- Title is a placeholder. Will have to go.
- This is my weakest fiction, till date, but then I’m happy I finished something
- Criticism is welcome, but superfluous ;)
- It’s still better than a crib-blog
- Don’t read with any expectations
but I wonder if I can bear,
to see these walls crumbling
dreams… they’re are known
to end as abruptly, as they come…
I waited for some time, after ringing the doorbell. Anuja lived alone in this spacious two bedroom flat in the city’s upmarket area. When she decided to move here, I had offered her to stay with us. My middle class sensibilities, by all means – as the rents in the city had already skyrocketed. I was sure that Varun would not mind at all. He’s always been fond of Anuja.
However, she had dismissed my suggestion casually.
“Di!”, for some reasons she always addressed me with this ridiculously shortened form of didi. “This is my one chance of living on my own”
I hadn’t pressed much, knowing Anuja. And to be honest, I was even glad. An extra person in the house after all these years, (yes even my own sister) would have meant changes.
Of course, I was hoping that I would get to spend more time with her, now that we were in the same town. I had seen very little of her after Varun and I relocated to Canada, just a few months after our marriage. When we got back, Anuja was busy with her job in another city, and we were busy settling back into a totally changed country. The fact that we had lived here almost all our lives was hardly helping.
Anu is five years younger to me — almost a generation, in today’s fast moving time. Still, growing up, we had shared a very close bond. Things started to drift, however, after my marriage. Our communication settled down to a few casual mails or chats, and occasional calls. I was desperately hoping we would get to catch up on those lost times. Half an year down the line, we had met just a couple of times. On one Saturday, when Varun was to be in his office for the whole day, I decided to go shopping. I remembered Anu mentioning the new mall that had opened close to her place, and thought it would be a good idea to check it out, and maybe drag her there too. I tried calling her up, but her phone was switched off. Typical Anu, I thought.
I was thinking of rining again, the door opened. As I was about to step in, I realized that the person opening the door wasn’t Anuja, but a young man (very handsome, I must add).
“Yes?”, he asked, partially blocking the door.
For a moment I wondered if it was the right house, but then I had seen the nameplate.
“Isn’t Anuja at home?”, I asked.
“Yes she is, please come in”
I noticed then, that his shirt was just thrown over, carelessly, half-buttoned up; his hair was ruffled.
“I’m Mukta”, I said. His face showed no comprehension. “Her sister”
“I’ll tell her”, he said, as he went back to the bedroom. I thought I saw a hint of embarrassment on his face.
From Anu’s bedroom I could hear a few miffed voices, and finally she came out. She was wearing floral pajamas, and she looked so beautiful. For a passing moment, I felt a twinge of jealousy: she looked so young and full of life. But while I was marvelling her looks, she was looking at me, with slight irritation, and she was making no effort to hide it. Suddenly, I felt like an intruder.
“Di, what a surprise”, her voice had no trace of excitement.
“I was trying to call you, but your cell phone is switched off”, I explained. Unnecessarily I thought, a moment later — after all, since when did a sister need explain her visit?
“Yeah, on Saturday mornings I hate to be woken up by marketing calls!”, she said. Afternoon, I wanted to correct her, but she was still looking irritated. Just then the gentleman walked into the living room, his hair and clothes much more tidy now.
“Di, this is Gautam. Gautam this is Mukta, my didi“, Anu introduced us. Her manner did not betray any awkwardness, if she felt it at all. I would not say the same thing about the two parties being introduced.
Gautam smiled a polite smile and took his leave, almost in a hurry. I was left with Anu, who was behaving as if this were an everyday situation for her.
“Your new boyfriend?”, I asked, trying to sound casual.
“Not exactly”, she said, looking straight at me.
“What does that mean?”
“You’re not naive enough to ask that, are you?”
“Please stay out of my sex life, Di”
I looked at her aghast.
“What? Should I say love life? Surely you don’t call it love when it changes every week?”
“But Anu, what are you going to get through these flings? Don't get me wrong, but what's the future in this?”
I thought I was sounding just like my mother. Anu, who had lived in a small town with my parents almost all her life, who had never been to more than four cities, and had never set her foot outside India – she was making me feel naive, orthodox, and outdated.
“Don’t get me started. You know… if facades fall, then everything will change”
Her face showed no anger, or even irritation. Yet, there was something which made me step back, involuntarily — something cold and menacing.
“What are you talking about, Anu?”
“Forget it. Tell me, what will you have? This is the first time you’ve come to my place, if we don’t count the day you helped me unpack”
“No… no, I want to know”
She looked at me with a look that was closest one could get to feeling sorry for the other person.
“The one time I ever made a real choice, I lost him to you”
Varun? What is she talking about? She was in love with Varun? And for god’s sake why tell it now, after all these years? Surely it was a teenage crush.
“Why don’t you ask him?”, she snapped.
