I still remember the first time I ran my fingers through her hair – we were casually sitting at Marine Drive right opposite the Pizza Bay that fine evening, facing the city rather than the sea, silently tittering looking at our beloved neighbours – the fellow junior college couples whose prime intent to even come as far as the promenade was just to indulge in publicly displaying their affection, some perhaps in more gross ways than others. We were hardly the type though, both of us. Our minds were more inclined towards discussing why Citizen Kane was overrated beyond measure, or discussing Brian Weiss’ books alongside his theory of life after death & existential crisis, coming up with outrageous Potter-centric fan fiction or debating why we were to follow the rat-pack like the rest of the herd. Our conversations were a tad bit more cerebral, to put it more subtly. That particular day was an achievement in more ways than one – I had finally convinced her to watch The Empire Strikes Back, which just by the way, is still the best Star Wars movie to this day (not that it matters to the story, but you know how I am) I still don’t know why she even agreed to watch it – maybe she just wanted to plant a smile on my face, because it was hardly a secret that she was not a fan of the space opera saga by a long shot. We used a splitter, plugged in two ear-phones & I started playing the film on my cellphone. She decided to lie down, her head rested comfortably on my lap as I held my cellphone up for both of us to witness the film on a rather modest 4.5 inch screen. Every few minutes, I’d look down at her and expected her to keep looking at the screen, but instead – all she did was look up at my face right into my eyes, a faint smile visibly present on her glowing face just as the Queen’s Necklace streetlights were switched on. I silently ran my fingers through her hair, and realised that it’s rather amazing how a pair of eyes can enthral you to such extent. I could deduce that she really wanted to say something at that point, but knew she wasn’t able to muster it up that day. Right at the point when Luke starts training at Dagobah, we decided to save the rest of the adventure for another day. A shame, really – that was where the fun bits started. And it’s hardly surprising that we never got around to completing the film that day, or any following day – and now, that’s not even a possibility.
You see, life teaches you a lot of lessons with each passing day – one being that the only certainty in the universe is its unpredictability. One day you’re wondering how life is so generous with you and how you have this perfect person who shares so much of every facet of your life with you, and the very next day – you realize that it all came with an attached clock, ticking towards nihility. And you’d figure that these melodramatic cliches only happen in dramedies & books, but when you suddenly find yourself in the midst of it all, your perspective sees a rampant change.
About two weeks later, we met outside our college one late evening. It would all not have affected me to a great extent, had her last few words to me not have been – “You know, for the first time in a long time after having accepted everything, I feel weak. I feel uncertain, because I really wanted to see where this all could go. And one of the biggest regrets in whatever time I do have left, will be not knowing how things would play out between the two of us. You’ll be the biggest ‘What if’ for the remainder of my days.” Right at that moment, I kissed her forehead, looked into those teary eyes and said – “Hey, you know what? The chapter’s not complete yet and there are still so many blank pages to fill – plus, we need to sit back down and finish off The Empire Strikes Back someday when you’re back, remember?”
She chuckled. Then with a very weak smile, said – “And what if those pages remain blank? You’d change the book someday, right? But I don’t think I’ll ever have another book, nor that I would even wish for one.”
That night was the last time I saw her, and I can’t really say that either one of us got closure. She moved to a different city, went through a continuous cycle of tests and treatments. And all I did was try to move on with my life every single day, trying hard not to indulge in activities that would remind me of her. You’d understand how difficult that last part was, especially given that we did practically everything together – from studying in the first floor college Library, right down to watching the first day first show at Inox, Nariman Point every single week for almost every other movie that hit the screens. We used to go on these food hogging trips together all around town, and would constantly invent these crazy, absurd back stories of random people we saw in the local trains. In her absence though, I just kept myself shut from rest of the world, constantly dreading any news from the other side whatsoever. It dawned upon me much later on, that sometimes the best part about being imaginative is to let reality get rendered into abstraction. And so, one fine day – I cut all modes of contact, she anyways had maintained radio silence for a few months – I created this bubble around me where I convinced myself that it all worked out for her wherever she was, and that she was doing just fine. I started going out again, doing the same crazy things with other friends of mine, and I’d tell them all about how I used to do all of this with her back in the day. She had become this crazy ball of joy in all their imaginations, just as she was in my memories.
But the news did come, when her dad came back to college some seven months later to complete some formalities regarding documentation. I’ll avoid talking about that particular phase and what transpired in the following two weeks. What I can tell you – is that beyond that point, she wasn’t my biggest vulnerability, she became my biggest strength – and it was high time I embraced this entire scenario as one. The whole idea about not knowing what life has in store for you sets your mind in completely uncharted territories. That point on, I constantly indulged in a plethora of things – from art, music, writing, photography and what not – because I had absolutely no idea if I was gonna wake up the next morning and if I’d have the chance to do all these things later on. I began to value the people in my life a lot more than I used to, because I couldn’t be certain when another soul close to me would be taken away by the clutches of the unknown. Respecting another person for what they’re worth and more is perhaps the easiest way to show them how much you value them being in your life. Every morning I woke up with the intention of learning something new, doing something absolutely crazy & going overboard with practically everything there was to go overboard with. Even the tiniest of gestures surpassed their traditional magnitude, and the smallest of hobbies became constant habits and obsessions. I wasn’t flawless, no one is. But I learnt to accept the rather harsh realities of life with a constant smile on my face – an attitude change that I know would never have occurred had she not been in my life – had I not met her in Economics 101 that first day of college. Like I said – biggest strength. Amidst the many faces that I’ve sketched over the past few years, I never could get myself to sketch her’s. And perhaps I’ll never be able to till the end of time – just one of those things, I guess. But that’s okay, the very idea of her is perhaps stronger than all the “What if”s in my life that I keep questioning.
You know why I love Mumbai so much? Why you see pictures of me sitting or standing near Marine Drive every few months? (as crazy, or poser-like the pictures may be? Some people have a habit of hiding their weaknesses behind the most outrageous facades of themselves)
It’s been so many years since all of this happened – I still go to Marine Drive whenever I am in Mumbai, right at that exact same spot we were that day. I still remember the smell of her hair, the glow on her face and the that beguiling smile that caught me off guard every single time. Sometimes I play The Empire Strikes Back whilst sitting there, holding the cellphone up just like that day, and stare at my lap at times. She isn’t there, but I still attach the splitter, and connect just one earphone for myself. I know that she’s around me, somewhere – constantly fading away, every single day.
The second port of that splitter always remains empty & unplugged. It’s been that way for a while. Guess it’ll just be “our thing” till the end of time.