Abhi na jao chhod kar
Ki dil abhi bhara nahi
Abhi Abhi toh aai ho
Bahar ban ke chhai ho….
Rafi was singing in my ears as I sat near my balcony and the wind kissed my hair. It was a thing of wonder for people to see someone from my generation loving Rafi songs. But I guess it was a generalisation people casually made. I knew so many people who could listen to Rafi for hours and appreciate the sheer beauty of poetry in the song. Youngsters like me, high on pain, high on love, some even on substances; would meet on weekends in book cafes and organised modern age mehfils.
It was one such art club meeting where I met him.
I had arrived early in the evening and managed to stuff myself between two bookshelves. In fact, I was camouflaged very well. It was kinda my spot. Only the regulars knew where to find me only if they were looking. I liked sitting there because then I could just listen to the entire mehfil without interacting with anyone often. Towards the end, when it would be my turn to present poetry I would straighten up and just recite whatever I would compose while listening to the others.
I believe that poetry only happens after inspiration. And there was no other inspiration in my life except for these weekend getaways. I would derive my inspirations from the people who were expressing themselves in front of me. I could connect their emotions with mine. That was how I felt. That was the only way I could feel. The rest of my week I would just shut all my feelings, wear a mask and smile for the world. My deepest secrets, my darkest desires were slowly sliding into oblivion because even I did not know how to meet them, understand them.
But that day, something shifted in the universe.
I was settled in my spot when he entered the café. He was new. I had not seen him there before. He seemed nervous. His hands scratched his nose a lot. A nervous tic, I suppose. He was wearing faded blue jeans and a light blue shirt. He had a guitar on his back. His hair was messy. As if he could never align them even if he tried. I sat there observing him. He was looking everywhere in an attempt to find a companion. Yet he was deliberately avoiding eye contact with the barista to avoid interaction with him. He was a paradox. I loved figures of speech.
He finally settled on a couch-stool diagonally opposite to me and started to browse a book. It wasn’t a well-known book because I hadn’t seen the cover and the title was not visible from where I sat. Slowly he started humming,
Bura na maano baat ka
Ye pyaar hai gila nahi
I knew many people who liked Rafi. But I didn’t know anyone who could replicate his voice so well. I could not help but say, “Wow” out loud.
His eyes immediately found mine. He looked scared. When I smiled at him, he started looking here and there again. I chuckled.
He started to pack up. He placed that book back in the rack and started looking for his guitar. I panicked. I didn’t want him to leave. Especially not because I made him uncomfortable.
“Hey. Don’t leave! There will be more people joining us very soon and I am sure no one wants to miss the chance of listening to your voice!”
Yes. I know this is not a conversation starter. But when you are settled for an art club meeting, small talk is moot.
“I am not here to sing!” he said.
“Then??” the surprise in my voice was evident.
“I just wanted to play the guitar,” he said.
“Okayyy!” I stretched my Ys because it still didn’t make sense why would he not sing when he had such a great voice! Was he scared?
I took in a deep breath and pulled another stool to sit in front of him.
“Hi, I am Naina.” and he just looked into my eyes automatically translating my name in his head.
I smiled. My extended hand had not been shaken yet. I raised my brows just to bring this to his attention.
His fingers slowly engulfed my hand in a hesitant but a firm handshake. Paradox.
“If I say, Aman or Kabir, does that make me too cliché?”
Wow. So he was flirting with me? Where was the shy guy?
“Yes. And Bollywood is the source of all that is wrong with the society in a non-moral policing – liberal way so you should really just go with your real name!”
“But I love Bollywood. Flaws and all!” he persisted.
I sort of rolled my eyes. He chuckled.
“I am Arjun!” he finally said and released my hand I had no I idea he still had been holding.
“So Arjun, what’s your deal? Are you shy or you have a problem with singing?”
“Neither and Both!” he said. Paradox.
“Can you elaborate?”
“Why were you sitting between those tall bookshelves? Are you shy or sneaky?” he asked wiggling his brows.
“Neither. It is my spot. I sit there and get inspired. And deflect attention.”
“And why do you deflect attention?”
“Because this is my ‘me’ time! Now, your turn. Elaborate.”
“I am not shy if I am comfortable. And I have a problem with singing in front of people.”
“Even the people you are comfortable with?”
“I guess not. But people I am comfortable with don’t really know I sing!”
“Then how can you say that you are comfortable with them?”
“Because I am not shy around them!”
“There is a difference between comfort and familiarity, Arjun!”
“But aren’t they connected?”
“No. Everything familiar may not necessarily be comfortable. Everything comfortable doesn’t have to be familiar!”
