BY PRADIPTA DUTTA (COPYRIGHTS2017)
That fateful day – when I was just a teenager who had been badly broken by the tragedies of her life – I met Miriam.
I had been badly wounded, in every sense of the word, and my hitherto balance had been lost, at that tender age of 16.
As a girl and now as a woman, I have always had the manifestation of Mother in my life – in various forms, She always makes herself manifest – because my whole life revolved around just that – celebrating Motherhood.
I had lost my second Mother – my Daadi – and that was a profoundly damaging experience – I had been left bereft of all feelings.
And that was when I’d found myself visiting the seaside, quite so often and there came Miriam.
A name in manifold – a name of solace, of comfort, of everything Mother was – everything She could be.
I felt like, Mother really loved me – for she never abandoned me.
She was five years elder to me and what was initially a connection – became an everlasting bond – which stayed with me – beyond the ravages of nationalities, communities, time, distance and every other barrier humankind can possibly levy on Love.
I called her ‘Appi’ – a name we fondly give to an Elder Sister.
She made sure she protected me, from everything that possibly presented itself infront of a beautiful teenage girl.
Miriam and I would sit for the longest of hours – by the seaside and talk about life – and she’d tell me everything that she’d known and I’d quietly listen – the Letterbox that I had always been.
Miriam was born in Pakistan, but who had then moved to IL, Chicago with her family.
On one such days, Miriam had been blushing – her cheeks red with wonder and amazement – and as the Sun fell on her face – her brown eyes twinkled and I became completely gripped by her beauty.
“You are so beautiful, Appi. I wish I could write poetry, right now.”
She laughed, blushing.
“Blessed be the man, that causes my face to glow with such beauty.” She replied.
“Man? Oh my God!” I became excited.
“Who is he, Appi?”
She looked back at me – deeply – her eyes were always piercingly, hauntingly ravenous – for what, nobody could tell.
“Rishi.” She said.
“What a beautiful name!” I exclaimed.
In a moment I saw her face, become sad – from the happiness that she was a moment ago.
“Indian. Hindu. Nationalist.” She said.
I ignored all those words she had said – for my teenage mind – it was only Love – and well, that’s what Daadi taught me – Love – all else were just specks of dust that would get blown away by the wind, some day or the other.
“I want to meet him, please! Appi, please! I will make him my Bhaijaan!”
“Oh, little one. You will love him. He loves poetry too – and he is the only child to his parents – so yes, he’d love to have a little kitty sister – such as you!”
I became happy – my joyousness knew no bounds.
I ran and began playing on the waves – squealing in joy, and splashing sea water on her, where she sat – and watched her laugh back at me, her eyes filled with love and adoration.
Two days later, we met at Palmo.
He was tall and sported an army-cut hairstyle – a face that always broke into a sarcastic smile, every now and then – and small elephant eyes. He spoke precisely and fast.
And then, I noticed that he had some cigarette ash on the back of his hand.
Miriam despised smokers.
He gave me his hand, for a hand shake.
Miriam watched us as we shook hands, and then I put my other hand on his hand and cleaned away the ash – in one swift motion, without having Miriam notice it.
Rishi suddenly understood and gave me that glare – that said, thank you! For saving me!
I nodded at him.
“What was that?” Miriam asked.
Miriam was very quick at reading reactions.
“What?” We both said, together.
“That nodding, that acknowledgment!” She said, frowning.
“That is what here, with Bigbee saying that he has fallen for my Appi and I give him the permission.” I giggled.
I had always been known for being, quite so mischievous, my eyes always twinkling bright.
“Bigbee?” Appi said. “So you just met him and chose a name too?”
“Yes. I did. Big brother and since he is like a bee – always so restless – so then Bigbee!”
I giggled some more.
“God, Miriam. I love your sister – and I am stealing her, now she is mine!”
Miriam pulled me close to her.
“No way, I don’t share her with anyone.”
“Why don’t we let her decide?” Rishi said, laughing. “Tell us, little one. Who do you belong with?”
I squealed. “I belong with the one that gets me icecream, chocolate on-the-rocks- whoever brings it the quickest!”
And then I jumped in joy, as I saw Miriam and Rishi race down to the icecream parlour – to get me – chocolate on-the-rocks.
As expected, Bigbee returned first and handed me my icecream and as I licked my icecream, Miriam came, down, panting – frowning and cursing Rishi – with icecream in her hand.
I snatched the icecream from her hand. I’d have both.
“Prad!” She screamed. “That’s unfair.”
“Let’s run to the sea.” I squealed and ran – and I was followed by Bigbee and behind him, Miriam.
