Rels meant relatives.
Cooz stood for cousin.
Fat was for father.
This new lingo exasperated me. I bit my nails every time I heard it from her mouth.
‘Your mot called me yesterday,’ she said on our last day together. ‘She called me cos you were not pickinup the phone. She says she may come in Oct. I told her about your plans and she says you’ve gone bonks. Your father already calls you ment-bapt. Do you have any idea what your own pars think about you? The way you behave these days, ignoring job and all this drinko-porno? And your mot once called me uncult, just because I didn’t behave like a trad-girl.’
‘Trad-girl,’ she said. ‘Not trade girl. By the way, I know what you meant by trade girl. You meant a pros. What kind of a hub you are!’
She had not taken offense. If she had her cheeks would have gone red.
‘We are going to be separated tonight,’ I said. ‘Why should it bother me?’
‘To be a good citz at least,’ she said. ‘To be a deesman.’
‘Decent Man,’ she replied. I should have guessed.
‘How can I be?’ I said. ‘I am the biggest rascal of the world.’
She got up from the couch and walked away, leaving me alone in the drawing room. I was watching a cricket match, volume muted.
I was sure she wanted to touch me. She walked away whenever she felt an urge to touch me.
But how on earth!
I didn’t know where the germs of disintegration came from. Frankly, I had no clue. People who had observed us called us ‘a perfect couple’. My parents still found it difficult to believe that we were going to part ways. That’s why they would call her if I decided not to pick their calls. And those were the days when they treated her more affectionately than me. She had been successful in convincing them that I was abnormal and wayward, while she was a most rational and generous human being, who did nothing but to suffer for her husband. And this had begun way before the crooked present. I wasn’t a daily drinker then, and there was no need to watch porn. And I was one of the most treasured employees in my company.
‘Politics,’ she would say. ‘Every woman knows a thing or two about politics.’
Actually, it didn’t matter to me then, since she was with me, and we loved each other. I rarely called my parents, which was partly because they always gave me gyaan and partly because they were healthy and fine. And yes, partly because Nandini called them every week, to know how they were doing, and for a bit of gossiping, and a bit of hubby-cussing. Mom, she isn’t a saint either. Half her time passes in cursing my father.
Yet, what wrong could Nandini find in me? (I just did a bit of drinking, twice a week, and she never appeared to mind it.) I rose an hour before her in the morning. I woke her up by serving tea. ‘Tea, Madam!’ By the time she landed in the kitchen, yawning and stretching her arms, half the preparations for breakfast would be over. If it had to be omelet, she would find the egg-batter inside the mug: well-stirred, salted, spiced and sprinkled with onion-shreds. If it had to be sandwich, she would find the bread-slices neatly placed over a dish, the filling, whatever we’d decided the night before, she would find in a saucer. God knows I always wanted to do more than my share.
We both were in jobs. We left the house together, but our routes were different. So, I’d get a cab or an auto, and she would drive my car, our car, okay, but it was with me before she came in my life. She returned to the house an hour before me, in the evening, and I would be immediately greeted by a warm hug, an enduring kiss, and a simmering cup of tea. Then we would head to the kitchen where I would do all the menial jobs, as she sat over the platform dangling her legs and watching me with affection. Onion-tears that flowed unchecked from my eyes made her laugh sometimes. ‘Oh poor hubby,’ she would say teasingly. She offered to do the job of onion-chopping, sincerely, so that she could save her hubby from tears. God knows there used to be love between us. We ate the food in the romantic candle-light, watching each other’s face with love and chatting. Life could be perfect, this I believed for the first time in my life. Later, I would pick my six-string and play it for her, all those romantic tunes I had practiced during my college days. ‘You could play for some audience,’ she said to me many times. Yup, I could play really well. And still later in the night, no I won’t like to go into the bedroom tales, but I must tell that it was good, and filled with so much love, passion and intensity from both sides.
And then one day she said that she was not happy. It hurt me like a boulder.
‘What has been lacking?’ I asked with a sunken heart.
‘Every day is just the same,’ she said glumly. ‘I thought life would be a bit different.’
‘We can try to change it,’ I said. ‘I think we should go out more often. It’s just that I thought we always enjoyed our private moments. My bad.’
‘I think I should have options,’ she said plainly.
I didn’t know what to say. I just got up and walked out to sulk in the drizzle.
Back to my final day with her, rather the final hour. Kohli hit a massive six over long-off and she returned to sit by my side. Placing her hand on my denim-covered thigh, she said, ‘it’s mads. The dis is bad. Deps is okay but quitting job is not an opt.’ (mads = madness, dis = decision, deps = depression, opt = option.)