He just looked at me. Not convinced.
“You are comfortable around me, even though I am not familiar!” I pointed out.
“Your eyes are very expressive!” he said.
I just pulled my brows together in confusion.
“See,” he pointed a finger at my eyes, “they always have an expression. That’s the reason of our comfort. I know you I can trust you. Your eyes don’t lie, Naina. Tell me if Bollywood clichés don’t fit!” he winked as he said the last statement but whatever he said before that; he was dead serious about it! I actually blushed.
“And I didn’t really tell you about my singing. You just sneakily discovered.” He added.
“Will you sing for me?” I tilted my head to one side when I asked him sweetly.
“One condition. You will tell me what you write in that diary of yours!”
I sat there with an open mouth. HOW DID HE KNOW ABOUT THAT DIARY!
I realised its edge was peeking out of my bag but that was no clue for guessing I wrote something in my diary. Maybe he was just taking a long shot. I tried to act calm.
“What makes you think there is something worth reading in that diary? It could be my appointment book for all you know!” I asked.
“But it is not. Right?”
I didn’t think I could lie. And I really wanted to hear him sing.
We left the café before anyone else could arrive. We walked towards the sea in comfortable silence. The night sky was full of stars and the moon was half, shining above us. The sea was quiet. We could only feel he waves move towards us and then recede. The horizon was hardly visible. As we sat down on the stones, he took his guitar out and started playing a tune which I eventually recognised to be ‘chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko’. He was such an old school romantic. And then suddenly he looked at the silent sea and asked, “Do you know how these waves are formed?”
I shook my head. I had some faint memories of geography lessons but I knew I was going to fuck that up.
“Waves are created by energy passing through water, causing it to move in a circular motion. The water does not actually travel in waves. Waves transmit energy, not water. Waves are most commonly caused by wind. They are created by the friction between wind and surface water. Then the gravitational forces from the sun and moon affect them too. That is a little more complex but I can see that you are getting bored.”
I just smiled. It was true I hated all this wave-mechanics. Weekends were not for facts. They were for art. For poetry. For music. For peace. But I was wondering that a minute ago he was a guy out of a Bollywood romance and a minute later he was talking science. Paradox. Yet again.
“I spend my days dealing with so many facts, I don’t do that on weekends. This is my time to connect with my soul. When I look at the sea, I hear the song of the water and wind. I want to talk about the union of waves and the shore. I want to leave my footprints on the sand and be kissed by the moonlight. And,” I said turning towards him, “I want you to sing for me!”
“Diary first,” he said extending his palm.
“What if you read my diary and do not sing?”
“What if I sing and you do not give me your diary?”
“Fair point. You can keep my diary but you have to sing first. Deal?”
So I handed him my diary and he sang. He sang the very song I heard him hum back there.
“Abhi na jao chhod kar,
Ki dil abhi bhara nahi”
I just sat there. Kept my eyes closed and heard his voice resonate with my soul. It was beautiful. He was beautiful. It felt like he was just a dream and if I opened my eyes he would vanish. His voice would disappear. I was in a trance till he finished his song.
“Now! My turn!” he was so excited.
He opened the first page and started reading loudly,
“26th January 2014
Broken dreams, and broken arms….”
“Read it in your mind,” I said looking away.
He looked at me with understanding and said, “Read with me then.” I nodded and shifted towards him so that I could re-live my journey with him.
26th January 2014
Broken dreams, and broken arms
The stains of blood paint my memories
My hands would kill if they could
My mind cannot fathom the possibilities
In Devil’s den, I lived so long
Heaven was an oasis I didn’t fathom
Yet here I stand outside of hell
The burn scars have stories to tell
Who knows I would heal again?
But somewhere, I’ve got to begin!
I am out. I am finally out of the mess that was my life. No more hiding. No more tears. No more marks on my skin that I have to hide from the world. No more wearing full sleeves because he would leave cigarette marks everywhere on my forearms. I can be myself. I don’t need to live with that abusive man anymore, the man who calls himself my father. I can breathe. After years of struggle, after choosing Fight every time I wanted to use the Flight mechanism, there is some relief for me. He is behind the bars today and I can finally start my life.
He did not say anything and kept reading on.
29th September 2016
I had known I was messed
Since the day I opened my eyes
I did not know I could mess everything
I set my eyes upon
I dared to believe that there was some hope for me
I was brave enough to smile
But I was only destined for pain
Hence, it came my way; yet again oh yet again
I do not think I can even
Wish to shine again.