And under the sun, and by the sea, I watched these two beautiful people – in love – debating about the state of affairs in Palastine, with Rishi voicing his support for Israel, and Miriam crying out for the people of Palastine.
They were both very well-read and always had these mind-boggling, deep, out-of-the-world discussions – socio-political and otherwise – and I don’t know why it always came down to religious divide, one way or the other.
I lay on my tummy on that sand beach, my chin supported by both my hands, my elbows resting on the sand – and observed the pecularities of love – of how their divisions spoke louder than the Love that they shared for each other – and yet it was weaker – Love was the uncontained, the omnipresent.
“I love Palestine and Israel, both equally.” I said, staring at the horizon.
They both became quiet, and stared at me.
“Yes, I love you both. Do you think they could peacefully co-exist?”
Miriam looked away.
She did not want to answer that inevitable question that I had raised – could a Muslim and a Hindu co-exist together – could they fall in love? Could they be seen as husband and wife – or lovers – was it allowed in this miserable world?
“Little one talks deep today, how about she jam some poetry with me?”
“Bigbee, we form a poetry society, ok?” I said.
“Sure, little one. Dead poets’society.” He said.
“Live Poets’ Society.” I retaliated.
And amidst our giggles and laughter, the Sun went down into the Sea…
What was Love?
Surely, Love was not restricted, was it?
So if, people of beliefs said they loved each other – and restricted it – were they really loving? Or had they been poisoned by their own better judgement about what Love should be?
I still remember the nights of horror.
You see, Rishi and Miriam were not really these Musafers that I had come to meet and know – they were not merely that – what did people know about my broken heart and wounded spine?
The strangers whom I met on the road, always became something more to me – I adored them like they were my people.
And these two particularly – who I so affectionately called, Brother and Sister – they were so much more – they were my parental figures, and I was terrified of a possible divorce they would entail – emerging out of the constraints society levied upon them.
But this is now, when I go back onto my memory lane and think about it – restricting my childhood to nothing, but analysis of people and circumstances.
At that time, however, although I was scared, I was always very optimistic about Love.
I spent my days reading Heer- Ranjha, Sasi-Punnu, and Mirza Sahiban – and yet remained, quite so idealistic – always believing that Cinderella eventually found her Prince Charles.
“You’re naïve.” Miriam said.
“Rishi and I can never be together. I come from a conservative Sunni khandan, Prad. I am a Pakistani. He is an Indian. And as much as I love him, we’d never be together – not in this lifetime. Oh but, I do not believe in reincarnation, like your Bigbee does.”
Miriam was more practical compared with Rishi. Rishi was cut-throat, but he was insanely in love with Miriam and in awe of her flair. He never discussed a possible separation.
“I am sure you both will find a way.” I said, staring at my fading nail-paint.
“Would he convert to Islam?” She asked.
I got angry.
“How can you say such a thing? Nobody converts to anything – what does one convert to? When one never was anything – when one never was an identity?”
Miriam became silent.
“Stop speaking like them, I know you love him – but you cannot possibly change anything about him, if you did, you’d lose him.”
She began crying.
“I do not know what to do of all this.” She said.
“I offer Namaaz everyday and pray that Allah make a way for us – I am a religious woman. I have always done my Ramadan piously, with all of my faith and heart – and look what forbidden love I landed myself into, look what I did!”
“I don’t know how to unlove Rishi. I really do not. In all these years as a young woman, I have never had any feelings for anyone – but he, he is the one for me, I can feel him in his words, in the little things, those debates, those late-night conversations and everything – absolutely everything has become him – he is everywhere. I cannot imagine my existence without his shelter.”
I held her in my arms, and my white dress became soaked with her mascara and tears.
White was my favourite colour, after black and brown.
That was the problem, I never saw grey – it was always the extremes.
“Oh, I ruined your dress.” She said, rubbing away her tears.
“I have people ruining my soul – this dress is nothing.” I said, as defiant as always.
It angered me, to see my people so weak.
“God, you are seventeen.” She said. “Cease speaking like fifty. Who are you? Rumi incarnate?”
I laughed, in my sarcasm.
“But you do not believe in reincarnation – like my Hindu Brother.”
She became grave and turned away, and went to her Namaaz, as I watched her silhouette – the Mecca of all Love, was becoming the statutory warning of societal norms.
Eventually Miriam returned to Illinois and I came back to that place that was my ‘home’.
Unlike meetings with Miriam, which were mostly lost in her state of depression – meetings with Rishi were very laidback and relaxing – as if there was no incoming disaster, as if everything would eventually be ok and it gave me solace, in the face of chaos and crises.
