Intimate Strangers

1956, it was, I recall
It had been five months since I had been getting my salary
And after saving some money each month I,
finally brought that fawned -upon tape recorder.

It felt like eternity since I had been hearing your voice
That light, mellifluous, serene voice
One that carried-you-to-the-heaven, voice
Every day, when you took a bath.

And slowly, the tape recorder caught your magic
I used to replay your voice every night
The music now not only gave me butterflies
but a whole, free, untamed zoo in my stomach.

From the peephole I saw you leave for school,
But not before you sang in your safe haven, while you bathed
And I heard your voice on loop
It took me places you cannot imagine; was I a hopeless buffoon?

You used to syncopate your voice with the fall of the water on the floor And every time I heard the music on my recorder, my heart soared.

I was not ashamed to realize this: I fell in love with you.

Some days you sang about your college days
other days your sang about your erotic crazes
your songs filled up those blanks I had in my mind about you
they told me more than you could ever do.
You never spoke with me about your broken dreams of being a singer
And I never spoke to you about how your voice reverberated through my soul and my fingers quavered
You spoke to me.

After a million cassettes and unspoken words,
one day
The recorder was unable to capture your voice anymore; not because it was broken
But because your feet never graced the bathroom door again.

You lost your fight with Death.
I wish I was the one who left.

Days after
Reality knocked down the door and hurt me in the process.

Strangers came and went and offered their condolences.
But all I heard, still, was your voice, my darling.
I do not need the recorder anymore
my mind automatically plays your voice now.
I play it when I want to, at whatever volume I want to.
I feel young at heart again.

I regret sometimes,
We never spoke much, we never understood each other much
I wish we had time before the decision to spend our entire lives together was taken by our parents.
But I loved you for the orchestra you created in the bathroom
And whenever someone asks me who is that woman in the photograph next to the recorder,
I proudly proclaim:
She was my wife.

Intimate Strangers is much more than a poem. It is an insight into a practice that takes place in many parts of India. ‘Arranged marriages’. Often misunderstood and hidden under the garb of Love, unless Love means meeting each other for 10 minutes and saying “We fell in love.” It is time we allow young people to choose the ones they want to marry.
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