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A Very Different Story

 


Dr. Nandini Sahu

Director & Professor of English

School of Foreign Languages

Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU)

New Delhi, India

 

“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.

F

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?”

“No.”

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.

Her character was multi-dimensional. Every day, each message, each e-mail, every phone call revealed a new shade of her personality before me. One week, two weeks, months, years rolled on. Long twenty five years, but the lady decided never to meet me.

 Once I told her, “I love your name, but I would prefer to call you Meeta. My Meeta, morameeta, my friend for life.”

She was very happy,my Meeta, my Jasmine, my mmm. That was how she would respond over phone when she would be in her elements. Her simplicity, innocence, childlike qualities amazed me every time. She would be overwhelmed with the smallest expression of my love, like Robert Browning’s Last Duchess. She would blush with my modest appreciation of her. But her success  hardly exited her; she accepted  her achievements most nonchalantly, dispassionately.

Meeta’s senses were active. “I am very smell conscious. Smells decide for me.”

“But I am like a piggy at the end of the day! I travel by public transports for 50 kms a day dear, and you only travel by your car. You are jasmine and I am piggy.”

“Piggies are cuties too. I love a cute piggy.”

I made her laugh, a lot, by laughing at myself.

“You know what the four essential qualities of my man are? He must be sensitive and honest to the core. He should appreciate art, literature, culture and music. He has to smell good. And he MUST make me laugh.”

Ahh! What simplicity! She was rich, successful and beautiful. But her needs were far from that.

Once I sent a few smileys to her in a light mood while teasing her, and she messaged back, “Why are you laughing at me?” And when I wrote a few words in capital letters, she wrote, “Are you shouting at me?” What sensitivity! It seems she came from a family where it was initiated into her that a girl must not shout, her speech should not be loud enough to be heard in the other room. She couldn’t bear noise, violence of any kind and ruggedness.

That was my Meeta---hypersensitive.

That day I sent her a message, “Somebody I didn’t know much, told me some time back that she came across as a spirited person.”

“And that spirited person transmitted his spirits to a ‘spiritless’ person. Now she badly needs his counsel and help.”

“Spiritless? Help? Fie on those words. You are broad shouldered, how dare you think like a weakling? Buck up. It’s equality after all Meeta.”

At her slightest wish, I was willing to move up to the end of the world. But Meeta dreaded any kind of change. He phone number was the same for decades. Her favorite colour was white, always. Favorite singer—Lata-ji; her best friend and lover, me. Forever. She didn’t want her family to suffer because of any of her decisions.

“I want to be a part of you, but I can’t shift my responsibilities to anyone. If you want me to leave everything and run to you, I can’t fight that. I can’t say ‘no’ to you for anything sweetheart! I need you so selfishly. But please don’t distract me from my responsibilities. If I do that, you will never get the woman whom you love, I’ ll be a lump of remorse, hurt, regret, and that will transform me.”

But I never wanted her to be anything other than what she was. The itinerant, vintage, classic, modern woman, who was innocuously unselfish. That was the paradox. If it had not been for her, I am not sure if I had been what I am today. In her letters and messages, she gave me a universe, and made me a comprehensive unit, which had been scattered into pieces. And she said, I made her an organic whole, adding the bits and pieces of her. Even when we were not in our conscious minds, we could feel each other. We had always been there for each other. We spent our youth together and grew old together, completing each other. She touched my core, without touching this body, ever.

She had a family with her, and she was sad that I had no one with me. But she was my constant companion, in my sleep and wakeful hours, in my heart and soul. She made me understand the real meaning of love –through her I got to know that love exists!

But we never made this love a public affair. Never told about our heartaches to anyone. Never met, never parted. But still, all the while we were broken hearted. We had decided never to underestimate the telecommunicated flash of trivial news in our academic circles. Prof.J BParit could write fifty research papers a year; DU would introduce four years BA Honors course ignoring the students’ protests; there would be ten new central universities in the country and fifteen new IITs; and that would not cause a bump in our consciousness. But Prof. Madhvi Srivastava, the celebrity writer, seen with Mr. A , B or C – well, that was national news material. Breaking news! News to be talked of in seminars, university corridors, news to be cooked with spices and made tastier with every news reporter. So,we made it a point that no one on earth knew, for last twenty five years, that Prof. Madhvi Srivastava, the arrogant, full-of-attitude (sometimes I teased her as Ms.Atti!) writer, was actually my love, whom I called ‘Pugli Meeta’, the simplest and the most sensuously elemental woman.

