Men never forget the women who never wanted them. There have been 4 such women who gave me that line in one form or the other – “I am really fond of you and you know that but I just don’t feel anything for you.” You’d think one might get used to anything if it happens more than once or avoid trying anymore but for even me, someone who loves failure with as much intensity as I love people, it takes some getting used to everytime. I like the way failure and rejection cause me to die but still keep breathing, “thaw the frozen sea” inside me with an axe through my skin, make me utterly aware of my insignificance and keep me grounded. A rejection by a woman is a particularly challenging one to deal with simply because it is always for not what you do, but what you are – and there’s a sense of finality to it that is rare in other failures, I know because I have been on the other side – and I have been intensely and immensely cruel in rejecting people myself, once you see things that way, there’s no unseeing, the words that a lover might crave to hear are just annoying phrases which just don’t manage to reach – even honest praise always seems with strings attached. It’s always strange how I value compliments by a stranger much more than a friend, and value compliments by a friend much more than a lover and compliments by a lover infinite times more than someone I see as having an agenda to please me. Over time i learnt to see for what it was – the view from the window inside out was better than the view outside in, and you were mistaken in seeing it as a mirror instead of what it was – just a window. I’d recommend the experience to anyone and everyone for –
A. It is an intensity of feeling of loss almost akin to losing a loved one without having to actually lose a loved one.
B. I use this memory of feeling or feeling of memory when I fail terribly at work or something – “You survived failure for who you are, what’s a big deal to survive failure in what you do?”
I write on this topic because of the first woman who rejected me, my first real woman friend, the first woman to whom I was loyal even in fantasy, a woman so lovely, so endearing, so beautiful, so affectionate and so naturally free of attitude or snobbishness or frills that no one could not fall in love with her. Everything would come naturally to her, she would ace class and drawing and singing and dancing and fashion shows – and yet – she felt so near you when you talked. When you looked at her the only thought that would cross your head was how could a child grow up to be a woman so beautiful and yet remain childlike, give such sound and wise advice and yet laugh so freely and disarmingly openly, (and as the current events have shown) be immensely strong yet radiate the appearance of vulnerability. We spent almost every minute possible together for a year. She was best of friends with both me and my wife, and according to my wife, it was because of this woman’s constant talking about me that led to her falling in love with me – so in a way she helped me find the goldilock’s woman for me – someone just right – and cushioned my hard fall after her rejection with a soft landing. I fell for two women at a time after she said no -maybe it needed two to fulfill what I was looking for, and strangely, I just shut her out of my life with never a second thought about her – and my wife is still best friends with her, and teases me all the time when the chance arises. Maybe because she was always unattainable that I never felt I missed out on something, and maybe because I let things be thankfully unspoken – and she too – except for the phrase her mom uttered which she gleefully passed on to me as a clue to stop dreaming – “Bahot kaala hai tere liye.”
Strange how memory plays truant leaving you fragments of bits of persons and embellishing qualities which might never have been. So I shall try and state some factual traits and incidences:
A) She had this trait of calling me dear. Every greeting would be hi dear. Some flippant people use it as a greeting but she was just the sort of girl who could get away with it and no one would doubt whether she meant it.
B) Once our whole class went to watch DDLJ just to hoot away and pass comments. She was sitting in the row front of me. Ten mins into the movie, she turned around 360 degrees, her knees on her seat, facing the projector and me, not the screen. How boring. Baatein karte hain na… And we talked the whole movie away to every classmate’s annoyance and envy. When the end credits were done, my roommate silently handed his bike’s key to me and left. We kept talking over lunch, over the bike ride and the whole evening. Neither of us remembered a single word of what we talked the next day.
C) Once in the hostel, all the class boys had gathered in a circle and were playing a game – name the underwear colour. Everyone’s turn would come and they would name a girl and the colour of underwear he was sure he noticed. Someone would corroborate this information and second him and the game would move on. The game had just started and the chap whose turn it was, mentioned her name. I stormed off in anger with everyone roaring and laughing at my reaction. An hour later, my roommate returned and asked me whether I was curious about this piece of information. I was, it helps a lot in imagination of you know something to be true but I stormed off again. That was the last time someone ever mentioned her name infront of me. That was the last time I was invited to these frequent weird hostel games.
D) She used to listen to gulzar on loop and used to bring up words which had no English equivalent. (Eg –Bewajah – Without reason, without purpose. Badi bewajah zindagi ja rahi thi.) Anytime in class she and my wife started a song jugalbandi, there would be a complete silence in class except for their bewitching voices.