We invariably jammed poetry under the Moonshine – in the chilly Kasauli winter, his hometown, which I frequently visited, whenever I got a chance to.
LIVE POETS’ SOCIETY – POETRY JAM #245
“On a lonely path, strode I,
Hoping for a hopeful story,
That must stop me from jumping down the cliff…
On thy valley of flowers,
He took me by my arms,
The valiant horseman,
Riding through the winding lanes…
The rush of hilly waters,
Icy and estranged.
I watch with my demure ways,
Quiet and abiding,
Of his Charm.
As he carries me through my hilly heavens,
Of this foggy hilltop,
That drops a thousand fold.
He whispers to me of Love,
A Love that could never be found.
And yet his throbbing heart upon my bosom,
Assures me of our victories.
“As the rider tore through the fog, and the gallops resonated on the pavements of stone, his mind was a sea of turmoil lashing on the rocks of uncertainty.
The steed breathed in wisps and with a purpose of his Master, strut the knife’s edge on the gorge – it had no doubts, it had no worries, it had no indecisions to be made… It was a medium to a destination, whilst its Master lost in the mist, looked for purpose.
On the last rock, by the cliff, the steed rode through, as its hooves left the last bits of solid rock into the thin misty air – it had a sense of content, it was finally at its destination.
The Master on the other hand, was still trying to figure out the complexities plaguing himself – and the last thing which flashed through his mind, was again – Indecisiveness – that is what life turned out to be.”
I sipped on my milk-coffee and watched him smoke his fourth cigarette in the last one hour – smoke bellowing from his lips – as effervescent as the ties of Love that became swallowed with what those pricey tags they called ‘Religion’ and ‘Nationality’.
“You will end up a dead man soon.” I uttered.
“When was I alive, anyway?” He said.
“You were alive that morning, when you wrote your first poetry behind the Christ Church, under the Oak tree.”
“I rule the corporate world out there in Bangalore – I’m someone who came out of nothing and had to work his ass off in that city – at a time when nobody believed him he could do something worthwhile. I am brutal and savage – I am restlessly quick and I devour people who work with me. I come to Kasauli only when I have to jam poetry with a teenager who says she doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the world – and yet she cries every night before she goes to sleep because as tough as she tries to portray herself, she is nothing but a cradle baby. So it gives her no right to ask me to start writing again. That boy is dead – and what little is left will be soon gone.”
He exhaled his smoke and looked up at the sky.
His Adam’s apple was unusually large – I think that could have been what those women loved so much about him.
“This is known as reverse psychology.” I chuckled.
He looked at me.
“Yes?” He was smiling.
“Yes. It signifies weakness on the part of the person that uses it.”
He ignored my remark.
“Bigbee, I am not ashamed of my Depression, not even of those faces I have been looking at everyday since I had some sense put into me by Daadi. So you might be very smart – you know, I know you read a lot of Freud and Carl Jung – but look, I was writing research papers when people were having their diapers changed.”
He offered me his smoke.
“Okay. So much of self-obsession there will do you bad. Here, cause yourself some lung injury instead.”
I took the cigarette from his hand and dropped it on the ground, and trampled it with my shoe.
“Seen a lot of men cause themselves harm. I am not an idiot like them.” I said.
“Aw, one day you’ll have your heart broken and cigarettes are all you’ll have, little dolly.”
He lighted another cigarette.
“Go away. You’d easily land up a job in Canberra. Take Miriam along, marry her, cut off all contact with the people you know.” I told him.
“See, this – why I say you basically are a foolish young woman – who’d probably end up caustic and lonely, is because, you are quite so scattered. Now, one moment I see you talk wisdom that is usually not found at the age you are in. And the very next moment you are talking Cinderella. And then you know, you will soon start university and fall for a guy who will swoon you off your feet – and you will choose up an impossible love – a forbidden kind of a love. I know this for certain. Because you want to be an instance, an example set, to scream out to the world about the power of that word you so adore – ‘LOVE’ – but then, you will be hurt because he will not share the same spirit as you. Once that happens, you will stop talking about Love and even writing about it. Such is the fickleness of the human mind.”
Now, this man was trying to evade his own problems by showing me a mirror.
This is what I called Reverse Psychology.
“Hallelujah!” I said, raising up my arms to the sky.
“Old man thinks his child is crazy. And what about him then? Behold! Stars! Behold, such are these human beings – forgetting the miracle of Love, that contains them all.”
“Old man? I am just 11 years older to you.” He frowned.
