Meri zindagi khuli kitaab hain
Koi padhke dekhe toh kabhi
Kaanch ke kuch khwaab hain
Jo toot ke bikhre hain yahin
Main to raaston pe chal pada
Jo ajnabee se the kabhi
Sare sheher ko ab hai khabar
Ki kya hai meri zindgai
Kaanch ke kuch khwaab hain
Jo toot ke bikhre hain yahin
He wrote in Urdu, spoke in English and lived in a country where everyone was French. Languages were his forte since he was a kid. He learned new languages quickly and perfectly. Hence it did not take him very long to be well versed with French too.
Paris, the city of romance. Romance was not difficult to find in the city, especially for an artist like him. Yet he had not been with any girl even for a night in two long years.
Anjaan, he pen named himself. His poetry comfortably took a form of music and his music touched people worldwide. A singer and lyricist who was young and looked good did not take much time to become popular. What intrigued people the most was his hidden identity, his reluctance to talk about himself. He did not go for interviews or awards. He hardly made public appearances. However, his words and voice were engraved inside the hearts of every individual.
Too much interference from people forced him to leave his country. He flew to Paris from Mumbai and never returned. His songs, he would shoot or record and send to his buyers. All that mattered to the producers was something that they could sell. All that mattered to him was his peace and being able to pour out his pain in his poetry and music.
Anjaan, this name had now become his identity. Unknown, Anonymous. These synonyms were not the attributes of his name, but of his soul. He did not know what his self looked like. He was breathing but could not feel his existence. He was moving but his limbs felt numb. He looked at the empty seat beside him, in buses, in cafés, in restaurants, everywhere. He did occupy the other seat, the other chair, the other side of the couch, but his presence was a definition of absence. Antithesis, Paradox, whatever you may call it, his life was mirroring it.
What did he not have?
Anyone could have guessed that.
Irony, one more figure of speech to describe him.
He had talent, money, fame- everything that is supposed to be needed to be happy. But he had no one to share this happiness with.
His life had been a roller coaster ride. You would say whose life isn’t? True. You cannot see one season and call it a life. Every spring has a fall. Every summer has a winter. But the good news it, it is also true vice versa.
As usual, he was looking at the empty chair that lay opposite to him in the café. Suddenly, it was not empty anymore. A girl seated herself in front of him. It was not a new thing. It had happened quite a lot in the past two years that a stranger, most likely a girl invited herself to his table. He never asked anyone to leave. Little company was not a taboo yet. He would mostly hear her out, pay for the coffee and wave her good bye. He never talked much. His speech was silent because his paper spoke.
However, this girl who was sitting on his table currently, was not there to hit on him. She was apparently pretending to be with him, maybe because she wanted to avoid someone. A tall guy was scanning the café with his eyes and she was stealing glances to locate him. The tall guy finally located her. She instantly looked away. As she felt that the tall guy was advancing towards their table, she grabbed his hands and locked her eyes with him. He did not know why, but he couldn’t withdraw. He saw a weird earnestness in her eyes which made him play along.
As the tall guy saw what happened, his approaching steps stopped. He did not move further. He kept staring at them in anger and turned around. As the tall guy left the café, he released his hand from her grip.
“He is gone now,” he told the girl.
She looked across the café just to ensure.
“Thank you,” she said faking a smile and prepared to leave.
“He might be waiting outside,” he did not know why he wanted her to wait back a little more.
“Coffee?” he asked.
She just gestured a no. He still ordered a latte for her.
There was an awkward silence on the table. The coffee arrived. She took a sip from it.
“What is your name?” she asked.
“Anjaan,” he replied. He had probably even forgotten his real name. Everyone in Paris accepted this identity quite easily as they did not know what the word meant. However, the girl in front of him did not seem to buy it.
“Anjaan?” she looked surprised. She shrugged her shoulders and there was silence again.
“Who was that tall man?” he wanted to know.
“You wouldn’t even tell me your real name but want to know my story?” she said.
“How did you know that it isn’t my real name?”
“Everyone in this world has the right to learn different languages. Don’t you know French? Even I now Hindi.”
“Aakar, my name is Aakar,” after all nobody forgets their name.
“Kathriene,”she said and shook his hand.
There was silence again.
“I belong to Italy. I was married to that tall guy for around three years, until I found out that he was cheating on me. I got divorced and moved out, not only from my home and Rome, but also my country. I live here since two years and now. My ex-husband wants to get back with me. I told him that I am seeing someone. He did not believe. He says, you love me too much to even look at another man,” she zoned out for few seconds and smirked, “Today, I saw him following me and abruptly, rather recklessly entered this café, saw you sitting alone and did whatever I did just now. I hope you did not mind.”
All this while she was speaking, he stared at her blankly. She thought he had not even heard what she said. He was into some distant, lost world.
“When you love him so much that you cannot even look at another man, why don’t you get back with him?”
She was initially surprised at that question.
“I told you just now, he cheated on me” she said.
“But you love him.”
