Another wasted breath.
Exhale. Exhale. Exhale.
And like the smoke of the cigarette,
Inhale exhale, another wasted breath;
We fade away.
Swear on the face which asks my mind to race.
Countless times, even now, I see
Fear behind the smiles, comfort in the pain.
Dust, dust it is, we accumulate
Wearing a mask beneath the front we throw
The mirror fails to show.
The bond we make, the thread that fails,
Every bit of the mortal frame fails to feel.
In the quiet of our soul we whisper aloud,
‘Who knows how long it will last’
For joy or someone ceremonies are done,
Oh who knows what’s yet to come.
Distraction, that face is my distraction;
The morning light which brings you back
From the far lands of your mind’s eye
One that deceives the mirror
Mirror might have some role in the play
Isn’t it effortless to make things work and say?
Behold that speculating infant, who laughs at you,
Look in the eye of the tree, where is it?
Look in to the soul, where is it?
Blind among the blind;
We know everything.
I sometimes don’t understand what he writes. The poem is good. I mean it feels good reading it. I did understand a few things like the mask which everyone wears. And the last two lines are really good, ‘blind among the blind’ and yet we think we know everything. My friend Nikhil is a genius, mainly because I don’t understand him most of the times. But that is not to say that he cannot be ridiculous. Like, once I asked him jokingly, ‘What do you think I desire the most?’ He gave me such a mysterious answer, ‘You desire what you desire.’
I don’t know much about the circumstances in which the poem must have been written but, a few facts. He was surely smoking when he wrote that. He always says “another wasted breath” when he takes the first drag. And surely this again comes out of his dull outlook that on the whole we all wear a ‘mask’ which we remove only when we are alone and we need to look in the “mirror inside the mirror”. Which “distracting face” is he talking about? I don’t know.
Before I forget, how many people are there in India? Not a single place where you can be alone. Did that guy find anything wrong with me? No, I’m getting too much worried. Why am I even thinking if I’m getting worried or not? I should just enjoy the roller coaster ride.
I’m really thankful to God that I was not brought up like most of the women. Mrs. Saxena talks of them every now and then. And how strange is life, your best friend can become a complete stranger. Why am I thinking about all this? I’m getting too conscious. I think I should close my eyes and listen to Angels & Airwaves. No, I need a cigarette…
Everything seems so slow. Am I not blinking? Is everyone looking at me or am I looking at them? Stop this Anshima, why are you getting worried? Why are you even thinking if you are getting worried? You have been into this state before. Just be normal, be yourself.
The sun is set in the night time sky. Alone, four walls closing me within. Nikhil was a very good friend of mine. We still are in touch. But, something is missing now. Perhaps we have got too busy—family, career. He did visit me when I had just got married. I had always felt something for him. More than a feeling of friendship but, I would not call it love. It was the sheer happiness which I felt whenever he was near. I miss it now.
A month before he had sent me this letter with a poem inside it. This was the same poem as I remember which… Inhale exhale, another wasted breath. We fade away…he had once read to me in our college days. I did not understand it then. But, why did he send it to me now?
I am a married woman and I do say God, if I had a chance I would have married Nikhil. I do not know if my husband loves me. He has been away for, I don’t know how many months now. Money is a very important thing. But, there is not the same kind of happiness with him.
Perhaps I am thinking too much over the matter. I did not use to think so much even when I had smoked a giant one. Life is a drug to me now. Much more powerful than anything one can experience. Only I’m not an addict. I would never want to be one. But there is not a choice to it. You are dragged into it I think.
College days, those were the times…Nikhil had once said that if you put a piece of roasted chicken in front of human beings, one would expect that all present would share it. A man would take the amount he requires, a woman her share and a child would take his. But supposing that piece of meat was put before a bunch of hungry dogs, what would happen? We, he had said, have become dogs.
This week I got another letter. He was coming. Oh how would he look? Would there be uneasiness? How will I receive him? I wish he was not coming at all. It was all well talking through letters. The time you get to think and write. Oh but he was coming!
