I dont really think about you

SRINAGAR, KASHMIR’ 97

The Dal had frozen again. It was an early winter morning as I walked over the boulevard footpath. The shikaras were not seen rushing for the floating market. Frosty winds blew across the lake accompanying the foreign birds. At some distance there appeared a small figure which I thought must be a tea vendor but as I came upon, it was Em. I guess that’s how shes still preserved in my memory. Short brown hair making waves in the wind, blowing into one of her hands and holding the camera in another.

“what do you think you are doing here this early?”

She was much younger than me but she raised her brows and blurted “capturing the birds?” cuing to her camera.

I laughed at her sharpness. “but the sun wont be out any sooner”

She fetched a cap from her pocket and put that on. “you see I have a lot of time to spend”

“are you a teacher?” 

I sat down on the pavement “I just began my residency in surgery, does that qualify me as a teacher?”

“well well not really, it does win you the badge for nerds council”

I laughed at how fearless she was with her words. She looked at the sky and it was already filled with snowflakes down their journey. She stood there awestruck and then whispered “season of perpetual hope”. I walked her home and she told me she was trying to click a photograph for a post card. She did click a few of the twirling snow by  the dwindling yellow light of the lamp posts along the boulevard.

“Miss Em, it was a pleasure to have your company this brumous morning” 

She laughed looking away “don’t freeze yourself to death professor. You may however after I send you one of my postcards”

And then she disappeared through that iron gate into the fog just like she had appeared earlier. 

HAJI ALI TOMB, BOMBAY’02

The unpredictable beauty of this city never surprises me or maybe it mirrors my own nature. It reminds me of “the brook by Tennyson”. Although it gets really busy at night but I like to sit in one corner of this shrine and watch the waves battle against the stone walls. Its all lit up from the main road upto the shrine. You can hear almost all languages of the world conversing and building bridges of holy couplets in soft low toned voices. Sometimes I walk along the seashore past midnight, it isn’t quiet but even the noise seems soothing. But you know when this city looks its best? When it rains. Even though rains here mean water logging in every nook and corner with hours wasted in traffic, it still looks like the ruins of pompey. The other day I was at Marine Drive and a small boy came upto me with postcards of the gateway of India and Taj. So I sat down with one thinking about you. Suddenly all words vanished from my mind and I wondered if anything would remind you of me. After a while I wrote 

Em.

And put it away in one of my books.

i don’t really think of you everyday.

NEW DELHI’04

Of all the skies I came across Delhi alarms me the most. There isn’t much of blue left, it’s a dusty mixture of orange, red and grey-black. I didn’t know Delhi winters could be so harsh and chilly. Sometimes i sit at the terrace late night and watch the airplanes flying over my head. It might sound funny but I almost feel like if I jump with arms out stretched I might touch what seems like an LED bulb at the bottom of the plane. The airport is just a few miles away from AIIMS. Last weekend we went to see the Lotus Temple. You know there is a wishing pool. People toss  coins and make wishes. The funny part is I saw a kid drawing out coins before his mum caught him and bestowed a scolding. But all that while, looking at the huge marble petals of the temple made me wonder how you could have seen it through the plane window on your first flight to Delhi. You said you rolled up and down the gardens and hid behind the orange bushes. I could see so many kids playing hide and seek. So I tossed a coin, a quarter dollar.

“may you get whatever you are looking for”

I don’t really think of you everyday.

RIVER CAM, CAMBRIDGE’07

When Audrey walked down that aisle as a bride, she made me think of the snowclad mountains of Kashmir. She was beaming with happiness from ear to ear. And as she tossed the flowers for the bridesmaids to catch there was a squeal of laughter and mirth. Midst the happy faces I almost saw you, the fleeting image of your short hair drawing waves with the dispersed glee around and your deep brown eyes questioning me. And then you were gone. I had to blink twice and walk half a mile away to stand and look more clearly at the gathering. Ofcource you couldn’t be there. 

Later while we stood by the Cam I bought a postcard. Audrey said to me

“come with us. It will be fun.”

“I don’t want to tag along but where are you going?”