Meeta had this classic, unalterable habit of jumping into conclusions-- “you don’t love me. You have no time for me”-- at the drop of a hat. There would be days when I was sandwiched between two fatty aunties in a local train, and then the girlie would call up. With a lot of difficulty I reach my pocket, take out the mobile and say, “hello!”

“God, you are always on the roads?”

“Hello….can’t hear you baby!”

“Oh pleeeese! Why are you shouting? Are you addressing an audience?”

Then there’s no network.

By the next two minutes, she would have sent me a message, “You don’t love me. Don’t ever call me. I am not your Meeta…”

The sulky-silly-girlie reminded me the Bangla song, “O go meeta, moro sudurer meeta..”,or an Odia song, “Mo priya tharu kie adhika sundara…” which I remembered since my Bhubaneswar days where I spent  my early youth.

And then, the next five hours I would spend sending her messages from meetings, academic councils, school boards, bathrooms, and ‘pataofy’ her, flatter her, flirt with her. But the silence between us during her katti(not-talking) hours seemed like a perpetuation of our relationship.

“Meeta...when on talking terms, my words hurt you. When not,you are sulky. It’s not about who is right and who is wrong but about what’s the best way. I definitely do not want to be your nemesis.You are a good human being, an accomplished person, and already have enough troubles in life. Please talk to me”.

Then, at last, the lady would be pleased to take my call.

My days and nights were beautiful. She made them beautiful. I was in love-- deeply, madly, badly in love.  

Once she took my calls, she would open up, petal by petal. She had this tremendous capacity to express all her feelings in words. She was my Muse. I turned more respectful to her poetry with each poem she wrote, with such ease and eloquence. She was the one who thought that she would die with a book on her chest. I would sometimes appreciate her poetry in high-sounding words to elevate her moods. She wrote, “No...don’t talk of poetry.Well, I read a lot of classics; but modern poetry? Half of it goes above my heads—I mean not the words, but what makes people ruminate with an armada of adjectives, I don’t understand. I wish the scorpion of some rationality will bite the back of these poets .You modern poets, you just sniffle. Take my handkerchief laden with chili powder.”

Funny indeed. Funny Meeta. A funny girl with a runny nose.

We shared every small detail of our days. Once she wrote, “Just now I took a lecture on Dover Beach with our M.A.English students. Remembered someone who swears his love for me with this lovely poem!”

“That’s one of my favorite poems Meeta! It talks of love as inclusivity and thereby a panacea. Lovely last lines. I see life as literature. Truth is, literature gives me courage to stand up after every lost battle. Most are self-defeats.”

 Unlike me, Meeta was very much a self-motivated person. She said, if she had the mood, she could fly miles with just the blow of wind. If not, a thousand horses couldn’t drag her even by an inch. But  during her creative hours, she was impenetrably serious, quietly contemptuous. Once I sent her a poem to interpret for one of our courses; she did that in a few minutes and mailed me the critical interpretation. That was lovely! “Oh…Meeta at her best, as always. Powerful. My interpretation is no match.”

She was restless if she forgot anything, say, the name of an old friend or the lyric of a Lata Mangeshkar song.To her, it seemed awful to lose a memory.She had the face of a young girl, untouched by motherhood. Meeta was a poem herself, deep, fragrant, melting with the words of love I whispered into her ears.

Her husband was never interested in sex, and her only child was from the first marriage. Thus, she shared her bed with her son throughout, till he went to a hostel to study fine arts. Even before that, her son would be put to sleep at 9 pm. Meeta had sleep-disorder, insomnia. She would hardly get sleep for two hours continuously. Her husband was more of a companion than a lover, he was engrossed with his career. She had adapted herself to his habits of having an early dinner, watching T.V. while eating, and then closing their doors by 9.30 pm. with a quick good night kiss. He would snore within no time, and she would sing a Sanskrit sloka for her son to sleep, or tell him a bed-time story. She was an exceptionally good mother. Being a strong moralist herself, she would teach positive values to her son in the most creative way. She would cook his choicest dishes, teach him with patience, and be his friend, philosopher and guide. After her son slept, she was left alone, with her books, study table, bed light, mobile, laptop for company. She would struggle to get some sleep, but rustling inside her was another person who wanted to be smelt in her neck, caressed, coddled, felt under her skin and loved, be carried away. Night after night she would lay there on her lonely bed, in her lovely night suits, hair blowing in the wind, watching the birds, clouds, stars through her bedroom window, thinking of me. One night she sent me a  haiku:

My sleep and sleeplessness

play hide-and-seek.

