It is a dry February day and even at 10 in the morning the sun bears down like it has plans of magnifying its heat and burning some DTC buses in Delhi.
Only it is Bangalore, and such heat is unheard of.
Even Delhi is pleasant now, “just lazily slipping into spring,” as one particularly jealous friend informed last night. “Let the summer come, and we will have reason to rejoice as you all burn there,” I thought as I hung up on her. But to accept to the denizens of Delhi that Bangalore is actually rather warm, is hurting my pride. Where was it that I read “denizens of Delhi” first? In a letter from Upamanyu Chatterjee to David Davidar, in the files of The Last Burden, if I remember. I should have torn off that handwritten note from the file and kept it folded in my wallet, but my wallet contains other unwanted stuff now, and some long unused condoms.
As I wait on my bike for the signal to turn green, the heat is burning my right thigh. I desperately seek a bigger vehicle to offer some shade, but am in the right lane and nobody can squeeze between me and the median. A giant oncoming BMTC Volvo stops on the other side and I pretend to listlessly look inside. From the corner of my eye I can see a young boy ogling at my bike and trying to figure out the make. I sit up straight on the saddle, posing like a true biker. But the traffic moves and the relief of the shade is short lived.
Two elderly gentlemen in front of Moghul Durbar last night were discussing just this. How the afternoon namaaz on Friday burnt everybody black. How much blacker will they become, after all, one of them quipped. And they rued the chopping down of trees around the Tilaknagar mosque, and were lost in memories of the canopy of leaves.
The signal turned green. It has rained in Durgapur, and it won’t be long before it rains in Bangalore. You talk of tabebuia and eucalyptus, but I say, give me a good old banyan tree any day.
Much like a banyan tree, I’ve been rather stationary all my life. If life is like the last bench in a math class, I must have moved only a few inches here and there, as the varnish faded and the planks started creaking, the nails became wobbly and purposeless, and trigonometry struck off the curriculum. I had been in love with Ani since the day I first saw her. And today, standing at the signal, when I think of her, I realize I haven’t moved very far from where I started, unless there were tectonic shifts that I am unaware of.
It is a story from only a couple of Februaries back. “Why, Shubho?” she had been crying. “Why did he go to another woman when I was carrying his child and waiting patiently for his return? Am I not beautiful enough?” She started taking off her clothes and tossing them all around the room. “Let’s place some on the staircase to give it a classic Hollywood feel,” I suggested in an effort to lighten the mood, as I picked up her discarded denims and black shirt to drop them from the landing to where the stairs started. “They belong there, at the bottom of the staircase. And now for scattering some lingerie as we come up.”
She alternated between being coquettish and violent. To disarm me with her beauty and also to try and erase the memory of her cheating husband with a vengeance. But cheating is a relative term. Aren’t you cheating on him by being with me? “I’m not sleeping with you. In the last three years I have allowed you absolute access to me, but I’m not sleeping with you. You pleasure me with a massage, and it doesn’t constitute cheating. It isn’t adultery, if you know your penal code well. But he was with her all these years! I’ve seen their pictures together.”
As she playfully took off her red bra, I stood transfixed. It happens every single time I see her undress. I picked it up from the bed and walked to the staircase, to gingerly place it on a step. To the untrained eye, it would have looked like the aftermath of unbridled lust, with the clothes strewn along the path in a tearing hurry. The borrowed Nikon captured every stage of undress with care, but she was untiring as a model. Am all yours, she seemed to say, but not just to me. To the world, in a Marilyn pout.
I ran my fingers through the scar on her belly and asked who was the first to see her like this. “Like what?”
“Like this,” I looked up, “with not a single thread sullying your beauty by attempting to cover an inch of it?”
“Oh, there were many, many, Shubho. But the first would be one village boy in Santiniketan who watched me bathe one evening.” And then him. And them. And me.
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To my utter surprise, we made love that February morning for the first time in three years. She lay there, resigned and insipid, the Tamil Brahmin side saying she had sinned, and the Bengali genes saying you finished what you started. That was the last I saw of her. Like she had failed to show up on a designated ashtami evening several years back, she vaporized again, leaving no trace for me to pursue. I could sense something terminal in the way she picked up each piece of clothing on her way down, with clinical precision.
Februaries have continued to become harsher ever since. Some say it is global warming, but standing at the traffic signal, with the sun baking my limbs, my eyes still dart around for a glimpse of her in the blue little car.
(Names and settings have been changed)