“Scotland. Edinburgh”

I smiled at her. She had been too kind to me. “itsnot a place I can be”

Edinburgh. Did you go there Em? You said you had to. Or are you still there? Sometimes I wonder how can places that you haven’t visited yet haunt you. I wonder if fog will ever bring you back to me or back to the same morning I met you. Like Heathcliff said, 

“be with me always- take any form-drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!”

But Em, I don’t really think of you everyday!!

NAMSAN TOWER, SEOUL’11

from where I stand seoul looks like a galaxy with countless stars that look like dots and specks of light. Or like arrays of diyas floating in the Ganges at Assi ghat in Benaras. There is a planetarium too in this tower, the only other that I know is the Nehru planetarium in Delhi. I saw people putting locks on an iron fence surrounding the terrace. They write messages on the locks and keep the key. So I am putting one with a message for you. 

“Em. Maybe?”

Maybe back then you didn’t mean that indifference you suddenly carried in your eyes for me. Maybe we did belong somewhere together. Maybe when you said you will miss me you did mean it, even for a brief moment of time. Maybe you do think of me sometimes. And maybe Em, I might find you again, like my miracle in that December. So I am putting this key along with the post cards in a box to give you in that trance where I am still talking to you just before my alarm goes on.

I don’t really think of you everyday.

NOOR MAHAL, BAHAWALPUR’15

There seems to be a wedding dinner here. Folk musicians are playing flutes. And this palace all lit up stills draws melancholic attention. I come here for the sunsets and walks on polo track and sometimes, just sometimes I cannot help but ask this newly acquainted silence where did I wrong you? I might not be the most noble or kind person but for you I could be anything. Not for a second would I think if I could trade all my life for one moment with you on that night at Nehru Park. You said it reminded you of Aladdin showing the world to Jasmine on his magic carpet. And all these lights, all these years cannot shine brighter than your eyes that night.

I am tired Em, of chasing shadows and now I cannot make whether I am chasing yours or my own. And all these questions that I could not ask and you didn’t care enough to explain are eating their way in and out of my heart. And Em tell me what do I do? Where do I whelve this uncertainty? 

Still I don’t really think of you everyday

Nothing

I sat there looking at the tissue box by the window and you waved at me to interrupt the monologue I was building in silence

“what are you thinking?”

I wanted to tell you I was thinking about you, I had been insanely occupied by your thought for a while and it makes me wonder why did it have to be so difficult but instead I smiled

“nothing”

Now I stand by the rain washed windows, lean against the mirrored walls and sink in study desk chairs flipping pages of poetry, prose and medicine still wondering about you; with all my nothingness.

Sometimes I meet you in my dreams. We smile at each other like finally having found our “somewhere”after so long. I ask you many things and so you do. I complain. I laugh. I tell you to explain. But mostly we just exchange smiles. And when I wake up I can still feel the warmth of your cold hands, like you had been there holding my hand lying next to me. I try so hard to remember what you had been saying but again; nothing. All I can recall is your hearty smile under the moonlight. 

It takes me most of the day or two or many to adjust back to my realities.

Sometimes I fall out of conversations only to find myself gazing at the most trivial things around. People ask about my opinions and there I am; nothing.

Where we belong

I arrived at the same restaurant two years later, not intentionally though. I had to stop driving because it had started raining suddenly and I couldn’t be by the road like that. Not much seemed changed. The waiter came with a towel because I got drenched when I walked in from the driveway. I sat by the window like before and watched the rain wash everything particularly the fountain in their garden. The sky turned unusually grey while it poured. I thought it would be better to wait until the rain stopped.“sir are you expecting someone to join you or should I take the order?”

“no I am here because of the rain. Would you please get me a cup of tea for now?”

“sure sir. In a moment” he placed the menu on the table.

***

 

She pointed at the fountain and the splashing water

“do you know they build that recently and people love it. During winters they allow people to dine around that fountain. Its quite a thing”

I laughed “I think you like it more than others”

She smiled “obvious no?”

Obviously too obvious to get her smile wrong.

She had some books which she placed on her right end of the table. She picked one and it was a colouring book of maps.

“I like colouring books. And maps too. Do you?”

Do I like maps? No I hated geography in school too. Do I like colouring? I bunked all the fine arts classes.

“maybe” I smiled

“should I take that maybe as a yes?”