Is someone awake in me?”

 

 This is when we started talking during the midnights. The background music would be the buzzing of the A.C. or the snoring of her husband.

First few days we talked of our days, work, creative writing, children, our fights and patch-ups. Once I requested her to sing over phone, and she went on in her melodious, sensuous voice. Till I was teary eyed.

What is she getting in life? She is so full of love, her heart is like an ocean of love and she can drown a thousand ships in it. And she is not even getting a lonely ferry to explore her!

What is the barrier to freedom that had been shaped up to block her feelings? Why are the walls of culture blocking open and natural relationships between men and women? Why there is no intimacy and eroticism in relationships? Why sexual preferences aren’t talked of before marriages?

One night she wrote, “Not getting sleep. Listening to Raag Handol and Raag Doot; working on the computer.”

“You have worked enough. Rest now.”

“How to get some sleep? Tips please.”

“Isn’t it hypocrisy for one to whom sleep comes as rest from thought and heartache to advice ways to fall asleep? Maybe take a book of your choice and tuck into bed nosey girl! Do you mind someone playing with your fingers when you are reading yourself to sleep?”

Silence…

Next morning she wrote, “Slept in fragments. Thanks for playing with my fingers and putting me to sleep. There is a drowsy numbness in the body.”

Meeta had accepted, eroticism had no place in her clean, disciplined life. There were books, designer furniture, extensive wardrobes and big cars in the household. There were maids to take care, campus kids to party every weekend, husband to invite friends over a drink on Friday evenings. T.V. programmes to follow, cricket to debate over, relatives to make phone calls or come over without notice.

But there was no eroticism. There was no talk of sex. It was the forbidden topic to discuss or ponder over. A woman who needs sex and asks for it, is definitely a slut. “Woman…dare to call yourself a slut!”--she was told. It was dribbled into her ears by her husband, loud and clear. He had passed an ordinance, unwritten, that my name was a big No at home. Her husband had too utilitarian a mind, he was extreme in everything. He was, indeed, a prisoner of extreme narcissistic self-love, self-righteousness. He said, he loathed the senseless viciousness in the lives of many families around. As if there could be sensible, thoughtful ones! Perhaps there were; he had discovered a way to be sensibly irrational towards his wife. That’s how she was deprived of the basic rights of a woman. He ridiculed the idea that a woman needs to be pampered, celebrated.

 

On the contrary, I admired her during our late night calls; precisely, I celebrated her. I convinced her that it’s no sin to be erotic. That is the root and the instinct of this creation, after all. My admiration was genuine, she knew. She basked in it, immersed in my desire, let my whispers sway and swindle her, and in the catch of those moments she fell in love with me over and over again every time I sent an erotic text message, an e-mail, or whispered a word of love. After a night of virtual love-making, she would wake up in the morning, refreshed, relaxed, smiling, awash, her face flushed, skin pores open, eyes glowing with desire.

Those days, she told me once, that she was pleased with the way she looked and felt. She felt light, warm and feminine in my hands. For her, I was a virtual-reality. And those days, she always smiled; I was hanging like a silver smile on her lips. She wanted to swim naked in the pool of desire that I had designed for her. She wrote, “Your eruditions convey such tenderness, generating a world that comprises only the two of us, that I get oscillated. The passionate ache that touches me through your words makes me ascertain things about me that I hadn’t recognized till this time. ”

Once she told she remembered my smell that she had felt sitting beside me in the car on that day I went to drop her in the airport. It was the clean, soapy, warm, fundamental, civilized smell of a man, who was erotic. God!! She knew how to juggle with words. Her words, only words, kept our love alive for more than two decades! Just three hours of togetherness and she could keep the flame burning forever – only with her words!

