“Edhedho ennam valarthen , Un kaiyil ennai koduthen ….”
I sang along …
“Needhane punnagai mannan , un raani naane !
Panpaadum padagan neeye , un raagam naane !”
Mom doesn’t like it that I carry my IPOD everywhere. Actually, it’s not that I carry it everywhere but it’s that I refuse to stop listening to music even when I go out for a walk. “This is India!” she says, “You can’t just go out walking with earphones in your ear. Someone may try to snatch it and run and you might get hurt!”. When I would look like I couldn’t care any less, she would ask, “How will you know if some vehicle is honking when you are in their way?”. I’d assure her that I’d be careful but she’d keep complaining.
No taxis at the taxi stand and all that passed by were occupied. I had been waiting for a Taxi for 20 minutes by then, while I listened to my favorite songs on my IPOD.I love music and though I don’t sing, I follow every single musical talent show on TV and root for my favorite contestants. Music is the only thing that can uplift my mood and relax me. I like to sing out aloud but unfortunately God hasn’t blessed me with a melodious voice but fortunately he did bless me with a musical ear. Due to Mom’s pressure I tried my hand at several musical instruments but as I say just for laughs , I don’t have a musical hand.
No taxi yet. In the hope of catching atleast a bus home, I started walking towards the bus stop.
I heard someone call out my name faintly. I turned back to find Mrs.Kala at the corner of the street. I turned off my IPOD and put it in my handbag while I walked back to her. She said was shopping at the grocery store nearby and came out as she spotted me walking by. After we exchanged pleasantries, I mentioned that I had been waiting for a taxi for the past 20 minutes and a vacant taxi passed by just at that moment. She spotted it a second before I did and called out for it. It stopped. I said bye to her while getting into the taxi and she said, “Come home sometime, it has been long since you came by”. I smiled nodding, while the taxi drove away.
Sometimes you meet people you haven’t seen or spoken to in years. Not all of them linger in your mind for long after the meeting. But Mrs.Kala did. She stirred the memories that were buried deep in my heart.
It was a life of denial. I used to repeat to myself – ‘I do not Love him. He’s just a friend and nothing more than that.’, when indeed I could never stop thinking about him.
‘Anupama Abhijay’ …. I would say softly and smile and then would slap myself hard in my face to keep myself from drifting off into the luring world of unreality. And then I would swear that I would not say it again, while my heart still repeated “ Anupama Abhijay ….. Abhijay ….. Abhijay …. Abhijay…….”
Abhijay and I had been friends for almost an year before he mentioned his fiancée. ‘Why hadn’t he told me about her before?’, I asked myself. ‘We pretty much never talked about anything else other than music, current affairs and general issues. I’ve never talked to him about any personal matters too’, I answered my own question.
We were introduced through a common friend with whom I used to hang out several times a week. Though it wasn’t love at first sight, I did fall in love with him as I got to know him better. And just like it happens in numerous movies, he mentioned her before I could disclose my feelings for him. I wasn’t able to talk to him freely after that day. I stopped meeting my friends for a few weeks before he phoned to find out if I was doing fine. I realized how much I had missed talking to him and went back to hang out with my friends the next day. The more I tried to keep myself from thinking about him, the more I did.
After an year of futile attempts to get him out of my heart, I almost decided to tell him about my feelings but I stopped, thinking –
“What if he already knows? What if he has decided to tell me about his fiancee only when he sensed that I had feelings for him? That would mean he doesn’t feel the same way about me …….No, that can’t be true. I can tell he likes me very much from the ways he looks at me, talks to me, teases me …. But love is different from like. Can I take it if he tells me that I’m just a friend and nothing more?
I should tell him that I love him to know how he feels.
But how can I? He might just stop talking to me altogether. “
The thought that Abhijay might stop talking to me made me drop my plans of disclosing my feelings to him. Not that it made me feel any better though. Each time I thought about him, it felt like I was stabbing myself right through my heart.
Like I said , that’s when the denial started.
“I do not Love him. He’s just a friend and nothing more than that.”
I graduated and was placed in SysGlobal Tech. as a Customer Support Representative. Being born and brought up in Mumbai, I was fluent only in Hindi and English. I picked up a few Marathi phrases from my neighbours but that was far from being fluent. SysGlobal was based in Chennai and someone tipped me that being fluent in Tamil would be an added value to the job. My joining date was about 3 months away so I decided to give it a shot.
