“If we know when the love leaves, passionate lovers would have broken their heart and broken hearts would have fixed their hearts without pain.
If we know whom the love chooses, love loses its power and bravery.
If we know how love creates, emotion loses its liveliness and we lose our curiosity.
If love is uncertain: How and when,
Why love to be considered as pain rather than the emotion to be felt?
Why love to be considered as a sin rather than as a quest to look forward to?”
Karthik read the above excerpt from the short story, “The Lover’s Poison” by Sharath Kumar. He read it word-to-word and then line-to-line, with such utter tenderness as if they’d be scattered out if it hadn’t been read gently and slowly. His lips moved in the slow-motion flapping of a butterfly’s wings. He read it again. The short story was not only well-written, but it also pierced his emotions and thrashed his heart. “Love”, “broken heart” and “pain”, all these words made him fall into a whirlwind of grief. Tears dribbled from his cheeks and splashed onto the paper.
He re-read it like a classic novel so that he could have his wife’s reverie, feel her love and presence. Once she had said: My world is always little – only a few friends and family. It doesn’t mean that I have a calm and ordered life with my friends, nor do they. They have their own struggles that have an impact on my life and their life as well. No matter how close they are, I can’t read their minds. No matter how many secrets they share, sometimes I can’t understand enough. It’s a helpless situation, where it befuddles me about how to act and how not to. Human emotions are complex, there is no point in judging one another. No bond or relationship is perfect. Nevertheless, I choose to be kind and respect their feelings. Love draws me towards them to give comfort, my love somehow guides me. Therefore, even if we have quarrels, let’s be kind and maintain a serene bond.
Those words made him feel fortunate. She was always an inspiration to him – her intellectual thoughts, her compassion for all beings, her curiosity towards mysteries either in human behaviour or the universe at large – she would understand everything all by herself, with utmost dedication and patience. His wife, Kamala, along with his parents, had left to go to Kamala’s parents’ home. They travelled at night by car. It was a long and tardy journey. The roads were uneven with no street lights and when Karthik’s father took a turn on the road, they were hit by a lorry. Fire erupted all over and spread to the trees, the lorry and the car. The road was filled with ashes.
Since then, Karthik’s cheeks had never moved, except for wailing. There were no characteristic half-moon curves on his cheeks anymore. He spent years altogether in solitude, by reading, writing, and working at a literary magazine. After years of tussling with melancholy, he realised that we can’t erase memories, but we can bottle them up into different forms, such as in the form of writing, in reading books and doing the things that our loved one did or doing the things that we love. Somehow, it all became tolerable for Karthik as years and months passed by. He thought of reading again to bottle his wife’s memories in that story.
He did the last reading, kept it aside, selected the cover story of the month for the literary magazine. In his email to Sharath Kumar, he conveyed his congratulations and invited him to the office to select a cover design for the story. Next day, Sharath waited for a few minutes in the visitor’s cabin and met the editor, Karthik. They had a beautiful conversation in the afternoon, when they talked about books, writers, poems, poets, philosophers, paintings, politics and life in general. Karthik was very excited with the conversation and broadening his eyes he said, “I would like to celebrate your presence with a love poem from Khalil Gibran’s book called Prophet:
Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.”
There was a deep abyss of silence between them. Sharath’s face was filled with ardour and ecstasy. He couldn’t move his eyes from the book. “Thanks for reading out the poem, this afternoon’s purpose has been fulfilled by this poem. I would never forget this moment,” said Sharath. “I appreciate your love of books and literature, and I would like to ask one thing: why did you like writing and how did you develop your writing style?” asked Karthik.
Sharath went into deep introspection with his sharp eyes focused on the paper of his short story and in a moment lifted his head and said to Karthik, “poetry has always been internal energy, whenever I look at something which is beautiful I tend to describe in through poetry, say it as “poetical” or say it as “looking like poetry”. Along with the poetry, I started loving lyricism, started reading books on lyricism, and wanted to write in lyrical style as well. Whenever I read lyrical novels or poems, I feel, as if some solid delicious food like chocolate melting down in my mouth, when we eat or look at favourite our food it gives us good texture and activates our senses more, to the nose, tongue, broadens eyeball, a little jerk sensation to ears. In the same way, whenever I read lyrical books, it activates my senses and unlocks the mysteries of my own imagination.”
