a battleground!
From lovers to enemies.
You had begun moving away…in subtle ways, ignoring me. I was left with no option but to bear this state. Once I fell down on the wet floor of the house and you did not react beyond mere lip-sympathy. I saw a mocking smile on your face.
At that moment of coldness, I knew I had lost you forever as my beloved. Only a spouse remained. Playing to fixed roles for the sake of family and our middle-class respectability and image.
We had evolved into perfect strangers. Whenever I raised the topic, you would say I was paranoid, a suspicious man. A cruel man.
Look after the bills and I am too happy to look after the family. These two roles and your slurs, suspicions…they are too much for me to handle. Besides that, what else you have given to me except insults and utter neglect so far!
You would say and taunt me. We stopped talking also.
I did not have any evidence of adultery. Only my suspicions.
Your insecurities! You would say and laugh. He is my good friend, not lover. Cannot a working woman have a good male friend? He is married…happily…with two kids.
I had no answers. Perhaps, you were right. I was reading too much into a normal situation. A working woman. A courteous co-traveller. A common chartered bus going to same locality. A simple fun-loving decent guy! A good singer also. You loved singing. I never sang. You loved outdoors. I hated them. You loved travelling. I avoided them. You loved reading and history. I was a Chemistry student.
Our worlds, exclusive, were held together by an arranged marriage and later on, by the kids only…like rest of the middle-class Indians. Two perfect strangers brought together by common practices who discovered each other in initial years of marriage and then lost by the pressures of work and anti-romance conditions of our living in an Indian metro…like others of our ilk.
Once you stormed out, remained away, then kids united us again. Then the hasty departure of the third guy in our marriage—due to his promotion in another company in Bangalore—cooled up the things and we somehow reconciled. You became quiet and lost. Hardly sang or read for months. I checked your cell-phone and expectedly found no messages from your decent kind friend, the co-traveller!
I knew you were feeling used again. People had seen you dining and coming out of malls but you denied and threatened to quit always and my long unemployment increased my humiliating dependency on you. Occasionally, I tried to sing a song and applied a talc powder but both acts of gallantry repelled you further.
I could not live up to the romantic image promoted by the Bollywood. I was a Chemist working in a factory located some sixty kilometers away from home and I had no training or patience in sustained courtship.
How can a battered man be a perpetual romantic hero in life?
For me, life was never a constant candle-lit dinner party. It was a constant battle to survive in hell!
My idea of romance was—and is—holding of hands and speaking silently because the poor do not have access to such rich symbols in life.
Love is an emotion transmitted non-verbally.
Love is beyond words. A sate felt telepathically.
Hope, dear, you understand my love now, as I hold your hand and cry silently for having missed out so much in a simple life simply because I could never afford those pricey signs of media-promoted notion of love and romance.
I loved you from the bottom of my heart. I still do. I could never tell you in these terms—not everybody is a born poet!
I might have mistreated you or neglected you as the long commutes drained me completely but my heart always with you.
Are you listening my love?
Listening to my heart?
Just feel it. I know it does not matter anymore. What matters is…a hoped miracle…few more moments of closeness. Nobody is an angel. We survived so many storms. That shows the strength of our relationship in this age when marriages hardly last a few months!
Well, listen to rain, dear, its music, the music of drops falling…the rains you loved so much…docs have given a few more days but I know you will survive and return to me again…as you did years ago.