Tuesday, February 08, 2005

About Two Loves and I

I, Ananya, am a suburban single mother minus the SUV that often comes with the territory. Ten years ago, I would have been awed by someone in my situation, my cultural sensibilities doubtless challenged. It was about "them" and "us" being different. Having crossed over to the other side now, I find it difficult to appreciate the "us" perspective that I once had.

I may have lost the comfort of familiar things like a husband and a home, but what I've gained is incomparable. I can look at marriage and love from an aesthetic distance -- my own as well as another's. My illusions are fewer, but I haven't lost my romanticism, my ability to dream a perfect world amid contrary evidence.

I have learnt that love and hate can co-exist in exuberant confusion and is not necessarily wrong - that, in fact, there are no rules to love at all. Sometimes one grand passion is what it takes to find happiness in an utterly ordinary life instead of being miserable in it. The contrariness of the heart is a fascinating study, more so if it is your own. My journey has been one of profound self-discovery. It is a journey I have taken with Aman and Tuhin - the two men who make me what I am, two relationships that are the systole and diastole of my existence.

With me, events most cataclysmic have come unheralded with latent significance that I have discovered many years later. When I met Aman the first time, the earth did not slip off its axis or a bolt of lightning strike. It was a quietly pedestrian moment. We were both sixteen something then, a time when even months counted - he was older by a couple. I remember Aman having a caffeinated intellectual air about him, tall for his age and infinitely poised. His voice was to die for.

Wildly popular with the girls including the mysterious Miss Hariharan, our Eng Lit teacher - lovely and single in her thirties -- Aman was notorious for introducing a personal slant into his interpretation of Yeats and Cummings. We suspected it was for her benefit because she found it so charming. Of course, he expressed outrage at such "preposterous" suggestions, blaming the "onslaught of pulp media on juvenile minds" that let no relationship remain "sacrosanct." Such bombast, typical of Aman, was inevitably met with much derision from the rest of us.

Back then, I had this small but tenacious bunch of admirers that refused to give up. Some of us went back to elementary school days, making it impossible for me to feel any romantic inclination. How they felt any was beyond my comprehension. Aman, with his curiosity about life's oddities, was intrigued by this "Brotherhood of Ananya Worshippers", as he had called them.

It was his little sociology project to work out the fallacy of their close bonding given such a glaring conflict of interest. Before long, he was included into the fold, which afforded him perspective from the trenches. I'm not sure what he found out being there, but some of them continue to be Aman's friends to this day. We are thirty something and months don't count anymore, we have all moved on.

Aman was my first encounter with powerful physical attraction, a thing that is easy to mistake for love. Hearing his voice could make my heart pound. Being within six feet of him would leave my stomach feeling hollow, my legs jellied. My body remained in a state of shock long after he was gone. A conversation with him was a mood-elevating drug, the high lasted several weeks.

I haven't tried Prozac, but I doubt if it would do for me what Aman could and still can. Sometimes when he came over, I shut the windows so the potent smell of him mixed with his cologne would linger on after him. When I first read about pheromones, I had no trouble recognizing the kind of smell they were talking about. I was disappointed that they were going to make a science of it.

With Aman, I could no longer feel in control of myself. I was rather vain about my "ice-maiden" reputation and Aman was reducing me to the level of the blathering idiots that wrote letters to agony aunt columns in kitschy women's magazines. I was not proud of who I was becoming and the chemistry from being around him seemed irreversible.

At seventeen, I assured myself, though a malignant strain of spring fever, "this too shall pass." I believed meeting Mr. Right would be just the pair of pincers it would take to tweeze Aman out of my system. It was tough to guess Aman's feelings for me - I could tell that he felt attracted, but that was all I could tell. He could not have felt haunted like I did.

We kept in touch through the college years though our careers were headed in very different directions, not to mention different countries, as were our long-term goals in life. There had been other guys since Aman in my life- some heart breaks included. He had had his flings- his face would light up when he talked about one of them in particular. I forget her name now. She definitely sounded his type and I hoped it lead somewhere in the end.

I don't remember when he mentioned her last. We were faithful about keeping each other posted on all things romantic in our lives and, of course, most ardently desired to meet Mr. and Ms. Right as the case might be. Our lack of success in that direction was definitely not from lack of serious intent. We wanted pretty badly to spend the rest of our lives with "the one" and could not wait to get started.

