E.V.Lucas once wrote, ‘How many different faces of man there are and how few. For all faces differ and yet they can be grouped into few types’. There are four broad categories in which I group people and their faces. The first one is the elite class- the educated people who can be distinguished by their well-bred demeanor, their sophisticated manner. There is nothing special about them when you first look at but their graceful and elegant disposition makes them stand out. The second group is what I like to call ‘The Illusionists’- men so deft in facial deception you can never make out what they are thinking from their expression. Someone belonging to this group may be standing quietly and suddenly punch you smack in the face, may look like a complete sissy (or a hooligan) but come forward to save a girl, may look sophisticated, well-educated and suddenly start conversing in some Bihari dialect. The third category comprises of people with some distinguishing feature….something you would recognize if you ran into them even after a year…..an unforgettable smile, a bone-chilling frown, an ear-shrilling voice, people with a slight limp in the leg, an uncanny habit of saying exactly the wrong thing at precisely the right time. And finally the fourth, rather omnipresent type- the commons- people who have no distinguishing feature…..faces so commonplace as if produced by some Japanese production line. Monotonously common, commonly monotonous.
This man so eager to get into a communication with me belonged to this fourth category, someone you would never notice in a crowd yet someone you’d be reminded of on seeing anyone in the crowd. He appeared to be in his early-thirties and this is one of the reasons why I was surprised when he had politely, rather deferentially, asked me I was interested in a conversation. He had a slight South-Indian accent, accentuated by the fact that he was trying hard to impress me with his English.
‘I worked…. hard…. My parents…… no English…. but I learnt…. I take toooshuns…. Accaunts… Business Studies… What do you do?’, he was staring at me.
I told him I was still a student pursuing a degree in Engineering, careful not to mention IIT. Because whenever I mention that to anyone, I always end up hearing how their distant cousin is also in IIT or preparing for it, how I must be really intelligent to have made it……blah blah…..and suddenly their complete disposition towards me changes. I feel an envious admiration (or is it admirable envy) in their gaze, suddenly a hollow friendliness in their voice. The first time I went to Sneha’s place and told her parents about my college, they treated me as if I were from some other planet. Coupled with natural anxiety, I actually behaved as if I really were. Anxiously cautious, cautiously anxious.
It was in her bedroom that we first kissed. That was exactly six months and a day ago. We had been very good friends for quite some time and found each other perfectly compatible. I hadn’t planned anything. I had actually gone to her place to give her F.R.I.E.N.D.S. dvd set and suddenly, almost on an impulse grabbed her by the arm and…..that was the beginning….the next two months everything seemed perfect…..as they show in movies, it felt like one long spring. But of course, we didn’t dance around the trees, neither did we sing songs for each other…..wait a second….yes, we did sing songs…..at night on phone…Sneha has got a beautiful voice…..I would make her sing something for me, but she always insisted that I sang along…..so at 2 in the morning, we would often be karaoking ‘Tum se Hi’ from jab we met……romantically cute, cutely romantic. But again drawing inspiration from movies, fights began.
He took out an ID card from his bag and showed it to me. It had a passport size photograph of him smiling broadly at me in army clothes. He was a part of some kind of Additional (temporary) squad in army.
‘ I wanted to join army….But they only asked if I had any references….Why take an exam if all that matters is a reference…My parents don’t have that kind of money….no money…no job….no ……..’, he seemed to go on and on.
I couldn’t hear what he said in a muffled tone at the end but neither was I interested in finding out. The bus hadn’t moved for the past five minutes. The heat was stifling, oppressive.
‘Where are whe? Naraina?….Thees flyover….aalways jam…’
I nodded in affirmation and then finding the silence awkward said a few things about how life is tough, one has to work very hard…. no point in getting depressed….. things will fall in place…. everyone starts from the bottom and slowly climbs his way up….But everything in our relationship had only climbed down. Initially, it was trivial misunderstanding, we would not talk for a few hours and then one of us no longer able to resist would call up and say sorry even if the other person was wrong. But as the time progressed, the fights became more common, more bitter, more prolonged….and I guess it was only love that kept us glued together as we sometimes didn’t talk for an entire week. Maybe we were saturated with each other’s presence in our lives and wanted a change. Still, we played along. But yesterday was the limit, the final nail in the coffin….the deceased being our love. I had forgotten that yesterday was our six-month anniversary (how can girls ever remember such weird things), and she wouldn’t talk to me. I was already worked up with all kind of things happening at college, and got so boiled up that ended up giving her a big ‘lecture’….how she was always nagging…….how we no longer shared the same bond….how it would be better if we severed ties….let this six-month anniversary also mark the end of it….She sobered down a bit and just said three words…..I love you….GO TO HELL.