The waiter interrupted her and thank god he did because I didn’t want to lie and I didn’t want to disappoint her. She sipped her coffee while I stared at my tea. The place was getting louder with people jostling in and out. That noise seemed comforting to me since I didn’t know what to say. I had a lot on my mind but I preferred listening to her.

“do you like your tea?” she asked

“yes its good. How is your coffee?”

“the usual. Its good. Don’t you like coffee?”

“sometimes”

Then she talked about many things. Dandelions . emergency care patients. Her school. Art. Some unrelated stories about her friends, her seniors, weather and stuff that I cannot recollect. I smiled at her expressions and her now and then saying “ am I babbling too much?”

She would take a break between her stories and ask “why are you so quiet?”

“its already so much noisy in here”

“so are you afraid to join the mass?”

I just smiled.

Then suddenly the waiters appeared and began putting half filled glasses on every table. When I looked closely there was a floating candle inside the glass.

“what is this?” i asked one of the waiters.

“we do this every evening. Shortly there will be a blackout for fifteen seconds that is why we are putting floating candles around”

“but why?”

“sir it holds a sentimental value to the owner”

When the waiter left she didn’t say anything for sometime. She looked into her lap for a while and then at the fountain. I was about to ask her if anything was bothering her when the lights went out. everything stopped for a while, even the noise. Only candles gleamed in the darkness and the music continued to play

“yun nahi hai ke faqat mai hi use chahta hun”

While she looked around and smiled I felt uneasy. In that brief moment between rationality and dream I wanted to speak to her. I wanted to tell her she looked so happy in that yellow candle light and she looked prettier when she was happy. I wanted to tell her that her eyes sparkled differently when she talked about things she liked. I felt like a small child who wants to show you everything he likes and narrate all kinds of stories or share his toys and chocolates because that’s his definition of precious and priceless. I wanted to tell her I zoned out through most of her speech but I would still sit there and listen. I would look at things like she did. That with each of her words my silence could not resonate helplessly but I would still implore her to stay longer and not interrupt her say. And that I was not ready to let go of that moment as yet, it was crawling beneath my skin eating its way to my heart and mind. I had so much to say and I was almost screaming in my head

“kitni awazein tujhe di ke gala baith gaya”

The lights came on again and everyone hooted and clapped. It felt like someone shook me awake from a dream. She was beaming with happiness and somewhere even I was for a while.

“is your tea cold? Do you want another?” she was concerned

“no I am good. Is yours alright?”

“the usual. Perfect”

We smiled at each other

***

It was getting dark outside but the pitter patter of rain against the window panes didn’t stop. The waiter arrived with my tea.

“do you still do that floating candle thing?”

“no sir. We don’t do that since the owner passed away”

“since when?”

“i guess its been two years now. Don’t you come here?”

“I came here once with someone. That’s it.”

“you mean that map lady? I remember she was here with you and she was talking so much that evening”

“I am sorry but what do you mean by saying that?”

“I am sorry if that was offending but she used to come here very often. She would sit in that corner and colour her maps.” He pointed to one table.

“ She wont speak anything so that evening I was startled to see her maps shut”

I felt a lump in my throat and I swallowed hard. I smiled at the waiter and looked at the fountain being washed in rain.

 

Snowflake

The other day we were talking about melancholic excerpts from authors known and unknown. Outside the winds were strong and the rustling of autumn leaves seemed like a song from my childhood. With no words but notes lingering here and there playing softly like a dream. While I was going through the old stuff a thought caught hold of my hand somehow, like when a child holds your finger to trod along.

What was it you said that day?

I tried so hard to recall your words but ironically I dont even remember your voice now. I do however remember that day in fragments and dialogues. All these years the cold sighs of that snowy evening still find their way back to instil a clamour inside my well sorted life.

So I stood by the front door just like i did that morning prancing up and down the steps. How could I forget what you said? I know it was a question not an assertion. It was asked past the midnight. It was a cold December night. Christmas had long gone but the lights stayed, withering flowers and wreaths tinkling in ice as the season of perpetual hopes was walking away. I had an assignment to submit the following day and a presentation on “biodiversity”

See that is the problem with people like me; we remember. Sometimes I think little bit of Alzheimers wont hurt us as much as remembering does.

