What I saw in Sam, you once asked me. You probably don’t remember that evening now, do you?
Well, I didn’t even see him. Scarcely mattered.
He was the door out of one cage. Didn’t know then that it led into another one, just as crushing, and one from which I couldn’t even wish an escape.
Escape needed a destination more beckoning. But I had nowhere to go.
It hadn’t mattered when I had stepped out of my home. It hadn’t mattered when I stepped into Sam’s…apartment, for home I never could call it. Why had it started to matter now? I knew well how to flit from one branch to other. I could still catch another twig to rest upon.
But, for how long? What then?
I had no place to go.
The more days I spent in Sam’s apartment, the more averse I felt it grow of me. I lived to please it, but I knew it was duty bound to please others. I decorated it for the moment, but it was built to house another. And I was but a temporary guest. Moreover, a permanent residence there seemed as dreary a prospect as being pushed out of it.
But I had nowhere else to go.
The thought slapped me every time I saw Sam looking at another girl. It blasted through my head when Sam hid my existence from his family. I sank myself lower and lower into his bed, but it still managed to crush me every night.
You can’t control your thoughts when asleep. You can’t push them away. And when your lids droop over your eyes, your mind stares wide eyed at what you’d rather not see. And the unbearable stays with you, running like a cursing chant all through the night. And you wake up in the middle of the night, a gong hitting you from within your head. And the weight of all the directions rushes in. Do you know, Arsh, how many directions there are? Four in daylight, innumerable in the dark. And the thought rushes out from each one of them like a blaring train. Rushes right at you. And you have no way to escape. Because you are lying half asleep in bed, and getting dazed by your own misery.
And as I stared down each direction, they all echoed the same curse. ‘You are all alone. You have nowhere to go.’ The words raced through my heartbeats, they pulsated in my temples, and all I could do was bury my head in my arms and scream without a sound.
No sound was to be uttered. For there was Sam sleeping besides me, close enough for his breath to choke my soul away. And he must not be disturbed, he must not be displeased, he must not be disappointed, for I had nowhere else to go.
‘Nirvi, I hate that dress of yours.’
‘Yes, Sam, I hate it too.’ Though it was my favourite till then.
‘Nirvi, you look great in black. It makes you look thinner.’
‘Yes, Sam.’ That means I look fat in other colours. I must starve myself more. He won’t like me fat.
‘Nirvi, do you really like those songs? They are so boring.’
‘Yes, Sam, I was getting bored with these too,’ though I had loved them since childhood.
‘I am the best.’
‘Yes, Sam, you are,’ since he excelled in video games.
‘Oh, Nirvi, you look gorgeous tonight.’
‘All for you, dear,’ since that’s all that he cared for.
And then came his new craze.
‘Nirvi, our country needs us. We must fight corruption.’
Did that mean not warming the pocket of the traffic policeman when caught speeding? But that was a minor trespass. Corruption was where the politicians ate up millions. So, ‘Yes, Sam, you are right. I’m so proud of you.’
‘Nirvi, we must hold a protest,’ he declared.
‘Yes, Sam,’ and that would be the only protest I make.
‘Nirvi, I have a brilliant idea,’ he said, pondering over the points discussed in the first meeting held for the grand task. ‘We must design a pamphlet announcing our protest. We’ll distribute it to everyone so more and more people could join us. We can have it in the colours of our national flag. With a wheel like watermark in between to make it more like our national flag.’
‘Yes, Sam,’ would have followed again surely.
But you would not have it so. I had not said anything. And you should not have been staring at me like that to hear even my unsaid words.
‘Do you think that’s a good idea, Nirvi? Tricolour pamphlets?’ you asked.
‘Of course. I’m sure tricolour pamphlets would be the best,’ replied Sam.
You should have, by then, understood that Sam’s choice was always the best. And the views, ideas, opinions that did not belong to him were all worthless, even if all the rest of the world favoured them.
‘What do you think, Nirvi?’ you asked nevertheless.
‘Sam’s idea is great.’
‘See, she agrees with me,’ said Sam.
‘Yes, like a parrot as always, I see,’ you laughed. ‘And she’s getting better and better at it too.’
‘Can’t we both have the same opinion?’ Sam asked
‘Sometimes, maybe. But if two people agree 100% all the time, one of them is faking. And I much rather prefer a genuine disagreement, then fake agreement. If I ever want that, I would get myself a real parrot,’ you said.
‘But she really thinks that this idea is great, don’t you, Nirvi?’
