Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Thoughtless Gift

My friend Nishi bought me a copy of Vikram Seth's Golden Gate when we were in the third year of engineering college on a trip home to Delhi for summer vacation. In my little town, it would take another five years before it hit the bookstores and I was eager to find what the buzz was all about.

Three years ago, when we started at college, Anand and I had felt the first spark of connection, chemistry or what ever it is that gets mistaken for infatuation when really it is love. Around the time when I finished reading Seth's book and was still recovering from its mesmerization, Anand had finally summoned the courage to acknowledge that he felt something very special for me. Even after having known all along, it felt wonderful to be told the self-evident. Anand had been inspiration for prose and poetry like no else had till then though few have since. Maybe he set the right forces in motion.

Seth's sonnets made me think about love and the bitter sweet suffering that comes with it. Real pain was to follow in a few years. Anand returned to Mumbai where he had been born and raised. I found work in Bangalore. We wrote letters to each other the old fashioned way since a we did not have easy access to internet or email. Checking my mailbox every evening when I returned from work, made my heart skip a beat. If it was empty, there was hope for the next day or the day after. Then there would be the best day of the week when I found the pale yellow envelope with my name and address on it.

Inside would be a letter written in black ink. I read it so many times that every last word was etched in memory. We were still not convinced that what we felt for each other was really love. How can you know when you are so young. The fact that he was as good looking as he was worked to his disadvantage; we loved it how people noticed us when we went out together. There was no question that we found each other very compelling physically. At a certain level we were concerned that was all there was to our relationship – a superficial thing that would wear off all too soon.

Would we still feel so hopelessly drawn to each other when we were old and gray and our physical selves were not nearly as attractive. When we broke up, it was not ugly, painful or dramatic - in fact it was altogether too silent. I told him, we needed to let each other go emotionally so we could move on. That it was in our best interest to do so. He did not disagree. The letters that had been my lifeline till then had to stop. He agreed.

The silence between us seemed to carve out a huge hollow in my heart to be an infinite receptacle for pain. I had not imagined it would be so hard, that it would take so long to be over him. All the old letters and cards went into a strong brown envelope, taped and sealed firmly. These were memories too precious to throw away and too intense to recall without reliving the intense pain of the end.

I did not know then that I would go from relationships to marriage, divorce and more relationships and through it all, the memories of Anand would play like a soft background score, unobtrusive but unrelenting, he would come to define both love and loss to me. I was still hurting from his absence from my life when I picked up Alain de Botton's On Love from the local British Council library.

This was the book that helped me parse and dissect through the pain of Anand's loss. I wanted to have every last atom of my feelings for him explored and analyzed. Whereas Seth had given love the wings to soar into freedom with, de Botton helped me come to terms with its absence and that of the beloved. Since then, when I think love, I think these two books. Two personal milestones, one beginning and one end. One Anand and one absence of him. Coming full circle.

Years later, when I met H, I gifted him these two books. I was not sure exactly why. There was something amazingly comforting about his presence. There was none of the raw passion like being around Anand. In fact, it was quite the opposite. H was the kind of man, I could see myself growing old with, the strong tree under whose shade a world weary traveler might find comfort. I mistook that overwhelming feeling of comfort for love - specially the kind of love I thought was more appropriate at this point in my life. After we broke up, I asked that he return my gift to me. I am sure he found the request exceedingly odd, not to mention incomprehensible if not slightly over the top - maybe hysterical is the word I am looking for.

I thought about the two books, their meaning to me, the timing of their coming to my life, Anand and how they were gifted in error to who they were never meant for. How I should have given them to Anand as a parting gift to remember me by. I am not sure what I was thinking of when I gave them to H. I had been thoughtless in giving a gift and now expected the recipient to correct my mistake. It took several months and some prodding for H to finally return them to me along with my hand written note that had accompanied the gift. It was an error undone, a memory redeemed from a blight, things made whole and ofcourse closure in more ways than one.

A few nights ago, I dreamt of Anand again after many years. I saw him smiling brightly at me, waving excitedly. I was not able to hear what he was saying, but for the love that we once failed to recognize, I hope he wished me farewell and Godspeed just as I have done for him.


Anonymous said...

Hi again. Enjoyed reading that..

Priyamvada_K said...

"How can you know when you are so young."

I feel one "knows" such things ONLY when young. There is a certain naiveness, a certain purity of heart, a lack of cynicism about life - that makes one love uncaring for tomorrows, and throwing caution to the winds.
The older one gets the more careful, cynical, scarred one gets. Taking the plunge is hard then, and loving with such abandon is even harder.


Ricercar said...

you write so beautifully sometimes that i feel any comment would be too trivial.

i will look up the book.

i have a theory about books (and movies and songs and people) and why and when they come into your life.

i wish love was simpler, sometimes. that we could love those who loved us and those who loved us would love us back

Heartcrossings said...

Savitha - Thanks !

Priya - Haven't seen you in a while. Hope you and Kamala are doing well. I agree "The older one gets the more careful, cynical, scarred one gets. Taking the plunge is hard then, and loving with such abandon is even harder." When you are young you think you need to know the rules to recognize love when you grow older you can't recognize love because you know the rules.

Prerona - Thanks so much ! Yes, do read both books. They are beautifully written. Yes, people and books come to our lives at the time they do for a reason. Never noticed that about movies and music. Maybe they do too..

Priyamvada_K said...

Hi HC,
We are doing ok. I lurk once in a while, and comment when I have something to say.

Hope all's well with you and J.