But what did you exactly say?

I was even trying to wrest those words from the aisles of the grocery store. I got tired of the ordeal and my thoughts wandered into where they have been prohibited since ages.

Maybe the reason I dont remember that question is because the words were shallow and empty. And later the bigger question was : Did you ever mean it? Did you ever mean anything?

I was strolling by the lake and watching the cold winds fight the willows when the sky changed its shade and snowflakes started twirling with the winds. Just as the first snowflake touched my nose, your words rusted from time came running to me.

“Will you be mine?”

Still empty, still shallow.

“Do you know the speed at which the cherry blossoms fall?”

in the place where memories rest

“collecting memories?”

 

My younger sister Mia said pointing to the perfume vial in my hand.

 

“it’s a perfume vial”

 

“oh harry and Dumbledore stored memories in that”

 

Memories? I stood up and walked to the windowsill. Did emma too store a memory in that perfume vial?

 

Emma was my aunt who died a week ago. She had been living in the next door for a while now. She was not sick but unusually quiet. Infact it felt like she wore silence as clothes. Even if it were bombing outside, Emma’s room would still be the same, unusually quiet.

 

My mother told us Emma once had been a lawyer and lived in another city but she quit her job. She took up teaching at a nearby high school. I don’t remember much of her except once when she invited us over and I must have been six or seven that year.

 

After dinner I switched to “peter pan” on tv and she sat next to me.

 

“peter pan- oh I love it. Do you ?”

 

“you still watch that? Comeon you are too old for all that. How many times have you watched it? Thirty or forty?” my mother laughed at her

 

“well its my first time with sophie”

 

I fell asleep midst the movie. When I woke up Peter was biding bye to Wendy and Emma was wiping her tears. I sat up and she looked at me, laughed and said something I really don’t remember. But the way she looked at me with her big brown teary eyes was painful. I never saw her again until a few years back when she moved to our neighborhood. My mother told us Emma was growing old so she wanted to stay around the family. For a year she was fine. We would watch movies at her place. She would read stories or poems to me and Mia. Then something happened like the withering of blossoms. Suddenly stillness made acquaintance with her. Emma took to her bed and she wouldn’t leave her room. For days she wouldn’t eat. That is when I guess silence infested her.

 

Doctor was called and I overhead him saying that she was depressed and there was no other problem with her health. We tried to stay around more and get her books or flowers. She took no notice. Sometimes I would visit her and sit quietly in one corner of her room. I would read to myself. Only silence passed between us briefly interrupted by her occasional sighs.

 

One day I saw her pull a perfume vial from beneath her pillow. She removed the lid and sniffed. A tear rolled down the corner of her eye. She put the vial back and sat under those covers listless looking at her hands. I felt weird.

 

“emma? Is everything okay?”

 

“maps my dear, how tricky and complex”

 

I thought she was driveling but she was talking about the lines in her palms.

 

For the next few weeks she seemed to hold that vial close and sniff it occasionally. I was almost convinced that it was heroine or cocaine because the vial had a white liquid and never had I seen any perfume of that colour.

 

One morning she didn’t answer the door. I thought she was asleep but while I sat solving the algebra assignment in the class I felt uneasy. All kinds of weird thoughts crawled beneath my skin. I ran back home before even the class dismissed and I rang her door bell. I stood there for a while and I knew something was wrong. I called my parents. They hurried back home, the door was broken and there she was. She laid unconscious in one of the corridors. Her body was cold as ice. We rushed her to the hospital.

 

The doctors said she had passed out because she was weak and had been starving. Her health was failing and she needed special attention. It was a physical manifestation of her depression.

 

When Emma opened her eyes she looked different to me. There was a strange calmness in her disposition. She gestured me to come close. I lowered my ear close to hear her.
“my vial” she whispered.

 

“tell me the name? I will buy you a fresh bottle”

 

“no. my vial “

 

I protested because the hospital was not in close vicinity of our neighborhood but she was adamant that she only wanted her vial. So father drove me to get her stuff. The vial was still under her pillow and out of curiosity I removed the lid to smell Emma’s preserved treasure. To my surprise the white liquid in that bottle was not perfume but shampoo!! Yes an old shampoo called ICE which hardly anyone used now.

