“Human bonding is the most difficult thing to fathom Meeta! Every relationship has to be nurtured, else it won’t persist.”
She just nodded her head.
Her questions were simple, her thoughts, innocent, unlike mine.
Her question was, when she didn’t need anything in return, where was the question of survival of the relationship, for that matter?
All these years, she had been a willing prisoner in a trap, without a word of complaint, without anything that she can call her ‘personal need’ or ‘demand’. Now for the first time, ever, she wanted to breathe some fresh air. Was it too much? Was she asking for something unpardonable? Impossible?
She was, in a way,‘happy’ in her thirteen years’ marriage, and then we met. She had been sitting quietly in that Creative Writers’ Workshop, though she seemed to be quite chirpy at times, laughing with ease and eyes gleaming with, well, love! And I was, like everyone who met her,kind of unconsciously taken in by the soft, quiet, sensuous face. It was a gorgeous face, with a couple of dimples on cheeks and eyebrows that met at a small dot of bindi to bridge over her transparently emotion laden eyes.
We exchanged a few courteous words, but that was about it. Her eyes glittered in a way that I cannot take, so I mostly avoided eye contact. She said she liked to sing, cook, read, write, smile, and I noticed, she giggled like flowing water. Through the following months, I learnt, she liked fish, liked to wear short skirts and knee-length frocks with high heels,showing her sensuous, slender legs, and liked to meditate on the green hillock in front of her house.
I am not sure when I started relating to her,but I was sure I was very comfortable in her presence. I knew soon enough that this was the person I was looking for all my life.
Instincts never lie.
She was a renowned writer, in her own rights, but was extremely down to earth. In course of the day’s work, I had to introduce her to the audience, and I did that to my heart’s content….mixing facts with meticulous choice. There was this power point ready with the minutest details of her creative oeuvre, that focused upon the prodigious work she’d already accomplished at quite a young age. As I was speaking and as the audiences were looking on, she was visibly embarrassed, looked down, biting her nails. When I stopped and faced her scarlet face, she just whispered, “Was it required?” There was this delectable mix of feigned anger and ill hidden feel-good in her eyes. But the bindi bridge only made the frown sweeter!
I guess, I fell in love, at that moment, with the unpretentious girl. I guess, unknowingly, another bridge was built between us that moment.It became the most cherished relationship for both of us, a relationship which became a work in progress forever.
She had all the qualities I seek in persons that make them my friends. Well….people who simply turn out to be just like me, not at all goody goody, with a great sense of humour, someone who would start singing or dancing when I sing love songs, someone who would say “let’s go!” when I suggest some crazy thing, like leaving the car in the parking and travelling by metro or catching up a movie at odd hours.
To be precise, she was absolutely wild, with splotches of naughtiness in the eyes. She was the craziest person I had ever met. And then, she was a queer mix of elegance, edginess, composure and versatility as an individual.
But love seeks qualities more than fun or elegance, right? Right.
Madhvi had qualities even she didn’t know that she had. We were of the same age-group,but she was the maturer one. She was someone with whom I could be as romantic as a Bollywood hero, as stupid, as insecure, and as good or bad as I wanted to be. There were no judgments passed. I wanted her to be my mistress in youth, friend in a mature age and nurse in my old age. But we always do not get what we desire in life. That was that.
She accompanied me, quietly, in a long-distance relationship, for past twenty five years, sharing my worries about my life, sending me messages, letters, helping me with my work, sharing her creative writing with me, and her pleasures and pains….She has been through the thick and thin with me throughout life. I was not just her air-weather partner, I shared her life. And she, being a student of literature, read and understood everything conceived and envisioned by the great minds, and she did apply those to her life. She lived a life of contentment in the midst of all paucity.
After her, there was no one else. No other woman in my life. Before her, I had a broken marriage.
That day, after the valedictory session of the creative writers’ workshop, I was asked by the organizers to drop her. Past few days, we had exchanged a positive vive, talked through our eyes if not words, and I had missed little about her. Starting from her formal suits, casual salwars, deeply sensuous saris, silken hair,from her finger tips to the toe-nails. Well, that’s a separate issue that she could hardly notice that she was being noticed prudently. She was a tom-boy, as she said, or she liked to think so.
