About a month and a half ago, I came back to my room from work, every bone and tendon in my body and mind tired. After mechanically finishing the day’s chores, I opened my last remaining packet of Epigamia’s blueberry yoghurt and settled down on the couch, switching on Wi-Fi on my phone. I’d been meaning to uninstall Tinder for weeks, and I didn’t even bother replying to the last guy I’d matched with- some tall guy smiling, drenched in pink and yellow colours of Holi. I remember staring at that picture longer than I usually do, and that very second, I received a message: “I’m going to uninstall Tinder, it’s unproductive. However, you seem nice, would you like to text on Instagram or something?”
I took another spoon of yoghurt and considered the possibilities- “You know you can’t find what you’re looking for on a fucking dating app. It is meant for hook-ups and by this time you of all people know that hook-ups are not for you. Grow the fuck up, uninstall that trash and for hell’s sake, stop looking.”- My sister , and it annoys me that she’s right. “I know why you’ve been so dysfunctional, it’s because that thing, that wild, happy thing that used to smile at old women selling flowers on the road and cringed every time you used to see a hungry kid, that fucking thing that made you want to stop whatever you’re doing and drench everyone around you with bad jokes and chocolate cookies, that thing is dying. It’s been smashed, and you took no effort to tend to it, you threw away every last vial of medicine you had, and left it parched, left it to rot, day after night. I know you know this, there you go, this is why you don’t even bother talking to baby plants growing on cracks in the wall, that’s exactly why you stopped saying good morning to your dumb roommate. You can’t hide it from me. You’re running out of time. Don’t wait till I save you. And get off that app. And I will personally strangle you if you touch Vodka again” – the starmarked message from my best friend, which I read every day.
I looked at the picture of this tall guy, holding some random colourful thing in his hand, smiling with a sort of innocence you and I would seldom find today and threw the empty cup into an almost full dustbin.
And I gave him my Instagram handle.
The next day, break time at work, stirring sugar into my Nescafe instant cappuccino, muting people around me, I put on Earphones. He’d requested to follow me, and I followed him back. I carefully went through all of his 70 pictures- screenshotting an Urdu poem he’d written, so beautiful it gave me goosebumps. Even today, random lines from that poem seep into my head- when I’m wearing earrings, when I’m washing plates, when I just wake up, when I shut the cupboard door with unnecessary force. He was good looking, I concluded, and he had a nice aura; he loves his sister, probably has a functional family, wears nice shirts, pakka North Indian only. Where was this heading? We texted for a week on Instagram- about work, about poetry, about Hyderabad, about alcohol. I caught myself by surprise, as I asked for his number, blushing a little for no reason.
Two days later, I caught myself by surpise again, as I asked him out for dinner. “Would you like to join me?” I hit send and buried my face in my palms, just like in the movies, he would’ve thought I was desperate. The things Patricarchy do to people, I remember thinking. To my eternal embarrassment, he didn’t even see the text till it was too late, so I went to take a shower. When I came out, a “do you still want to meet?” was waiting. I stared at myself in the mirror, made a silent promise to not expect anything, to go say hi and leave, but I did end up spending fifteen whole minutes selecting the perfect grey jacket that would look nice but not nice enough to make it seem like I put actual effort.
I was listening to an old Ilayaraja song as I was pacing up and down Kothaguda signal, as always, 10 minutes early. It was 11:53 PM, and every single passing person was staring at me. And then I turned around, utterly unprepared, and saw him, my breath was literally caught in my lungs, as I almost gawked at the utter handsomeness of the person walking in front of me. It was just like the movies. He was tall, so deliciously tall, and his cheeks shone like apples, almost as pink as the formal shirt he was wearing. He was blushing, I noticed, and I mentally kicked myself to stop gawking and form legible words. I waved, said Hi, completely avoided eye contact, and asked him about his day. He wasn’t much of a talker, so incredibly cute, and my system took extreme advantage of this situation, as I was consciously blabbering on and on about random stuff, stealing healthy glances, long glances when he wasn’t looking. And then we found a place to eat that was open, he bought Shawarma, and that plastic cover made him so happy, and the fact that he lit up at something simple made me light up a little too. As if on cue, an ice cream waala came along. I’m going to tell this picture perfect first date story to my grandchildren, I thought to myself, as we ate ice cream and laughed, and laughed some more, and I hugged him tight and he got on a cab back to his place.
I’d then spend a good part of the night replaying every single second in my head, and blush myself to sleep, before I severely sprained my left foot. I woke up the next morning and smiled, mumbling a good morning to my dumb roommate, it was then her turn to gawk. At work, Amit asked me why I wouldn’t stop humming, and my professor was almost shocked to look at his dead nerd student walk with a lilt in her stance that she herself had become a stranger to. My foot was killing me, however, and I had to go to the hospital. Turns out, it was a tiny fracture. My first ever fracture. I remembering feeling a little bit proud at handling the situation well, and I treated myself to a steaming cup of filter coffee at Udipi’s, it was such a long day, and to top it off, I’d gotten my period early, the cramps were unbearable.
And then, a “Beer ?” popped up on my phone. I thought he was talking about work, you see, he was interning with this popular beer company (I know, MBA students always get to do cool stuff) and in an attempt to be funny, I replied “sure, where, when?” and like a teenager, I sent a fucking smiley face. I then smiled at my empty coffee cup, as he then called. My heart skipped a beat, I was so impressed that he actually called, you see, calling is a very big deal to me. I let it ring for a second, and picked up, just like in the movies.
