Sunday, August 07, 2011
She stood there watching the drops of rain on the wire outside, some drops joining each other to become one before they fell down and were lost forever. It had been raining all night. At this time in life, everything you see, reminds you of something long gone. Life becomes a sum total of memories and stories. She felt uncomfortable and loosened the shawl around her neck. That night too, it had rained incessantly.
She opened her eyes to a dripping morning in Lubeck. There were birds chirping outside the window, as if it was just another morning. She watched him, the light from the screens refracting on the side of his face as he slept. She ran her fingers on the somewhat grayish stubble. He opened his eyes and smiled at her. "This is the best morning of my life." She closed her eyes and smelled him again. This was disastrous. She started to panic. "I should go." She started to get up when he held her by the shoulder, "It’s a Sunday. It'll be hard to get a taxi now. Let’s have breakfast in bed. I will drop you to your hotel after that." He closed his eyes and decided to feel this dream some more.
He was in sophomore year then, on a vacation in India. She was studying history at JNU. He remembered being impressed at first, and then bowled over, by her forthright, clear and strong opinions on everything under the sun.
One evening, she took him to show him the Taj Mahal on his insistence.
"I've heard so much about it! It’s marvelous! A symbol of enduring love and everlasting beauty."
"Yes, and of monarchy and ultimate indulgence." She had smiled. He looked at her, surprised. She was glowing in the moonlight, beautiful with her defiant and revolting soul. She looked at him with a smile in her eyes, "It is breathtaking, nonetheless."
The day he was leaving, she appeared unruffled. At the airport, she hugged him and said, "Write to me" and left without turning back. He wrote. She wrote back every time he wrote. He would talk about his plans of moving to Europe and writing a book. She would tell him about the communal tension in India and how angry it made her. Sometimes, she would ask him questions about life in the states like a curious child. Other times, she would chide him for his disconnect from the tradition he belonged to. When he wrote to her about graduation night, he omitted the heavy drinking and making out part. When she wrote about her graduation, she told him about the proposal. He had sat quietly in his balcony for nights, imagining how it would have happened. He wondered if he held her hand as he said it, if he kissed her when she said yes, if he wore spectacles, if he appreciated poetry. He did not write back for months. Finally, he wished her a happy life. That was the last correspondence they had.
Thirteen years later, on a particularly cloudy and foggy evening, she hurried back to her hotel after meeting a museum curator for her research on European war monuments. It was then that she saw him, a tall figure emerging from the mist. It was him, unmistakably. There was that walk. He looked stronger, perhaps. He walked uncertainly towards her.
"Is this a dream?" he had smiled that familiar smile. She felt a thud in her chest.
"I was here for my research. What are you doing here in Lubeck of all the places in the world!" she couldn't hide the excitement in her voice.
"Long story. I live here at the moment." He smiled. "Wow! Where are you staying?
"Alstadt. I am leaving tomorrow afternoon."
"So, we have some time, don't we?"
"You must have already seen all the historical places." He looked at his watch. "Let me be your guide." He smiled.
They walked the pavements for some time when she learnt that he had already published two moderately successful books. The protagonist in one of them was an Indian brought up in the US with identity conflicts. She made a mental note to ask him for a copy. She told him about her son and the life-changing experience of motherhood. It was like finding a long lost friend. She remembered how well he always understood her, how in the letters; she would read his words and identify with almost everything. He stopped at a shop to buy marzipans for her. She watched him as he chitchatted with the shopkeeper in German.
Later, she smiled, "You know, when I had met you first, I took you for a non-cultural sort of person."
"And I thought you were one of those obedient, cultured kind of woman." "I am just kidding." He smiled again. "I missed you, D. You stopped writing completely after your engagement."
"Yes, wonder why I did that considering how thrilled you were by the news!” He remained silent.
He talked at length about Martha, the protagonist of the novel he was writing. He told her how she had shades of every woman he had been with. He mentioned gently later, that she was heavily inspired by her.
Four hours, a walk by the beach and a few drinks later, he asked her if she would like to see his unfinished novel. It had started to rain heavily as they walked with tipsy steps to his apartment. She felt free, very free, after a very long time.
They sat by the fire with the draft of his book. She was too drunk to read. She just picked a few words and pronounced them again and again, more and more slowly and beautifully, when he kissed her. For a long time. She told him she had not slept well in a very long time and fell asleep on his bed. He watched her sleep for hours, painting the beauty of that moment in his head. Martha would take on unexpected hues tomorrow. He finally fell asleep beside her. It kept raining all night.
It rained all night in that small German town, as it rained in Delhi last night. Only, there was no fireplace and novel in progress. There was no one watching her as she slept, cold and uneasy by the haunting memories of the night. That morning, he had dropped her to her hotel after breakfast as he promised. He had hugged her for a long time and assured her that nothing had happened. But she knew she had been disloyal to her husband that night. It was not about the kiss or sleeping in his bed. It was about the realization that in some corner of her heart, he was still her soul mate. She hated the fact that she believed in that concept. He was the man she dreamt of for nights together in the weeks before her wedding, and then dismissed the dreams as cold feet. She remained a good wife till her husband's death, although she often met him in sonnets and fireplaces, Taj Mahal and Holsten Gate, and on rainy, dreamy nights. She often wondered what could have been had things happened differently. Perhaps she would still be lonely and cold while she slept at night. Or perhaps, they would walk with their frail figures in the woods and talk about Faiz, Ludhiyanvi, or Cummings, in warm togetherness.
Last night, as she flipped the pages of a magazine, she read him,
"I have not slept in ages love
Let me rest tonight
Like I let you rest
when you needed
not to be touched
For once, turn your face away
And let me close my eyes
without the knowledge that you
will never be my own
I, too, need tonight
to go to sleep alone."
'The writer and poet died in his sleep on...' She had shut the magazine and toppled on her bed all night as it rained outside. He never finished that novel he started. She wondered what that novel was all about.