Story

If You Weren’t You

Your eyes gleamed with a magical light. If not for your eyes, you would have been a statue, a very beautiful one. I often think how you, who were sculpted so finely, fell in my destiny. How do you expect a sculptor to exercise restraint in your presence?

What is the significance of tears in crying?

I found it unaesthetic to stand with my sculpted statues but that day in the gallery of Jodhpur House, I could not find an excuse to escape the event. I had to meet you. But what did I know about that? Do you remember the name of the exhibition, Cartography of our Bodies? Of course, you do. You know of all the addresses bodies are capable of hosting. When I was called on the stage to explain my work, I froze. I thought I was the stupidest man on the face of the earth. I could not say anything about my own makings. You liked my embarrassing silence. I liked that you liked it. Now, look at this, how absurd it sounds in words. You sidled me and lightly patted my hand saying that it is not up to an artist to comment on their work. You established something beyond definitions between us that day.

You asked me to share a bite and I again resorted to my nervous silence. I wanted to say no. There was an attraction in you that called out to me from a distant place. It stumped my senses and I could not say anything. Language did not allow me an opportunity to respond. Your eyes gleamed with a magical light. If not for your eyes, you would have been a statue, a very beautiful one. I often think how you, who were sculpted so finely, fell in my destiny. How do you expect a sculptor to exercise restraint in your presence? I wanted to touch and study every feature of yours. You spoke so much as we ate. About painting and sculpting. About the art market and art politics. About subaltern history and marginalised cultures. About interpretations and against interpretations. After settling the check, you pressed my palm and invited me to your guest house. I took you to my studio instead. The aesthete in me wanted a better arrangement for the memory of the present. You placed your head on my shoulder in the car. I flinched. You moved close to the car window and unbuttoned two buttons of your shirt. Breeze looked good on you.

When you entered my studio, I alternated between admiring you and looking at my studio from the corner of my eyes. It was a homecoming described lavishly in Sufi songs. You inspected my tools and half-finished statues. You pointed at the shalbhanjikas and asked something about them. I bawled tearfully in response. You wiped my tear-stained cheeks on your white shirt. I caved in your chest and wept for long. You held me tightly as if determined to break my composition. How could I remain the same after meeting you? Even now I often ponder upon the significance of tears in the definition of crying.

Wounds of Wind

One of the great causes of my breakdown was my lover. My lover loved trees. She read satirical poetry. Hullad Moradabadi was one of her favourite poets. She had read Maila Anchal every year since she was fourteen. When a play based on Gunahon ka Devta was performed in college, she had played the part of Sudha. Sudha had a diploma in acting from drama school. When we were younger, Sudha could not speak English. She sat aloof in the class in meditative silence. When the teacher asked her any question, she wept because she could not speak English. Her name on the class sheet carried many black stars of ignominy.

Sudha’s sister-in-law visited every day during the lunch break. She would feed Sudha idli-sambhar with her hands. Then she borrowed my notebooks and copied notes for Sudha sitting under a big neem tree. Sudha became my friend. She started visiting my house to complete her notes. I had beautiful handwriting and I sat on the second bench in school. She started sitting next to me. But her village was far away. Her cousins brought her to Delhi. They loved her too much. Gradually she started thinking lowly about her parents and siblings and they drifted away from her life. But I was annexed to her. One day, she went to Mumbai to become an actor. We remained together for some time and then she sent me a letter-like WhatsApp message:

“Bombay is an exhausting city. The luxury of loving from a distance does not exist here. Living is too much hard work, how does one squeeze love into this life. Right now, I am only a pawn of the metropolitan. When I find my own city here, then I would consider. Remember aunty used to say, “Where even wind leaves wounds, there I would suffocate in a man’s embrace”.”

Later, she fell in love with a big actor.

Letter to a Lover’s Lover

My lover’s lover,

I hope this letter finds you well.

I hope you are well.

Hope you are in good health.