A river of words flowing between two cities, two lives, and a river of soft kisses, smiles, tears, letters, messages, e-mails, vibrations, heartaches...

But the love was far beyond physical. Loving me was, for her, pure devotion, like Mira Bai’s.

For me, she was extremely graceful whom I never wanted to dominate, yet she loved to be completely conquered, in the exact way she wanted me to make love to her. With my whispers, breathing, soft kisses in quiet nights from 2000 kms, she told, she got orgasms. It was such a pity! A beautiful, aesthetically sensuous woman, who had committed no sin, had never experienced an orgasm in life! Though she had a child, she had never had a thing called ‘making love’. Perhaps her body responded to one of those marital rapes from the first marriage, which resulted in the pregnancy. All the time she pondered about me, and asked me once if the orgasms of the mind were any different from the physical, real orgasms? All I could respond to her innocent query were, two drops of tears.

Now she had started counting on my curious power. I had taken possession of her, in all her elemental self.She was in a way frightened with what she had with me. A major part of her ‘self’ was with me, and the other part belonged to her family. Both the parts were definitely at odds with each other.With the incremental weakening of the body, I thought our minds would also give up. And the “passing phase” would be over. But that didn’t happen to her.

 

Closing her eyes and thinking of me, she would smell oceans and raw sand, could hear the tribes singing and dancing from the remote villages, could see the Buddhist monks crossing bridges in saffron robes, chanting, “Buddham sharanam gachchami.” Then she would murmur softly, huskily, into the receiver of her phone, “Oh dear….I am lost”. At that weak moment, I told her, “Meeta, why are you living this life that lacks romance, eroticism,our kitchen romance, and me? Why is this damn sense of responsibility killing you? Why are you destroying yourself? You are a beautiful woman, the goddess of love and your kind of a woman has to be celebrated, not deserted like this!”

“Why don’t you take me out of this, if you can? I had been leading my simple life of home and hearth. What made you create this havoc? Why did you do this to me? Why?”

There was silence at the other end. I could sense, she was weeping noiselessly, that she had rolled her head away from the phone to do it.It saddened me, because it revealed before me Meeta’s neediness, anxiety, fear of isolation, her horror of being marooned, abandoned.

 

Then there was a silence for three days, three days of torture for me and my Meeta. For the first and last time in life,complete separation of three days with Meeta.

I wrote, “I am no good if my message doesn’t lighten your face, doesn’t enliven your heart, doesn’t give you a relaxed mind. I am no good if a long gap doesn’t make you fume and it only causes chest pain. I am no good if I’m not a positive change in your work and play, cookery and music, Reiki and red-wine. Rate your love beautiful!”

“We rate something when we have a choice, perhaps. But I have no choice. You are the only one, good or bad. So, be good.”

She was simple and straightforward, always. I used to call her,‘the goddess of  small things.’

Small things overjoyed her. Small pains immensely pained her. She would catch hold of beggar women in the red lights and try to settle them down through NGOs, scold them for using their new born babies to beg in the sun. She thought the world was like her. The day the President of India had a visit to her university, the daily wagers and the rode side vendors were detained from coming to work, resulting in a day of hunger for them. She wrote, “I am ashamed that I am a bureaucrat in a place where ‘human right’ is just a phrase in the dictionary. I am more ashamed and helpless, because I can do nothing about it.”

She was not just the poet of a few words, she was a social activist, taking care of the children of her dead domestic help, funding the education of slums children.

During one such conversation,she told me that she will quit her job after her son is independent and do her bit to uplift the girl children, the victims of rape and domestic violence and the differently-abled. That day I respected her more. She wrote, “I feel restless when I see these women, and specially the children, who don’t even understand that they are sexually abused! Things like my house, my cars, my books that bring me so much glory, the luxuries I have – all seem meaningless when I see so many women victimized every day like street urchins. When two/three year olds lay there outside the PVR Cinemas and near the Saket Select City Walk mall or try to sell a bouquet to me, I hate the system. They don’t deserve so much hurt. Someone should tell them their rights! Someone has to fight for them. Babu, it’s like I am gearing up for something greater, moving towards a road not taken. At one point of my life, I’ll be leaving everything and take to the streets. And for the needy, I will design a shelter home, a public library, because only education can enlighten them.And then,I’ll also introduce a publishing house for the budding talents. I need your support in all of these.”