I looked at you, and hung myself between a yes and a no, without uttering either.
‘There, you have your answer. She thinks your idea is crap,’ you told Sam.
‘I do not,’ I protested. And you fixed your eyes on me and then there was no escape. ‘I…I just think…people are often careless with pamphlets. They throw it in garbage, or on the street, use it to wipe their hands…’ I had to utter.
‘Or their noses,’ you added.
‘What do you mean?’ Sam asked.
‘I mean, it would be like insulting the national flag if…’
‘If people do all that to your tricolour pamphlets,’ you completed my sentence. And Sam didn’t like that. You had no right to complete my sentence.
‘So what do you want? Should we distribute boring white pamphlets that nobody would even look at? Instead of the tricolour that will grab their attention and raise their patriotic fervour?’
‘No, I was just saying…’
‘I wish we would get some good sponsors. I want to have tricolour T-shirts as well. For the organizing committee at least. That would be great, don’t you think?’ Sam asked me.
‘Yes, Sam,’ I said, and what I thought obviously didn’t matter. ‘I hope I won’t look fat in saffron and green,’ I said, settling down beside him and wrapping my arms around him and giving him a kiss to dispel his frown and raise a smile in its place.
He looked at you, and smirked, and I lowered my head on his shoulder and gave him reason to smirk some more.
‘Well, I must be off now,’ you said, getting up. ‘When is the next meeting?’
That day’s meeting had long been over. Much had been planned. Sam had divided various responsibilities in different sections and delegated them to his friends, and some of their friends. Now all that remained to be done was for them to prove their patriotism by honouring those responsibilities as they deserved to be honoured.
All three of Sam’s friends had gone away more than half an hour ago. But you waited on for Tiya who hadn’t yet arrived.
‘Next meeting? Not fixed yet,’ Sam replied.
‘Fine,’ you said, and walked out of the room. I followed you to see you off at the door.
‘You should be ashamed of yourself, traitor,’ you said, as soon as we reached the door.
‘What? Traitor?’ I asked.
‘You know what is right, about those pamphlets. And still you won’t say it and let your country get insulted. Traitor,’ you said. And though you seemed to be joking, the very words of that joke seemed to be bound together by taut strung resentment.
‘I tried, didn’t I? But Sam doesn’t think…’
‘Yes, I agree to that. He doesn’t think. And that is why he needs the aid of your brain cells.’
‘My brain cells are no good. They give worthless ideas that don’t matter to anyone.’
‘That’s not true. Your ideas made my home look awesome. So they do matter to me at least. And if they don’t matter to others, then you must make them matter. That’s what I do. That’s the only way to make people listen to you.’
I shrugged and maybe you thought your words hadn’t meant anything to me. Well, it is true that words didn’t often mean much to me those days. But yours did. They echoed in my head, and snaked their way into my heart and contaminated all my hushed opinions with a voice from then on.
Just then, the door in front of ours opened and a young girl peeked out.
‘Nirvi di, wait, wait, I need your help,’ she called out in a hoarse whisper. I knew the meaning of that whisper too well. But you didn’t, and it showed on your face.
‘I can’t help you, I’m sorry,’ I replied, confusing you even more.
‘Oh, please, Didi. And don’t worry, mom is sleeping. I have a fresher’s party tomorrow. I’ve bought such an awesome dress. Lovely mauve colour. But forgot to buy matching nail colour! Do you have anything that would go with mauve? Please, please please!’
‘I’ll leave you two ladies alone now,’ you said, grinning in your eyes.
But before you could step out, her mother stepped in.
‘Neha! How many times I have told you, you are not to talk to that girl. Come inside and close the door this moment,’ Mrs. Banerjee shouted.
And you whirled back.
‘What do you mean with that? What’s wrong with talking to Nirvi?’ you demanded instantly.
‘Leave, Arsh,’ I cut you short. ‘This does not concern you, so leave.’
‘But, Nirvi, didn’t you hear…’ you were shocked at my stopping you.
‘Never mind, leave,’ I said.
And I would have sent you off. But Mrs. Banerjee didn’t want you gone so soon. She was ready enough to tell you, or anyone else, what exactly was wrong with me. She grew red as she spoke. And you grew whiter and whiter as you listened. I saw you clench your fists.
‘I have told her she is not to come near my daughter. But why would she listen? She wants to spoil my daughter too. Shameless, characterless…’ continued Mrs. Banerjee.