Mom enquired among her colleagues and a co-worker suggested that one of her friends, Mrs.Kala, a Tamilian, could tutor me. Mom had talked to her on phone. It was decided that I would be tutored in Tamil every weekend at Mrs.Kala’s place.
“ Lift out of order Memsaheb !”, the watch man told me as I approached it.
She lives on the 7th floor but I had no choice, I took the stairs. The staircase was narrow and dirty with an odor that made me hold my breath. I hurried up to reach Mrs. Kala’s apartment as soon as possible.
5th floor ……… 6th floor …….. 7th floor and I stopped right there as there was no more a corridor but just an entrance to an open terrace. I was frustrated and was about to go back down when I noticed a single pent house which said ‘701’ on the door. With a sigh of relief, I went ahead and knocked on the door.
A lady, about 50 yrs old, opened the door, smiled and said, “Anupama, right?”
I said yes and she led me inside. I handed her the fruits I took for her.
“This wasn’t necessary. Don’t be formal.” she said as she seated me on the sofa and went inside to bring me some water.
I started gazing around as I sat there. Her place was neatly kept. A tall case full of books stood on my right. Over half of them were in Tamil and others were English novels. Mostly non-fiction. I moved my gaze over to the photo frame hanging on the wall. It was a wedding picture.
“That’s my son and daughter in law”, she said as she handed me the glass of water. “He’s working in London. My husband passed away 5 years ago. I live alone here.”
That answered the questions I had in my mind about her. I was wondering why she refused to charge any fee for tutoring me when mom asked on phone. She had said that she’s doing this only as a pastime.
“I don’t have any experience in teaching Tamil. I guess we can start by translating a small Tamil poem”, she said. As she started translating the poem, I found that I was unable to focus on what she’s saying, which is very much unlike of me. People appreciate me for my attentiveness. My mind had wandered off and had settled on the photo on the wall.
In the picture, the groom was tying the sacred thread around the bride’s neck. The photo was beautiful. They were both smiling. The smile was not just on the lips, their eyes were smiling too. One could tell that they were very much in love with each other and were looking forward to a happy married life.
“Are you fine?”, she asked and that’s when I realized that my face had been pulled into a frown. Just as I was about to smile and assure her that I was fine, we were plunged into darkness.
“Oh, these power cuts!” she exclaimed, “Let me light a candle” and she walked away.
As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, the photo on the wall came first into focus. Though there wasn’t enough light to see the photo clearly, I could still see the couple, smiling. It was as if there was something magnetic pulling me into the photograph.
Mrs.Kala had just come back into the room with a lighted candle when the phone rang. She picked it up and hung up after a few seconds.
“It’s the watchman. The power failure is only in this building. Seems something went wrong when they were trying to fix the elevator. It might take more than an hour and I’m afraid we can’t continue the lesson unless the power is back……………..”
I told her it’s alright and took leave saying that I would come back some other time. But I never did.
I was on the dingy narrow staircase. I tried to go up the stairs but I kept falling. When I finally reached the top of the stairs, there was a wall and nowhere else to go. The photo on the wall had an aura about it. But it made me feel nauseous. The couple was so happy… but it made me sad. The photo dissolved into thin air and then there was Abhijay. He was smiling and waving to me. Oh, he looked so handsome! He was standing leaning on a car. I started walking towards him and he pointed towards the back of the car. The sign behind the car read ‘JUST MARRIED’. I was shattered. I looked back at him and a girl was standing beside him, holding his hand. But I could not see her face. It all turned blurry as I had started to cry. I was suffocating. I was drowning in my own tears………..
I opened my eyes. The bed side clock read 2.45 A.M. That night was the 10th night in a row I was woken up by a nightmare. I turned to my side. I felt the pillow wet against my cheek. I had been crying really during my nightmare. And then, I cried while I lay awake.
My joining date at SysGlobal was advanced by 2 months. I was really looking forward to going to Chennai as I felt that I needed a change of scene. I had also convinced myself to talk to Abhijay and disclose my feelings before I leave. But I wasn’t strong enough to talk to him in person. I decided to talk to him on phone. That afternoon I texted him “Need to talk to you ASAP. When can I call you?”