Ambitious,indeed.

The lady was ambitious in everything, starting from her elaborate menu for any guest at home to helping the needy and creating a public library for the access of the mass. Her writings addressed ground-breaking issues that characterize lives. Existential issues of the marginalized.

She would address me as ‘Babu’ That was her way of pampering me. I was the only one who could convince the Pegasus to do something – from opening a savings account in her name to getting a medical check-up done. Otherwise she had the ill fame of being the most disobedient when there was something related to her.

One night during our pillow talk hours, she sent me a message, rather a poem:

“The night has stretched out

afresh watershed for me.

It squashed my eyes of slumber

And packed the hollows with blubbering

and said

‘you have been acquitted

of all offences, and hereafter

you are at liberty

till eternity.

Go somewhere you wish

Rouse do benumb.

The entrance to reveries

is padlocked.”

 

I was sad, very sad. I wrote her back,

“Expanses have not yet twinkled, Oh Meeta!

The delusion dynasty is quiet and benign.

From the bonfires of fiascos and disillusionments

let the legends of the approaching new beginnings

remain inexpressible.”

 

She called up, voice all choked up, sobbing, and asked “Why inexpressible? Can’t you just open up and tell me? Why can’t you be simple, be boy, be elemental? Why do you throw your philosophy upon me all the time? Am I just your ‘duty’ without any attachments?”

“I don’t look back where I have no attachments. Never do a thing that’s only duty. You never thrust upon any duty on me. I would just be grateful if you accept that my hurts are a part of me and give me time and compassion to stand on a surer ground. Without that I am a piecemeal. You want commitment from my eyes, hands and all or the person who you know cares for you and wants to go on doing that?”

But she still wanted me to define our relationship.

“A young Madhvi let herself be had to a husband in a marriage she couldn’t question. A grown up Madhvi keeps questioning a man who wishes good for her, asking for definitions when he confesses he is trying a way out of bends in life. A mature Madhvi will perhaps realize that love and commitment have many forms, as does assimilation. Truth shall prevail.”

She was uncontrollable that night. In fact every time we spoke for more than an hour, she was sure to cry, over something or other. Then I had to console her, love her with utmost dedication. Yes, I have become a dedicated lover in life, if not anything else. Courtesy: Meeta. And she could kill me with her conversational ease. Her tears were contagious. I am not ashamed to admit that being a man, even I have shed drops of tears so often over something or the other she told. Men don’t cry, they bleed, inward.  Like, the other day she asked me, “Babu, have you read Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own? I am going to write another one, ‘A Table of One’s Own’.”

“Why baby?”

“You know what, I am from such a large family that the two tables we had at home were for my eldest and youngest siblings. The dining table was for Baba. So throughout my childhood and youth, I craved for a table, but never got one. I had to write lying on my tummy on the floor,or leaning over a plywood placed on my lap. Now there are tables in my house, one for my son and two for my husband for his laptop and files, even there is one kitchen table for my maid, but there’s none for me. I bought one exclusively for myself, but that too is encroached by both of them. Hehe.”

How could she laugh over this issue of identity politics? This was such an existential problem to be taken  lightly!!

She had this tremendous capacity  to hide her pain and smile, laugh all the time. She was actually two people. The one whom the world knew--the serious academic, creative writer, glamorous, practical, adamant, jovial with friends, helping and caring Prof.Madhvi. Then there was the other one – elemental, romantic, emotional, sensuous, true, honest, ready to capitulate and vulnerable,  my Meeta. I knew that the second one was exclusively mine, but I always wondered, how could she manage to be two people? Especially the first one who was not her real character?

And she was yet another person when she was drunk. I loved to hear her when she was. She loved red wine. She would giggle after the second peg. Then call up to tell me absurd things. I found  pathos and humour mingled in her temperament. I could perceive her perpetualagony coming out of her when she would giggle and tell me the funniest things.

Once I asked her, when she was drunk “What are you reading today? I mean what academic work you are doing? ”

“Oh my god!You always want me do something? To be someone? Why? Tell me, why?? I am nothing, I want to be nothing, just nothing! Do you understand?”