That day, I could hardly wait for the morning, just because I was supposed to drop her in the airport. That night I sent her a few text messages, stating about the best restaurants in town and the best places to shop. Her response was a simple “thanks.” I wondered, was I getting too personal?
But she was unpredictable, as I had rightly sensed. She sent me a message late in the evening, “I depend on you. Please be there in the station at 3.30 pm.” It was more than I could deal with. But as always, I knew how to suppress my feelings and made an expressionless expression when I met her.
She got down from the train with a huge Samsonite bag which she wanted to carry herself. I had to literally snatch that from her. I had taken print outs of her air tickets, thinking she might have forgotten to get those; after all her last two days were hectic, she had delivered quite a few lectures in two days. At a later stage she told me that she liked that gesture, and thought I was very caring.
I loved to see her in her work-mode, I admired her professionalism, appreciated her achievements at a young age. But I never told her what I loved about her passionately. Slowly, unconditionally, she had become the woman of my dreams, past few days. I was surprised with the things life showed to both of us, at the ripe age of thirty-nine! She was one of the most delectable creations in the world; full of womanly magnetism, gifted with an unobtrusive yet full-bodied sexuality and divine passion.
That day she was at ease, also a little skeptical. Her lips locked but lively, her smile faintly askew. Her complexion was coppery, expressions captivating. I was extra cautious to make her feel at ease in my car. So I opened the car windows as she got in. She was in one of her tomboyish dresses, a pencil fit cotton pant, a beige coloured cotton full sleeved top, light make up, supple skin and a transparent smile. She instantly closed the glasses of the car, to my surprise. At a later stage when I asked her how could she do that, she said, a woman can look at the eyes of a man and tell if he is a gentleman.
Well, I was her ‘gentleman’.
It was one of the finest long drives I had ever had till date. She kept her large Hidesign handbag on her lap,may be to avoid my eyes looking at her closely, to ‘protect’ herself! Or maybe, that was her habit. After some casual chit chat, she said she was disturbed by the blower, and switched that off. Only the A.C.And a calm ambiance inside my Red Wine Alto. Aha!
It was pure bliss!
She didn’t like the silence after sometime, and told me about her job, her colleagues, son, her formative years, her personal library, her future plans, her growth as a creative writer, her love for theatre and music.
She was the chatter box, that way. At a later stage I told her, I had coined a verb about her ways that day, ‘tom-tom’—a stylish girl who walks fast, talks faster, her hair bounces when she walks, and she moves like lightening. She laughed and laughed.
I was getting a new surprise every moment–was this the person whom I didn’t even know a few days back, whom the world assessed to be the supreme egoist, who hardly spoke to men and who inspired awe amongst the women folk!
For me, it was not the everyday talk, it was a very special day. She told me later that at that moment she was wondering about the man sitting beside her who sensed poetry in her casual talk, who was excited about every small thing that she told in the workshop. Whom she sent a message on landing at his city, “reached the city of joy!” And he smsed back, “welcome to joy!”And who was like a shadow beside her for the past few days. She had guessed it all.
But she was still the ‘sternie’,the formal,well-mannered girl that I was trying to remove from her person, don’t know why. She said, “I troubled you! You have to drive me to the airport on a Sunday!”
“Oh really?Then please get down and take a taxi!”
“Oh my god! You are asking me to get down? No… I won’t.”
We laughed, we joked. Later on, she told me that I was the first man who made her laugh so much. And I was the first one who didn’t flatter her by putting her on a pedestal, neither worshipped her. She liked that. I was the first one who had caught her, the elemental, silly, simple girl, red-handed. How could I tell her I hated the Elizabethan sonneteers for making divas of their flesh and blood beautiful women!
And I had actually caught her unawares.She was gazelle-like. And she, too, caught me with my every Bengali’s sense of a catastrophic poet, a tragic hero. With me, she felt her girlie feelings, hoary feelings, lyrical and melodious feelings.
I happened to ask her about her family. We had enough time.