Karthik, amazed at his perspective and answer, said, “your answer will make me start reading lyrical novels. Thanks for that. I ordered juice for us; drink the juice and you can continue your work; sorry I took so much of your time.” Sharath’s face blushed and he said with chuckles, don’t take so much trouble, I don’t need any drink now. “There is no such trouble, I’m so pleased to offer it to you. Consider it as a treat, Sharath.” As they were blabbering, a peon came and said in Telugu, Karthik babu I didn’t get the juice, most of them are closed, I don’t know why. Even when I went to Ramu Babai shop he said that he’s not opening a stall since last month.
“I’ll leave now, Karthik”, said Sharath hurriedly
“Sorry for that, let’s meet sometime” shaking Sharath’s hand.
Sharath left the office and after two hours, even Karthik went home.
Karthik had never had this long a conversation since the death of his wife and he felt comfortable; the conversation had soothed him. He felt Sharath had filled him up with completeness and was mesmerised by the time they spent together. His loneliness was cracked up by Sharath’s words and enthusiasm. He went home and sat facing towards the window. Holding the cup of coffee, he thought of the words he had read in the book in the evening – love and loss. Karthik felt love and loss rhymed as one after the other in the words as well as in real life – love after loss.
Sharath had always loved writing from a very young age. Writing and reading had always been ardent activities for him. Along with the writing, he was a researcher and professor at IISER. There was nothing else to do in his work apart from writing and researching in the lab. In the intervals, he used to edit his poems and other writings. At lunch, he would write wonderful pieces. This continued for years but didn’t satisfy him. He left the job and his research-work at the age of 32 and decided to be either a journalist or a full-time writer.
His parents had forced him to marry but he never had an interest in marriage. He was in a relationship just once. He married at the age of 26 and lived with his wife for five years. In all those years, there was no love for her, he never loved her. To his wife, this was first love. She used to wait for Sharath’s love every day, she did everything to get his attention, making food, decorations and giving him his favourite books. But Sharath didn’t see her as anything more than a close friend. She never lost her hope and did almost everything for him that he never imagined.
One day, she bought a dress – a navy blue shirt and brown cotton jeans – and arranged for a candlelight dinner with him. She was excited as usual, however, Sharath had decided to get those divorce papers signed on that very day. Her excited heart changed suddenly into a trembling one. On that day, she came to know about his bisexuality, that he is attracted to both sexes but prefers the same-sex.
She didn’t fight or threaten but accepted him with all her love. They got divorced in a few months. Despite knowing the fact that he was bisexual, he took a very long time to accept it. The deep-rooted homophobia caused fear in him, which was derived from his orthodox father. Since a very young age, Sharath was imbibed with homophobia in his mind by his father. One day, Sharath held his best friend’s hand and went out for ice cream at the age of eleven. Even though they were best friends, this enraged his father, causing sweat to trickle upon the tip of the nose and palms. By the time Sharath came into his house, his dad had waited for him and was drinking hot water with fierce eyes as if the hotness was getting transferred straight from the cup to his body. He came near to Sharath with silent steps and beat him with long canes until he fainted on to the floor. He was further punished by being locked-up in the room. Many other scenes made him be wary of getting close with whom he was attracted, and that caused great terror in his blood. He never forgot his dad’s words. He used to say, “Better you would have died in your mother’s womb, won’t you feel shame by holding others men’s hands.” He had an abusive childhood where no one helped him to get over his trauma and neither did he have any friends to take help from.
Karthik called Sharath and said, “Good Morning, Sharath. how do you do?”
“I’m fine,” said Sharath with chortles.
“I have called you because I want to talk to you. We are going to write a cover story on the Andaman Islands.”
“Okay,” said with perplexed eyes
“I decided to appoint you as a writer for this project”
Sharath was confused and couldn’t figure out what words to speak, the only word he got in his mind was “okay”.