“Anu … We used to be able to talk, you know”
“Di, stop patronizing me, will you? You think I’m a kid who had an innocent crush on your husband, and who needs to be shown the frivolity of it all? At this moment, if any-one’s innocent, it’s you, dear. Go home. Forget I ever said this. I never intended to. Is there a point in raking this up now? You have a happy life. And I’m managing pretty fine. Just don’t scratch the surface. It’s not going to help any of us”
She was dead serious. The hurt in her eyes was all too real, despite her attempts to keep it away.
Life teaches us that digging up graves is a pointless exercise. And yet we never learn. I loved Varun. I trusted him to tell me anything he ever needed to tell me. Anything that I needed to know. And yet …
paralyzed, I watch your receding form
“What’s wrong, Mukta?”, Varun asked on the dinner table.
“Nothing”, I replied dryly, moving my spoon through the soup.
“Come on honey, we know each other too well to fool each other like that”, he said, in his usual, calm voice.
“Really, Varun?”, I asked, looking straight into his eyes. He looked hurt. I felt bad for assuming him guilty for an unknown crime.
“What’s wrong love? Why are you so bitter today?”
It took you an hour to realize I’m bitter, I wanted to ask. But I resisted. You must assume him innocent till proven guilty, I told myself.
“I met Anuja today”, I said after a pause, looking straight into his eyes, trying to catch his reactions. His face didn’t change even a little, not even puzzled.
“If you think I’m bitter, you should talk to her”
“Will you stop talking in tangents?”
His tone was a little irritated now, I observed. Do we see things when we want to see them? Because his facial expressions were no different from usual — when he lost his patience. And that wasn’t unusual either. So was I reading too much into his tone?
“Because, Varun, after all these years of living together, I find it insulting to ask for information which I should have been told long before”
He opened his mouth to say something, but then he pressed his lips together, grinding his teeth. His shoulders dropped. For the first time, since our first meeting (however then it was shyness, not guilt or shame) he couldn’t look into my eyes. He didn’t say anything for what seemed like an eternity.
“So she told you”, he finally said. It wasn’t even a question, just an assertion.
He sighed. For a while he didn’t say anything.
“Oh God, Mukta, I’m sorry”
I started crying. Suddenly, I didn’t want any details. What kind of fool goes about digging the firm looking soil under one’s feet? If I hadn’t pushed Anu, I would be laughing with Varun, probably. I would be asking him if he liked the soup, and urging him to have some more. I would be asking him how his day went, and tell him about the weird salesperson who kept on following me from one rack to another. I would be telling him about Anu’s stream of boyfriends, and letting him give me a dose of liberal medicine — how I should accept her as an adult now.
Nothing of it. Here I was, trying to figure out how much of our life together was a lie. And whether the percentages really matter. A lie like that paints everything in one color, like the primer they put on before repainting, making every wall, every ceiling, the same ugly shade of white.
“Mukta, will you please listen to me?”, he said.
Don’t you get it, I wanted to shout. What will all the gory details change? Don’t you see that everything has changed? What can you tell me that will restore our world.
I stormed out of the dinning room, and slammed the door of the bedroom.
from yonder we brought these trees
today, the walls are green with moss
and the garden is dried shade of brown
did we lose it inch by inch?
or was it all just a mirage,
a passing dream?
It must have been more than an hour, when Varun finally knocked at the door, softly. Astonishingly, I was asleep. I guess it was due to much crying. I looked at myself in the dressing table mirror. I was a mess. I looked like a ghost of what I was only a few hours back. I got up, washed my face, tidied up my hair. Then I put on some makeup. The rituals can dull pain by their boring regularity, I guess.
Varun’s knocking was a little more urgent now, and his tone more concerned. I opened the door.
His face had a relived look. Did he think I was going to kill myself?
“Mukta. Can we talk?”
What’s the urgency, I wanted to ask him. If it could wait all these years, surely it can wait some more time. In any case, it was already too late. But hope is such a bitch. It tempts us, and drags us into the quicksand of despair, to laugh at us derisively — for falling for its tricks again.
He took a deep breath. Poured a large peg of scotch into a glass, and finished half of it, in two gulps. He always had his scotch neat. But he never gulped it like that.
“Anu had proposed me, just a week before we met. I was not prepared for a relationship back then. I was just a few months into my job. Besides, she was so young. Anu was working with us as an intern back then, you remember right?”
I didn’t answer. Of course I remembered, and I knew he was just trying to clear the mist that had clogged the air between us that night. Any response would be better for him than no response. But I wasn’t exactly in a generous mood. He waited for a moment, and let out a muffled sigh, as he saw the futility of attempting small talk with me, in such a mood.
“For a brief while before that, we were dating… sort of. I mean, I realized that day, when she proposed me, that that’s how Anu looked at it, at least. For me it was more of a friendship.. hanging around, like best of pals. I was already too old for my age, and she was the fresh splash of life, of youth. I always thought I was just a father figure for her….”
He had gulped down the rest. On other days, I would have scolded him. But I thought I did not have the authority anymore.