He replied within minutes, “I’m busy at work right now. How about today evening?”
“Fine”, I texted him back.
An hour later he sent me another sms, “Is it about something serious?”
“What is it about?”
“It’s about me”
“Are you fine?”
“I’m fine. I’ll tell you about it today evening when we talk on phone”
20 minutes later he texted me again.
“Is it about a person in your life?”
“Yes”, I replied and hoped that he would stop texting and call. But he sms-ed again.
“Is it about someone you are in love with?”
I pondered over the quaint questions he asked me. Then finally, I took a deep breath and texted him, probably something he already knew.
“Yes, it’s about you.”
And then there was no text in response.
I could not sleep. I had never felt comfortable sleeping while on train. Each time the train rocked, I would be sure that it’s going to go off the track. I was excited about my future. I would join SysGlobal the next day. I wondered if I would make lot of friends. I wondered if I would make any friends at all. I wondered if I would ever forget Abhijay. I wondered if Abhijay would remember me at all.
The day that I texted him, he had phoned me in the evening and asked me if we could meet. I did not want to meet him. I would cry and I didn’t want him to think that I was emotionally blackmailing him. So I told him that I would be more comfortable talking on phone. Surprisingly, I was strong as I talked to him. I did not cry when I told him I loved him. It became easier by the word once I had started opening up.
“But you know…..” he said.
“I know. But I can’t stop loving you. I’m only telling you my feelings. I don’t expect you to reciprocate. Though, I would be the happiest person in the whole world, if you do. I do not want to spend the rest of my life wondering ‘what if I had told you’.”
He remained silent and for the first time, I cursed myself for not wanting to meet him in person. I would have been able to guess what he was thinking, by his facial expression, instead of being so anxious when he was silent. After a total minute of silence, I said, “I’m leaving for Chennai in a couple of days. I probably won’t be able to meet you to say good bye. Take care. I’m sure I’ll miss you.” And hung up.
I was at peace after that day. I did feel sad sometimes but I wasn’t restless anymore. Probably it was because I knew that I had tried and had not given up.
He texted me the day before my journey. “All the Best”
I replied, “Same to you”.
“ Idhu evlo ?”
“Avlo vaa ? Kadasiya oru rate sollu thambi !”
“ Kadasiya iruvatthi anji rupaai maa”
“Iruvadi rupaai kudukkirren, adhukku mela oru rupaai kudukkamatten”
I had just bought one of my friends at work a pair of earrings for her birthday. She’s just crazy about earrings and it was almost impossible to find a pair that she didn’t already own.
Just in 6 months of living in Chennai, I was able to converse in Tamil almost fluently. It was a new life. I had made a few friends at work and had an opportunity to meet a lot of people through them. One of my friends in college used to say that the only way to get over someone you love is to fall in love with someone else. But I knew that I would never forget Abhijay and would never fall in love again. Abhijay had kept in touch with me through emails. My replies were always curt. He had my phone number but never called.
I went to my friend’s birthday party that evening. She had also announced her engagement at the party. Her fiancé was someone she had actually met online in a chat room a few years ago. As both of them stood beaming while the engagement was being announced, I felt the same familiar sensation again. I was sad and could not bear to see that the couple was happy and I hated myself for it. I slowly slipped out of the crowded hall, onto the patio. My mind wandered away while I stood gazing at the moon and it took me a while to realize that my phone had been ringing. It was Abhijay.
Did I really hear what I thought I heard? I was perplexed. I heard LOVE in his voice. It was really surprising that he phoned me. There were times when I longed to hear his voice but I dared not to call so as to avoid the awkward silence that I heard the last time we talked. But this phone call was not anything like I had expected it to be. He had asked “How are you Anu ?”
It was the first time he had called me Anu and not Anupama. It sent pleasant chills down my spine.
“I’m fine. How are you Abhi?”
He chuckled. Probably because I did not call him Abhijay as I usually did.
“Sounds like you are at a party.”
“Yes. I’m at a friend’s birthday party”, I said.
He was silent for a while and then he finally asked, “Why are you being so curt with me? Even your emails are very short. I don’t feel good about it. Talk to me like you used to before!”
I did not want to argue because I knew he was talking facts. “Okay …” I said, “My friend just announced her engagement. The couple is so happy. Everyone at the party is dancing right now and the music was just too loud for me. So, I came out onto the patio.”
