Excerpt#2 A case of invisible letters
September 17, 1999. Ten minutes past one in the night by Ghantidas.
The sweet delusion of my soul rises in ecstasy like a bubble in a champagne flute, only to kiss the brim and burst into a union with the fluid twilight within… I can see two gold bands swim towards each other, intertwine, then disengage and chase each other, play and frolic in that sea of intoxication. I can almost touch the momentary exuberance of the mad convergence of my world with yours. That joy, fleeting, yet so eternal in its brief permanence, is like the world’s last sea wave lapping at my feet and ebbing away.
I feel drunk: drunk with the devastating mirage of an immeasurable, ambiguous emotion ─ love.
October 5, 1999. Two tranquil hours past midnight by Ghantidas.
But love is like poetry. Like verse. And even the blankest of verse has some metre, some rhythm, something to measure it by. The champagne must flow at a patient pace in order to intoxicate and sustain itself in the nerves of those who drink it. Love must echo love, some image, a shadow, a reflection or even a fragment of it, as in poetry, in which images must echo associations to carry it forward, to let its theme breathe alive.
Whoever thought love is a free verse was wrong. Free verse itself was never free. I am teaching myself to love with patience, to love in moderation, to love in a manner that it can sustain itself.
October 12, 1999. Two loony minutes past three in the night.
Love is insane, but lovers need sanity to make it swim. Or else the wine intoxicates to such a high that it spills over and the madness becomes difficult to contain in the goblet.
October 20, 1999. Three dark hours past midnight.
I wish I could trim, cut down and throw away memories like I cut my nails and shove them away into a dustbin… That reminds me, I haven’t cut my nails in so many days. They almost look like talons now. Do memories grow talons too?
November 5, 1999. Swinging to dusk.
It’s 28 minutes past five. I am sitting on the jhoola in the terrace. Love Papa for it. It is one of the most wonderful gifts he has given me. The sky has burst into whorls of dappled crimson. Clouds of gold have scattered across that end in the west where the sun’s pouring more colours – tangerine, rust and pink. It’s preparing to set in some minutes flashing a brilliant finale, sprinkling vermillion all over the endless expanse. Is there a wedding in the skies tonight?
Jugnu died. Pregnant. A mother, unwed and unhappy. She hung herself from the fan after an argument with her mum.
She couldn’t let anyone harm the child. She had nightmares of all the ad signage there were down the road in her locality, shouting out MTP. She saw them stalk her in sleep, lurid neon boards shooting out claws to get her.
So, she chose to kill herself.
Jugnu still looked beautiful, lying on a long slab of ice in the sitting room. Her fair skin pallid now, she lay peacefully, sleeping eyelids hiding her brilliant cat-like green eyes within. The beautiful, errant and impulsive Jugnu was no more. Deepesh, her lover, sat sobbing by her side.
That night, Nayan dreamt of Jugnu. “Life is strange, Nayan,” she said. “Death will be stranger still. Someday, I shall tell you over a mug of Irish coffee.” Nayan had woken up and stood staring from her window at Jugnu’s room in the house opposite hers. She thought of their little game of talking through signals by switching on and off the yellow lights in their rooms.
She half-expected Jugnu to appear at her window any moment and switch the lights in her room off and on, twice, meaning, “What? Are you sleepless? Insomnia, hmm?” But how could she?
Before going to bed again, Nayan walked restlessly up and down the chequered floor of her room for a long time. Their game of lights had shockingly come to a standstill. Jugnu’s ship was wrecked and could signal no more. Her neighbour, her childhood friend, two years her senior in school, the labels of whose notebooks carried the name, Jagpreet Singh, would not come back from the dead now. Jugnu of the firefly eyes was far way.
Three months later, when the sensation of Jugnu’s suicide had turned stale and when the women in the neighbourhood had stopped discussing it over kitty parties, Jugnu’s mother, Mrs. Singh, summoned Nayan to give her an envelope. She had found it lying in Jugnu’s closet and kept it hidden for fear of stumbling upon another secret pocket of her dead daughter’s life. The sealed envelope was dated August 4, 1988 – the day Jugnu ceased to be – and it read: “To Nayan, over a hot mug of Irish Coffee!”
Nayan unfolded the letter and began reading.
August 4, 1988.
Life is strange. Death will be stranger still. I wish I could tell you about it if such a thing were possible, share the experience with you – speaking to you from the other side of this life – over a hot, steaming mug of Irish coffee, fishing out meanings from the sea-like depths of the various blues, earthy and weedy greens within.