“It was in this period, that I met you. And before I know, I fell in love with you. Suddenly, timing didn’t seem so wrong. Still it was too complicated for me do do anything about it. I wasn’t sure how she would take it. But she knew. I guess she knew me well. It was at her insistence, that I proposed to you. We had decided we would never tell you, because it would just complicate all the lives involved”
“I don’t know why, today… Not that I blame her. She has every right”
His voice trailed off. For a while, he did not say anything, and then he looked into my eyes. His eyes betrayed the effort it had taken him to do it.
“Mukta. I love you. Please talk to me. I can’t take this silence”
When we say, “spare me details”, do we ever mean it?
as the sun vanishes into distant land
I crave for your virgin touch,
like the time you first held my hand
I know, my visions might crumble
like the castles in the beach sand
but I know, the love we lived
you will always leave behind
Anu called up on Sunday afternoon.
I didn’t say a word.
“Di. I know it’s you. Please talk to me”
Varun had tried in vain to get words out of me, the whole of morning. We chewed our lunch, in silence. He vanished into the study room, more to leave me alone, than for any other reason.
I went back to the bedroom, and latched the door, as if I was afraid of being violated, just by his presence. I was completely drained to think of anything. Anu call had broken my reverie. And her voice suddenly brought me back my voice.
“Why Anu, I’ll be happy to. What do you want to talk about?”
My tone was caustic. But at least it was easier to talk to her, than it was not to talk to Varun, at all. For wasn’t she as much a party to this lie that I was living? Or was it easier to talk to her, because I was more angry at her than Varun — so angry that silence seemed a response out of reach?
“About you and Varun, of course”
Gone was her cool, confident, tone of the day before.
“So he called you?”
“Of course he called me. And I’m glad he did. Please don’t punish him for my sins”
My first reaction was not anger, strangely. It was amazement — to see my little sister grown up so much. Amazement, seeing her — no more indulgently as a spoilt brat, but as an independent adult, just like Varun wanted me to see her.
It was brief though, the moment. The next moment brought back the pain of back-stabbing — not just because she hid it from me, but because she took away my choice to be the martyr… to be the the elder sister ready to pamper her younger sibling with all she could have afforded, and all she could not have.
A part of me was angry at her because she didn’t tell me before. A part of me was angry at her because she brought the subject up at all. And the contradiction seemed trifle.
“You mean he is guiltless?”
“Had he told you back then, what would have come out of it?”
I thought I heard a derisive laughter. But I knew the derision wasn’t in her laughter, it was in my mind. I was so prepared to hear those words: “grow up, Di”
“Truth that would have strained every relationship, that could have come out of it alive? Truth for the sake of truth? I can’t believe, Di, that you would even think of throwing it all away for a stupid truth”
“Anu, when you’re in a stable relationship …”
I deliberately paused, letting it sting, then regretted my cruelty. Wasn’t she in a serious relationship, once, which had left that permanent scar on her? But I was too proud to apologize.
“You will know that you cannot trust ninety percent, or ninety nine percent. It’s a hundred percent or nothing. If I can’t trust him to tell me one thing, I cannot trust him to tell me anything. How do I know it’s just this one stupid truth, Anu?”
For a moment she was silent. When she talked, I wondered who was the little sister.
“Di… Relationships can never be like that. You don’t need me to tell you that. Are you really saying you cannot trust him anymore? What about me? Can you trust me?”
I knew I couldn’t say the truth, for all it was worth.
“I don’t know”, I said.
“Di, why don’t I believe that?”
Then, without any warning, tears formed in my eyes again. My voice chocked.
“He is as guiltless as you get them in real life. And he is yours. He loves you! Don’t you know that?”
There was nothing to say to that.
“Why did you bring it up now, Anu. Why now. Why someone who can see things like that, could not see what it would do?”
“I never said I am guiltless”, she said. I thought I heard a sad laugh.
“And you still want me to trust you?”
“I want you to trust him. Punish me however you want, but not by punishing yourself, and him”
We were both silent, for a while.
“Because, being a martyr isn’t easy, Di. Especially when no one knows it, and you don’t even get to live it. As for me, it wasn’t even a sacrifice. I let go what I never really had. But I never saw it that way. For a long time I was living life like a vain martyr. And I blamed you for every moment of it, for putting me in a position where there wasn’t another choice. If it were someone else, I would have tried to snatch him from her… I would have done whatever it took. With you I was helpless. Maybe I just needed to throw away all that karma, which I thought was good karma, but which was making my life hell”
“It just happened… Di… It just happened”
What can you say to that? When one martyr dies, another is born.
“Can’t you forgive him? It’s only your world that’s worth saving, at the moment. I know I cannot ask anything else of you. But this much I will…”
“I don’t know”, I said. Knowing fully well she knew, what I knew.
“Thanks Di”, she said, as she hung up.
and go back home
we’ll paint the walls
inch by inch
and grow the shrubs
you and me
we’ll watch the past
with a knowing smile