“Losing your hair over this woman you love and who loves you – but wanting to give her up because those bitches tell you religion and countries – boundaries, boundaries, boundaries, they said, come let us tame the Ocean, they said – such fools they were. Morons!”
“I think life would not be so exciting if we did not have these boundaries to rebel against.” He said.
“Jesus Christ. There’s these people trying to complicate life so as to escape its simplicity.” I frowned.
He stared deeply into the sparkling Pine trees that swayed with the wind.
“Miriam and I love each other – but it’s a love that can never become a tangible truth. This is what it is… As much as I want her – in flesh – and no, not as lust – but as a ‘being’ – as ‘existence’ – as my Reality… I want to see her in that house I have bought on the 21st floor – I want to see her cook for my friends when I have them for Dinner – all smiles and then throw a tantrum at me, after they leave – for having been such a pompous bastard all the time – and while I do the dishes, to make her smile, I want her to scream and tell me why I am always wrong about Israel keeping Palestine or India keeping Kashmir – and why women’s rights in Afghanistan is still a possibility because of all the courageous women like herself. I want to listen to all those words from her sweet mouth – the sweetest of all voices that I have known, intoxicating me with all those syllables and the way she says them – the way the ‘s’ always sounds like a sizzle – the way it twists up the neurons in my head. And that’s the sweetness of her voice – when I come back home, and have no zeal to cook for myself because all these leeches back at work have had me drained, little one. Trust me, it’s entering hell and escaping it everyday – and then it is just her voice, just one word from her mouth – that restores all my sanity. She is like those woods of Kasauli – like the silence of my Books – to that world I escaped into when the noise became too much. She is Poetry.”
My Brother who always seemed so brave and vicious to the world was losing all his battles – the battles that nobody knew anything about, except for me.
Back in Goa, he’d told me that as a child he had dreams of becoming a Poet – he was an introvert as a child, who always ran away into the woods of Kasauli – and spent hours there, reading books – Leo Tolstoy, Sigmund Freud, Machiavelli, Robert Frost, George Orwell – and so on and so forth. His books became his best friends – but those dreams went downhill when his Father summoned him to choose a professional life instead – he could not have lived a life in Kasauli – and certainly not that of an Artist.
He gave up his dreams of becoming a Poet and left Kasauli, studied in Delhi and created a niche for himself in Bangalore.
And now – being a Indian Nationalist Hindu, he had fallen for a Pakistani Muslim – a romance that would never be possible, because both of them chose to live within the constraints of societal norms – a redundant puny atmosphere which kept no respect for what was free, what was true, because Truth here was sham.
I visited him often – and I always spoke of the very things that seemed to him were impossible in this lifetime for him – Love and Poetry.
Yes, I was an Idealist who dreamt of old-school romance and an anarchist state.
But – adulthood takes the innocence of simplicity – without giving you any reasons and you fall victim to it, one way or the other. Compared with them, I was always a rebel who had these crazy ideas of living an outcasted life – and he was right, I was fickle – and I ended up being ostracized for everything I held sacred.
I tried very much to have their differences dissolved and I spent a lot of my energy on trying to convince them to flee – but they were not runners, is what they said.
Two years later, Rishi married a colleague under family pressure. She was Hindu.
I lambasted him and insulted his wife.
It was naïve but when did a child like to see her Father marry someone other than her Mother?
He was offended and cut off all contact with me.
He’d started smoking 40 cigarettes per day and had given up poetry completely – he only worked, worked and worked – and created a very successful story for himself in the eyes of the Corporate. He was adored by everyone – his family and wife including, his friends, his clients and subordinates – alike; but only he knew the hollowness, and Miriam knew it, I knew it. Nobody else had known anything – and none of us chose to say anything.
His wife was a smart and successful lady herself – who made sure she delete every last link from his past – and this she did quite vehemently, she did not want anything from his Past to have any say in her Present – and why not? Women are sensible, aren’t they? Well, she was. She was as brutal as he was, and she’d known how to keep a man in the way she wanted him to be.
It meant Rishi could never contact me again.
I missed him terribly, but he was none of my concerns anymore because I had begun hating him silently, for he had abandoned my Miriam – my Miriam who was now heartbroken and in tatters.
Miriam had become a ghost – she lost a year at school and started losing weight.
Her beautiful eyes were overshadowed by dark circles of sleeplessness – and at nights, she would call me and I would sing her a lullaby to make her go to sleep.
She never cried – she just faded away, and that was worse.
