(Names changed to protect identities)
As the birds greet the morning with little chirps, I extend my sleepy hands to my right. The hard pillow I had become so used to by now wasn’t there. What?
Sanjeev had a habit of going to the bathroom when dawn broke. For a moment I wondered if Sanjeev was back. If it would be possible for him to leave my bedside empty again at dawn…
[restrict]“The window in my room where I grew up opens into a garden. Like Eden. Beyond that is a stone chipped road, steep,” he’d said. “The windows still have broken stained glass panes from the British era. You don’t get matching ones these days. We have not put in new ones. Some broken things can never be repaired and possibly that is what makes them so beautiful.” Sanjeev was a philosopher and none except I knew this. Not even his wife. When I looked out, I could see that same window with broken panes opening into a garden. Perhaps his not being around was a bad dream, I thought for a moment.
“Take me there one day, if only as your friend’s sister…” I’d said, rather lamely. “No. You will go there only when my mother invites you and that too with respect,” he’d replied.
My hopes dimmed. I didn’t know when that would happen. Though his marriage was like whiskey, on the rocks and very sour, the fact remained that legally I wasn’t his wife. “The world would not give you any credit for making me happy but would only blame you for all my unhappiness. And this is the only reason why I keep you hidden, at my home. I am waiting for the perfect moment, Nilofer. Just wait a little more,” he had pleaded. Despite the strange nature of our relationship, I knew it was very beautiful. Sanjeev and I completed each other and the world didn’t matter.
We lived together in Delhi, far from both our homes, as he filed and fought for divorce. Friends told me that he was taking advantage of me; he would never leave his wife. “I can’t give you any certainty and proof of separation, right now. I am fighting for it. I am fighting for you, so that you can proudly stand beside me,” Sanjeev would say and I knew he would never lie. Not to me. Never to me. Holding onto just that, we had created a life of rents, bills, cooking and hours of mindless indulgence in each other. It was a shock when he started saying his chest hurt and within ten minutes, he was stone cold.
Only I stood praying as Sanjeev was cremated. His wife had a deadline to meet. In the last few years Sanjeev had changed the nomination for all his policies from his wife to his mother. He had wanted to put all his money in my name but I did not let him. Not till I was legally his. And it was only when her bank account was credited with 25 lakhs shortly after his demise that Sanjeev’s mother realised that the non-Hindu witch her son lived with was mending his broken heart. Not breaking up a family.
Sanjeev’s wife had remarried within a year and eventually his lonely mother found a friend and daughter in me. I called her every week and at times even provided for her. Two years after Sanjeev’s demise his mother invited me to their house and with great trepidation, I accepted. She wanted to see me and I, the house where he grew up. It was a pilgrimage I had to make and Sanjeev had never seemed more alive.
That morning when I stared out of the window, I felt him beside me. And it was then that I cried for him for the first time, like a child. My howls shamed the heaviest monsoon storm of the season.
Sanjeev’s mother rushed in as fast as her arthritis would allow. “Nilo, Nilo! Now, now… Don’t cry! Not for him, beta. Not for him. It’s been so long now, hasn’t it?” she comforted me. I could feel her tears on my scalp as she hugged me. My parents had disowned me because of Sanjeev, who in turn had orphaned me. It had been so long since someone had hugged me and my tears doubled. I looked up at her and she smiled. Her smile said she had let go. “Come, let us take a walk,” she said and we walked down that same cobbled mountain path, just outside the garden.
“When will you marry, Nilo? You are getting older…” Sanjeev’s mother said. “When will you have another son? You will soon be unable to bear any more….” I retorted. And we both laughed. And that was what Sanjeev had wanted all along. Pity he wasn’t there to join us. Pity it all happened so late.
Some relationships can survive beyond the boundaries of blood, legalities and life. Sanjeev and I had been blessed with one such. The world called us dirty and adulterous. How ironic it was that it was only our love that was pure and unadulterated.
(As told to Joie Bose)[/restrict]