Later that night, two beers and a little bit of whiskey later, we collapsed on his bed, laughing our guts out, my broken Hindi triggering his endorphins, peals of laughter, so pure. He seemed a million times himself, as he offered me a glass of water. Cheeks hurting, stomach hurting, back hurting and this ridiculous spot somewhere along the right hemisphere of my brain hurting, I let myself hit pause and downed half a litre of water. There was silence in the air, I could feel it building up, tiny balloons of silence floating in between us, and then more balloons, and some more, till it was a storm. And I’ll never know why I chose that exact second to look at his eyes, but I’m forever grateful that I did, because the next moment my lips were on his and all those balloons burst around my head, spilling confetti all over us- glittery, sticky sweet sparkles. It was as perfect as perfect could possibly be, the entire package really - sparks behind my knees, and electricity in the middle of my palms, enough to kill the sense of dread that was just beginning to wake up. It was just like in the movies.
I woke up next morning with the sun. There was a dull throb behind my eyes, and a sad song was working it’s way up from my toes. I didn’t dare to turn around. And then the party started. The sad song danced up my elbows, stood right on top of my nose, and punched me really hard, hard enough to make me remember what had happened in the past few hours.
Blink. “It’s okay, we don’t have to do anything, let’s just sleep”
Blink. “Talk to me.”
Blink. “My parents ran away from home to get married...”
His story wrapped itself around us like a silk shawl. The shawl was torn, a masterpiece so invaluably torn, letting in just the right amount of coldness for me to pull him closer, and closer still, till we both decided to come home to my heart. I pictured every single detail of the making of this man, this man, a survivor, a platinum grade specimen of this world, and I mumbled a thank you to his mother and a sorry to his father before I felt his eyes close, and I fell asleep listening to his heartbeat. Till this very minute, every element of his story continues to haunt me in my weakest and strongest moments. It was just like in the movies, and it was exactly enough proportions of darkness and light to make the world’s most beautiful shadows, shadows that would dance across his eyes every time we kissed, shadows that would pull his chin down after bites of peanut butter bread, shadows that would make him hold me tighter when we watched Donnie Darko, almost as if he was protecting me, or was it himself? Again, I’ll never now. I stole some of his shadows, and set them up with mine. It was a match made in hell, and I have a feeling I’ll third-wheel our shadows till I die.
I blinked again, and turned around and savoured my last moment of sanity, before I fell.
Over the next week, I’d fall again and again, over and over, just like in the movies- over Urdu words, over days when he had to eat ‘vegetables and shit’, over his dream standard beard, his rented Activa, over kulfi, Ranbir Kapoor in Rockstar, shirts and T shirts, and eyes designed to kill my common sense, over Californication, over subliminal marketing strategies and other fancy MBA terms, over how I deliberately decided to not let his ‘Don’t get attached’ anywhere near me. I no longer woke up without smiling, there were flowers on the plants I’d been watering. I let myself listen to music that was banned for months, I let myself glow, I let myself go. I let myself hold hands when there was no reason to, I let myself add him to my 3BHK dreams, I let myself record every minute of us and make a blockbuster out f it. I let myself sink deeper and deeper till I drowned, and then I drowned, and then I finally drowned. We discovered things and feelings and memories about each other and ourselves, we took walks every day and night- into our almost all of our happy days, angry afternoons, and everything in between. His stories were generally funnier than mine, and he effortlessly stole my heart in ways he didn’t mean to. Here was a guy who‘d die for his friends, a guy who’s mother moved me to tears.
A guy who, despite best attempts, couldn’t hide the love of another woman from his eyes.
I thought I would hate her, but then I completely understand why she hasn’t moved on. As time progressed, this woman slowly crept up in between us, till I realized it was the other way round; that I was the one who’d crept up in between them. I’ll never admit this to him, but she’s made him so obviously hers, that even when he fled for life as far away as he could from her, he’d left behind pieces of himself with her, missing pieces without which I don’t have any rights over. This splendid woman who’d made him say yes, a woman I try very hard to hate, a woman who almost made me feel like I was trespassing, a woman who I can never betray. I have daydreams where I meet her someday.
“It’ll be just like in the movies, Aswitha. You can always write to me. Let’s e-mail each other; it’ll be our Forever thing”
I told him that I wanted a different Forever thing, a real one, not once, not twice, but thrice. And he refused, more than thrice. Unfortunately, he comes with neatly packaged bottles of delusion, every time he comes to visit me. And I drink all of them and end up sending e-mails. I’ve sent him ten letters so far. Now I’m in rehabilitation. In my last letter, I told him that our story was too good anyways, that I’d be fine and I hope we’d never cross paths. I don’t know how much of that I meant, I don’t know how much of that I want to make real. I know he’s reading this and I know that he knows that I’ve finally given up like he wanted me to.
Thus ended My Hyderabadi love story, too short, too much, too heavy, too little.
Today I wonder if I should’ve tried harder, very well knowing that there was nothing else I could’ve done. The fog in my head seems clearer and I find the courage to think about things I wouldn’t have dared to- Maybe it did matter in some miniscule way that our lives were poles apart outside our world. Maybe it would be a case of history repeating itself- his story, I mean. Maybe it did actually matter to him and maybe to me that he’s a Muslim and I’m a Hindu Brahmin and we live in a country with far too many examples of our sort of things. Maybe it’s a sign that I could in no way relate to the way he was raised. Maybe my middle class-ness wasn’t actually compatible with his elitist being. Maybe Bombay and Madras go together, but Mumbai and Chennai don’t.
So I had a conversation with the best heartbreak of my life, and wrote it all down, except for the words I’ll never write- “But in the movies, they end up together”