He died. The little ultrasonic image and the memory of how his heartbeat felt against my hand were the only things I have left of him now. I had thought maybe my dark days were over. I had thought the influence of my father was not going to ruin the rest of my life. I was finally beginning to feel happiness. I was finally going to have a child. But he ruined it. My father. Even when he was not in my life, the remnants of his abuse had killed my child. He had rendered me incapable of bearing a child till the end of my life.
15th December 2016
My role in this world
Is to receive the seeds of a man
And bring his child on earth
My existence has no other meaning
I have been told that enough
My purpose clear, my failure ensured
My fate has been sealed
By judges unauthorized
I do not deserve love
Has been mentioned between the lines.
I am going through a divorce because I cannot bear a child. It is clear, I have no purpose left. I could jump off a cliff and the society would think it was justified. What would a woman do on this earth if she could not become a mother? But Fight over Flight; it is a habit hard to die. I would have to fight. Flight seems too easy. And I cannot run away. I cannot die.
22nd October 2019
I knew I was made of things
Different from the others
I did not know if it was steel
Or another thing of wonder
Whatever I was made of
I knew it could not be destroyed
A lot of men had wondered
A lot of men had tried!
Today, was my first day as the head of women’s wing in the police force. I had chosen this path because this was my calling. I had to play a role in ensuring that there were more women like me. I had to ensure they stood up to abuse, physical, mental, emotional and financial. I had to ensure they were considered to be human first. I had so much to do and I had so little time! But today, I had found a purpose and I needed to live for it!
The book was empty after this page. He looked up at me. Not with pity. Not with sympathy. But with compassion. With kindness and empathy! It was rare. So rare to find. I could feel the tears pooling around my eyes and I looked away.
“Why just four entries?” he finally asked.
“Because these were the only times I felt the immense surge of emotions to pen them down. I roam around with this diary since 2014 but I never feel anything strong enough to inspire me to express. This is why I spend my weekends in the laps of art and get inspired by the emotions and stories of others. I cannot bring myself to pen down the things I talk about in these art clubs because they aren’t my own emotions. Since so many years I have allowed myself to REALLY feel my emotions only on these instances. I pack them and keep them away.”
“Then why today? I don’t think my voice was that beautiful?”
“It was. And more than that, you were my inspiration today. And I really wanted to hear you sing!”
“Will you see me again?” he asked
“No. But I would make a diary entry today!”
“What would you write?”
“I don’t know.”
“I want to know.”
“It is not practical.”
“How can you say without trying?”
“Because when I divorced my husband I closed all the doors of human contact except for my job. And my job is tough. Anyone I know, meet, see or care about is at risk.”
“But you don’t even know my story! What if it changes your mind?”
“What is your story?”
“I would tell you that over a cup of coffee!”
“I leave for another city tomorrow!”
“I can wait.”
“You just don’t understand!” I stood up and started to walk.
“I don’t understand. Yes, I don’t. When do you come back?”
“Next month.” I didn’t know why was I even telling him this?
“Give me a date. Pun intended.” He winked as he said that.
I could not help but laugh.
After that, I sighed. Maybe he was right.
“I…. don’t know…. I…”
“If you meet with an accident, will you stop sitting in a car?”
I slowly shook my head.
“Naina, you are the first person to hear me sing. How can I let you go before I tell you my story? Before I shoot my shot? Don’t you see the potential? Don’t you feel it? Give me a chance!”
“If everything goes right, I would probably make a diary entry on 5th Feb 2020, one month from now!” I finally caved.
If I knew he would smile so bright, I would’ve caved long ago!
He just kept staring in my eyes by the sea and we talked about poetry, nature, art and everything we were passionate about! He sang a few more songs for me on demand and it felt like I could get used to this. I could get used to him. That ignited an unsettling reaction in my body. My instinct of protecting myself was so high that I decided to leave. I rushed through my goodbyes when he just held me by the arm and sang abhi na jao chhod kar ye dil abhi bhara nahi!
I smiled and I reminded him that to meet again I would have to leave and I was moving away from the city for a month. I needed to get some sleep. He took my number and called me to give his. As I walked away from him, he kept watching me playing his guitar. And I kept wondering if I am going to get hurt all over again. But I realised that no matter how many accidents come my way; I can’t really stop sitting in a car. I could have waited, you know. I could have sat with him a little longer. But I had made another leap in my life and the lines Asha sang in our song kept running in my head…..
Agar mai ruk gai abhi
Toh jaa na paaungi kabhi
Yehi kahoge tum sada
Ki dil abhi nahi bhara
Jo khatam ho kisi jagah
Ye aisa silsila nahi…..