death, the mystery, never to be told
never to be read, never to be heard
death, the mystery, never to be told
death, the mystery, never to be told
never to be read, never to be heard
“Hello Shalu…”, said the male voice on the other end. Shalini recognized the voice instantly. She had heard it many times before. The number was new, not what she had saved on her phone as, ‘Think before you pick’.
“I am in Trivandrum, shall I come over for sometime?”, he asked. She wanted to ask ‘why’. Common sense prevailed and she quickly got into the skin she had shed ten years ago.
“Okay Gopal. Let us meet at Coffee Day at Kowdiar”. Shalini had moved apartments almost every other year when the rent went up. With her meagre salary from the job at the library, she could afford only so much. She tried to live as close as possible to the library, so she could walk and get her legs move. It felt eons ago when she drove her Audi car into the driveway of the public library at Houston to drop off books. She did not want Gopal to see her current living conditions.
“Ok at 4.30?”, he asked.
She looked at the clock and saw that it was 3.30 in the afternoon. It gave her enough time to dress up and get an auto to get to Kowdiar.
“Yes, 4.30 is fine.”
Shalini seldom heard from Gopal, maybe two or three times in the last ten years. She had shut that door when she walked out of the house with two bags of her clothes and jewellery. She left everything behind. The sprawling house, the luxury, friends, her job, she had left it all.
She got to the coffee house on time and saw Gopal sitting at a table. He looked younger than she remembered. Life had treated him well. She thought she should have colored her hair, she was greying everywhere. The little make up she put on, did not conceal her wrinkles. She turned to look at the glass door and saw the reflection of an old woman.
“Hello…”, she said and sat down across Gopal. He looked up from his phone and smiled.
“How are you Shalu?”
“I am good, and you?”
“I am doing very well. How did you come?”
“I took an auto. Are you in Trivandrum for work?”
“No, my wife’s family lives in Trivandrum, so I came to visit them”.
“Oh!”, said Shalini and instantly regretted the reaction.
“I have been married for about three years. She is from Trivandrum, moved to Houston after the marriage…”
“You live in the same house?”
“No, I sold it. I live in another neighborhood now.”
“Are you happy?”, quipped Shalini.
“Yes Shalu. I am happy.”, said Gopal, looking down at this hands.
“Good for you…”, said Shalu, with a tinge of jealousy and self pity.
“I work at the library, live with books, write when I can. It’s going on… Why did you want to meet me, after all these years?”
Gopal was silent for a few minutes. The waiter came, we ordered our coffee and I looked up at Gopal, waiting for the answer.
“Shalu… I wanted to thank you…”, said Gopal.
“For what?”, wondered Shalu.
“For leaving me….”
Shalini burst out laughing.
“I realized that when you left me, you were giving me back my freedom.”
“And you realized that now? After ten years??”
“Took me a while… you know me…”, said Gopal coyly.
“Gopal… it was obvious to me like it was to you, that we were not meant to be. I don’t know why we decided to get married in the first place. I tried in my way and you tried in your way, but the puzzle never fit. I waited for a long time for you to leave. I understood that you were scared and I had to be the one to let go. It was not what I wanted to do, but I had to do, to give us both our sanity. I was getting sucked in my depression and you didn’t want to hear about it. The best thing was to stay away. I never met your expectations, you looked at every other woman and thought what a wonderful woman and wife she is. It is not that I am bad, it’s just that I was never enough for you, I always fell short… anyways, there is no point of talking about all that and digging the past… bottomline is you are happy now. I am glad I could give you atleast that.”
Gopal took Shalini’s hands in his, looked into her eyes and said, “I am sorry”.
The waiter brought their coffee. Shalini withdrew her hand and sipped at her coffee. She avoided eye contact with Gopal and looked at others who occupied the coffee house. They drank their coffee in silence deep in their own thoughts. When Shalini was done with hers, she got up, smiled at Gopal and left the coffee house, without looking back.
Now, it was truly over.
It started with a message on Facebook. He had said ‘Hey’. She didn’t see the message until a couple of hours later. She responded with a ‘hey, whats up?’. With the time difference between the two countries, it was unlikely that he would see her message until the next day. She knew it, yet she checked her messages a couple of times during the day. Why would he message me, she thought. She had been introduced to him a few years ago while she was at Amazon India. There were no notable conversations after that. He smiled at her in hallways and she smiled back while she was there. He was very handsome. She remembered thinking what it would be like to spend an evening with him. Why would he message her after all these years? She checked his Facebook profile and like old wine, age had done wonders to him.