Over the years, the chemistry did not change or diminish, it bothered me less knowing I couldn't do anything about it. Aman made a conscious effort to establish and honor the boundaries of our relationship, and it was not easy for him to do so. He worked on controlling his impulses to the point where he could not let go emotionally even if he tried, choosing to trade his natural ebullience for a way to keep us together and safe.

We had grown attached to our friendship and were terrified of losing it to a moment's indiscretion that would change it irrevocably. At twenty-five, I was no longer sure if "infatuation" was the most appropriate description for my state of affairs. I had stopped agonizing over labeling it and found peace in status quo. I imagine, so had he.

Aman has always had the most interesting e-mail etiquette. If the tone and content of my mail is mundane, I expect to see a reply in a few hours. If it demands an honest expression of his feelings, emotions, or worse, an affirmation of the real nature of our relationship, it will provoke a month long silence followed by a phone call apologizing for the delay.

The conversation may last for hours thereafter, but it would not be a response to what I had said. I know I've touched a sensitive chord in him when I don't hear back from him at once. I know he is not sure enough of himself to not transgress the barriers that we have defined for ourselves. The longer his silence, the longer I'm on his mind -- a place I've always loved being.

Sometimes, I've had to follow it up with a one-liner like, "Can you find out if there is a better deal on this PDA? See specs below. I need to buy one ASAP," that would shake him out of his emotion-induced stupor and provide a safe passage out of the impasse.

Buried in his prompt response to the query would be a little nugget that would tell of his deepest feelings in three words like "only for you", removed far from their context but even more pregnant with meaning for that. Our hearts would have met and my day be made. It probably takes two die-hard romantics like us to go through such complex courtship rituals with no end in view. We seem to enjoy undertones of conversation, suggestions in the written word more than the simple carefree impulse to act on it.

For as long as we have known each other, we have enjoyed making these silent communions with each other in a language that suggested nothing to anyone else besides us. The fact that our relationship was based on such an elaborate system of cryptic messages that we could exchange around anyone and not reveal a thing made us feel very special.

My parents introduced me to Tuhin when I was twenty-six. In my family's parochial scheme of things, I was running extremely late as far as marriage was concerned, and it would not be a moment too soon for me to tie the knot. It was a combination of circumstances mostly out of my control that led to meeting Tuhin and deciding to marry him.

This must be the Mr. Right, I told myself - I did not feel electrified but simply depleted of all sensation. Deja vu overcame me at our first meeting - as though he and I had lived our lives together in a parallel universe and a familiar pattern would unfold once again.

There would be no upheavals, tectonic shifts as two strangers came together -- merely a matter of re-discovering what was forgotten. The sheer volume of serendipitous coincidences in our lives amazed us. Fait accompli was writ large over all of it- I let myself be guided by that feeling, not wanting to disturb the fine equilibrium of infinite strands of destiny in space and time to make this possible. There was an overwhelming sense of a larger purpose to us getting together and it came with a force I could not resist.

I made the biggest decision of my life in a state of trance, using fate as my anchor where reason and logic had failed. Anyone who knew me could tell that Tuhin just was not my type and yet I saw no contradiction in deciding solely with my heart that I would marry him.

Aman was the first person I told. Though a little confused about my choice, he was genuinely happy for me. I was excited about my new life and the amazing connection I seemed to have with Tuhin – how he could complete my thoughts and sentences so effortlessly. "So, how did you feel when you met him?" Aman asked me. I told him it was unspectacular - that seemed to disappoint him a bit. He still hoped to levitate a few feet when he met the woman meant for him. I hated to disabuse him of his grand illusions - who knows, he just might.

He pestered me for a wedding gift idea, giving up at last when I said, "Is it too much to ask that you use your imagination just for once?"

His caveat was prompt, "Don't be disappointed at my lack of it." We left it at that.

He flew in with my wedding gift a month before my marriage saying that he would not be able to take time off from work later. His face was a complex canvass of emotions - it was a bittersweet parting from a way of life where a relationship could be beautiful without definition, without the bondage of commitment or expectation. In different ways, we were both losing our freedom and we would miss it.

Aman tried hard to fight the nostalgia. There were two gifts and, knowing him like I did, they were meant to say different things. One was a mug personalized with the meaning of my name inscribed on it. The other was an elegantly understated set of Mikimoto pearls - I could tell they were obscenely expensive. The message was not lost on me - I knew Aman had come the closest to expressing himself at the risk of transgression.

He had made one giant leap in faith. It took my marriage to make this happen - I remember spending a quiet afternoon, many old memories floating around me like rainbow-hued gossamer, too delicate to touch or feel.

