I have to tell you this. Yesterday, after so many months of your untimely, unexpected death, you occupied my mind space for a good while.
Are you surprised? I am.
I was trying to send a photograph to someone via WhatsApp, but I couldn’t. Instead, I received a rather grim warning that my storage is full, so I better clean up stuff or else. I had no option but to comply, you see. So I went to Storage and started deleting chats one by one.
Your name came up in my list of contacts, which was quite unexpected. I had forgotten that we used to message occasionally, enough to take up 7.4MB of my old-fashioned iPhone – which is about as spacious as your apartment was, the last time we were there.
A couple of jokes, good wishes for the now-old 2018, some articles about the state of our country, and something on Bitcoins – that’s what you’d sent. I’ve replied in polite emoticons, mostly. You must know that I’m not big on WhatsApp conversations.
By the way, the last message from you (which I have not replied to), dated March 30, 2018, is a video. A man in a business suit is speaking in Hindi about why cleansing your ‘system’ is vital for good health. You were huge on health, I remember, what with diet and exercise plans and all that.
Life’s little ironies, right? Your heart didn’t give a damn, ultimately.
We had our comment-reply transactions on Facebook too. A few months before you died, you had taken to making short motivational videos. To be honest, I was ambiguous about them (having never been one to take to motivational speeches), so I kept well away. After I came to know of your death, though, I wished I had watched them, just so I can claim half your niceness reciprocally.
But then, that’s what you were, right? Unfailing kind, unwaveringly considerate – right from the first time we met at the gate of my hostel in Tilak Nagar. Yes, it has been that long!
You and S, your then-new wife, were waiting at the hostel gate with Shiva, to be introduced to his wife-to-be. Then one day, we came to your house, met your mother, and listened quietly to your collective anxiety at not having an offspring yet.
Later, you and S helped Shiva appease his family with a quick round of astrological manipulation. With the help of an astrologer known to you, my horoscope was changed to match Shiva’s.
See, I’m shaking my head and smiling as I write this.
I don’t know if you are aware of it, but that little lie fell flat – literally at the altar. When the temple priest asked me about my star, I blurted out ‘moolam’, instead of the ‘chothi’ that my new jatakam required of me. But my father-in-law, the gentlest man I had ever had the fortune to meet, just smiled benignly and let it pass. No one from my side of the family had the slightest inkling of that little drama anyway, so that was that.
When I returned to Bombay alone after that hurried wedding to stay with my husband’s aunt, you and S had visited me diligently. I was pregnant, confused and completely unprepared as a mother-to-be. Then, when Shiva came down for a visit, we came to your house. You and S were trying to feed your curly haired, doe-eyed elder son at the time. A year or two later, you guys moved to Qatar.
When was it that we made that boat trip to Elephanta Caves? And which year was it that you all had come to our house in Trivandrum – the one that had nutmeg trees growing in the backyard? For the life of me, I can’t recall the timelines. You would have, I’m sure. Because you were the one that remembered everything including birthdays and anniversaries, and sent your wishes without fail.
You guys were in Sharjah when we moved to Dubai, and you were among the first ones to reach out. But by then, the equations of your own life had changed. Your search for— What was it that you were looking for? Meaning of life? Peace? Whatever it was, it had already begun to appear as cracks on your family wall. I saw the bitterness that had etched harsh lines around S’s smile. But yours was as white as ever, to my surprise.
It wouldn’t hurt you now, would it, if I admit that every time I visited your apartment, I couldn’t wait to get away from it? As much from the clutter of your brown-gold-ochre space, as from the darkness that hung like cobwebs in kitchen conversations. Maybe the darkness in my own head intensified when it came in contact with another. Which is why, like the lotus, I keep seeking sunlight.
After you all left the UAE, these occasional social media messages were our only contact. And then you died, just like that. Your heart gave way – just like your father’s, Shiva said.
Anyway, late as it is, I have something to tell you. It’s about this one enduring image I have of you, the one I have carried with me all these years, regardless of everything that came after. A collage, made of pieces of a memory from back then when Mumbai was still Bombay, and I was a 22-year-old in the big city. At a time when Lokmanya Tilak Terminus Railway Station was just a cleared out patch of land near our hostel. We girls used to walk there after dinner in our housecoats.
I can’t recall why I left my aunt’s flat in Sion so late that Sunday evening, especially since I was alone – I’m usually more prudent than that. In my hurry to get back to the hostel, I hopped on to the first train from Koliwada Station, assuming it would go to Chembur, so I can get down at Tilak Nagar. It was only when the train reached Kurla Station that I knew it terminated there. The only train that would stop at Tilak Nagar after that, they told me, was waiting at a platform at the far end of the station, and would leave in a couple of minutes. I ran in the direction pointed.
It was late, it was crowded, and I was panting with panic and exertion. I stood on the platform, inches away from the train, paralysed by the crowd rushing in. And then I heard your voice, calling out to me from the train that was almost moving. You told me to get into the train quick; there was no other train that day which would stop at Tilak Nagar. I scrambled up, pushed ahead by the crowd.
Did I cry? Or did you sense that I would, any minute? Either way, you stood there, rock solid, making sure I was unharmed. Then you got down with me at my station, and insisted on walking me to my hostel. You kept talking all the way, inane small talk intended to reassure me. Later, I came to know that you were a more compulsive talker than I am. By the time you left me at the gate and walked away in the direction of Chembur, I was almost normal, and grateful. Immensely so.
Your kindness that night, dear A, has stayed with me all these years. It has survived your death, and I know it will see me to mine. Despite everything that was heard, said and known, that is how I will remember you.
I want you to know that, wherever you are.