Some little thing stabbed her chest and moved inward, towards her stomach. But she decided to open up, and categorically, patiently, told, she had never opened up before any man, and that she had only a few female friends who knew about her personal life. Being a public figure, she was cautious. I still remember what she had told me, fixing her watery gaze on the horizon.
She was from a lower middle class family with very high dreams about a career. Her parents got her married off to a wrong person at 23, and she became a victim of domestic violence, marital rapes, jealousy, male ego and physical abuses for a few years. During pregnancy, she managed to qualify a fellowship and did Ph.D. After her son was born, she shifted to another town and then, gradually, to Delhi. She got separated from the mentally challenged husband within a few years of her marriage.
In the meantime, she and her little son got close to another family; the only son of the family was a support to her son during his formative years, and he was a nice man. Her son was totally dependent on him, and she had a good rapport with him. Thus, they decided to marry. Anyway, destiny does a raw deal with some people, and she was one such woman. The second husband was far from understanding her aestheticism, emotions, was far from her literature; he had never had any physical closeness with her, and perhaps his sexual preferences were different. But she had no right or wishes to complain, because she wanted peace at home, peace for her child, who loved him very much. And thus, now she was lonelier than ever in a marriage of conciliation, convenience.
It was in her tender, faintly panicky way that she spoke her words that I knew, she was a wounded person. That, her feelings were real, immense and enduring as the sky, and that it would someday engulf me. It was the kind of love that surrounded you with an optimal loop. Either you tore free or you waited and endured its meticulousness even though it clasped you into something lesser than yourself.
There was silence, torn-apart silence.
She broke the silence, changed her mood, and asked me about my family.
“That would need a bit of personal talk, again. My wife lives with my son in another city, working there. She was my childhood friend, but after a few years of marriage, we discovered that the marriage wasn’t working; I mean we were not compatible. So we thought we can give it some time, and live in separate places. Now my son comes to the town to spend some time with me and my parents during his vacations. That is that.”
“Do you love her?”
I was surprised at her frankness. Love was in its own place–that has turned a mirage in life, but there were recurrent memories of younger days that somehow somewhere gave me the shivers to think of pulling out. The mind was kind of torn between present solitude and past memories that seemed ineradicable.
“Then why don’t you think of a way out? You deserve a good life!” Her tone was nonchalant.
“Is it that easy? Can you do anything to change your present state? We have children who need both parents!”
A long silence, again.
Not being in love with spouse, crying foul about her, is a strategy used at the beginning of every extra-marital relationship, which most men use to allure a prospective partner. But she was too simple to doubt that a stranger like me could also be using this technique to impress her. She believed her instincts, and instincts never lie.
I took her to a coffee shop, we still had an hour.
We tried to keep our moods light and smile, share light things.
I observed the beauty, the fragrant jasmine, from a distance. She was engrossed in herself, making phone calls to her family, and waiting for me.
We had coffee, pakodas. It was time. I had a bottomless feeling, and I wanted this hour to linger.
In front of the airport, we shook hands cordially, and parted. Like partners.
I remember, this was the last I saw of her. An intense look into my eyes, perhaps her eyes were a little moist, little glittery, and she had a charming smile lingering on her face. A smile that can disarm the deadliest terrorist and make him fall in love with her. I could see her transparent skin and attractive body. For a moment, I was tempted to touch her chin and ruffle her short hair. But had I done that, I won’t have been the gentle lady’s ‘gentleman’ anymore, and life would have been different.
So the flamboyant man stopped himself. And went in the lady, the lady of his dreams.
I walked along, of course outside the airport, watching carefully a casual she. Lost in herself, queuing up with the other passengers.
Suddenly she caught the sight of me following her surreptitiously. She got distracted, looked back several times, and almost lost her way.
At a later stage, she told me, this was the moment when she was surprised with herself the most, because she couldn’t deny to herself a feeling for me that she never had felt before for anyone in life. An aspect of her knew at that moment that I had already possessed her. Had tugged her heart from her without any agreement, a transaction no other man had ever endeavored.