She moved her hand over my thigh, tenderly. I picked it up and gently deposited it over the couch.
‘I am just too tired of my life,’ I said. ‘I am tired of everything.’
‘You find a goog,’ she said. ‘Everything will be alright.’
‘Good girl,’ she said.
‘Oh come on,’ I said, annoyed by the lingo. Then something gripped me: I leaned over her and tried to kiss her. She gently pushed me back.
‘Don’t be too naughty,’ she said severely.
‘I just want some diesel for my soul,’ I said, getting over the little mound of hurt. ‘I don’t want a goog.’
‘And wotugonnado will give you that dees?’ (dees = diesel.)
‘I don’t know,’ I said, savoring a crispy square-cut from Kohli. ‘But I have often imagined myself wandering through the country, guitar on my back, a red bandana around my head…
‘So it’s actually about guit and band.’
I smiled wryly. ‘Sometimes we gotta hear the inside voice….
‘Maybe not,’ she said, placing her hand again on my thigh. ‘Don’t dislodge it this time.’
‘Don’t move it around,’ I said.
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘So I was telling it’s not always the best thing to listen to your inside voice. If we had ignored it eight months ago, we won’t be here and sulking.’ Oh, she had left her cryptic lingo.
‘You are right,’ I said sullenly.
‘I am fine,’ she said. ‘And I will be completely fine in a few days. But you give me no comfort. I want you to rise in your life and shine.’
‘I want no lecture from you,’ I said.
‘Okay, remain hurt,’ she said. ‘Keep feeling the unnecessary pain, if that’s all you want to do. But remember one thing. You got just one life. You only live once.’
I consulted the watch. Half an hour more to go. I had to leave her at her new boy’s house. They were hanging around together for a few weeks. Nandini told me that he was passionate, decent and an IIT-graduate. His name was Mudit and he was running a start-up which was likely to be successful.
‘I would like to be alone,’ I told Nandini. ‘If you don’t mind.’
‘No I won’t,’ she said standing up. ‘I just want that you take care of yourself.’
‘What happened to your new lingo?’ I asked.
‘There’re things you’ll never understand,’ she said and walked away.
An hour later, we were bidding one other goodbye, standing beneath a tall, luxuriant apartment building. There were no tears. I felt numb with pain and heartbreak, and she watched me with a tender smile full of consideration.
‘I thank you for everything,’ she said. ‘I was not good enough really. You are a very good guy. Any girl would be happy to find you in her life.’
‘What happened to you?’ I asked looking away towards two dogs playing together on the polished surface: one a dachshund, the other a labrador. It was the place for rich. We stood by a lush park, alongside which were parked pricy cars of the inhabitants. I could spot an Audi and a Mercedes. I had got the answer to my stupid question. ‘Don’t bother to reply,’ I said to put an end to the conversation.
I turned around and left. And she didn’t try to stop me.
I solved the mystery as to why Nandini had adopted a new lingo during those final days. I called her one day and told her the reason. ‘It was because you wanted to irritate me, so that I feel a bit distant from you.’
‘But you never complained,’ she said. ‘You were good, and I was bad.’
‘No, you were good too.’
We ended the call after gathering how we were doing. She was doing fine with the new boy, and they were planning to get married in a few months. They were already engaged.
Six months later, and I am still wandering through India, falling in love with my country each day. I am on my Bullet, my guitar rests against my back, a red bandana decorates my head. Eating the smoke and dust on the highways endows me pleasure. My hair has grown, I tie it in a ponytail. I have a beard a few inches long. It forever remains untrimmed, gifts me a wild look. Indeed, I am a savage, Hagar the Horrible, I bathe infrequently, smell of sweat and smut. My shirts and trousers are slightly greased. I cover a few hundred kilometers each day, and I am on my second round of this gigantic country, dissecting layer after layer after layer. I am presently in Assam, through the lush paddy farms and tea-gardens I cruise, shedding curt smiles at my fellow countrymen. They smile back, and wave at me sometimes, specially the children. Perhaps they take me for a maverick foreigner.
I have grown in size: I am a little chubby presently, and have been blessed with a beer-belly. Yeah, a lot of beer, and a lot of hotel-food, all that. I tread on freely, no sign of that heartbreak. In fact all those things appear fairly ordinary and commonplace now.
But I pray to God to bless me the ability to return to a normal life, whenever I so desire.
For the present though, life just feels like a highway, and that highway is the diesel for my soul.
Illustration: Shreyaa Krritika Das