If I had to write about my life, where would I begin?
My Journey after Bombay
I left Bombay on my 16th birthday. My world fell apart. I had to say goodbye to my dearest friends. They were my world. I see this scene in my mind’s eye as though it were yesterday.
Seeing me off with notes, assurances, and tears, we vowed eternal friendship. We would always be friends. Nothing would ever come between us. We cried tears of partings, of innocence, of teenage girl friendships. I took a train to a new city: Calcutta.
The journey was long. The city, different. I missed the sea. I hung on to the letters that came in the post, and the familiar handwriting on the envelopes. I still have them, so many of them, so many years later. I can’t throw them away.
I knew I had to restart, and the universe gave me my gift. I watched Girish on stage at Loreto College. I thought, “Who is this guy? What an awesome voice. This deep baritone. Oh my God. I wonder who his girlfriend is? What a strange thought—why would I ever think that? Strange, but not important—how very stupid I am.”
I did not realize it then, but that thought manifested unconsciously, in a surreal fashion with no planning. Was this from a parallel reality? I will never know.
I was introduced to him six months later. We courted for seven years, through college and after. Our telephone conversations went deep into the night, every night. What did we talk about? I can’t recall.
He gave me a silver locket with a badly taken photograph of him in it. Behind the photograph was a funny scribbled sentence. His way of saying, “You are mine.” I wore it every day.
We had a special song. When I listen to now, I feel bittersweet. It’s like biting into a plum or strawberry but not being sure which flavor I am going to taste.
He had to leave to study, to create a future so that we could marry one day. Then it was back to letters in the post, sustaining us every day. There were visits to the post office, buying stamps, posting letters to England, and waiting for the postman every day.
His letters are all still with me—covered in cotton cloth, inside a steel trunk in my loft so that they stay forever. They are his handwriting, love poems, everyday stories, stories of missing true love, burning passion, and dreams of us. We married, and remained married till death did us part.
Loss again, but so very different, and so very numbing.
I am 47 now, not 17, with so many beautiful years in between. Thirty years with Girish. We have a beautiful daughter.
“You said you loved me and would always look after me. How can you do that? Girish, you are very ill. Please, please, don’t die.”
The universe listened silently; I know he heard those unspoken words. He looks after me from wherever he is.
I count my blessings. I had to restart. My mind goes back as I retrace my story.
We were four friends, two couples. Me and Girish, Sita and Swaroop. Lives running at a parallel, converging at a point when we met more than 20 years ago. Slowly moving forward together, two streams flowing alongside, each having its flow.
Working, children, marriage stresses, the “everydayisms,” the comforts of an easy friendship, walks in the cricket club, lying on the grass, looking at the stars. Holidays to the beach, singing under the sky, days moved like the colored beads on a child’s abacus.
What were my thoughts then? What were my preoccupations? My work? School lessons? Has the cheque arrived? When is my next delivery of furniture? Will I meet the deadline? I don’t remember those thoughts. Can I remember who I was then? It seems so long ago, and those thoughts have gone into the sea. Probably to another shoreline to be picked up by another.
I drift now. I need to write this down. I need to recall—or maybe I don’t. That person no longer remains. I am different now. The past is of no interest to me or anyone else. The person I was is over, buried deep, deep in my subconscious. Maybe that is why I need to go there.
I digress. I need to come back to those two streams—those two parallels. I need to paint them. Splash them onto a canvas. They converge and form this karmic pool. Our karmas get swished around and absorbed.
Swaroop gets diagnosed with this fatal disease: cancer. I am still afraid to pen this word down. I shall refer to it as the disease. God! I hope he survives. Poor Sita, she deals with it. We watch from the outside. We are silent spectators as this drama unfolds. How can this be happening? We watch him pass death and tentatively recover. That part blanks over. I was not there then. I was with Girish, who was ill in a hospital in Bombay.
“Girish, you were not meant to be here with me like this.”
Again, I can’t recall my thoughts, and I forget who I was. I learned to live in the now—one day at a time.
I brought Girish home to Calcutta. His body and mind did not belong to him. It belonged to the disease. I went through the motions. Girish died in five months—50 years old, his mission over. Sita watched her soul brother gone. I could not talk about it to her, to anyone. How could I? I was so numb. I didn’t know what to say. I needed to survive.
The pattern breaks at home. No longer three, we are two now—Shivi and me. Our flower princess and me. I need to find my balance. Whatever it takes, I need to make this canvas perfect. Why do I dwell on this now? Why do I cry as I pen this down? Maybe I just need to let the tears flow. I needed to do this five years ago.
I watched couples, just watched, not feeling anything.
“What does it feel like to sit on the front seat of a car, on the passenger side?” I think. Silly random thoughts. I counted my blessings. Calcutta was my security blanket. I covered myself in it. But somewhere, there was a toe peeping out. It let the cold air in.
Swaroop recovered. Sita and I talked for hours. Our lives were different now. We were no longer two couples. I talked about trivia. My life on the outside. My new routine. Anything other than myself, as I was afraid, not knowing what it would unleash.
I stood tall, in stoic stone. We walked every evening, through the greens of the golf club. We talked of trees and birds and the fight with a parent, unaware of what lay ahead. Sita was ill. Desperately ill.
“Oh my God, she’s not going to die, is she?”
She died six months later. We talked till the end. Her funeral was beautiful, I heard. The cathedral was filled with flowers and people. My best friend had touched many lives.
I was not there. I was being operated on that day. The disease had hit me. Numbness again, My survival instinct at play. Living in the moment again.
“Shivi, it’s okay. It will pass—I need to live for you and me. I will be fine—don’t tell Nana till the surgery is over. It will break him.” I have blanked over again. Is it not wonderful that you don’t have to deal with things you don’t have to? You don’t have to think the thoughts you don’t want to. You can just blank them over.
Swaroop walked into my home months later with flowers, apologizing for forgetting my birthday. My neck was all bruised from the surgery, but I did not bother covering it. He was my old buddy. He seemed different, though. Had he changed, or had I? Our lives had. There was so much to share. So much had happened.
We talked and there was a quiet urgency in our conversation, comfort in an identical story. Our conversation was different, deeper like two streams merging, spilling into common seas. We talked of the four of us caught in this karmic dance. Who were we? Who belonged to whom? Does anyone really belong to anyone? Aren’t we all, in essence, free? It’s only thoughts that bind us together. You belong to the person you love. That’s it. It’s so simple.
The dance continues. Just the music changes. Sita and Girish, karmic siblings, sit this one out and watch us on the dance floor. Is this how it was meant to be?
I wrote this a long time ago and revisited it recently.
Swaroop and I have been partners since 2006.
The day he brought me flowers and forgot my birthday.
We live in our own homes, so it feels like I’m dating in my 60s.
Yes, he still brings me flowers.