It is heartening to know that my lover loves you. The fact that you love her is also gratifying. But I regret that she doesn’t desire me anymore. Not that you are responsible for my neurosis. My grief is what it is but why impose morality on it. I hear that you are going to be the father of my lover’s child, many hearty congratulations! You are a big man. You live in a big house. The newspapers are full of your photos. You can give my lover all she wants. But I do feel the need to inform you of this one thing. My lover doesn’t play in the political fields, she walks on the boundaries. She often falls here or there. Please remember this.

Regards,

Best,

Your lover’s lover

The Metropolitan was Pale in Taste

When Sudha and I were growing up, we were often left in the care of my Ammi’s friend. She was a strange person but also our best friend. We had byhearted many of her poems. When she died, she left all her property, including her copyrights, in my name. From love to pain, we learnt all these feelings from her poems. When my lover fell in love with this man, she yearned to express her affection in those very words. Like all these uber urban fools, her lover did not understand Hindi. To woo her lover, she translated my dead aunt’s poems into English. With my permission, she got her translations published. She was on a career high. The actress who rubbed the masala of Hindi on English tongues!

She did it while carrying a little baby in her womb. Her lover, the same one who could not keep Hindi on his tongue and a condom on his dick, started waning in her heart. I had sent her a small sculpture titled “Desire of Immortality”. Those days she was looking for her identity. When her daughter was born, she named her Maithili. However, it concerned her that for the daughter of a rich, English father, this name would only be a label. How would she get initiated in Sattu sherbet and dahi chooda? She started missing her parents and relatives. She left her lover after making her daughter lick honey. She was now getting closer to her politics.

Names of the Calls

My beloved now fell in love with another actor. He was not a hero and had at least fifteen years over her. They were attracted to each other’s displacement. Being refugees was their address. Her new lover mourned the separation from Shalimar Bagh and Sudha cried for her mother working in paddy fields. They fell in love very quickly. He often told her the story of his friend who had given him a paperboat to cross Jhelum and Sudha. Sudha’s real name is Suniti. Suniti told him that she was named by a Member of the Legislative Assembly during a public visit. Suniti, as we learnt in our Hindi class in VII standard, meant good policy.

Su (good) +Niti (policy) = SuNiti (Good policy)

Su was abbreviated form of a Sanskrit word, shobhana.

Shobhana + Niti = Suniti

Anyway, her name did not usher good governance in the state. Her school friends would call her, “Ari, O Sunti,” now she does not remember the names of those calls. Her lover’s friend was killed in an encounter a few months ago, or was he martyred? The same arrow pricked both their hearts.

If you weren’t you, you would have been a messiah of stone[1]

When Sudha had flirted with all kinds of love, you came to my exhibition. I understood only stones. Michelangelo said that he saw angels in stones. I met you while carving some stones. If I try to understand how I made you, I would go mad. Qais did not become majnun to marry Laila, that love in itself is maddening. I had to break stones to keep myself from going mad. If you had not arrived, I would have been turned into a stone. Now you talk in the day and question at night. We often roam in the wilderness of Tughlaqabad and you point at random domes and break their histories down. That’s Bijai-Mandal, the highest point. The curse of Nizamuddin made this city a desolation. I think my favourite Tughlaq city is Firozabad, besides the Firoz Shah Kotla Stadium, yes, I will not refer to it as Arun Jaitley Stadium. You fill my studio with your voice and eclectic snacks. Soya Wasabi. Cheese Flavoured Puffed Bajra. Black Sesame Chikki. Jamun Papad. Fried Mango Seeds. We walk forth in these stone ways. You keep on sowing imagination in my hands. I often think that you would be exhausted from wiping my tears. My mourning would someday become unpalatable for you.  Or someday we would be scared of being men. Loving would be our fatal flaw. How would we justify living together without walking in marches? Someday your hands will forget the map of my body. How terrible that we would die one day[2]!


[1] Aap Agar Aap Na Hote. Gulzar. Griha Pravesh. 1979.

[2] “kitnī dilkash ho tum kitnā dil-jū huuñ maiñ , kyā sitam hai ki ham log mar jā.eñge”. Jaun Eliya.

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Shraddha is a lawyer, Young India Fellow and a researcher. She writes and translates poetry, fiction and non-fiction in English and Hindi.
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