He had come. Not much changed except for the way he dressed. He was wearing an elegant black suit. Hair neatly parted from the right.
‘You know’, he began, ‘I said it last time, I don’t know, I feel like asking you again.’ He tasted the coffee I had made for him and continued, ‘why did you go for an arranged marriage? I mean I know you could not afford to go for a love marriage because you were not in love, you have never been but…’
I cut him, ‘well, I followed your advice.’
‘My advice?’ He was puzzled.
He always said arranged marriages are like going out for shopping. You go to various shops, try different clothes. See which one is looking good on you and reject which you do not like. I did marry an expensive one. I liked him. I thought I would learn to love him.
‘So what’s new?’ he began.
‘Well I have been trying to write, poetry.’ I felt a little uneasy wondering if he would think I was inspired by him.
Was he really impressed? It’s so hard to tell anything about him. But, why didn’t he ask me to show some of the poems?
There was dead air again. I hate it when there is no conversation at all. This has always been a habit with him. Uncontrollably I began, ‘I have been thinking, perhaps you would have an answer. What do you think women desire the most?’
He was silent. Perhaps he did not listen to my question. This again was a habit with him. I began to ask him again but to my surprise he spoke, ‘Well you know it is really hard to tell but, perhaps, comfort?’
‘Yes, money, a house, children, love…’
‘That is what you mean by comfort?’
‘For a married woman, yes I think.’
As always I did not understand him. But I was sure there is something not quite right about what he said. Is it the only reason why we women marry? Love, has a good sound about it but I do not understand the term just as I do not understand Nikhil.
My mother-in-law says that I need not work. I do not need to work when my husband is doing so well. We lose ourselves once we get married. That is what I think.
My husband must be having great faith in me. I live all alone. My mother-in-law stays in Delhi. The house her husband left for her.
Night. The wind with its sound and smell asks me to think. Every time, every time I stand by the window, I see the leaves holding on to the tree. Some become victims, some enjoy the wind? What is it that I desire?
Maybe I want to become something. But I am afraid of this ‘something’. If I want I can easily become a writer or something like that. Ramesh is not here, I can write at least if nothing else. But, where do I get the courage from? I think we change. We change as we grow, just as Nikhil has changed. A change forced upon us. The best of us lose ourselves. Somewhere, we are not what we are. I am not the person I was. Will I always remain what I am now?
This is what I hate. Asks me to think—these killer leaves.
It’s been six months now since my husband is back. I think we have become great friends now. I like his company except for his office talks. He is an engineer by profession. Err. Ramesh Thukral as he would put it. He has finally realized as he told me that he should not run after wealth so much. So he is here.
When he comes back home from work it is as if he is entering some other branch of his organization. He remains busy on phone most of the time. Sometimes he gets a call when it’s almost mid-night. I never thought I will become someone who would do all kinds of household work and fail to get any time to know the person for whom you are doing everything. By the time we are in bed, he is so tired that he wants to sleep.
The next morning we were having one of those office talks. He gave me a vivid description of Australia and his work there. ‘I would love to be an Australian. I wish I was her citizen.’ He had said at the end of our conversation.
Sleeping with my husband was a unique experience. I think that is, if not the only one then, at least one of the best things that a man and woman can share. I found it better than going out on a vacation. But this was more like a mini-vacation. For a few moments I forgot all my worries.
In the morning I thought about the experience again and again. This time I had an even stronger happiness than I ever had with Nikhil. But of course that was another kind of happiness.
Suddenly a thought came to my mind. Like many others which I have had since my marriage. For how much time can we be in bed making love after all? An hour, two, three…what about the rest of the twenty hours? What do we do?
I understand that my husband has his own responsibilities and I have my own. This is how any work can be done. Like in a bus we need a driver and an assistant or a conductor. But what when there is no driver? Will the bus never start? Of course it will. But the conductor cannot drive because he is what he is. So there has to be another driver.
Ramesh is the driver here in this house, of this house. I don’t have courage enough to be one. I had it—I lost it. I don’t know how. I wish there was no bus at all. I wish I was a co-pilot. I can say nothing to him. He’s doing nothing wrong.