“Yes baby, please be nothing.”

Nnotthhing, right?Just nnotthhing.”

I always gave her that space, to speak her mind. To open up. And she would inevitably sob at the end,shed tears, blow her nose,(she said she wanted to wipe her nosey on my shirt!!) and talk like Hema Malini. “Hema Malilni is an awful actress, you see; of course she’s beautiful and a great dancer. When I cry, I sound like her. Pathetic..melodramatic. Hehe.” But I thought, if she was in a gloomy mood, her tone would be like the tragic heroine Meena Kumari in Saheb, Biwi aur  Ghulam.Sometimes she sounded like Madhubala when she was in a high, after drinking wine.

Winey Meeta.

“You know Babu what happened today, someone continuously stared at me in the market. I moved away, but he still continued to stare; everyone could visibly notice my discomfort. So what I did, I covered my face with both hands, and then opened my palms in front of him, playing peek-a-boo! People laughed and laughed, and the uncle ran away.”

This was my Meeta, Pugli Meeta’.

But she had the strong opinion that a woman dictates the way she likes to be treated by men. She has to uphold her self-respect.

She had a problem with the words ‘uncle’ and ‘aunty’. It seems in Delhi, everyone would call you aunty, irrespective of his/her age, looks, weight and height. “If you are seen with a child, you are aunty-material for sure. The other person might be older than you! But if you are roaming alone, you are an item for Delhi men; you might be a mother of two.”

“It’s ok baby, you are a sexy-aunty.”

“Shut up uncle!”

Some nights she would just shut all her windows and not respond to any of my messages. It was time to worry then. I knew that she was a night person and most of her writings were done late nights. I would make one last attempt at 1am, “If you were working, I infer you have been at peace. If you were into talks with your husband, I shall see hope, though it may not be immediate. If you have slept, I am happiest for my grown up baby. And if you have been sulking, that leaves me sad with a sense of inadequacy.”

“No… doing nothing specific. Missing you.”

“Then call after three minutes and talk for seven minutes.”

“Your timing is weird. You are just mad.”

“How do you know about my timing?”

Then she would blush and remain quiet for some time, then send just three dots as a response, and in return I would send some messages that gave her a high. And would make her open up.

“Meeta..good that your mind has let you open up, beyond isshhh and yuck. You need to know how adorable every single pore of your body is.”

We had an e-mail account which we both used to exchange letters or chat. Her husband was a tech-savvy person. Once he hacked the password of that account and read all correspondence between us, and made a hell out of it. We couldn’t understand, what had been robbed of him? What had been taken away from him by me? Her commitment? No, we weren’t committed; rather we had decided never to meet in life. Sex? No, we never had, neither was he sexually attracted to her. They never slept on the same bed, anytime in life. We discussed literature, life, love, eroticism, philosophy, which was beyond his understanding. So we could hardly understand the reason behind his insecurity. Perhaps he was basking in the glory of the puritanical old world values like purity, chastity and loyalty, expected only from women. The purity-pollution debates, age-old, were deep rooted in his mind. He demanded commitment, chastity and purity from her, without fulfilling the ‘duty’ of being the man of her life!!

She would put together her appearance and put a smile on it, hiding tears, when in public. For her, her husband was never existent. He was, as if, someone belonging to a previous life. Their rapport had become flimsy, volatile and elusive, as if pigeon-holed with a tag, ‘switch with caution!’ For them the olden days, when they had met, were some unfamiliar land. He was more interested in moral policing rather than giving her love, that she so deserved. And Meeta spent the best part of her life justifying herself, that she hasn’t wronged him by loving me, because she never got any emotional bonding or physical closeness from him. And that, he was behaving crazy and paranoid; he should not jeopardize a good relationship by being blatantly suspicious, because I wasn’t snatching anything that he possessed.

That night, she wrote one long mail from our personal account – that no one can ever snatch the beautiful memories I have given her via those letters even though she would use that mail no further. She actually did that; she never accessed that e-mail account anymore.

Ziddi Meeta.

Later on, she complained several times that she missed my long e-mails, missed our engagement with words. She loved my long letters.

“Please send me loooong mails Babu!” She would sms me.

