I’m a wanderer by nature. Don’t get me wrong; I have never been much of a travel bug. I’m not the kind who would give up the comfort home has to offer to lug my bags and travel halfway across the country to soak my feet in the sea or trek up the Himalayas to eat ice.
But when it comes to matters of the mind, I find that I cannot sink my teeth into anything without wondering if there isn’t something better. The subjects I chose in college, the men in my life, and even my job are under constant scrutiny in the hope for a change. Every pay check brings with it a mid-life crisis of sorts. Every man reinforces my phobia for commitment. I’m not unstable. I just burn through love faster.
My book shelf contains both Nicholas Sparks and Dostoevsky. My CD collection consists of both M S Subbalakshmi and Cradle of Filth and I’d sell my heart for a glimpse of Bon Jovi. I watched A Lot Like Love and Silence of the Lambs with equal interest. So you see, I have no specific taste. I am impartially drawn to everything. And nothing really moves me for long.
When I first heard his voice, I had just broken up with my boyfriend, who also happened to be my best friend for a good part of my life. As a parting advice, my friend asked me to refrain from getting into any more relationships. My breakups were becoming my trademark. I realised that I just did not have the persistence one needed to be in a relationship. Considering how terrible I felt about losing my best friend, I had made up my mind to do exactly that. Eyes brimming with unshed tears and mind formulating plans to implement the decision, I walked into a bookstore nearby to indulge in some retail therapy.
As luck would have it, I ran into him on his worst day ever. It was his birthday, and he had broken up with his girlfriend. All this I found out later. After drawing the attention of the entire bookstore by yelling at me, a complete stranger at that point in time, for snickering at his choice of books, he walked off. I did not realise that in my preoccupied state of mind, I had scanned the titles of the books he was holding and had absently smiled at them. The ringing in my ear had not fully subsided when he came back to apologise, and assure me that he was “not always such a touchy maniac”.
In an effort to add more weight to the apology, he patiently hung around and helped me pick out books that he thought were a must-read. Considering what he was still carrying in his hands, I was astonished to see that the books which were piling up in my arms were indeed the ones that I had come looking for. As we approached the billing section, he asked me if he could make up for the rude behaviour by buying me an ice-cream.
Not that I was in the habit of abandoning caution around strangers, but something about him made me want to discard my general discretion and just follow his lead. I carefully chose an ice-cream shop that I knew would not be too crowded lest he started yelling at me again but yet be adequately populated in case he turned out to be the maniac that he claimed he was not.
I don’t recall the conversation that followed but I remember being so mesmerised by his voice that I didn’t care what he was saying as long as he kept talking. If Pied Piper’s voice had been recorded for the world, I idly thought, it would have sounded like this. It was not a voice that was meant to pick up girls from a discotheque or a pub. It was the kind that was meant to start a revolution. It was not the strong, deep voice I generally preferred. It was a quiet, yet passionate voice that spoke eloquently about everything.
The man, it turned out, had an encyclopaedia for a memory. He could quote from long forgotten speeches of Lenin and Marx, spew out historical dates and anecdotes like he was reading off an invisible book, talk extensively about political leaders and the success and failure of their campaigns like he dealt with them on a daily basis, discuss about plot flaws in movies he disliked like a true connoisseur.
He had an unusual way of coaxing his opinions onto others. He once forced me to listen to Indian Ocean and nonchalantly mentioned that anyone who was not moved by their music had no taste in music. He passionately hated Ayn Rand and her philosophy. This led to many heated debates between us which would go on for days owing to our unwillingness to back down. While some people found him to be an obnoxious show-off, I thought he was a spectacular piece of work. I found myself picking arguments just so I could sit and listen to him rant. It was enchanting and thoroughly entertaining. I was falling for him hard.
Ours was an unusual relationship. It was mostly long-distance. He was the type of wanderer I hated being. His work took him across the country and he would never turn down a chance to escape the city. Sometimes, he would be gone for months on end. Although we made the most of time when he was in the city, it was never enough to satiate our need for each other. When I lay in my bed trying to picture him, especially during his long spells of absence, I would falter. I could never get his features right.