Nikhil was coming today. I was worried if there would be uneasiness between him and my husband. I should not at least do this here. I was worried if there would be uneasiness between all three of us. But nothing happened. They went along nicely. Food was highly appreciated by the pals and how could Nikhil say no to a peg.
I have always loved to observe people whom I know talk, after they get drunk. This time I did not want to do that.
They were talking silly things. I was shocked and elated both. Nikhil said something to my husband which was devastating but what I had desired sometimes, ‘you know, I was in love with Anshima once but I never said it because I do fall in love easily.’
How I was thanking God when my husband replied, ‘oh I understand. Anyone can fall in love with a wife like mine.’
‘I have my own problems in life you know,’ Nikhil began, ‘lot of responsibilities. Taking care of my family, children, health, their education and things like that. I make every effort possible. Being a married man yourself you should understand what I’m saying.’
Ramesh gave a little nod.
Nikhil continued, ‘I make sure that my family is out of all the worries. I hardly make my wife do anything. I am sure her friends must be envious.’ He smiled, ‘but to what end? Is that the purpose of our lives?’
I was a little shocked and a bit enraged. Is he trying to say that a woman’s purpose in life is to live on her husband’s earnings?
‘I understand,’ Ramesh took a shot and continued, ‘I had the same notions in my mind but then I thought money is not everything and I must come back. So I came back, to my wife—our home.’
For the first time I felt the happiness of being together. I could not believe the words were spoken by my husband, much as I could not believe what Nikhil said.
‘Wife, home, I know all that.’ Nikhil said aggressively. ‘The thing is, you get married, moment’s pleasure—you have kids—you work nine to five, every single day—on a holiday you think what is to be done next—you again work nine to five. I mean is that all? Is that all I desire?—No.’
Last time he did mention love. There is something not quite right with him.
‘I think there is some weight in what you say.’ Ramesh said.
I could not take it anymore. I had to speak now, ‘I am sorry to say Nikhil but if you were not married, would you be satisfied then? Would you have a purpose in life then?’
Ramesh interposed immediately, ‘Anshima could you please fetch me a packet of cigarettes, they are there in my room. And please baby, don’t intervene. It’s going to be Nikhil and me today. And anyways there is nothing in your innocent question. See yourself as an example. Do I not do everything for you?’
‘Everything here is under my control.’ Ramesh gave a conqueror’s laugh. Both men laughed. They were surely under the influence of alcohol by now. I was losing my temper. I am doing it again. Whom do I fear? I will not do it here. Well, I kept quiet, frustrated, more with myself than the duo.
I thought to go back to my room. There was no point staying there.
‘But I do think there are things which we can do even though we are married,’ Ramesh said starting the conclusion-remains-the same discussion.
Nikhil perhaps did not listen to his question. Only habit not changed in him. He said ‘you were working in Australia if I am not mistaken?’
I knew it. Nikhil surely is smarter than Ramesh. Thank God he moved the conversation to some other topic.
I started for my room completely sure with Ramesh’s reply to Nikhil, that they both are drunk.
‘Oh I’m a citizen’, he said with spark in his eyes which I think comes with alcohol.
I rolled one after a long time. I needed it. I was looking for courage again. Where? I decided I will write. Anything, whether it makes sense or not, I will write poetry.
And I, I would not lie
Till this ‘I’ can cry
The tears of my understanding
Panting, breathless of running from it,
The mind lost the courage somewhere
Inside me, I know it is there.
Where can I start?
They are hungry
I can only serve as food for the trapped.
Trapped they are as I to them
The world to universe and I to verse,
Man to God and God to man.
But this is no natural chain
Since I am an individual, a being.
A scene set by us;
Man under men, woman under women.
And I won’t lie
I will sin;
I will not surrender, I will not come under
Women nor under men.
I felt a great energy. But why was I not satisfied?
I went back downstairs. I slapped Nikhil.
I don’t know why I did it. What made me do that? But, shameful as I have become, I don’t regret it.
I wish I followed him, to desire what I desire.
I want to become an addict to life now.