Thursday, February 22, 2018


On the third day of our honeymoon, for the first time, she told me, 'I love you.'

I would have replied 'Me neither' if the much-abused 'Je t'aime moi non plus' wasn't on my list of irritants along with fascists' views on nationalism and communists' claims about social equality.

The honeymoon happened nearly a year after the wedding. That wasn't due to disinterest or lack of passion. We were new in our jobs. The wedding gifts did not help either. Most returned whatever our parents must have given--cups, clocks, used cushions, plastic containers. The cash component, after parents' claims, was fifteen thousand five hundred and eighty. Thirteen thousand six hundred went on a washing machine, thousand five hundred and fifty on a gas stove and connection. We must have had a lavish dinner at a cheap vegetarian restaurant with the rest (and given a generous tip of thirty, if the mood was right).

We were in one of those cities with too many tourists and honeymoon couples like us. The resort was quite decent, luxurious in fact. We had gone overboard with the expenditure to make the trip memorable.

We were quite comfortable with each other by then. We trusted each other, I think. We enjoyed lots of the same stuff. We were not fond of public display of affection or animosity. At times, we were formal.

On that third day, in one of those formal moods, she asked me, 'Do you need some time on your own?'

'What do you mean?' I asked. If I was reading the manual of my SLR, I must have looked up. I remember staring at her.

'You know what I mean,' she said.

I am not sure why that rubbed me the wrong way.

'I guess what you mean is that you want some time on your own,' I stressed on both the 'you's.

'Here?' she asked.

'What do you mean here?'

She rolled her eyes. Ok, I had repeated what-do-you-mean but we weren't in a just-a-minute competition, were we?

She sighed, ' with overweight men waiting to sneak out for a drink or that special massage?'

'They are not all overweight...look at me! And...I am not waiting to sneak out.'

'Might explain why I am still with you.'

I counter-attacked after a kiss or two, 'Just curious...if not here, where would you want some time on your own?'

'Oh...let's see...if we were in some place with...' she thought, 'Tom Cruise or...'

'Tom Cruise?' I shrieked, ' way...even producers and directors know that he doesn't fit that...'

'What do they know?'

'Even Tom Hanks would be better...' I said, 'though that would be a horrible stretch of imagination.'

'Come to think of it, both of them would do just fine,' she said.

I think our first child was conceived in that passionate heat. It was after the act, still curled up against each other, that she told me, 'I love you.' We slept well. She did not protest, then or later, about the lack of response from my side.

I can't remember how our second child was conceived. I guess we were already experts at that game or we were sailing smoothly, if those are the right metaphors. We were not complacent in our roles. Thank god, she is not the type to say oh-sex-is-different-for-women. And I must have been one of the pioneers in the field of equal parenting. I was always there for them.

Not even once did she ask me why I wasn't passionate about love or some such thing like that. I had thought about it though. I can't remember when or why I changed. I was different when I was young, I think. I remember thinking differently about how I would be with 'my girl'. Somewhere along the way, such stuff must have been locked away in the attic of irretrievable past.

We had quite a scare when she fell ill and slipped into a coma.

The kids were in their early teens. I made sure they stayed away from the hospital. I hated the place. I could have made it easier for myself. I could have watched TV in the waiting lounge on the ground floor. Instead, I chose to spent those days in the stairwell leading to the ICU. There was quite a crowd there. We were not allowed in the ICU, of course, not even on that floor. A security guard stood by the glass-paned door to the stairs. Whenever nurses or doctors came out of the ICU, we tried to catch their attention for some update.

We did not smile when someone got good news. Good luck was on short supply. It was a cruel lottery, the losers had to really lose.

We did not socialize. Most prayed and prayed. Some got ready for the disaster the loss would bring, the unpaid loans, the cancelled wedding, kids' education interrupted. The person inside was the least of their problems. In a story, that could seem amusing. There were two good samaritans on one of the days. They had brought an accident victim. Someone later reported that the two appeared on TV. So...that's why they were here, another remarked. Maybe, we were bitter. Some managed to take breaks for a bath or a meal or to go home. Some followed a shift system. There were a few who remained there, with too little sleep and food, with blank stares and nothing to say. I was one of them. Another was a young chap. He cried a lot, silently.

On the third day, when I got back after a brief toilet-break, I saw him at the door. I heard him ask a nurse about her.

He saw me when he turned around. I must have raised my eyebrows or made some gesture. He shook his head as if to say, no development. He stood by the door. I sat on the steps.

The next day, he came to me, face pale, lips bloodless. I thought he would faint.