“That is the point, I love him. He doesn’t. Today, he is here because he is needy. He is in need of a home and unconditional love. But he is not in love. Had he been, he wouldn’t have cheated on me in the first place. Probably, he is genuinely ashamed of himself, maybe his is really sorry. But, for a relationship to exist, it takes two people who are ready to put in maximum effort. If I do that and he doesn’t, then it wouldn’t take long for him to give up on us again. And I would not be able to bear this pain one more time. I love him and will always do, but I am not destined to have him.”
“Why do you expect love of an equal amount in return? You love him right? So just be with him. Will that not make you happy?”
“If we are talking about expectations, then I would say it is impossible to not expect. We humans, we never do a single thing without expecting anything in return. We work in return of money, we pray to get things that are beyond our control, we do good deeds in the quest of heaven, in fact, we are kind to animals because we want them to obey us or at least be grateful to us! Similarly, we love others to be loved back! No matter how bitter it sounds, but the truth is that even our love and kindness is nothing but a profit and loss statement. Everyone wants love to be reciprocated equally. We always do not get what we want is a different story, but everyone does want it.”
Her words hit him like needles. She spoke the truth, his heart always denied to accept. He always termed his love to be of the purest kind. A love, without expectations. However, the reality was way different than what he chose to believe. When Kathriene gave words to the facts his heart chose to refuse, he felt a stabbing sensation in his chest. His eyes watered and his hands trembled. Kathriene just kept on looking at his face. She wanted him to pour out. She wanted him to release himself from all the bonds that were holding him down. She had known that he too had a story the moment he had introduced himself, after all everyone has a story.
Aakar spoke finally.
“We lived in a small town in India. It had become a town when we grew up,however, it was a humble village when we were born. Though the frequency had reduced, but child marriages were not unpopular in India even in the 80s. With the social reforms and the laws that came up, child marriages could no longer happen easily. However, the villagers sought out a new way to overcome this issue. They would fix marriages when their children were born, an unofficial contract which was more powerful than a legal paper. And so,00 Aakar was also supposed to be married to Rashmi.
Since our childhood, we were told, not once, not twice maybe a hundred times in a day that we would get married one day. My mother would treat her like her own daughter, I would get tremendous respect at her place. I do not remember when exactly I started liking her. I don’t know when I fell in love with her. It seems like I have loved her forever. She was my wife in every game that we ever played, in every dream that I ever dreamed. When we grew up a bit, we played this game. We would collect broken bangles from every home, every shop and preserve them in our box. We would trade them and bet on them. Those broken colourful glass pieces were our little glasshouse, a world where we both lived.
When we entered teenage, we understood what romance was like. The glow that brightened our faces when we saw each other, the life that danced inside our eyes, the blush that coloured our cheeks would take me to the heights of ecstasy. I would write poetry for her and sing folk songs. Now, instead of broken bangles, I would get intact ones for her and adorn her hand.
Our village was still developing, so I migrated to the city for better education. Rashmi and I were parted. I knew it was only for some time, soon she would become an irreplaceable part of my life. I would write letters to her every week. Eventually, the frequency reduced. No, not because I was busy, but because she was. It felt weird but I ignored. I knew I’d get married to her when I am back. When I finally was, wedding preparations began. However, she did not look happy. Her warmth vanished, her face did not glow up looking at me, her eyes did not shine, her skin did not colour.
I finally confronted her, and what she told me, shattered me completely. She told me that she was in love but not with me. It was after I had left she realised that what we had since years was only because it was put into our heads that way. What she felt for that guy, she could not feel for me. I was shattered, my ego, my pride was shattered. But more than anything, my idea of love was shattered. I could not accept the fact that she did not love me anymore. That she thought she had never loved me. She pleaded, she cried. She wanted me to call off the wedding. She said and did every possible thing to convince me, but having her was like my only goal, only ambition.
I was adamant. She could not convey this to anyone. The orthodox environment we had grown up in could never accept the idea of a girl wanting to call off a wedding because she did not love the guy she was supposed to be married too. I was her only hope. And she had thought that for the sake of my love for her, I would do it. But I didn’t.
The day we were going to take the vows, she was found dead in her room. She had cut her wrist with the bangles I had gifted her for the first time. She had not left any suicide note, but I knew I had killed her. The shattered pieces of the glass were like my own shattered dreams, dreams that I had seen with her.
Since that time, I have lost my own identity. Anjaan, I call myself, because I do not know who I am.”
Aakar finally stopped speaking.
Kathriene was quiet, absorbing every word that he said.
“It is enough that you know where you were wrong and feel guilty about it. We all are humans, we all make mistakes. And we all pay for them, here in this life itself. You too have paid for it, and paid enough. But now, it is time to forgive yourself. Life gives us a thousand opportunities every day to make things right. But we do not even pick one. It is time to let go, and embrace life all over again. It is time to embrace the opportunities life gives you. It is time to be happy again. It is time to introduce self with self…”
She was right. Maybe she too was an opportunity life had given him to make things right. For the first time since Rashmi’s death he had found courage enough to be able to narrate the truth to anyone. It felt like confessing a crime. The stranger in front of him had made him realise things he could never accept. She had made him talk, she had let him vent out. Maybe now, Anjaan could become Aakar. Maybe now, he could move on….
He paid for her coffee, but he did not know how would he pay her for doing what she had done? They parted ways, hoping their paths might cross again……