‘I salute your advice’, the military training evident in his articualte manner, ‘I also know things will improve….but right now I very frustrated….I am 32 but….no marry..every girl’s father wants government service…No girl wants to marry me…I am good-looking but they want money. Sometimes I get very depressed.You know I write stories…Some of them are so good if they get published, they would become very popular, I’d be very rich. I’ve written the truth about life….But no one is ready to publish….they all say why are you so bitter….who wants to read such things…..I am working on getting a publisher for my book…it’s titled…”KAASH YEH DO WAQT KI ROTI KA KHEL AISA NA HOTA…TOH MAIN BHI ITNA MAJBOOR NAHI HOTA”….lamba hai….but I like it….I also write poems….would you listen?’
My phone vibrated, Sneha again. I pretended to pick up the call just to avoid him. My friends often call me insensitive but I feel I’m more of a pragmatic. Nothing ever comes out of such a conversation, he would feel lighter having vented out all his frustration but I would end up all messed up….I already had enough on my mind, so didn’t want to bother myself. I didn’t actually talk to her but just pretended to him as if I were engrossed in a very important discussion. After five minutes, hoping he would have forgotten about it, I disconnected. But he had by then taken out a sheet of paper…..
Marriage is like driving a car
You put petrol in car, it will run
You have to give her money in marry
Otherwise she will also run.
He had this stupid grin on his face as if he had just read aloud a Shakespearean masterpiece. I also tried to fake a smile. However, I could sense that he also knew that his poem was no good, that his book would never be published…..but it was something he clung to……it was his only glimmer of hope…..somewhere deep inside he knew that it was nothing but his frustration speaking….that this stranger sitting next to him had absolutely no interest in all that he said…….but he wanted to believe that things would fall in place……..so he continued telling me about his dreams, his frustrations….his ideas…his books….his poems….I made the occasional comment here and there whenever the silence got awkward and I could feel his intense gaze on my face. I felt sorry for him but I couldn’t think of anything to say except the cliche`d, ‘Life is a struggle’….’Hard work pays’……’Destiny defines a man’…….et al. It seemed that we both belonged to completely different universes. Here he was all frustrated because he wasn’t getting married while I was being dumped by my girlfriend. Here he was frustrated with the tyranny of life while I was having fights for not being ready to put up committed status on Facebook, for forgetting our half-year anniversary. Ironically co-incidental, co-incidentally ironic.
I know she didn’t exactly dump me, rather I got myself dumped and was now feeling hell sorry for that. But I guess the true worth of a person is understood only when its lost. I couldn’t sleep the entire night. The absence of the same person who till yesterday seemed as intruding in my life….now felt like a void….a hollow bottom-less abyss…But I couldn’t muster the courage to call her after all that I had done….The entire night I had spent dialing her number and disconnecting before it rung. I sat down with a sheet of paper, a poem by Pablo Neruda written in her hand-writing…..drinking myself into a state where I felt immune to everything…..
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is shattered and she is not with me.
My sight searches for her as though to go to her.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.
Walking back home from the bus-stop, I couldn’t help thinking about him. I blamed the government for doing nothing to provide jobs to the youth, cursed the people for having grown so selfish, thought about how I could possibly use this incident to update my blog etc etc. Somehow listening his story gave me the courage to call her. I can’t exactly explain why but yes, somehow he made me realize the importance of living in the moment, to brush trivial matters aside and enjoy what we have. I reached home, had a shower and called up Sneha….after two hours of fights, go-to-hell’s, apologies, thank-you’s, never-agains, love you’s….we patched up. I switched on the AC and slept dreaming weirdly about Sneha in a red-colored lehanga, sindoor in her hair part, getting married to that man. Insanely funny…..funnily insane.
In the evening, as I turned on the TV, a news channel showed ID card of a young man who had committed suicide by running in front of a route 569 DTC.