My letters were complex, her’s,simple. She loved my critical thought and approach. She would always tell me, “Babu, even though I have achieved far more than you, but academically you are excellent. You are much better than me. It’s just that, you never realize this.”

“Oh come on! Don’t compare.”

“No, I am not comparing. But we can complement each other. As you say, we are the members of ‘Team-Meeta’-- membership closed with just two people! ”

Life was smooth; no one could stop us from communicating. From loving blindly, passionately, irresistibly. After all, we had accepted that even though tough times leave us brooding, they also bring out the essential strong self in us—resilient, will-powered and indomitable. They also show that life isn’t any fairy tale, yet it’s worth living to prove one’s mettle to oneself. Because Meeta strongly believed that our gods are our own making. Taking their names is just giving palpable shapes to our innate resoluteness. Her teaching, research, her engagement with words kept her going.Every day she was going from crest to crest, scaling peaks with aplomb.

We had our share of fights too. If I was too busy to send her a message for an hour, she would complain. There were many times that I forgot to inform her every detail of my days. She was annoyed. “You know what, I expect at least a blank sms from you every one hour, just to tell me that you are missing me.” I used to tease her that she suffered from IRDD (incurably romantic disposition disorder!)

“You pretty well know what kind of life I have Meeta.Our lifestyles are so different. You don’t use a public transport and I do that. You have holidays, vacations, but I have none.”

That led to an argument, and then the lady was flooded with tears.I always felt guilty that I made her cry so much. I never wanted her to shed tears, but she always ended up crying.

Was I pulling her heartstrings to much?

“I curse you, Babu, that if someday I die, no one will inform you. Who knows that I love you? No one. You’ll get to know of my death at least ten days after it happens.”

“Please stop it. How can you be so selfish?” Then it took me an hour to get her back to normalcy.

I used to get bouts of my painful past sometimes and spoil her mood.She never wanted me to talk of the past and told me it’s ‘boring’ to carry the baggage of the past all the time. I retorted, “That boring is harsh.I know you’ll be put off, but just because the past isn’t present, that doesn’t mean being oblivious as if it never existed. There are greater memories, people and hurts given and received. Accept me today and you accept one whose yesterdays have shaped today’s. It will be sometime before they are relegated to memory. Your call—Prof.Madhvi or Meeta?” But then,she was upset and silent,and I had to boost her up. I wrote, “I am no kid like you to pout lips at every small thing. One of the basic reasons why I respect you is your indomitable spirit. I would have crumbled long back given your kind of ordeals, leave alone reading or writing. Over-sensitivity is my bane.”

 

After every fight, she would come back to me. I thought, she should resent me some day for the tightened boundaries of my existence, for being the reason of her best years being drained away from her. Were there days when she wanted to be free of me? No, there weren’t any. I was always wrong.

 

And I would write, “Meeta, life has taught me certain things. There is no religion but the voice of conscience. Do right action, irrespective of short term consequences. Forgive wrong doers, but take lessons from wrong done; one doesn’t have a right even to expose oneself to repeated wrongs. Nurture things one holds dear, even if reciprocity in material terms isn’t possible. Finally, each one is a lonely planet. I apply these and search for no further meaning or casual connect in life.”

 

“Oh my God Babu! I’ll take seven births to be as gyani, I mean intelligent!!”

 

 The very fact that we were in love, kept us alive. From thirty-nine, we got to forty-nine, fifty-nine, thus, we grew older together. She would murmur my name hold her breath, and wait for an echo, almost sure that it would emanate one day.We understood well that we are all condemned to be aliens to each other, forever stuck down in isolated glass vessels and then we call it as the ‘self’. Still, the ‘selves’ of me and Meeta were never at odds with each other.She told me all about her life, her family and friends, relatives and colleagues, as though I had known them all my life. As though she and I had grown up together, gone on family holidays and summer camps to the seaside where we had made sand houses and touched each other’s’ fingers under the wet sand.

 

As I said earlier, I commented on each piece of her writing all these years. I selected the best picture among all the pictures she had mailed for a girl for her son. Her son wanted her to select the girl for his wedding, and she wanted me to do that. Eventually Siddharth married her! I selected  the cover pages of her books, read each piece of interview she wrote, suggested colours for her saris and interior designers for her home.

I was constantly present in her life, through thick and thin.Elegance hailed upon her, with age, as though it were a genetic dexterity.

