Rahul thought cigarettes made him look cool. He adorned them on his lips like ornaments, whirling circles of smoke at the world, often promising himself he’d quit next week.
‘You always taste of nicotine. I am weird. I’m supposed to love cherries , strawberries and wine, but this nicotine taste, it makes me want to keep kissing you again and again,’ she’d say, before stealing one more kiss.
‘Why are you supposed to love strawberries and wine ?’
‘Because I’m 23, beautiful, poor and a writer.’
They loved cappuccinos. It wasn’t the coffee beans, it were the conversations. Over cups and cups, they’d talk of Immortality, Rebirth, God, Bradbury, Dickens, Marquez, Dylan and Nancy Sinatra. She’d left him long ago, the cappuccinos now lost, her kisses stored in his poetic memory and his soul, broken.
He used to play at cheap bars, trying to make ends meet in Mumbai, his audience unaware of his presence, indifferent to his chords. He’d sing song after song, play melody after melody, reminding himself that The Beatles played for two thousand days to drunk audiences all over Europe before anybody gave a fuck about them. He’d do four gigs a day, in the deepest and darkest corners of an unforgiving city, making just about enough to pay the bills and smoke the cigarettes.
Rahul, 24, thus met Sunaina, 23 when he was trying to learn life.
He’d asked for a female audience member to join him on stage for a song. A girl raised her hand, he selected her, for she was breathtakingly beautiful.
‘So, ma’am, what song do you want me to play?’
‘It’s Sunaina, and I want to play a song I’ve written, will that do ?’
‘Ah, a writer, of course, we must entertain you, for you are a dying breed. Let’s do one thing, start singing. I’ll play the guitar once I have the melody in my mind.’
The song was still so strong in his memory that he could effortlessly sing it verbatim.
Lost stars, broken souls,
We need the light of the night,
A wavering mind, a fickle heart,
Not good for life, given up without a fight
It works out in the end,
Better than your fears,
Worse than your hopes,
Trod along, wipe your tears
Come love me O Darling,
Hate me, kiss me,
Silence my tormenting demons
Let’s run away, mad are we
Poor is life,
Harsh the winter,
Burn the bedsheets,
Light, warmth, you and shiver
Dance, romance, words and silence,
I’ll shine, burn and fade,
Whisky, coffee, cigarettes and poems,
Bad vices, muddy waters, together we wade
Dead fishes in beautiful oceans,
The rose and it’s thorn,
Death in paradise
For you I was born
He didn’t understand then why she’d called herself a Lost Star. 4 years, 4000 kisses, 1 million conversations and 1 heartbreak later, he knew.
They’d sit on his couch , she’d write a song and he’d play it . She wrote, he composed, they sang. She had a gift for words, it far outclassed his gift for sounds, not always could he play what she wrote, for the lyrics sometimes demanded far better music than he could make.
She was depressed, didn’t know why. She’d cry for hours lying in his lap. He’d stay silent, as he’d been instructed long ago and wait for her tears to dry up, before he’d tell her how much he loved her, even with her fears and devils. Once, when he’d asked her to explain depression, she’d said ‘Imagine jumping from a building with infinite floors. You are constantly under the fear of death, of losing everyone you love and everything else ceases to matter. But it never gets over, it goes on and on and on. You just want death to come silence those fears.’
He didn’t know what to say. He’d stared silently at her unknown face, lighting one more cigarette. Sometimes, he wondered if she’d left him for his lack of words.
‘There are like six billion of us right. All of us wandering aimlessly, trying to find meaning. Why should I be restricted to just one person ? Why should the society dictate that I, Sunaina Bajaj, can make love to only one person my entire life, even if I’ve fallen out of love long ago ? My body, as much as my life, belongs to me and I can choose to share it with whoever I want, whenever I want and however I want,’ she’d said when he’d asked her for her thoughts on marriage. He’d often fantasized about spending his life with her. It would be a gift, torment and bliss, pink and purple. After that conversation, he got rid of his fantasies, knowing only too well how it was going to play out.
‘I’m not sure about Dylan, never will be . His voice is all rust and stardust, his poetry vague, his ego the size of mountains, his intentions holier than thou and his guitar too easy. The world goes gaga over his vague lyrics for they can mutate them to suit their ideas, who doesn’t love the freedom to interpret. But, as you grow older, ambiguity loses it’s charm, definite and real become the new love, for we give up on trying to find meaning and answers.
‘I loved him in my teenage but now that I’m older, I’ve moved on. Moving on isn’t easy Rahul, as you will know some day, but it happens like death, painfully, gradually and then all at once. It’s funny, we as a species dream of a peaceful life after death, exchanging favours with God so that he puts us in a place better than where we are now.
‘We don’t remember that there are far more dead people than there are alive, and God can only have so much space to accommodate his well wishers. I’m sure post death world is crowded, noisy and filthy, hence this innate fear of death. I want to be immortal by never dying, not by living in people’s memories. Memories are fickle, they change, manipulate and get manipulated. Plus, you’ll always remember me no? That is enough. You are enough.’
They were sipping wine on his terrace, gazing at a sky devoid of stars. He’d lighted a few candles and some Dylan was playing in the background.
She was lying in his lap. It’d always been that way, she in his lap. Never he in hers. He’d asked her once why it was never that way to which she’d said, ‘I don’t deserve you there’.