E) She was raised partly in an atomic energy town I didn’t even know people could live in outside of textbooks, and partly in that beacon town of tehzeeb, Lucknow. She never addressed another person by the moniker tu, it was always tum or aap. She could speak atleast 50 words without needing to stop to take a breath.
We stopped being anything more than colleagues a year later. And while I moved on to different coloured pastures, her life never took a really happy turn the way I hoped and expected for her – she got into a 4 year really toxic relationship with a childhood friend, a leeching parasite of a man, a cry-baby sympathy seeker whose only redeeming quality was that he was gora and that he had a really good taste in women. I detested this unnecessary weight on mother earth with an intensity that surpassed envy – and whenever someone laughed at me claiming I was jealous, I used to correct them – “I am envious not jealous. Envy is desiring something from someone which you can’t have. Jealousy is fear of losing something that you have to someone” but imbeciles still confuse envy with jealousy to this date. I don’t think I loved her the way I know I can, with the intensity of tragedy but around her I was happy, I was funny, i was warm, I was unpretentious, I never had to try too hard, I was thoroughly nice. Maybe when we say we crave lust, all we are craving for at times is some cheesy romance or banter, someone calling you dear everyday, but that would sound uncool. Maybe we are all romantics at heart and it needs a prod from time to time.
But I digress. She’s ended up in an arranged marriage with a really nice (ditto!) chap who was dark (ditto!), with an almost similar name which I have been erroneously called often, who lived in a small city (ditto!) which was actually my wife’s hometown (coincidence?) and who was a specialist in the same field as I am (would you believe that! I told my wife – main kya bura tha). But he obviously appealed to that part in her which makes these decisions, a part that never can be appealed. And i never told her how I felt, I never made a concerted attempt to woo her, my attempts were fearful, cautious and feeble as we had a fightless, blemishless, thoroughly comforting, almost boring relationship, both of us comfortably ignoring the elephant in the room till it left on its own. I can’t over state important these no-frill relationships are, how thoroughly necessary are those people you can count on to be happy and smiling and affectionate towards you day after day after day, and they told you so. It’s a cherished freedom offered to few without strings attached. But I digress again. They have 2 daughters (ahem!) one 8 and the other 4 (ha!). Long story short, their life’s been one struggle after another in ways that I can’t imagine living through. Her partner was diagnosed with a tumor which caused loss of vision in one eye a few years ago. He got operated, they managed to fit in having a second child before the tumor returned with a venegance taking away the other eye too. He’s scheduled to get operated again this week but the optic nerve has been damaged beyond repair. For the last 4 years, she’s been the sole breadwinner for the family, while juggling a job and bringing up two kids and is doing everything expected of her imperiously, having not even let the kids realise that their dad can’t see anymore. (Coincidentally their oncologist is the husband of the other woman I loved, the universe threads lives in a way you can never imagine).
Imagine what a curse blindness would be. Imagine struggling for a decade to make a career and just when you think you can now holiday or dream of some comfort, wham! your dreams wiped out along with your life’s savings. Imagine not being able to work or read. Not reading, that would be hell. Jorge Louis Borges, my favourite author, turned blind towards old age – and wrote some excruciating literature when he was the blind librarian, having been appointed the head of his country’s national library. But he had lived. This man, just like me, has just started.
Imagine four lives mirroring each other on almost exactly the same way and then two veering off-course just through a throw of the dice. It could have been me was my first thought. My wifes first thought was it could be her. In an alternate universe, I married her and my wife married this really nice specialist from her own caste in her own town.
I took a searchlight and examined every corner of my being – whether there was any portion of my self which was happy at her misfortune, it isn’t as uncommon as you might think. Every misfortune story of someone we know well and someone we care about often brings a slight surge of relief at being spared the roll of the dice. Or an unexpected feeling of redemption.
Thankfully this time there was none. For her, I didn’t have a mean thought in my head even today. Or a feeling of regret, or anything that would muddy the waters. Just like old times.
Let us plan a foreign trip dear. We can delay the clinic expansion plans by a year. We have been delaying life too much, don’t you think?
Sure. I think I would love that.
P. S. :No. I didn’t find out for myself what the colour of her underwear was.
Yes. My roommate did tell me the answer a decade later. We laughed away an old slight.