“Without further ado, I have planned to leave tomorrow. Get ready.”
“We might stay there for three days”
This exchange brought a smile to his face and amidst the sea of enthusiasm, he forgot to thank the editor.
After listening to that news, he couldn’t control his excitement. In that enthusiasm, he wrote another story for five hours in the night, and still, there was enthusiasm in his heart. Sharath woke up early in the morning, packed all his clothes for five days for the tour. First, he kept his kindle, then his journal and his favourite pen and after that, he kept all his clothes.
Both of them reached the airport, boarded a flight for the Andaman Islands and reached in a few hours. They landed in Port Blair airport and they went to Havelock Island, which is two kilometres from Port Blair. Along with the two photographers, they booked the hotel near to the island. They had lunch and siesta, and afterwards. Sharath decided to meet up with Karthik. They both went together to the shore and were walking barefoot. There were palm and coconut trees beside them. It was 5 pm, the crimson red sky was changing into the grey sky; the sun was hidden between the clouds as if the clouds had been split up to get a narrow view of the sun; the meditative sounds of waves thudding against the rocks and on the seashore; the heavy, wild wind which was flapping branches and bending the palm and coconut trees to and fro; all of this made Sharath take a deep breath in order to get blended into the heavy breeze. Karthik just wanted to spend time with Sharath.
They were walking slowly on the shore. As they were walking, the waves splashed towards the feet of Sharath. This made him smile and he looked at Karthik’s face as if he had achieved something. Karthik felt envy looking at waves while they touched and splashed. In that moment of time, he wanted to be the wave. They walked for a few minutes, and they sat on the sand. Karthik sat with the support of his hands, spreading his legs forward, while Sharath folded his right leg and kept his right hand on the spreading his left leg forward with the support of his left hand. The breeze around them was heavy and wild but between them, it seemed attractive and magnetic. Everything arranged into the pattern of welcoming them for intimacy like an invitation – the waves, breeze, sea and the hidden sun. There was no more distance between them, they could have touched their hands if they moved at once but they didn’t. They are both just a few centimetres apart. Except for the giggling and quick glances at each other, there was no real conversation, it was more silence than expressions. This silence had been tuned to their intimacy even more.
Karthik held his breath and said, “Thanks for being with me, I will never forget this moment. I’ll write about this moment in poems and it will reflect in every writing that I undertake, even though it is in different forms.” Sharath did understand his emotion but didn’t say anything or react, but held his hand tight, observing the fingers and skin. He did that for a few minutes, looked at him and said with tears in his eyes, “you make me feel comfortable and enthusiastic…no, no, no…it’s best to say that you are my comfort and enthusiasm. There was a close friend of mine, his name is Arjun, he was a close friend when I was in trauma, he used to help me wherever he can, as soon as he became close to him, I feared at the same time I used to feel happy that I got a good companion. I feared it because of my dad. After a few days, I deliberately left him. Since the day my dad came to know about my bisexuality, he worsened my days by not allowing me to make friendships with neither boys nor girls. He had taken me to the therapies and psychiatrists, he considered it as a disorder. By all these, I have faced a great amount of loneliness and suffering. you remember when you asked me about how I developed my writing and reading habit? When I’ve no one to share my feelings and deepest thoughts with, fears, likes or dislikes, I used to write and sometimes I read. This is how these two became a great companion. You gave me strength and made me believe in the things that I hadn’t even hoped about; your companionship and support made me love the things which I have hated for a long time, such as homophobia, even though I’m bisexual.
The grey night then changed into a dark sky. It was night and they slept facing each other on the shore. It was the starless sky; the moon was glinting above and far to them as if it’s to give light to them to look at each other’s eyes deeply. I’m glad that we found each other said Sharath. Sharath took Karthik’s palm kept on his right cheeks and rubbed his chin slowly and soothingly.
Karthik said: I got a life that I never expected and you got a life that you haven’t guessed. we have a love for each other, which we have been deprived of for years. I have the responsibility of you and you have the responsibility of me. I have healed and you came over your fears. It’s about us, more than one life.