The ex you don’t hate and no longer love

I bumped into my ex the other day. It is not such an unlikely thing I suppose, except that in this case, it was. We went to the same school, lived close by, had some common friends and went to the same University and yet, we never bumped into each other for a decade. Never. We had been together for seven years before that.

Having an ex you don’t hate and you no longer love is interesting. There is a strange fondness and a hope that he is doing well. Sometimes there is a feeling of dim sadness, a feeling of ‘what if’. An occasional irrational desire to go out with him for an evening, just him and me, and talk about our lives now. In my perfect imaginary world, I drink my fifth mug of draft (while I can just about manage one now), toss my head back and laugh as my cheeks turn red. We sit in a casual pub (there are hardly any in the city we are from) and joke about things that went wrong, complain a little about our lives now. We are careful not to flirt, yet we wish to be seen as desirable, with no expectations. There are moments when we wonder why we broke up at all, and others that reinforce our decision of not being together. There is a delicious feeling of a fling in this one imagined meeting. And yet, imaginary it is.

In the real, physical moment it is just a meeting. A polite handshake. Once we would have found a corner, a tree to kiss under. We stand next to a wall and the light is glaring sometimes. He tells me to step aside so that it’s more comfortable. I look at him- as fit as when I first met him, plus spectacles. In my head, he is judging me for gaining weight. We were both incredibly athletic once, he still is. We are both curious about each other but don’t ask too much. There are things we know from common friends but we don’t mention them. It strikes me that this is the person whose body and whose life I knew so well. I would know if he had bought groceries even when we lived in different cities. I knew the curve of his back and his slender fingers. And now we were as good as strangers, once again. A mix of extreme familiarity and distance.

We bumped into each other in the city I spent the first 25 years of my life in, New Delhi. Delhi was my muse. Long bus rides, metro rides, crowded streets, plush tree-lined avenues, food, family, friends, lovers, heartbreaks, familiar places. A city I knew before GPS and online guides. My family had been there for sixty years. I grew up in the same house as my father and his siblings. Books, toys, and clothes were passed on. If there was anyone coming to Delhi, I would suggest places to go to and share my secret city with them.

I have now lived away for several years, been married and have a house of my own in a different city. It has been a new life of sorts.

I still defend Delhi when anyone talks against it, yet choose not to live there. When I visit, the dysfunctional nature of my parents home strikes me. Broken handles, unfinished cupboards waiting to be polished for the last decade, seepage in walls, mismanaged relationships- it is all there. It makes me angry, and sometimes glad that I don’t live there anymore. Yet it is home. I know it doesn’t matter if I forget to pack my toothbrush. I know I will get my favourite breakfast without asking for it. People at home will still assume that my habits haven’t changed for many years, while they have. Friends still call on the landline or just show up. The language is familiar, many roads are known. I have access to many privileges that the Capital offers- exclusive clubs and a home in what has become an upmarket area. Even with all this familiarity, I hesitate to go out late at night. I don’t feel like driving anymore. Quaint markets with little bakeries have been replaced with plush restaurants, most of which I don’t know the names of. The place is the same but it’s not.

Meeting with the ex made me understand how I feel about the city I used to call home. Delhi is the ex who I don’t hate and no longer love ( as much).