By Tuhin A Sinha
This transition of mine from being uninhibitedly pro-US just six months ago, to having a more realistic, neutral disposition now, underlines the rapid evolution that is underway in my worldview. Why then am I stuck in one position on the personal front? Was it because of the abruptness with which it ended? Given that I respect propriety, is it that I want to meet Sarah once and give it proper closure?
The truth is, I’m in no hurry to return home. While the official delegation flies back to New Delhi from Washington, I take a day off and go down to New York. I catch up with Khalid and Kelly. We have lunch at ‘Ahluwalia’s’ an Indian restaurant just two streets away from my Kingston office. We chat on a whole lot of things – Kingston, my new life, the developments in Khalid’s and Kelly’s lives. Then Khalid broaches the subject I have been trying to avoid: ‘Yaar, Sarah and you should have made it work.’
I don’t have an answer. Instead I pop a query: ‘Have any of you spoken to her lately? Are you in touch?’
Both shake their heads. ‘We were just too surprised by her sudden decision. There wasn’t any motivation to go to her wedding. So we ignored the invitation. I did call her though, a couple of days after her wedding, and congratulated her.’
‘Would she be happy? I mean, did she sound happy when you called?’ I sound absolutely naïve.
‘Are you?’ Kelly asks me.
No, I’m not.
‘Do you still love her?’ she prods me further.
‘I still miss her.’
In a place like Manhattan, when you are engaged in work round the clock, you crib about not finding time for yourself. But then, when you find yourself absolutely free, as I am now, the place actually feels hostile and unbearable. Kelly and Khalid have gone back to work after lunch. I have a few free hours at my disposal. I don’t feel free, though. I’m constantly haunted by thoughts that don’t easily leave me.
I dial a number that I haven’t dialed in a long time. The phone is perhaps disconnected. I call up the number a dozen times. In the next two hours I land up in Central Albany’s Delmar area – a few lanes off Park Street. I’ve been to the place just once – when Sarah brought me here to introduce me to her parents. Yet I remember the by-lanes vividly. The last 50 metres, though, is an arduous journey for me, every step heavy with doubt and a question mark over my motivations for treading forward or rather backward in my life. I move up to Sarah’s door. It’s getting dark.
I ring the bell. There’s no answer. I ring it again. There’s no answer again. I wonder if anyone still lives there. Maybe, as Sarah had mentioned, her parents have moved to Canada. Sarah must have moved elsewhere with her husband. I ring the bell one final time and just as I’m retracing my steps, the door opens. ‘Sorry I was in the ba…’ Sarah stops mid-way, confounded by the realization of who her visitor is.
I feel a whole gamut of emotions when I see Sarah – relief, nostalgia as also the fear of more hurt being in store. She’s lost a lot of weight.
‘Adi… What a surprise!’
Our eyes are moist as we hug each other hard. She leads me in. From inside I hear the voice of a man talking on phone – loud enough to be heard outside.
My husband...’ she explains. ‘He’s talking on phone with an old friend.’
I feel sheepish to have landed up like this. I try to accord an excuse to my visit by telling her that I was in US for some work and would have been happy just talking to her on the phone; but as her phone was not reachable, my concern brought me here.
‘Ah, I see... so you still care for me...’ she smiles.
‘You don’t?’ I ask her diffidently.
From inside I hear loud laughter. Her husband it seems is deep in animated conversation with a bosom buddy. She gently shuts the door on him. This also accords us some privacy for our conversation. I notice that Sarah has dark circles under her eyes. I quiz her about them and she tells me that it’s bound to happen to a newly married couple who is madly in love. I can sense a certain bitterness in her, as also a veiled attempt to hurt me. I don’t blame her. I don’t blame myself. I do realize the futility of landing up here though. I realize how bad a judge of people and situations I am. Sarah was probably never as fragile as I thought her to be. Or maybe I sympathized with her more than I should have. In the end, she’s found solace, I’ve got chaos.
I am not in the mood to stay any longer. Nonetheless, Sarah pesters me to have a look at her wedding pictures. She takes out a large album and shows me her man. What I see baffles me – the man is much older than her. Sensing my surprise, she tells me how it all happened – how Francis, born of a Mexican mother settled in America and a Kenyan father, was actually brought up in Malaysia; work later brought him to the US where a quick growth in his career made him stay back.
‘And what does your husband do?’
‘Oh he runs a small travel agency of his own. So in case you’re looking to book your flight tickets for home, he can do that at a discounted rate.’
‘Thanks, I’ve got my tickets.’ I laugh off her offer.
I take note of the fact that Sarah has not bothered to update herself about the changes in my life – an aloofness that has remained consistent from the time I first met her. I want to leave. I am almost relieved I don’t have a place in her life anywhere. Yet I’d be lying if I say I’m not feeling a deep hurt. Her swift leap from me to Francis makes me curious enough to ask her:
‘But how did this happen, all of a sudden?’
‘Oh Adi, certain things are just destined... Two weeks after you left, Francis met me at the local bus-stop. He told me he crossed the place everyday and would invariably spot me there. He told me I had a grace he hadn’t seen in other women and that he could tell I was always lost in my thoughts and upset about something. He told me he’d fallen in love with me. I found it crazy and told him he was a good flirt. Two days later when I returned home, I was shocked to see him talking to my Dad. I heard him tell Dad that he had fallen in love with me when he first saw me and that he’d do everything to keep me happy.’
And you gave in?’ I asked, surprised.
‘Was there a reason for me not to? You wanted me to wait till eternity, right? Or till you found a saner girlfriend?’
I was in no mood to contradict Sarah. Her actions had once again proved she was crazy.
‘How old is Francis?’ I ask her.
‘Fifteen years older than me. That’s the age gap between us, if you’re curious to know.’
‘Sarah, you could have spoken to me just once before getting married.’
‘Would that have altered your decision?’
Our conversation is interrupted by the arrival of her husband. He is loud, garish and unsophisticated. From the physicality of their body language, though, Sarah and Francis indeed seem to be in love.
Sarah introduces me as her good friend from India. Francis doesn’t bother to ask anything more about me. He is warm. His ‘warm’ hand-shake, though, carries savage intensity. Then he turns to Sarah and reminds her that they have plans to go out. Sarah tells him she’ll just perfume and come. He tells her to forget it, her body odour is attractive enough and plants a lingering kiss on her lips. I feel terribly out of place, more so with what Sarah tells me, beaming at her spouse: ‘You know, Adi… I couldn’t have asked God for anything more. In just the last two months Francis has filled my life with all the joy that I was deprived of – all my life.’
Francis gets inspired by this declaration to kiss her more brazenly. She protests but gives in. I witness a sight I’d have never imagined to see: a girl whom I’ve kissed and loved, whose faith in love and relationships I helped revive, kissing a stranger while I stand passively by. I want to shut my eyes, run away or just blind myself, but I have to be brave. I’m glad this moment marks my freedom from guilt and concern about Sarah.
On the flight back, I yearn to be with Chaitali and speak to her.
I want to cry my heart out to her.
I want to tell her how much I missed her.
(Of Love & Politics is due for its grand release in all the major metro cities across India this June. If you are keen to catch up a chat with author Tuhin A Sinha and his celebrity guests, Rituparna Sengupta and Rimi B Chatterjee, don't forget to attend the launch on Friday 25th June 2010, at Oxford Bookstore, Park Street, Kolkata at 6. 30 pm.)