When he stepped into the balcony that morning, the wind felt dry. Devoid of not just moisture, but feelings too. The ocean in the distance was as flat as paper and as silent as a grave. He wondered if it was there at all. He felt as though parched expanses of land were grazing his eyes wherever his gaze turned. The palm trees lining the promenade were droopy. They looked tired. Ready to snap. Not a leaf moved. For the past 23 years, he had observed them, studied them. Understanding and knowing them better than any living man. They were always the first to know nature’s messages and he knew when they spoke. Today, however, they were still. And it bothered him. How could it all have changed so much in only a couple of weeks? Even the air felt foreign. Like it had travelled from a different place. Like it carried more than dust and dreams. Like it had known death more than anyone ever will. Ayan turned and sought recluse in an abused corner of the room.
Like bees that never leave flowers alone, her thoughts never left him alone. It had been twenty four weeks since they had first met. But his heart felt so heavy as if it were a few hundred years since. A rather odd day it was, the day they had met. Only a week before he had been told by his parents about the marriage proposal from Dr. Khan. The doctor of bones, had been a professional friend of his father’s for years. Their families had even met a few times. But at the time, he couldn’t place a finger on the daughter this proposal had come for because his mind that was still processing the failure of his recent relationship, hadn’t taken the news too seriously.
Half in delirium, and half aware, he had visited her family, in the confines of their home. From the moment, he had stepped into the wide living room, he felt a calming soothe take over him. He couldn’t tell if it was the peculiar eucalyptus aroma of the room or the fact that he was finally prepared to leave the past behind. The families had gathered. And then some extended families filled the corners. Children skittered from in between the legs of those on feet, like cats. Ayan noticed there weren’t any his age. Too big or too small, always. He thought of his problems thus. Failed relationships, forced marriages, was all a part of the mundane. A small part of the bigger picture, like his mother always said.
Amidst the chaos, the inevitable anticipation, and the joyous aura, the weights of impending decisions grew tenfold. He felt transported to another place. His place. In the balcony. Overlooking the openness. The sea. The palm trees. The peace. And then, the sudden quietness, suppressed volumes, the whispers. And then the repressed jingling of anklets, calculated clinking of bangles, the measured smiles and shivers. Her presence in the room zapped him back to reality. Even from a distance, the anxiety she exuded embraced his. In a fleeting moment, even as strangers, they were made one. She was the oeuvre his imagination had long created. Surrounded by families on both sides, he could hardly even dare a glance at her. That didn’t happen when families were involved; so what if it was the 21st century. There was something called as propriety, and a conventional muslim father like his had fed it to their kids with every morsel of food that ever entered their system. Ayan, just wouldn’t dare.
The families huddled closer as the talks began. Her education, his degrees. Her hobbies, his dreams. Parents did most of the talking and smiling. Someone said, perhaps, her aunt, times had changed so much. She never saw her husband until the wedding night. Her friends had teased her saying what if he is cockeyed, or a missing front tooth. All laughed at that. But times certainly had changed. Ayan’s mother herself hadn’t met or seen her husband until after the vows were exchanged. But those were their times. Ayan was nudged if he wanted to ask her anything. But he knew better than that. It would be impertinent in his father’s eyes to question the girl in front of the families. Ayan had solemnly murmured a ‘no’.
Standing perched near the window, deciphering the meaning of this prolonged silence, in the world, in movements, in moments, he stood wishing he had dared another glance at her that day. After all, he had never expected this situation. No one had. He knew, in his heart now, just how much he wanted to see her, be with her, hold her. But all of those were acts of past now. Expressions of love had new messengers – masks and gloves. He wondered if her hands felt warm or cold. He’ll never know. Did she smell of roses or lavenders? There was hardly a way to trick the new warriors. Did she blink too fast or fair enough? He wanted to be so close to her such that the air around them satisfied his curiosities. But the air right now was stale with uncertainties. They were howling of yet tough times to come. He wondered what more worse could happen. Why was fate testing him? Until 5 weeks ago, he didn’t want to think about anyone. How could his world flip 360 in just 5 months?
He looked out over at the street. Deserted it was 6 pm. Lost it had been all day, all week, all this perilous period. Not a soul in sight. Far away in the distance, he saw a happy gathering of doves in the middle of the road that was until few weeks back thronging with maddening traffic at all hours. His was one of the busiest lanes of Mumbai. VIPs and VVIPs, had their humble abodes in the neighborhood and hence, always sirens blaring, cars honking, police vans in attendance. And now, it looked a world out of ‘I am Legend’. Even the scorching summer sun that burnt skins straight, could do nothing about reducing some of that filth claiming lives by hundreds every day, to dirt. Soon, monsoons will knock in, and turn the figures upside down. In a populated city like his, where hundreds of mouths were fed by temples and mosques, prevailing horrors weren’t changing anytime soon.
The watch hurled a scream at eight. Where had the last two hours vanished? He’d hardly noticed. Nothing moved. Nothing changed. Except the clouds, except the dates. It was time for supper. For now, he’d have to make it with the phone calls where she refused to talk much. Always too many people around. Suddenly, he resented large families. Not only was the crowd pesky in present times, it proved fatal to his budding love too. Video calls weren’t possible without jibes from the elder women. He always disconnected untimely. There was no room, no corner in the house to satiate his hunger for her. Was she just as helpless, as desperate, as lovelorn, as was he?
For now, he’d have to wait until the curfew was lifted, from the city, from his life. For now, he’d have to stall his wishes concerning again. For now, he’d have to write down his dear feelings in that scrapbook lying hidden in his closet. For now, his whispers can only expect suppressed sighs. For now, he’d have to just revel in those would-be possibilities. For now, love will have to be the caged bird, to be released time alone knew when.
Happy reading till we meet next. Until then, carpe diem!