Considering death, on St Valentine’s Day
At 19, I had decided I would kill myself at 40. I was young. Life looked enormously long and full of absurd possibilities. Now at 37, I’ve accepted the unapologetic inevitability of death. I hear Time’s Winged Chariot hurrying near. I notice the long shadow of the Grim Reaper in the dark. And I’m ready. I borrow the dying speech from Walter Savage Landor’s Old Philosopher:
I strove with none, for none was worth my strife:
Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art:
I warm’d both hands before the fire of Life;
It sinks; and I am ready to depart.
I’m ready to depart, but I’m not ready to bid goodbye. I’m not ready to dance this dance of destiny. I’m not ready to see someone I know, friend and family, climb abroad the Winged Chariot. I’m not ready to see the Grim Reaper accompany someone I know and love.
The way he accompanied him who was my breathing apparatus, who could have made me happy.
I’m not dead, neither I’m alive. I’m the last seed of a lost genus of the world’s most beautiful tree, buried under a layer of sand, waiting for the rain to seep in. He was my rain. He was the root to my budding leaf. The only goal of love is to satiate the desire to be with the person you love. An impossible ambition.
And the only constant of love is this mounting fear of losing the object of your affection. The more you love the more this fear grows until at one point this fear and this love become synonymous.
There was nothing common between us. I was young, he old. I was rustic, he sophisticated;
I poor, he rich, I restless, he rooted. We spoke different languages. The only thing that bound us was this mysterious, absurd thing called love. I was the happiest when I was in his company. When his old man fingers caressed my restless hands.When my thumb recognised his hungry lips. When we got drunk and ambled on the empty streets at midnight, with my hand on his shoulder. When he drove and I craned my head to his bosom.When he said ‘I love you’ to me in Tamil and in Russian. When I hugged him and listened to the whiz of his heartbeat. It was music to my ears.
I know it was love, when 15 years later, I still miss that heartbeat. I close my eyes and I can still hear it. I cannot endure.
There was nothing common between us.
As our love longed to be together, we knew, the night will soon end and we will wake up in our respective lives as if the other never existed. So I started collecting memorabilia, a photograph of him with me, his visiting card, the number of his car on a piece of paper safely tucked in my purse, a packet of half-smoked Marlboro, the audio cassette of Iruvar which he liked, an ushanka he got me from Russia, an empty bottle of Royal Challenge, a box of dark chocolate in the shape of the Singapore Lion... So I started memorising the details of his life, his phone number, the name of his father, and the name of his first lover who broke his heart a million years ago, the neighbourhood in Chennai where he grew up, all the places he had travelled to, his mother’s death anniversary and her favourite deity...
For it was inevitable. One day I will sprout wings and flee this City of the Blessed. One day his heart will explode into a thousand tiny pieces. He had a hole in his heart, a childhood condition, a manufacturing defect. He was living on borrowed time. And we built a relationship on the road, between a restaurant and a hostel, in a car. At midnight.
He was thirsty and I was the last drink, one for the road, a stiff one. And our witness? The Grim Reaper.
So we talked about the eventual departure. He was determined to send me away across seven seas before the end. And the end was near. And I was young. Death didn’t scare me.
I was determined to see him climb aboard the Winged Chariot. Since parting was imminent, I vowed to be with him until the bitter end — like a Christian wedding vow: Until death does us apart. I would tell him, ‘If nothing else, I can promise you that I will be there for your burial.’ He would reply, it must be a cremation. He was a TamBram. I would say, ‘Then I will light your face with fire.’
This was the extent of my love.
I was no Savitri to follow my Satyavan to the gates of hell. But I was ready to see my beloved go up in flames, and perhaps steal some ash from the ground after everything was over. I had already purchased an urn.
This did not happen.
He loved me too much to make me see him wither away. I wasn’t allowed the hospital visits. All I could do was to make a call at 11 am. I would live to make that call. I would start counting the hours for the next call the next day after I had hung up.
The calls ceased. He was critical. I was promised I will receive a call once he was out of the hospital. My phone did not ring. Three months later, I got the news. He, whom I loved, had been dead for more than two months.
I did not cry. This had to happen one day. But what I regret is this — I couldn’t attend his last rites. I couldn’t see him depart. There were no goodbyes. I wanted a goodbye. I longed for a goodbye.
Now, 15 years later, sometimes when I’m drunk or when I’m alone in the open, I hear the breeze whisper and I hear his voice. It’s a mumble. I imagine him say he too loved me the way I did.
Even in death. Despite death.
And then, the future. The Great Unknown. The future is blank. I live. I will until I’m dead. I’m not unhappy. I’m not happy either.
There’s a wound in my heart that continues to fester. I’ve learnt to live with it. It doesn’t mean I’m not troubled by its existence every single day, every morning when I wake up, every night when I go to sleep. At times, the wound oozes with puss and pain and discontent. Those days are difficult. Then the wound heals itself. And a few days later, it festers again, accumulating puss and pain.
On those days, I gaze at the distant. The Great Unknown.The Future. Like a daydream. Like a fantasy. I see my life as if on a movie screen as if it’s happening to someone else. It’s a fantasy; a grand romance.
Ten years from now, in an unknown city, under unforeseen circumstances, I meet someone. That day, 10 years from now, I will be of the same age he was and the stranger I will meet will be of the same age as I was. This is as simple as it sounds.
He, whom I loved, the cure for my festering heart, he will be born again, somewhere else, with another name, another face, and one day I will bump into him. And we will dance the dance of destiny once again.
How will I know if he was the one? I will. The moment I see him I will be happy again. Like the fog that disperses from the wizened tree in the middle of the empty field with the arrival of the sun, I will be awake from these years of mourning and I will be happy again. I know I will.
And at that precise moment, that merciless fear, the fear of losing the object of your affection, will return to haunt us. We will complete the circle. We will dance the dance of destiny. Happily, this time, the onus will be on him. I will be ready. I will depart willingly, goodbye or not. The stranger will dance the dance of destiny.
14 February 2018