Love is a Privilege – Part 2
Life is unpredictable. Unfathomable. It ruins your plans and plan-Bs alike. It drowns you completely, leaving no trace. None of the back-ups work. In life, sometimes you’re just ‘out-there’!
Just like I was.
Having successfully avoided courtship for the last 28 years, it really was weird to go to a florist and choose flowers. By the time I stepped out of the shop, I was heady with numerous mixed fragrances. I was still unsure if I had chosen the right flowers like I was unsure if I was doing the right thing, but I had to give it a try.
Shakti Creations was located in a residential building where few apartments were let out for commercial use. It was a decent area, she must be getting good business there.
As I rang the doorbell of her office cum fashion-studio, my heart rate increased 100 folds. Anxiety kicked me so hard in the gut that I almost ran towards my car.
Right at the moment, her assistant opened the door.
I did all I could to gather myself and spoke, “Hey… Umm… Hi…”
Why was I stuttering? I mentally kicked myself and squared my shoulders. I am the MD of Kashyap Industries for God’s sakes! I cannot lose confidence like this…
“This is Arjun Kashyap, I am here to see Ms. Singh!”
Good. Formal. Business like. I was back.
Her assistant did not need much introduction anyway. She’d remembered me from the day her granny was sick and was more than happy to welcome me inside.
Today, her work place was alive, hustling and bustling. Some workers were busy with sewing machines, a lady was probably doing some handy work while another one was ironing clothes. Today, everything looked more like a designer’s workshop; slightly disorganised, the way I liked things.
But as I made into her office, I was reminded of the huge difference in our personalities. The tiles were so clean, I could almost see my reflection on them. Everything was straight, well organised, neat and tidy. Not a speck of dust anywhere!
But where was she?
Her assistant offered me a chair while she entered the small bedroom that attached to her office, the room that was for her grandmother so that she’d never be alone. A fond smile appeared on my face as I marveled at the thoughtfulness of this gesture.
She appeared out of the room dragging her granny’s wheelchair. I stood up from my chair. It wasn’t a consequence of civility but something that happened effortlessly out of the genuine respect I had for the two women in the room.
Shakti’s grandma had been really warm when I had visited her the last time. In fact, I had promised her I would visit her again. I walked up to them, bent slightly so that she could reach my head and bless me. As she showered a series of blessings for me, my work and my family; I was so overwhelmed with her affection for a stranger that a lump formed into my throat.
No wonder I wanted to be the Moon to the Earth that she was. She’d received her light from the brightest Sun. And I knew I wanted to radiate in their glow. Circle the Earth as she continues to revolve around the Sun.
I handed those flowers to Granny. And she accepted them willingly, placed them in her lap.
You thought I’d bought flowers for Shakti? Well, I don’t have a death wish, yet. Yes, I know, the effort wasn’t very innocent but it was genuine.
Pleasantries exchanged and we were seated again. Now, I was expected to speak. State the purpose of my visit.
I oriented myself towards Shakti. I had absolutely no idea as to what I was going to say. Whatever was going to come out of my mouth was extempore.
“I guess you’ve realised that I may be a stranger to you and your grandmother technically, but our connection is slightly deeper than that. I’d even visited her in the hospital and I respect her like I would respect my own grandma had she been in this world. So I really can not take back the money I’ve spent on MY granny’s hospital bills.”
This really was the purpose of my visit. I had never intended to take that amount.
She kept quiet for a while, staring at my face. Probably trying to find a flaw, a hidden motive, a loose end that would prove I wasn’t as noble as I looked. She was unsure and doubtful. And I wondered what she must have been through to find kindness so unreliable.
I just sat there waiting for her to respond. Looking straight into her eyes.
“Mr Kashyap, I am happy that you feel so deeply for Mummy. But she is not my responsibility, she is my privilege. And I would not like to give it away or share it with anyone. I appreciate what you did for her and still wish to do, I am even grateful for whatever you did in the time of need; but please do not ask me to take any money back from you.”