I am three months and twelve days pregnant today. Have kept count of each day since the doctor first told me about it. Have been marking my calendar in much the same way as we used to cross dates with felt pens long before our New Year picnic actually arrived. They were times of innocent anticipation, each moment of waiting a small universe eager to be born.
Those years have passed on, Nayan. Life is no more a glass, crystal clear. No more that old gin bottle we used to fill up with tiny fish or tadpoles (we could never tell one from the other!) from that dirty little pond in our Chattarpur farm. Life seems to have forgotten innocence. It seems to have made a remote memory of everything… Everything I thought carried meaning and breathed a soul into it. Small, but precious things like love and spirit. Love, I thought, was always giving, its generosity boundless. But what it is taking from me today makes me wonder what love really is all about, how many faces it has, what it might mean to others and how it treats them. An ambiguous joy of a devastating mirage, isn’t that what it is? The bottle of gin has fogged up and become murky with anguish and anxieties, to give company to the nascent joys, which we knew as ours, which we grew up believing as our own.
They are ashamed. Ma, Deepesh, Deepesh’s mother. I’m not. I’m anxious. Heartbroken, too. In fact, I began to die the minute I saw their eyes change, the colours of calm run from their faces. Something inside me died just then. And then kept dying. Such things happen to people, this one part of you dying… But you continue to live on with whatever is left of and in you. I can’t, though. I wanted to let you know I was leaving, but you wouldn’t let me go if I told you so.
Somebody’s listening to Madhushala nearby. Must be Kullu uncle. Only he’s got the taste in music to hear Manna De sing at this hour. The ambience is just right for it; candles dripping to shapeless lumps of wax in every house during load-shedding and the clouds preparing to pour soon after midnight. In this dimly lit, half-dark languid hour, it does sound deliciously intoxicating.
Chote se jeevan mein kitna
pyaar karoon, pee lun haala
(How much can I love or drink
in this brief life of mine)
…swagat ke hi saath vida ki
hoti dekhi tayyiyari
band lagi hone khulte hi
meri jeevan madhushala.
(I saw them prepare for a farewell
alongside the welcome,
the tavern of my life began
to close down as soon as it opened)
Thanks to Kullu uncle. I feel grateful to him. And, thanks to you for everything. It’s only close to death that one begins to see and feel grateful for the endless possibilities of living, for the manifold could-have-beens.
You will get this letter after I’m gone. I wanted to let you know, but then, you wouldn’t let me go. I can see candles flicker in your house. In my mind, I walk to your house and come back numberless times, after ruffling your hair, talking with you and sharing your evening snack.
I can feel another life quiver with premonition inside me. Maybe this little ball of hopelessness in my tummy has an inkling already. A sense of foreboding, I guess. Remember how Madam Mary Ann would take vocab and diction lessons with all the senior classes together? Remember how we used to blurt foreboding as in fore-bo-ding, meaning premonition, and pre-mo-ni-tion meaning what? Fore-bo-ding!
It is difficult to cut the ties, to dissolve all that has been. But then, my calendar ends here. My palmistry, however little I know of it from Cheiro’s, says you’ll answer the questions I haven’t quite answered well. Yes, trust me, you have those lines. You’ll meet many people, many lovers, some like me, some different. They’ll give you all the answers.
Jugnu is dead. Her child is dead. Her death has become old now. The shock of it is a story of sweet decay now. Her memories shall gradually gather dust and be forgotten like some piece of discarded furniture covered with cobwebs in the attic.
“This is what the society does to women who question, women who try to break away, women whom Deepesh’s mother usually calls waifs, truants, profane gypsies,” Jugnu had said after watching a movie adaptation of Bimal Mitra’s Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam.
Nayan’s eyes ran over the words in the letter a hundred times over.
“Can’t you do something about your handwriting? It’s horrid! Don’t feel like looking at your notebooks, Jugnu…”
Now, she could only hear Jugnu laugh in retrospect at her remark in that past realm of their shared lives, every word of the letter being stamped onto her mind forever. The era of shared lives was past. It was an age of secret lives now.
They are a romantic fruit
They know the tingle of surprise
Have tasted the sweet ache of waiting
Also, the sourness of separation
When our bodies tangle in knots inconceivable
Or the illicit
Also, brood over the shortness, the sameness
or the endlessness of loves all at once
in a way no other fruit can
Excerpts will be up soon. Watch this space! Enjoy Kailash Kher’s rendition of my favourite Nusrat number in the meantime. sanu ik pal chain na aave