‘I don’t deserve you there’ he’d repeated to himself under his breath, but before he could ask her what she meant, she continued, ‘You are so romantic. I am romantic only with my words, never with my actions. I sometimes feel I use words as a defence mechanism, trying to overcompensate with them. That is a writer’s curse though. They are so in love with words that there is no space left for people in their hearts. Hemingway never loved truly, Shakespeare and Fitzgerald too.’ Then with a laughter that echoes on his terrace till date , she added ‘Not that they write as well as I do.’
Word after word, laughter after laughter, thought after thought, she drew him deeper into her, his love breaching the limits envisaged by the drunk poets, yet it refused to stop. He never could comprehend how he would live without her, she never could comprehend how anyone could not live without anyone.
In love but lonely
You and I
A wasted life
I leave, you die
Broken hearts, long kisses
Lifetime is too long
Live more, love less
One day, one song
Look me in the eyes
Hold me close and tight
Let me cry
Today I have no might
Eighty billion dead, six billion alive
One more , one less
Who will you remember and forget
It’s your guess
As a teenager, when I read fairy tales and love stories, I never understood how you could love someone so much that the entirety of your being was replaced by a single emotion. Now, I know.
I kissed her all over Mumbai. Even today, Mumbai tastes of her . She used this rose perfume that I gifted her a lot. It left a fragrant trail wherever she went. Mumbai smells of her too. She loved talking, something you must already have guessed. She talked, talked and then some more. Mumbai sounds like her too.
‘Solitude is beautiful only when it’s by choice. Sure, you can be alone, but not lonely. But when you’r lonely, you are always alone. Possibilities are infinite when you are with someone, your heart churns image after image of the ways you can love someone, but usually only a small subset of those images become reality, if any at all.
‘You know why we as a species took to writing? We realised long ago that life had it’s limits. You have 60 odd years, most of them ravaged by the wheels of misfortune and whims of time. So, there’s only so much you can do, experience and act upon right? Thus, we needed a way to capture all that our imagination conceived, for even if they could never become real, they’d at least play out in the minds of our fellow beings. Hence, we wrote. I’ve been talking too much. Why don’t you say something ?’ she told me when we were riding on my bike around Marine drive.
‘You have a thousand words for me Sunaina, for you, I only have three,’ I said and continued riding in silence.
I’m sure you must be wondering why this story has Sunaina talking so much and me nothing. It’s simply because anything I say will only be noise in front of her words. They will only take away from her, adding nothing but banality. I knew she loved talking, I knew she loved my listening, and that is how it always was.
When my kids grew old, I often told them about Sunaina, of her laughter, ideas, charm, beauty and depression. I wanted them to know that love should be all or nothing. Whenever someone tells me they’re ‘not sure’ about someone , I usually say ‘Either you are sure or there’s no love.’ Anything in between is non-existent.
‘Albert Camus hai to kyaa huaa? Usne buri kitaabe bhi likhi hai’, she told the road side bookseller in Colaba who was trying to charge a premium for Camus. I loved watching her haggle. That someone as fantastical as her, could do something as real as haggling was to me an enchanting sight. She never bought from shops, only from road side sellers.
‘They need the money, and we need the money’ — she’d tell me. How could anyone be such a surreal combination of the fantastic and the actual?
Me cappuccino, she cappuccino. Dark, bitter and no sugar. Pink met purple. Six billion people, so many permutations, yet we meet. How? Is it meant to be? That’s a ludicrous poet’s belief. Do we then make do with whom we meet? Ridiculous, she was all that I dreamt of and more. We danced to The Beatles, Rahman and Abba. We cried to Piyush Mishra, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Farida Khanum and Eric Clapton. Two people who loved the same songs and singers just ended up with each other? Bullshit. She read Ghalib to me, quoted Marquez with ease and sang Rumi’s poems. I did what I always did, decorated her voice with my chords. Two people who complemented each other’s talents and needs ended up in each other’s arms as a part of a pre-conceived plan by the universe? The universe does not give a fuck about anyone. Yet we met. We saw Godfather 11 times, Annie Hall 7 times, Begin Again 3 times, Pyaasa 17 times , Children of Heaven 4 times and Manhattan 18 times. Together, she in my lap, me playing with her hair. I loved her hair, the fragrance and the soft touch. We loved whisky and cigarettes. Smoke after smoke, we grew closer. Peg after peg, our conversations became richer.
‘Illness, death and pain are all public demons. The whole world can see them walking by your side. Depression, is a personal one. Only you can see it. It eats away your soul, one moment at a time. You can talk about it, write about it, read about it and announce it to the world. No one will understand. Nothing will satisfy it’s hunger. At some point in time, you have to make the jump to a more peaceful life. Human love may be limitless, suffering has it’s limits. I loved you Rahul. There’s not much eloquence I can lend to this statement, for words will only dumb down whatever I try to speak. Store me in your poetic memory, the part that’s untouched by time. I will shine bright, reminding you of all that was good.’
Six billion there were
Now one less
I leave , relieve myself
I know you’ll be a mess
Shed all tears you can
Remember infinite floors
You helped all you could
Demons called, angels closed all doors
Love should live on
I leave you a dozen letters
Read them to your children
Remember me , it matters
Death is easy
Living is hard
I chose the former
Couldn’t put up a facade
I’m just a grave away
I loved you
You loved me
Start something new.