And she’d shaken me again.
“I will take the liberty of calling you by your first name, Shakti. I had a hundred reasons to support why I should be the one paying while you knocked them all with the one reason you gave. I will not take away your privilege from you, but I can definitely ask for one. Since the day I’ve met you, your personality has baffled me. I am not only impressed but also affected by you. And it would be a great privilege for me if I can have your company in an informal setting for at least one evening. I think you can let me pay for one meal?”
So, I asked her out. In front of her grandmother. Shamelessly.
I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t know what else could help me if not honesty.
What was she going to say now?
How was she going to react?
Was she committed elsewhere? Damn!!! This didn’t even strike me. By the looks of it, she doesn’t seem involved. He would’ve been there in the hospital if he existed.
But what if there IS a he and he’s an asshole? Aren’t damsels known to fall for fuck-boys?
My mind was flooding with questions. My heart was pounding with anxiety.
For a few seconds even she was taken aback by my subtle attempt.
Yes, it was subtle. Because if I had expressed all that I actually felt for her, she would’ve kicked me out.
“I am sorry Mr Kashyap but I can not leave Mummy alone.”
“Like you’ve never left me alone before!” her granny rolled her eyes immediately.
I suppressed a smile.
“Well, she can always join us.” I said and I looked into her eyes. They were flooded with emotion. I might have taken a while, but I’d understood her. And she realised that I had.
“Okay…” she almost said in a whisper.
I could not believe I was going out with her. I could not believe she said okay. I literally bounced on cloud nine!!
The dinner was to happen on the morrow. That night as I laid on my bed thinking about her, I could not help but visualise her eyes in front of my face. How they changed colour in every second trying to convey her immense feelings without words.
Next day was spent in a clumsy anxiety, waiting for the clock to strike seven when I would pick her up from her workshop. I was buying flowers again. Two bouquets this time. Risking my life by offering flowers to the lion.
She had dressed up. The problem with women who don’t dress up frequently is that, when they do, you can not take your eyes off them. I literally had to pinch myself to remind myself that ogling is a bad habit. After I’d escorted them to the car I asked Mummy where she’d be more comfortable and I skillfully ignored the death glare I received form the diva in question when I called her ‘Mummy’!
What could I do? Her Grandma couldn’t be called anything else but Mummy! She was so sweet!
Mummy said she’d be more comfortable at the back but I don’t know if she genuinely meant it or she wanted Shakti to sit in the front.
Nevertheless, I obliged. I and Mummy chatted throughout the ride and the dinner dragging Shakti into our conversations very frequently. There were times she really forgot to pull her guard up and the stern lines on her face became soft and warm. When she spoke about her job, I could see a glow in her eyes and when she complained about Mummy, I saw a fondness I wished to see for myself too.
However, I wasn’t the only one making observations here. For a brief period, I was alone with Mummy when she told me she knew I liked her. I only smiled. That much was obvious I guess. However, what she did next melted my heart.
She placed her wrinkled hand on my face and said, “She was 9 when her parents left her to my care. I had lost a son and a daughter, her mother was indeed a daughter to me. But I could not mourn. I had to take care of her. I did everything in my power to do it. But then five years back, I lost my limbs. At the time when I should’ve bathed and changed her kids, she changed me. And willingly. The prospect of a man in her life diminished and eventually vanished as she took on to the whole of my responsibility. This world, it is a dirty place. I am not going to waste your time in telling you the story of each setback she faced emotionally and financially. How family, friends and lovers left her because she took on to the responsibility of an invalid. The speech she gave you in her office, she gives me all the time when I tell her that I am going to die one day and she should let me live in any shelter home.
“So when you helped me, visited me, and then asked me to join you here; she could not say no. I will not say that she likes you, but you’ve touched her. And I am just an old lady burdening you with her expectations and hopes for her daughter.”