She checked her messages again and saw that he was active 15 minutes ago. But he hadn’t read her message. Why wouldn’t he? Maybe he didn’t open her chat? How did this Facebook Messenger work anyways? It is during these ‘urgent’ moments that you just cannot figure out how simple things work. These dumb apps, they probably change the rules with every update, she mumbled to herself. Why was she perturbed? Why did a message from him rev up her hopes? What hopes? It was just a message. Maybe all he wanted to say was ‘hello’.
She was in a frame of mind where she was open to a relationship. She was seeking one, a fling maybe? Not a fling, what she wanted was somebody to tell her that she was a good person. Someone to appreciate her. Someone to love her, even if it were for a short period of time. It was nothing more for her. She was in and out of relationships, they came and went at no particular interval. This is how she liked to live life, on her own terms, in her own space. She never dated anyone from work, it was almost always a friend’s friend. While it was fun, it lasted. Once the relationship.. acquaintance maybe a better word, got serious, she backed off. She did not want someone to tie her down, she wanted to fly, fly to distant lands, freeze the memories in her camera, and write.
Her tryst with marriage and commitment and relationship had died when she divorced her ex-husband a year after her marriage. It was an arranged marriage. Her ex-husband imagined her to be an obedient, dependent person whom he could keep a leash on. He had no idea what her spirit was like. She didn’t have a choice, her independent self was trapped inside during her growing years. She just dreamt of prince charming and thought she lived in a rosy world with happily ever afters. She grew up during the year of marriage, and slapped herself awake. Once awake, she ran as far as she could from him, from her parents and from everyone she knew, till she landed in the land of freedom.
That is where Anu flapped her wings and soared.
It was not until another two days that Jay sent another message.
Is there one person in this whole wide world who knows you inside out? Maybe not. Actually it is not maybe, it is definitely no. And the only person who knows you entirely is you. All the acquaintances we make have a piece of us. As we meet new people, they take a slice of us. It is almost never the complete picture. We become a combination of what they take from us and their presumption of us. The less they perceive, stronger will that relationship be.
In a lifetime we meet so many people, most just look at the cake and walk away. They may admire the structure (pun intended), some the color, yet a few like the icing. It is only when you and the other person have a genuine interest that you share a piece. You slice and dice yourself and give a portion to every person you hold dear to you.
We are a piecemeal of many such relationships.
If you think of it, it is impossible to give the entire cake to any one person. For one, each one is carrying their own cake and second, there are just so many relationships. In the end we are all this infinite set diagrams partially intersecting with other sets, every day. Math applies in such weird ways, one would think!
We float in this infinite space with these innumerable intersecting sets all the time. These intersections build up those blocks of expectations. Some of them are so high, that they make the intersection very heavy. You are something to someone all the time. So then when are you, YOU? When are you just that single circle, with no strings attached, floating in space, and the stars shining down on you. Very rarely, for most people. There are those stolen moments from your own life, when you can put down the weight, walk around in your circle, floating under the sky.
Our social system is so pathetically morose that it bombards us with this constant need to intersect. We are taught from when we are born about relationships, expectations, bond and all such crap. Are we ever taught to carve out our own path?
My friend brought in an interesting perspective recently. She said, why should I tell me son to do anything about working, marrying, and all that circus? Let him decide what he wants to do. If he doesn’t get married, he doesn’t. Big deal. It is his life and he has complete authority over it. Well, this is one of the reasons why, she is my best friend.
Can we really change the current norm of pressurizing our loved ones into forming intersections. Let them lead their way, let them live their life. Maybe that would increase the happiness quotient eventually. The number one killer of happiness, I believe, is expectations. These expectations stem out like mushrooms from relationships and people go crazy over it. Only if everyone lived with the feeling that, ‘I’m here for you if you need me’. Come to think of it, that is all, that’s required. There is no need of, you need to behave one way, you need to talk one way, you need to emote this way, you need to think this way… Give me a break! See where stress comes from, followed by depression and what not.
Why does any relationship “have to” be a certain way? The only true relationship (in its absolute sense) is that of a mother and child. Even in this one, when the mother thinks, “I will lead you for the first few years, then I will guide you, further on, for the most part, I’m here for you”. It is that simple.
So should you start easing out of the heavy ones? I don’t know. Maybe the trick is to make your circle strong. I don’t know…
If we keep it simple for the next generation, maybe the sets of the future will be lighter….
Its been over a year since she left. Since she started living with me in spirit. Yet when I look at her picture on my desk for a length of even 10 seconds, my mind plunges into abysmal emptiness. I feel myself falling into depths I have never known before. I have to snap back almost immediately. If not, then her last physical form flashes before me. I feel the coldness of her face when I saw her being rolled out.
I hate it. I hate everything about her leaving.
Remember you played games as teenagers asking, if God granted you one wish, what would that be?
I have my answer.
I would like to feel her warmth again.
My mother. My strength. The one who made me, me.
I love you Ma..