 

*                                             *                                              *

Suddenly my world seems to be shattered today; there is an unknown fear lurking in the mind.Because, like Meeta, I haven’t mastered the art of pushing the envelope and taking life in my stride.

Today is Meeta’s 65th birthday, and she has not been taking my calls, not responding to my mails since a week. Whom shall I ask? Is she out of country? But she always informs me; in fact I plan most of  her trips.

So why is this long silence? I can’t take it. I know none of her family members or colleagues closely so that I can just call up and ask about her. Neither do I have any other number. She’s completely inaccessible. I am worried, upset. 

Is my Meeta unwell and doesn’t want to inform me, like she did the last time?

The calm between us looked like a perpetuation of our bonding. We were like two leaves of a plant propelling miles away from each other by a fierce wind yet assured by the deep intertwined origins of the plant from which we both had dropped.

 

               *                                             *                                            *

 

Someone in the department was reading out an old news from Delhi, reprinted in a newspaper in my city after a week.

“Distinguished poet and social worker, Late Prof. Madhvi Srivastava, has expressed her desire in her Will that her house may be converted to a Home-for-the-Differently-Abled. She has dedicated her library and her publishing house to the common mass and both of those are now looked after by her son, Mr. Siddharth Srivastava. Prof. Madhavi passed away on 17th of this month by cardiac arrest, after being treated in Moolchand Hospital for three days. We pay our deep homage to the departed soul.”

I was devastated. There was a throwing up pain in my head. I was just going out of the staff room when the office peon handed over a huge packet.

I went home, quiet.

There are so many poems and a letter, written in her neat hands, which perhaps she had given Siddharth to post; for the first time any third person coming between us. I read one:

“I am a bud, pulled

off  the branch.

Where is my redemption?

I am Mira.

Oh Krishna! You are elsewhere

In the thoroughfares

in your  chariot.

My feet stirring to a conduit

unversed

but the tap-tap of each heartbeat

every string of my being

constrained in the sludge

of the artery’s ribcage.

Amend me

like a lime stones sculpture.

Place me in your familiar city.”

 

I sit quietly for a while, the air around me thick with discomfort and my awareness of all the time lost, all prospects squandered away.

And  then this letter….my eyes are blinded with tears.

“Babu, my dearest one, when I cursed you that you’ll get to know about my death after ten days, I never meant that. I am dying. I can make a phone call now, can ask Siddharth to call you. But let this love remain veiled even now. You have given me a beautiful life. Years back I met you with vacuum in my eyes, and you filled that with your love. Time is flying away, snatching my breaths. I am receding, like river waters, like mountain tops. I am going back, like the water bearing clouds. Now I am defenseless. Why do I still remember my compassionate lover when I am free of every desire? Thank you, for giving me such a beautiful life. You have been to me--my life, love, happiness. Will you drape me in your arms, at least now?

I am sorry ,you need me more now, because you are going to retire this year. Don’t feel lonely. Live a good life. I am sending you some of my incomplete research work; complete the work, as you have always done. Then these are some of my poems written last few months. I dedicate those to you. You can compile all and publish my fifteenth poetry collection posthumously. Now that I am leaving, you can come to my city, see my home that you have designed, see my publishing house that I created under your guidance. See the children, the poor, who are living happily in my Home and using our library. Touch my wardrobe, all my saris are familiar, aren’t they? Give those away to the needy. I am sending my floral yellow-blue suit, your favorite, for   keep-sake. I haven’t washed it even after wearing if for a couple of times as you wanted it to retain my jasmine flavour.And then my grey slippers, that I wore for past thirty-five years; you know..I had those even before I met you! They are yours.

I had never been completely Madhvi, or absolutely Meeta. I spent an entire lifetime thinking about my identity; but somehow I learnt to live this hyphenated life organically. But let me tell you, since I met you, the ‘Meeta’ sensibilities have seeped into my identity and personality. I have never been paranoid about ‘Madhvi’ or ‘Meeta’ losing identity because of each other; you never let that happen.

Today I am far in the expanse, amid a cobalt stroke of sprays; in front of my eyes, a golden haze. I still hark back to you from a sky of molten gold.

                                                                        Yours forever, Meeta”