I just held her hand. Quietly. I did not make any promise. I was tempted to. But I didn’t want any other emotion to mask what I felt for her. Pity, sympathy and pain had the power to overcome love. But love had the longest expiry date. It ended with the last breath. And I didn’t want anything less than that for myself and her too.
We both deserved love and till I was not sure of it, I was not going to jump into anything.
After a beautiful evening, I knew I had established a friendship. I had even been charming. And I loved the pace of our growth.
When I went home, I called her to tell her how beautiful my evening was. She didn’t cut me off but shared that moment of peace.
And before hanging up she said, “Today was beautiful, but don’t count on my company. My life already has enough commitments, Arjun!”
She’d been vocal about not reciprocating my feelings, yet all I could focus on was how beautiful my name sounded when she said it.
I smiled to myself. I had jumped into a fire that was going to ruin me. What do they say after all?
Ek aag ka dariya hai
Aur doob k jaana hai
Once in a while texts and calls, random dinner rendezvous had developed a beautiful friendship between us. Ironically, we didn’t have any real friends in our lives. Her friends drifted when her struggles increased. My friends drifted when I stopped partying.
As a rule, aren’t friends supposed to stick along when we need them the most?
After all this time, it felt like I’d finally made it home. I was not going to let anything cloud it. Whenever something worthwhile happened, I’d found someone to share it with. And it was the same from her end. She made me a part of her little triumphs and I felt like the king of the world. If she laughed at my jokes, I swelled with pride.
But, the day she called me soaked in tears; when she shared how very difficult and frustrating her life was at that moment and how nothing was going her way… I realised I loved her. She was crying on the call and I was battling this roller coaster of feelings. One part of me wanted to leave everything and run to her and save every tear from falling. One part of me was angry at everything that had caused her so much trouble. One part of me was doing a happy dance because she’d chosen to trust me with her pain. And the last part was peaceful because love gives peace, doesn’t it?
I really dropped everything I could and made it to her office that night. By that time, her weak moment had passed and she had put her guard up again.
More than anything, she was bothered by the fact that I had become very important to her. She wasn’t accustomed to breaking down in front of anyone and today she’d called me.
I don’t blame her. It is scary. Especially when you’ve spent all your life sleeping with one eye open, when you’ve seen more people who left than loved, when you’ve been hurt to the extent of bitterness and have accepted the fact that life is unfair.
You’re terrified of opening up to anyone, you’re apprehensive of happiness and you keep on waiting for the dream to end and reality to hit you hard in the face.
She was evidently ignoring me. And I stood there in front of her persistently ensuring she was aware of me. She endured my attempts quietly till her break point and then she tried to push me out, quite literally.
I caught her wrists.
“What the hell, Arjun!!” she could not help but scream.
Tears welled up in her eyes and as she tried to control them from escaping, my heart wrenched with her pain. It was possibly the worst moment for a confession but here she was, close to me, agitated, vulnerable, looking at me with teary eyes; scared that she was relying too much on me; terrified that she was finally starting to share her feelings and, petrified that I would also leave her one day….. but all I wanted to say was how much I loved her and how I wanted to wake up to her face every day and how I never wanted to let those hands go now that I’d held them.
But no words came out of my mouth. I continued to look into her eyes and she continued to look into mine. And then, I pulled her into a hug. Surprisingly, she obliged. She didn’t push me away. She just let all her weight fall upon me and sank into my arms. And everything seemed to have fallen into place. It felt like I’d arrived home.
Those 10 seconds were the longest and the most beautiful 10 seconds of my life. I could describe every millisecond in great details. And then, she left me and awkwardly tried to move away.
I stopped her, held her face between my hands and said, “Ms Shakti Singh, I am in love with you. Not the kind of love that happens in teenage, the innocent, immature kind of love that often ends up in a heartache. Not the kind of love that happens in adulthood, the passionate love that lights up your body with desire. Not the kind of love that is sought for marriage, the kind that is selfish, that thinks of worldly things. Not even the dependent love of the old age. My love for you surpasses all of this, because I love you like a soulmate. The kind of love that is beyond the concepts of this world. The love that resonates with your soul, moves with your soul, dies with your soul. And the soul never dies….”