When Tuhin called later in the evening, I told him about the gifts. He said they were "beautiful and profound like your relationship with him." I knew then he was indeed the man I had been waiting for – the man who understood me so perfectly.

"Are you jealous?" I asked him.

"No. He was there before me. Obviously, a very special man for making such a deep impression on you. I just feel bad that I could not get there first," he replied. "No worries. I'll make up for lost time," he added with a laugh. If there is such a thing as perfect peace, I had it at that moment.

Starting life with Tuhin was like living in a dream - often too perfect to feel real. Aman remained in the periphery of my thoughts mainly because I wished him as much happiness as I had found. I felt responsible for him though I could hardly alter the course of his life.

I worried how he was getting by - alone, though we had in practical terms never been together. After my marriage, except for the de rigueur New Year greeting that we exchanged in January, there was very little contact. We were becoming strangers to each other and there were new idiosyncrasies about us that the other no longer recognized or understood. A new marriage was doing what it was supposed to do - weakening ties of the oldest, strongest friendships. Had Aman found himself a wife, my conscience would have rested even as oblivion threatened to engulf all things that were not Tuhin, the center of my existence.

The thing that distinguished my relationship with Tuhin the most from that with Aman was the lack of self-annihilating chemistry. I had assumed, with the one that was meant for me, it would be a million times as powerful. His voice could be soothing and balmy but was not what it took to make my heart leap out of my body.

Tuhin grew on me with time until we felt like an organic whole together. I have never touched Aman so don’t know what it feels like - I imagine it to be fiery like his presence, maybe even more so. Tuhin was always ethereal - when at times I could resonate with him emotionally, the feeling was almost divine. Each time that happened, it reaffirmed my faith in our relationship.

The picture perfect quality of the early days was to become less so in time and I thought that was but natural. I was balancing my career with domesticity and dreaming of motherhood. I wished to be perfect at everything, refusing to see contradictions in the roles and the impossibility of striking an exact balance.

With Aman, I had never felt possessive -- he told me of his little escapades with his gorgeous office secretary, Sana, who would sometimes drink herself out of her mind when he took her out to dinner. It was a flagrant invitation for him to be a man and make the most of the situation. Despite his eloquent moral dilemma over "to be a man or a gentleman," he seemed to enjoy these dinner dates. I felt happy for her presence in his life and the spurt of warmth she brought in to its cold desolation.

Aman, for his part, was always coaching me on what men liked and disliked in women and what I needed to do to take the relationship in question "to the next level." My happiness meant a lot to him. He often despaired that I was "selective to the point of exclusion" when it came to men and very relieved at Tuhin's coming into my life.

I wanted Tuhin to share all of himself with me - sometimes the need was beyond reasonable, particularly so in a relationship that was still new. He could make me feel desperately lonely just by choosing to keep his thoughts to himself. I was not only possessive of him, but I lay claim to all that made him who he was. I realized he had a right to his privacy and space just as much as I had to mine. When I first read Khalil Gibran as a teenager, I had fallen in love with his philosophy on marriage, it was my "mantra" for true happiness:

"But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls."

I was failing to live up to the ideal I had always cherished in my own life. There was something hidden deep inside of Tuhin - a place I could never ever reach. What I would never know made him the person he was. The context of who he was would remain unknown and yet I would have to live with the perplexing manifestations of his life's most fundamental experiences.

With Tuhin, there would never be something like the "whole truth" - there would be gaps and inconsistencies that I could at best ascribe to as his right to privacy. I would have to make peace with myself knowing that I would not know, and with not knowing what I would not know.

But I had thought he and I were fated to be together. When you are one with the other, all barriers must necessarily come down. It was my right to know him, including what lay behind doors he had shut on me, all the shrapnel of experiences that so badly scarred him.

I failed to earn his trust to where he could let the floodgates open and allow catharsis to take over and heal. In effect, I failed as a wife. I knew and loved what he had chosen to reveal to me - did I know I would feel the same way when I knew the whole of him? Two years into my marriage and on the verge of motherhood, I was tremendously conflicted and lost.

I knew there were layers and layers that I would need to peel over my lifetime to reach the real Tuhin - it would take the patience of Job, and yet there would be no guarantees. In the end, the truth might not be something I could live with. I had fallen in love with a two-dimensional Tuhin where everything was airbrushed perfection, never once stopping to think this could not be for real. So desperate was my need to see "the one" in Tuhin, so portentous were the signs of destiny. We were like two planets attracted to each other by the very forces that will in the end destroy them.