She was no more visible. Her luggage checked in, she went inside. I sent her a few messages, thanking her, instructing her to have food and water, take care of her hand bag and the laptop. Then I wrote her about a female character of Tagore, who had always inspired me, on whom I had been writing research papers, and who was her namesake.
Now the lady writes, “Oh…I love my name a little more now.”
Was I dreaming? Was I thinking the unthinkable? The impossible?
I drove back with some dizziness in my head. Mind and body declined to cope up with each other. After two hours, when exactly her flight landed, I got a message, “Reached. Cold. Raining.” And I messaged back thanking her again, wishing her safe home.
Two days passed. Madhvi was in the back of my mind, most of the times. Her smile, her story of struggle, her optimism,her ambitions, everything about her appealed me. This was love at a mature age. So it was no infatuation on my part, I was sure, wondering, must she be thinking of me as much? A part of me desired her to get back to me, be my friend; and a part of me almost knew that she will forget me. After all, the celebrity goes to many places to deliver lectures, she meets new people everyday. She has to forget people and focus on work, which was justified. I was feeling low, missing her, hoping against hope that she would get back.
After two day of silence, anyway, she chose to open up. “Something is at the back of my mind, haunting me all the time. Don’t know what! Can you tell me? You understand my mind well.”
Oh my god! What was I going to write? Given her reserve nature, she must have thought a thousand times before sending this message.
“This is really serious. Someone haunting the mind of a beautiful lady?” I kept it simple and funny, pretended not to understand.
We exchanged a few more text messages that day. At the wee hours of the night, she wrote, “Prof.Madhvi lying on the sofa at this time without a book? Bad,bad,bad.” I understood. And this time I categorically conveyed that I understood.
Pathos and humour were the two qualities amalgamated in her character curiously; she became the object of my interest, research, analysis, thought, love and meditation in the coming days, weeks, months and years. The love of my life. She would send me her creative writing and research papers for my comments. I was kind of hesitant to begin with. She was an established writer and I, after all, was a nondescript academic. There were thoughts like how would she take my suggestions or even corrections at times. I was often at a loss. But gradually I began to realize that I needed to do my part in all seriousness. She had that tremendous faith in my capability which no one had. She found me “outstanding” in my writing, speech and critical thoughts, which, rather, put me under some kind of mental pressure. She said I had a kind of intelligence which was raw, primitive and original. She felt her mind became more sharpened and focused after each academic interaction with me.
In return,I started parenting, protecting and pampering her and getting possessive about her.
We had slowly stopped, being ‘she’ and ‘me’, we had become ‘we’. Every one hour, or even less than that, we exchanged messages throughout life after that. For example, I always know what she was doing at any given moment, 2000 kilometers away from me. Her telephone was a stand-in proxy for myself, as though my absence never mattered. What was she wearing on any particular day, what had she cooked or which nights she did Reiki, I always knew.I read every poem and story she wrote after that, I read and commented about every interview and lecture she delivered last twenty five years. I was on the phone all the while during her son’s twelfth board results, college admission, house warming, her every illness and her son’s wedding. I took personal care of every small detail of her life, but from 2000 kilometers away.
A long-distance-relationship,which was soul-to-soul. She had lived all her life with secrets. An apathetic life, looking at her existence on the rearview mirror. She was a fundamentally solitary being with an abysmal hole about her soul. Slowly I became the vessel into which she poured all her loneliness.
She had tried to meet me only once, after three months of our last meeting. I committed a blunder by telling her,“You need not promote me by inviting me to places where you are the chief speaker or chief guest.” She decided never to meet me after that. NEVER.NOT EVER.
(Part II, the conclusion will be published in the 1 December 2022 issue of The Dreaming Machine).
Prof.Nandini Sahu, Professor of English and Former Director, School of Foreign Languages, IGNOU, New Delhi, India, is an established Indian English poet, creative writer and folklorist. She is the author/editor of fifteen books. She is the recipient of the Literary Award/Gold Medal from the hon’ble Vice President of India for her contribution to English Studies. Her areas of research interest cover New Literatures, Critical Theory, Folklore and Culture Studies, Children’s Literature and American Literature. www.kavinandini.blogspot.in