 

“shampoo? She sniffs shampoo? Why?”

 

Did she like that smell? Ofcourse she did that’s why she sniffed it. Was it like petrol or nailpolish remover to her? Intoxicating?

Well I was not quite sure why she preserved  that shampoo. When I gave her that vial she seemed happy and I helped her sit up. The brown of her eyes seemed to have faded. She looked old to me, much older than she looked the day before. The creases from her forehead had smoothed.

 

“emma its not perfume? Its shampoo?”

 

Her wide eyes dwindled as I asked her these questions. She tried to remove the lid but she was very weak to do that. So I helped her. She sniffed the vial and made a bleak sigh. Then she gave me that vial and rested her back.

 

“should I read to you? “

 

She nodded.

 

“it’s a poem by Robert Frost called The Road Not Taken”

 

When I finished reading the last line she was already gone.

Looking back at you

I sat in the light of a lamp and kept staring at my own shadow on the wall. I don’t understand how certain things crawl out from ashes. I saw him commencing from the corner of my eye. My heart made an unaccustomed thud of pain, disappointment and dissent. His presence was always conveyed through a similar means though contradictory. He sat opposite me in leisure. My gaze didn’t shift anywhere but the wall, until he spoke

“So how come Paris?”

These words hit my heart like stones and rocks. Like a dagger being stabbed again, in the same place, cutting through the flesh of my heart but i managed to be composed.

“It just happened”

There was a pause. He expected me to say more. He thought it was an incomplete statement, he didn’t know this was how i explained things now. I didn’t have any strength to open my heart to anyone. Besides my heart devoured in its ignominious silence. 

He continued

“How has everything been? Tell me about it?”

I looked into his eyes and returned  back to the shadowed wall. After all this time he thinks i can still talk? I wished to ask what he wanted to know or how i managed to survive or whether i had planned this???

I fell vulnerable to his inquisitive gaze. I knew this feeling, it had been there before betwix us but that was love, this was heartache. So i thought about my professional garb and made out

“Medicine has a vast field, its consuming”

She

one evening i was sitting in the bed. the evenings had caught some chill. my daughter too got into the bed and sat on my legs. she put her cold hands on my cheeks. it felt like soft, small ice cubes against my cheeks. i shivered and she gave a squeal of victory. she was four but had her ways to drive merry around. i held her hands in mine to warm them. i was blowing warm air into her little fragile fingers when she spoke:
“tell me a story”

“i dont know stories sweetheart. mum knows all” 

that was always a perfect excuse to get away.

“you always say that. did no one tell you stories when you were small?”

“i am too big to remember my small. maybe they did. i forgot them”

 

she knew i was not telling her stories. so she pulled her hands from mine and put them on my cheeks again. this time they were warm. i smiled at her. she laughed. then she began pulling my cheeks and upon my resentment, she only moved them in small circles over my cheeks. 
“daddy, what is the colour of your eyes?” 

” emerald green” i heard myself say that instantaneously. 

“who told you?”
i paused. 
“emerald green” there was a long pause on the other side of the line. i knew this made her nervous and equally speechless. like being swamped by reticent emotions. she couldn’t say anymore. it was only a silent explanation. 
“when did you notice?” 
“i didn’t stare at you. sometimes when i would look at you, i would find your eyes already over there” 
i knew she couldn’t just look at me. i didn’t know why. she would say it makes her nervous. however i never had noticed my eyes so much to figure out the colour. it never occurred to me. i only came to know the colour when she mentioned it. 
“no i think maybe you have been staring at me” i was only trying to make her anxious. i loved doing that to her.
“i wish i did. but i cannot”

“why not?”

“i cannot look into your eyes”

“and that is because?”

“because i fear maybe i wont be able to look away then. it feels like something grabs hold of my heart. i don’t feel my own self”  
she again paused. and i smiled. 

                      ***

my daughter was waiting for my answer.

“ofcourse my dad did” i felt the coldness of my own lie touching my lips. 

her mother came in and thank God she did for i was not present to answer any of her more questions. she asked her why she didn’t have the colour of my eyes. because she had taken after her mother who had black eyes. i pretended to sleep and somewhere past midnight i really did fell asleep.

                        *end*