Our marriage was falling apart rapidly - a house of cards may have fared a whole lot better. I had desired my child with every molecule in my being, being a mother was the biggest and the best achievement of my life - I never felt so proud and content ever. Tuhin keeled over at fatherhood -- he could no longer keep his two worlds from colliding.

I caught glimpses of the one that I had been so carefully excluded from and it frightened me. I was not sure I would be able to withstand the whole truth when in the end his resistance did break down. It would not been the Tuhin I had married, the man whom I had loved, the man that I had known to be the one God had chosen for me. Our time together seemed like a grand illusion - I wanted out before it was too late to even hold on to some wisps of the beautiful dream that it had started out as. I needed to escape before all was mired in unbearable, unforgettable pain and ugliness that was consuming it.

I returned home to my parents, bruised and battered emotionally, infinitely tired, three years older with wisdom that I did not desire. It took me a while to acknowledge to myself I was a separated mother of an infant. The biggest loss that I felt was that of a very dear friend -- from being whole, I had been cleaved. Marriage was the definition of our relationship, and with that ending in such bitterness, there was no room for friendship anymore.

Tuhin had decided not to be a father to our child - I could not understand how he could sever ties from his own body and soul. But there was so much about him that I never did understand. I mourned my baby's loss even as she cooed, gurgled and dimpled into heart-stopping smiles, covering my face with kisses. Tuhin had chosen not to see and feel any of this magic, not to feel her sweet, angelic touch. I mourned the precious fragments of my life that would remain strangers to each other except in my heart.

The future veered at a dizzying pace between planning for the next moment and for a time twenty years later. Aman had sent me a congratulatory e-mail on my becoming a mother where he said, "You have everything it takes to make a wonderful mother. I wish your child every happiness."

How could I tell him that I had failed in my very first duty as a mother in being able to give my child the security of a real home and her fundamental right to two parents. He was deeply saddened when I did tell him many months later and came to meet me. There were gifts this time too, bearing a message of hope and affection, maybe more - some baby things for my daughter and a bottle of designer fragrance for me.

Of all the perfumes I have ever worn, nothing felt quite as perfect as this - like it was made just for me. I wondered how he could tell wearing it would snap me out of the blues, make me feel beautiful and desirable just like being around him always did. He had found me the essence of him - just what I needed at that time.

Before leaving, he gave me the strength I was missing. I knew he believed in me and in my ability to overcome. Without saying a word, he had assured me I could count on him and he would be there for me whenever I needed him, whatever way I needed him -- friend, lover or husband. I could choose what I wanted and when. That he could convey so much without needing to articulate a thing was in itself quite amazing. We had still restrained ourselves by the boundaries defined so many years ago. Maybe we were not so juvenile back then after all.

Aman's abortive attempts to get married were at one time an amusing thing to talk about - at the wrong side of thirty, I do not see anything funny about it anymore. He humored me through my efforts at matchmaking, mainly from curiosity to see who I thought suitable for him.

Even after a broken marriage, my world was not bare like his. I had my child. She has filled almost every aching void. It saddens me to think he has no home, no progeny - nothing to root him to a sense of purpose in life. I know he will make a very fine father. I have asked him sometimes if philandering is just too much fun to give up for marriage. To which he will just say, "I'm hardly the Casanova you make me out to be though I would love to meet if not exceed your expectations." I would have to laugh. So typical of Aman to trivialize what is most important in life, or at least pretend to do so.

My daughter will turn three in a few months. I have been able to make peace with my separation, which will probably never end in a divorce because Tuhin has no desire to move on, because marriage does not mean what it once did to me. He has grown comfortably numb and desires that over any real emotion - numbness has always been his safety blanket of choice. I have decided that a piece of paper is worth only as much as you let your heart believe it is worth, be it a marriage certificate or a divorce decree.

Aman has formally shelved the issue of his marriage for the time being. He insists he needs me to find someone I can spend the rest of my life with before he can settle down peacefully, he feels responsible for me. He believes I need to start over with the right man, home, family, husband and all, that my life will be fuller, happier if I do. However, he can't tell me why the same rules don't apply to him and why he does not need to make an effort to make it happen like he tells me I must. In what he does not say is his answer.

I have asked myself if it is fair to keep Aman waiting until I am ready or eternity, whichever is first, just because I know he will. Or let him drift out of my life just like he had when I was married to Tuhin because I know he will when he feels I have found someone who will be there for me.