‘Enough!’ you shouted, loud enough to stun even her into silence. ‘Just because she is…’
‘Don’t shout, Arsh,’ I interfered again. ‘She’s just trying to protect her daughter…’
‘All mothers protect their daughters, but that doesn’t mean…’
All mothers don’t Arsh, all mothers don’t. But Mrs. Banerjee was not one of those. She wanted to protect her daughter from all ills. And you had to respect her for that. Even if she was loud mouthed and quarrelsome. She loved her daughter. I didn’t want you to shout at Mrs. Banerjee. You didn’t know it, Arsh, but she was the one woman who was keeping my faith in motherhood intact. No, I didn’t want you to shout at her.
‘I don’t mind it, so…’ I began.
‘And why are you getting so hyper about it anyway? asked Sam as he walked out to join us. He, of course, saw no reason to mind Mrs. Banerjee. Maybe because Mrs. Banerjee had never yet objected to him. She too thought it was all my fault.
Of course, it was.
You ignored Sam, but would not move your eyes away from me.
‘Nirvi?’ you asked, after glaring at me for a full minute. ‘Why do you let her call you such names? Don’t you have any self respect in you?’
I stepped closer to Sam, linked my arm into his and smiled at you.
Your eyes widened with rage. You didn’t tell me what you thought of my answer. But your storming down the stairs the very next moment shouted it loud enough.
Five minutes after you left, Tiya arrived. ‘What? Has everyone left already?’ she asked.
‘You missed them by only an hour,’ said Sam.
‘Whatever. But did Arsh come too? When did he leave?’ she asked. ‘See, I bought the phone he had recommended. I wanted to show it to him.’
‘Show it to me first,’ said Sam.
She did, he saw it, tested it, frowned on it, and in five minutes declared it not worth the purchase.
‘Yeah, what do you know? You are not a gadget expert like Arsh. But hey, who was the girl you had lunch with today? My friend Shruti saw you at the restaurant. At first she thought you were with Nirvi. But when she approached closer to you she saw you were with someone else. Who was she?’ asked Tiya, frowning up her forehead, raising her brows and fixing her eyes at Sam.
I had told her about the photographs in Sam’s suitcase. So now she trusted him even less than before.
‘Just an office colleague. Our team lead Manoj was there too, with us. He must have gone to get something when Shruti saw us, so she thought I was with a girl,’ said Sam, shuffling up his papers and getting up from the sofa. ‘I’ll leave you two girls alone now, must note down what has been planned today.’
‘But I called you at lunch. You said you were too busy to talk,’ I reminded him, forcing my voice not to echo the shouts rising up in my heartbeats.
‘I was, at that time,’ he said, moving away quickly. But I took hold of his sleeve.
‘You lied to me?’ I had no need to ask that question, I already knew.
He closed his eyes and looked away from me. ‘Yes, so I did,’ he said, turning back to me and shrugging my hold off his sleeve. ‘What else could I have done? I didn’t go with my colleagues, okay? My mother had made me promise that I’d go and meet Kriti at least once. So I had to go. But you had become so hyper just seeing those photographs. How could I have told you?’
‘Okay. So, when is the marriage to be?’ I asked.
‘Come on, I’m not marrying her. Just went to meet her because of mother.’
‘But why can’t you tell your parents about Nirvi? Aren’t you like lying to your parents too?’ said Tiya.
‘Do you think this is easy for me? My parents live so far away, still every day I live in dread of them finding out that I’m living with a girl without marriage. That’s worse than them finding out that I married someone without their permission. I wish I had known what I was doing when I brought her here. It wouldn’t have been so hard had we married before moving in. My parents would have accepted Nirvi sooner or later. But this girl didn’t want marriage. And now my parents wouldn’t want a daughter-in-law who…besides Nirvi herself said that we’d live together for a year, at least, to make sure we are good for each other. And if we are not, then we are free to go our separate ways. That’s what you said, didn’t you, Nirvi? So why should I give my parents such a shock when there isn’t anything certain between you and me yet?’
‘So, you’ll keep on meeting other girls and deceiving everyone?’ Tiya asked.
‘I have told my parents I don’t want to marry yet. How is it my fault if my parents still keep on pushing girls at me? And what harm has been done if I went to meet someone just to please my mother? I have a duty towards my parents too, you know. I’m their only son. And Nirvi knows well I have no plans to get married yet. So chill.’
Chill was exactly what was spreading over my heart. If only it could have numbed me forever too.
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