I saw tears forming in her eyes as she gave a painful smile.
She shook her head. Removed my hands from her face. And began moving away from me.
“Love is a privilege, Arjun. It is not meant for everyone to cherish. Love is selective. It comes to those with attractive appearances, good circumstances. It comes to those who can afford expensive restaurants or can satisfy the desires of a body. And it shuns those who have problems and baggage that they carry everywhere. It shuns those who are too weak, too broken and too vulnerable. It repels those who have nothing to offer in return. I don’t doubt the sincerity of your words; but the claim you’re making, does not exist.
“You’re one of the richest people in this country. The media keeps the eye of a hawk on you. Your parents would consider a girl of a similar circumstance for you who can compliment your personality; move around in your society. And I, with the kind of commitments and responsibilities I have, will never be a cut out to meet the expectations of that life. That is, if we go that far. And if not then what is the point of investing in someone who is eventually going to leave? Technically and practically, we are impossible. Your idea of love is beautiful, but impossible; just like we are.”
And with that she was gone. Just like that.
I stood there, retrospecting. Everything she mentioned was true. I had given a thought to all these things and I’d realised they were trivial compared to what I was getting in exchange. All my life, I’d waited for love. I’d waited for home. I’d waited for the radiance her eyes carried. I’d waited to experience the energy of love that existed between us. She may not have acknowledged it. But she had not even said otherwise. She’d seen the dark side first. As usual. The difficult side. It would be wrong if I said I hadn’t expected this. All I had to do was show her the light. To replace every ounce of fear inside her with love. She was a brave girl; and I just had to ask her to be brave one more time.
So I went home, changed into my pajamas and slept soundly. Even though she wasn’t mine I felt peaceful knowing that she knew how much I’d like to make her mine.
Next day, I called her and spoke like nothing had ever happened between us. Unexpectedly, even she did not behave otherwise.
We continued to be each other’s support system. Whenever things got tough, we sought each other. All the signs existed. All the sunsets we saw together were screaming at us that endings can be beautiful too. The entire universe was subtly asking us to become forever. And eventually, she caught up too.
One day, after letting her heart out she asked me,
“What are we doing, Arjun?”
I smiled. I could’ve acted to be innocent. I could’ve asked her to elaborate. But that was the beauty of our relation. We didn’t need to do all of that.
“Ironically, our bond is too strong to be broken yet too weak to transform into something else. Like a cocoon metamorphosing into a butterfly. And even if the butterfly is never to come, I don’t mind staying in that cocoon forever.”
This was enough for her eyes to become teary.
“Why?” she almost said in a whisper.
That one word. Why. It had a million emotions. It was a guilty why, guilty for my investment in her and her lack of reciprocation. It was an overwhelmed why, overwhelmed with my affection for her. Most importantly, it was a scared why, scared of her feelings for me.
“You said it yourself, Shakti. Love is a privilege. There are millions on this planet who would die to have what we do. And you’re denying this privilege. Like a well fed kid who wastes food, like a spoilt brat who wastes money, like a man of fortune who wastes an opportunity; you too are being ungrateful to the universe just because you’re too scared to embrace what’s right there in front of you. Your suffering is fogging your vision. Don’t you see? We have it all, except your affirmation. All the worldly things you’re talking about, you know that I can settle them in a second. And if you’re looking for social approval, you’re someone I can proudly introduce everywhere just as you are and you wouldn’t fail to leave them all impressed. You just have to be brave one more time. Just this time. And you wouldn’t have to do it alone, ever. Will you be brave, Shakti?”
I looked at her with hope. The time came to a standstill.
And then she nodded.
One of the richest men of the nation, had never felt this privileged before.