I feel blessed to have Aman in my life, the one paradise that will never be lost, the one man who can make me feel like the most beautiful woman any day of my life, still make my heart race like only first love can. We understand and accept the contradiction of us both continuing to seek the significant other in others besides the other. It has been the theme of our relationship, or is it this thing they call love?

Life goes on, Sana enjoys her occasional Beaujolais, Aman has tranquility that comes from having a home forever in the heart of the beloved. Someday, I pray he will have a real home too.

My mobile beeps in the middle of an important meeting. Not his usual time to call, but for Aman, everything can wait. He is all excited. "Hey, Ananya! I just had to share this with you. I just found out that I got a big bonus - you are the only person I can share my happiness and feel so gloriously free." A well-meaning friend is match making for him - he wants to know what I think.

I say, "Meet her with an open mind. She might just be the one."

That leaves him in a familiar place between hopefulness and hopelessness -- he wants me to say something quiet different, just like I want him to tell me how he feels about me - each wants the other to dare our friendship, see if it will survive after and because of the passion.

Tuhin lives in a twilight zone where sharp boundaries between the past and the present are smeared for comfort. Unlike Aman, he is a drifter and can never make a home in a heart. Contrary to all reason, I feel I have everything I could desire, I believe more than ever in the power of true love to give hope, to heal and renew faith in love itself. Were time's arrow to move backwards, Aman would be my love and Tuhin my best friend -my universe in perfect harmony.

Published first in Sulekha as NM (my pen-name)


bleu said...

yo! that was something. It felt very real. Its sad to go through these in life. I felt sorta empathy along the way as I was reading your blog. man!

InWantOfBeingMe said...

Good Lord ! This write up did take me through different emotions ! Relationships can be complex, It is beautiful and yet sad.

It did disturb be in some ways.

Anonymous said...

This post must have been a cathartic experience for you!

I don't know what to say! I am emailing it to a few of my friends.

P.S.: I have begun reading the blog in chronological order! My footprints(comments) will tell you how I am doing!

Anonymous said...

Just a note: The Sulekha link is a dead link now! It leads to the Sulekha home page. The new link is http://nayantara-malkhani.sulekha.com/blog/post/2004/03/ananya.htm

I see that it has been viewed about 14000 times! It deserves all the accolade.

By the way NM is a cute name! Nayantara Malkhani! Ha! Ha!

I did a google on "Nayantara Malkhani"! I was hoping that I would find many NMs! But you chose a unique name!

Only you are NM and all results are from Sulekha! Malkanis are there but no 'Nayantara Malkhani' other than you on the cyberspace!

Alak said...

This is just way too good.
I don't know if you speak only (or mainly) of personal experience, but it is so beautifully written and carries the strength, the subtlety and complexity of life.
You write really well.
I'll read other posts also when I get time.

Heartcrossings said...

Vikas, Alak - Thanks for your kind words about this post from a long time ago :) Hope you enjoy the rest of the blog

Sakhi said...

Too good!

Anonymous said...

wow.. it takes u somewhere..
past, present... & future..


Heartcrossings said...

Sakhi, Oorjas - Thanks for stopping by and glad to know that you enjoyed this post :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. I am a single 30yr old girl (woman?) and saw my self in Tuhin...an eye opener.

i am what i am said...

wow!!!!beautiful. i have stopped by your blog a number of times but this is the first time i read somethin here. vikas gave me the link and i'm so thankful to him. it was amazing. i dont want to spoil it by writing words for it. they are too less to describe the emotions this post invokes.


Heartcrossings said...

melancholymylove - Nice to know you were able to relate to Tuhin's character :)

i am what i am - Thank you ! You might find the Cold Attic series interesting. And if you get a chance check out the Shiela Tales on my blog

Anonymous said...

At a loss of words..That was like painting emotions on a canvas...
Perfectly Beautiful..!!

After reading something like that, I don't wish to use any wrong words. Hope you can now look back at it to learn & never to repent...

Thanks to Vikas for the link!

P.S.: I loved the tinkling of your wind chime!! :)

Kunal Janu said...

Ambika brings me here..

I have never been a fan of reading, specially such long posts.. But this one is beautifull.. It was like watching a movie.. It takes you through all these feelings..

The only sad part is that it is a real-life story..

Kunal Janu

Heartcrossings said...

Ambika and Kunal - Thanks for stopping by and glad to know you enjoyed reading this post. Vikas - Thanks for sharing the link with folks :)