She’d pray every day – for some kind of hope be given to her lost life – a life that was now lovelessness, a life that was held hostage by the ‘rules’ people created – but who created these rules and what was the sanctity of it, nobody knew.
Why didn’t we question? Why didn’t we absolve? Why was it always about forgetting and – acceptance – moving on – without addressing these issues that plagued us and wrecked havoc with our lives?
And what exactly were these boundaries about, and this crazy obsession with keeping everything the same way, well-polished, neat and tidy, like stacks of clothing in the wardrobe of a home that had hidden termites underneath – the termites we knew existed but failed to acknowledge them.
Or pretended to have failed to acknowledge them.
One thing or the other – always was true – and what, nobody really knew…
This was no place for outcasts and misfits and certainly not for people who thought differently – I mean, they worked hard and created something, but look how much of suffering they endured – layers after layers of subjugated realities, kept hidden underneath a beautiful smile – and all this for what?
Miriam faded away into her Depression for three long years – every day blacker than the one that went past her. She did not party or go out very often; as she had always been introverted and cerebral.
Her parents asked her to find a man and get married – and she met quite a few of them, but she’d always reject everyone.
Finally after four years, of having Rishi abandon her, she met a man named Rashid.
Rashid redeemed Miriam – but I never found the courage to befriend him.
Miriam did not ask me to. It was better that way.
Rashid helped her come out of her Depression – he adored her and pampered her – he took her around traveling, and proposed her.
They got engaged a year later.
She went back into Optometry School and was now seen beaming once more. The color of her cheeks had returned and she started to smile again, laugh again.
I met her again one evening, at the same place where I’d first met her – the Seaside.
“You don’t keep in touch with anyone else, do you?” She asked.
She meant Rishi.
“Not with that someone. Our last conversation was in October. The person has been traveling quite a bit and has settled well in his life. The last time we spoke, he was trying to quit smoking.”
“He started smoking again?” She frowned.
“Yes. 18-20 per day.”
“What?” she seemed shocked.
“He’s probably quit now.” I tried to console her, hating myself for having revealed that little detail to her, which was too much for her to handle.
“Wow. Not my problem… Does he ever ask?”
“No never. Never you.”
“Does he talk about his wife?”
“No women in our conversations. Spirituality, places and the mundane only.”
“Good for him.” She said, looking into the setting Sun.
“Hasn’t written in eons. He wasted away his gift.” I said, sadly.
“I keep checking his Blog. He has not written anything since we broke up.” She said.
I became quiet.
“Is he happy?” She asked, after a while.
“He seems quite afloat. The darkness is still present with what his cynicism about the world.”
She pushed her hand into the sand.
“I won’t lie to you. Lately I have been thinking about him a lot. Not in the romantic sense but just losing a friend. I think you just never get over someone you once cared about. I didn’t find him anywhere on social media. He quit Facebook.” She said.
“Don’t, Appi. Don’t do this. I know it’s tough. But you are about to start a new life. Please keep no remnants from the Past.”
“Lately there has been a bout of thinking about him. I have moved on.” She said, contradicting herself in both sentences.
“I think about it, Prad. I have come a long way. Losing him did not change me. It broke me. I am still afraid that one day, everything that I have been working so hard on will fall apart. Because the part that is supposed to stop loving him, still hasn’t. All I have been thinking about is, is he happy, does she treat him like he deserves to be treated, is he okay?”
“I won’t let it fall apart, you know. You have been taking steps, and I will protect you – from him, from his wife, and from the world. We won’t have it fall apart over someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you. You deserve way better than that – you have Rashid now and he values you, and takes care of you. He adores you.” I said.
“I love Rashid. Of course, I do. The Problem is, I don’t think Rishi doesn’t give a rat’s ass. I know he still loves me, he always will. But anyway, it is not my problem. He has a wife now, who I am sure is capable of helping him out.”
“She may be. And even if she is not, it is none of your business anymore.”
“Yes, exactly. It is none of my business anymore.” She said.
And I watched her tall and beautiful figure, her long brown hair that kissed her waist, her long fingers, and all of her elements – walking into the sea, as if walking into the sea – would have all of her past washed away, and help her see a new horizon – a horizon that now had a new name.
We eventually lessened our talks, as she got back into her life – and we haven’t seen each other in a long time. Rishi only spoke to me once, one October, and since then, he never contacted me again.
I am an adult now, and I respect their decisions and the choices they’ve made.
I do not judge them anymore; neither do I expect them to return to what we were back then…
Miriam married Rashid and I am sure they’d make a beautiful couple, out there somewhere.
Well, I like the Himalayas – and the tranquility of my nothingness.