“My pain was so strange that at first it produced no tears. There was just something smouldering in between my ribs and my stomach felt as if I was on a ride that defied gravity,” he said.
“I just couldn’t bring that torch to burn the logs, and her,” he said, turning to me.
"All those people who had nothing to do with us all these years since papa died, all of them around me, and I just couldn’t get the bloody torch anywhere close to her dead body. My hands wouldn’t move,” he said, looking at the grand Deodars in front of us.
He fell silent and his eyes were lost in that strange land which each one of us inhabits on our own and to which other human beings do not have access. The Palace, Chail said the steaming white cup in my hand.
He was stroking a blade of grass. His hair shone in the dying light. There was no other sound but the chirping of birds coming home at sunset. My body hurt because of the journey, half a day’s journey for a day’s stay.
“It was a different kind of love,” he said. "You know when I compare Lillian with her I think Lillian just has a smaller brain. That’s not to say that I’ve not been mad about Lillian, which is something I cannot justify to myself despite all its futility. It’s just that my mother somehow operated with me on another plane.”
His face was pale but less than how it’d been on his mother’s funeral. That day his face had crumpled into a wet sallowness when setting fire to the pyre, he dropped the torch aside. He had cried like a baby, his head on my shoulder, his hair smelling of an unknown shampoo, his tears mixing with mine, wetting my kurta.
"There was something unchanging about her. She had been the one thing constant in the twenty years of my life.” He said. “Though I’ve always been the one to love the transitory, you will realize that we do need some things to remain fixed. We need the trees, this hotel, and this cottage to remain fixed, so that our motion can be defined relative to them.”
I was contemplating whether to give him a piece of my mind on the dynamism of the seemingly ‘fixed’ things; on the need for playing an active, sensitive role in making a relationship work, when he said, “When I was at school,whole weeks would pass without a word between us. Then she would write to me, a letter, an email, just asking me if I’m doing alright, if there’s anything I’d like to share with her. You know those early days when I’d be so lost in my life that I’d almost forget that she existed and then these letters would arrive and I’d either send brief replies or just not reply. Occasionally, when there would be some unsettlement in my life, my other life that is, the one that existed oblivious of her, I’d be more sensitive to her letters and give her vivid accounts of harmless things. She would sense something in my tone and write back asking if there was anything bothering me. Then I would pour my heart out and she would give her unflinchingly resolute take on my situation. I would just marvel at the clarity of her head, her ability to reduce the complex mess I always offered her, into manageable discrete components that had been invisible to me until she illuminated them. Eventually I would tide over the unsettlement and start sending her short replies once again,” he said.
“I was a jackass, treating her like that. She would be close at hand whenever I needed her, and then she would relegate herself so far away in the background of my life that I would almost forget her,” he said.
“Each time I would leave she would just wish me a safe journey and hug me tight, even when I left for the UK two years ago. Not a word more. She had this unsaying way of transfusing her feelings. When home, we’d occasionally eat together and mostly not talk about anything and still be perfectly at peace. I was not needed to say things unless I felt the need to say them. Whatever talking we did was so real that I can pick instances from my memory and tell you the content of what we spoke. In comparison, these whole conversations I have with Lillian are pointless. I cannot recall anything in the morning. We talk out of necessity because, between us, silence gets oppressive,” he said. “I just don’t know why I have been with Lillian. I don’t know if I can still be with her. I cannot, I think. I will have to tell her that, first thing when I get back.”
It started raining, without thunder or lightning, and we rushed into his cottage. His cottage was clean, a kind of quiet order established in the four days he’d been there.
I pulled out a sweater from my bag. On the tea table I could see the small earthen pot covered with a red cloth, which contained his mother’s ashes. He was going to disperse them into the Ganges after a week, on the twelfth day since her death, and then he would fly back again, into his other life where he didn’t need me.
“How long are you here?” he said.
“I need to be back on the 16th,” I said.
“Stay a little longer?”
“No, there’s no point.”
© Rasagya Kabra, August 14, 2011