This deeply bothered me. Since we were not big on photographs, I would always be forced to wait for his return to rebuild my memory. Something in me had changed. Maybe it was just the result of his constant absence, or maybe it was the man himself. I did not know. For the first time in my life, I wanted to stick around and see what this relationship would lead to. I wanted to be there for him just as he was always around when I needed him.
My only constant companion during those long trips was his voice. His voice, unlike his appearance, had become my territory. I could always assess his mood by his voice. He would perpetually brood over the state of the world and his trips to underdeveloped towns and villages did not help. These trips would often leave him cantankerous and I found myself morphing into a child, or a lover, and sometimes even a mother to ebb his temper.
Not that he was always morose. On days when the viciousness of the world could not reach him, his light spirit was infectious. Sometimes, we would sit in my balcony with steaming hot mugs of coffee and he would regale me with the tales of his travel. His love for stories drew him to places and my love for stories drew me to him. On days that there was nothing to talk about, we would stroll through the streets, occasionally stopping to play gulli cricket or hopscotch. His ease with kids left me amazed. It filled me with deep longing and for the first time in my life, I yearned for kids.
I was not foolish enough to think that I had overcome my instability. I knew that one day, I would feel an irrepressible need to leave and nothing he could do would stop me from leaving. But the fact that I had managed to stay for this long kept me going. The persistence was once again wearing thin but my need for him made me want to fight the flight.
One evening, he turned up at my doorstep unannounced. His handsome features were deeply tanned and spoke of his latest escapade. After a passionate kiss, I rushed to fix us some dinner while he silently wandered through the house, his eyes silently making note of the latest additions to my bookshelf and CD collection. He picked some books off the shelf and began to flip through the pages and read passages that caught his attention. Bach, Tejpal, Beethoven, Browning, and others filled the air. He went quiet for some time and then started to read again.
Tonight, I can write the saddest lines.
Write, for example, ‘The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.’
The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
I closed my eyes and let the magic of his voice and Neruda wash over me.
But something was amiss. And then it hit me.
Oh lord, this was a dream. This was not happening. Please, no.
By the time he finished, hot tears were uncontrollably spilling down my face. This was it. He closed the book, approached me and drew me into his arms. I went without a fight. He held me silently and let me sob into his shirt till I was exhausted.
How could I have been so blind? How had I not noticed my own kind?
“I’m sorry”, he whispered to me again and again. “I tried so hard. I love you very much but I just can’t stay. I am a loner and I can’t be with anyone for long. It makes me restless and it drives me insane. I’m so sorry. I should not have led you on. I love you but I just can’t stay.”
He pressed his lips to my forehead, released me, and quietly walked out.
The dream of every writer is to be read. And to be read and appreciated by as many people as possible. BWW makes that dream a reality.
BWW Star is a writer who has worked with us at BWW and whose work amused, moved, inspired, and/or made a difference in our lives. We are sure you will enjoy and be encouraging too.
This time we present Shalini Jagadish from the first batch of our writers. Shalini’s works always have a strong feminist voice and effortlessly debunk stereotypical notions of Indian womanhood. This socially aware writer explores commitment phobia and the nature of urban heterosexual relationships in this short story.
Shalini in her own words
If there was a song for absent minded people, that would be my theme. I’m terribly disorganised and I’m known to lose everything that is not physically attached to my body (keys, pens, books, phones, cousins). Because of this tendency, the closest I have come to owning a pet is a stray rat (which also I managed to lose). But I would love you forever if you got me a puppy and fed it every day.
It took me four years of engineering and a brief employment in the IT industry to figure out that I’m not cut out for back-breaking white-collar labour. I now work as a creative writer in a documentation company. Although it is too early for me to claim that I struck gold and stumbled upon my dream job, I can proudly say that I wake up in the morning and don’t mind going to work.
I firmly believe that God goes out of his way to ruin the plans that I make. So most of what I do and who I meet is purely a last minute arrangement.
Yes, I also have an equal liking for gore and animated movies.
Encourage our BWW Star
Liked what you read?
What did you think of this short story? In today’s urban context can relationships survive the test of time? What did you think of the characters in the story? What do you make of their short attention/interest span? Do you feel unsettled about putting down your roots or committing to someone you love? Leave a comment. Encourage Shalini.