He was so quiet and all I heard on the phone was silence, “You there?” I asked.
“Then why didn’t you say something in response to what I was saying. How would I know if you are still on call?”
“But I was nodding in response…”
His response made me laugh. “Oh, so you think I can see you?”
“Maybe you do not. But I can see you.”
“Yes. And it’s not just on phone. I feel like you are just sitting across from me and talking to me, even when I read your emails.”
I did not know how to respond to what he said. But it did make me feel good. Just then my friend came out onto the patio and asked me to join them for dinner. I had to say bye and hang up.
I wanted to hate him. He’s committed to someone else but he flirts with me. I tried telling myself that he’s evil and he’s a bad person but I could not hate him. I was disappointed with myself for letting him play games with me. I was willing to hate myself but not him.
“Where are you now?” he asked.
“I’m at beach”
“Which beach ? Does it have a specific name ?”
“How far is it from Egmore station?”
“About 5 kms”
“ Ok, will call you when I get there in another 15 mins. You can then tell me where exactly you are on the beach. ”. And he hung up.
Abhijay did give me any time to ask questions before he hung up. It was 5 PM and judging by what he said, he should be with me in another 20 mins. He did not tell me he was coming to Chennai. I decided to walk to the road. It would be easier for us to find each other that way. I stood waiting on the pavement. I told myself that I would tell him off if he played mind games with me this time. At 5.20, he called again.
“I’m at Marina beach. Where are you?”
“At the auto stand. Where exactly are you?”
“Very close to you” And he hung up again.
The beach was crowded and I started looking for him in all directions. My heart was racing as I knew I would see him any second then. I was annoyed that he didn’t tell me where he was. And then I saw him. He was walking towards me, smiling.
“I broke up with her”
I was dumb struck. He knew I was shocked but he waited for me to talk.
“Did she cry?”, I asked.
He seemed to be surprised by my question.
“Yes, she did. But before we parted, she told me that she would be okay”
I was hesitant but then I finally asked,
“Is it all because of me?”
“No. It’s because of me. Though a bit late, I have finally realized that I cannot fool my heart. What I feel for her cannot be love if I long for the companionship of someone else. I told her the same and we decided to part ways as our relationship doesn’t make sense anymore.” He paused and then added,
“I’ve wanted to see you so bad ……!”
I paid the Taxi and got into the elevator. I wondered if he was home yet. When I rang the door bell, I could hear little footsteps running toward the door.
“You aren’t even tall enough to unbolt the door.”, he said while he opened the door and picked up Bhavi, our 18 month old, in his arms.
Bhavi laughed as Abhi lifted him into the air and ran to me once he was put down.
“Where were you?” Abhi asked.
“Oh, I was at the market and couldn’t get a taxi! By the way, when did mom leave?”
“She left as soon as I returned from office. Bhavi woke up when she was making tea for me. Since then he has been playing with me”
We both looked at Bhavi as he curiously went through the bag full of vegetables that I had brought.
“Don’t touch the bag Bhavi! Come, sit in my lap.” I said.
Bhavi grabbed an egg plant from the bag and ran as I tried to grab him. He giggled as he ran and when I finally caught him, his hands were empty.
“Where did you put the egg plant?” I asked.
He giggled again. His cute innocent face looked even cuter when he laughed. I set him on the sofa and started looking for the egg plant and found it near the corner curio. I was picking it up when my gaze fell on the wall. Our wedding photo in life size was hanging on the wall.
“Surprise!” he said. “Luckily I got it done in time for our 5th Anniversary. I know you’ve been wanting to put up something on that wall since we moved into this new apartment. I figured, why not get a photo laminated myself.”
“But why our wedding photo?”
“Because I know you would love it!”
I looked at the two happy faces in the wedding photo and couldn’t stop smiling. A tear stealthily escaped my eye.
“Hey, I thought you would be happy. Why are you crying?”
I hugged him and whispered, “I love you!”
“What?” he asked though he had heard me.
This time I sang softly
“ Needhane punnagai mannan , un raani naane !
Panpaadum padagan neeye , un raagam naane ! ”
“What?” he asked again, really unable to understand.
I smiled. Abhi smiled. Bhavishya smiled too.