'Doctor wants to,' he said.

'Come with me,' I said.

The doctor told us they were going to attempt a 'procedure'. He was frank with us, even though the young man's condition must have made him think twice about that. 'The chances are not good,' we were told. 'Why don't you go in and see her?' he suggested.

Visitors were allowed in the ICU only in such conditions, one at a time. I told him to go in first. From the door, I watched him approach her bed. He stood next to her. I saw him tell her something. It must have been 'I love you'. I went in next. I pushed back a strand of hair from her forehead. She looked as if she was sleeping.

We went back to the stairwell. I thought he would collapse. I made him sit next to me. I held him when he cried. I too cried but I had to be the strong one.

The 'procedure' happened only the next day. There was some complication.

The doctor came to the door after the operation. 'Miracle,' he said. We thanked him a lot. 'Take care of her brother,' he told me, pointing at the young guy who was crying once again. 'Yesterday, I thought I would have one more in critical care.'

The young man kept on saying, 'Oh god...oh god...' He looked as if he wanted to hug. We didn't.

After a while he said, 'I should go now.'

He should have left without another word.

'We never...' he added, blushed and left.

I was allowed to see her much later that day. 'Don't trouble her,' a stern nurse told me. I stood by her. I smiled. She smiled. I pushed back another strand of hair. We didn't speak that night.

The next day, I was again given the same warning. I told her about the kids. I told her about the young man.

'Do you want some time on your own?' I asked.

'Here?' she asked.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

with or without

It was a lunch-invite dressed up as a date.

That was the result of playful sparring on the phone. I had feinted deep hurt about her hosting a party for the rest of the gang before I got home for the summer break. She asked me what I would like as compensation or repentance. I asked for a lunch at her place. I thought she would laugh it off. Instead, she agreed. I laughed nervously then. She must have caught that. She started teasing me. Asked me what I would like her to wear. A tiny dress, I said. With or without, she asked. I nearly choked. Ok, without, she said. We laughed. I thought that was settled and forgotten.

Two days later she told me that my lunch was ready. I got there around noon. I tried to act cool. I sweated and felt like I was hopping on one foot and then the other. I hope that was just my imagination.

She was wearing a tiny dress.

Where are your parents, I asked. They are out, she said.

Her parents do not like me, never have, never will. I am not sure why. There's one thing I know about girls. If a girl's parents hates a guy, the guy should never be with the girl in her house, or elsewhere, without her parents around.

When do you have lunch, she asked. Early, I said. I was really nervous. It's ready, she said.

She, or was it her maid, had set a glass-top table on a balcony. The view was fantastic. I could have fallen and no one would have heard me make a mess. The noon air was still. Her tiny dog took its place beneath the table. Does he have to be there, I asked. It's a she, she said. Ok, then it's fine, I said.

There was rice, dal, stir-fried vegetable, salad, curd. I waited. She served. I waited. Oops I forgot, she said. She called to the maid. A large covered dish arrived.

She opened the cover. There were three pieces of fried chicken wing flat. She gave me one and took one herself. She did not cover the dish. The remaining one kept staring at me. The dog too stared at me.

She talked about life, in general. Then she offered specifics she could have avoided. She expected me to offer something in return.

I thought about the rule of three, why it had to be three.

She leaned forward. In those days, that used to be a subliminal stimuli that could fluctuate to supraliminal.

Without, she said. Huh, I burped. She laughed.

She talked about a friend she had met recently, a Deepa or a Divya or some D.

I thought about fried chicken wing flat. I like to pop it in my mouth and suck the flesh off leaving the bones still joined at one end.

Her legs parted a little. The dress climbed up.

She told me that Deepa or Divya or some D expected us to be an item in the near future. She was of course teasing.

Something puzzled me. Was it for a third person? The other? Was it for me? Was it to be left alone? The epistemology of chicken wing flats was too much for me.

We heard the sound of a car.

Oh, they are back, she cried. She ran inside to her room. I saw her reaching for a pair of jeans and some other items. She closed the door.

The dog barked.

I put the third chicken wing flat in my mouth.

Her parents entered the scene.

What are you doing, young man, her mother snarled in her cold polite way. Her father did not say a word.

I pulled out the bones and placed it on my plate.

She came out of her bedroom, looking too proper. 

I left. With chicken, without her.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


I finished Valentine's Day with 'You Have Got Mail',
With memories of letters and cards and funny ways,
With the thought that everything happened yesterday.

And there I was giving up on hope for today and tomorrow,
One last memory entered before I flipped the Closed sign,
Didn't I promise to wait for you forever and ever?