Dyuti Banerjee Unlettered March 24, 2021 https://www.nakedtruth.in/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Unlettered.jpg

It has been a year. A whole year. A little more than it too. I remember the exact dates we spoke during this time. We spoke, even that could have specific dates? Like bank holidays marked out in red letters on the old school calendar in the drawing room where you sat on a single sofa scrolling down your phone impervious to the world. I was part of the world and I still am. Funny to think you’re a part of it too, and yet we don’t inhabit the same world anymore. Or do we?

You know, since you left, the world has not changed, like I thought it would. I was certain I wouldn’t survive in a world without you. But my convictions are a joke. I was even certain that you loved me, wasn’t I? And who knows better than you, how dumb my faith in you was? Is ‘misplaced’ a more polite word for it? Yes, politeness has crept into my language when I think of you, which is increasingly decreasing.

***

While she wrote the letter, montages flashed before her eyes, like AC window tinted fast-escaping landscapes from a train. There are always so many firsts. She smiled as she took time to remember each of them. The lack of sadness took her by surprise. The corny phrases that newly-in-love eighteen-year-olds coin, to give these new sensations some vain mooring in vocabulary, those did not embarrass her anymore—light of my life, my god of all things (in a little hat tip to The God of Small Things, that they didn’t know eluded them, like truth), love of my life, and their variations. The phrases had died out mostly. They had grown from eighteen to thirty. Or maybe they had stopped growing in the meanwhile.

She remembered how he was the lankiest gangliest boy in class, and she the plumpest. How they had got drawn together, when there was nothing really to draw them together. Later, at thirty, he called it a trauma-response. Her entire life after that statement had become a trauma-response. At eighteen, she was plain glad to be in love. So was she at thirty. Love was a good thing. So was she at thirty-one. Except that this time everything felt like an unstable stack of matchsticks. Most days tasted keenly of the certainty of her own essential, ineffable unloveableness. Her wings were ready, but her feet were still fawning the ground, in a hopeless attempt to hold on.

You know, love, the things I miss most about you, about us? My hand sliding into yours in the thickest of crowds, your hand always finding mine, whatever the darkness, the impossibility, your hand was meant to fit mine, nevertheless. I miss the smell of your breath, and when I smell that same smell now in another’s, I realise I don’t miss you. I miss the little things, the “Small Things”. Remember, Esthapappychachen Kuttappen Peter Mon? Our little world of words and phrases and meanings not a second soul will ever be privy to. But not you.

***

She paused. To feel. She tried feeling the sense of loss again. She could not. There was sadness, her eyes welled up, and her heart seemed to grow bulbous with grief and felt like it would burst out of her throat. But there was no loss.

She was taken aback. Was this ‘healing’? Did healing mean losing to memory? Her memories of him were turning faint around the corners, like the edges of pages turning soft in damp monsoon weather. Another “The God of Small Things” reference, she thought to herself. That book, that story, was that really their story? If it was, he was supposed to feel Empty. Did he? She had no way of knowing. And she no longer wondered.

She could not remember her years between twenty-five and thirty. They were a blur. Hazy, dusty windowpanes in the rain. Only mottled sunshine and car lights filtered through, like a dream, hardly ever real. Her days and hours were filled with other thoughts now. New memories taking root in her synapses, filling her every pore with a delight she had hitherto before been a stranger to.

***

Love, I am in love, again. I thought I loved you so much that I wouldn’t love again after you. And yet here I am, so deep in love, that everything else feels like a lie. Even you. Maybe now I understand you better. It took me a person who understands me better than you ever tried to, to understand you better. Because maybe I understand myself better too.

Love does make one a better person.

I remember turning into a bitterer, constricted version of myself over my years with you. There was a hillock of resentments between us, for every time I shrunk so that I could fit into you, for every time you resented me for not having shrunk enough. I had thought that the love I had for you would be enough, but it never was. Because love shouldn’t come in measuring cups and cylinders, ready to be poured in with scientific precision. I now know that love should be easy, not difficult, not painful, not filled with tears and uncertainties and fears. Loving you damaged me. I could have lived with that, but it damaged my loving too.

When I love now, I love with the acute knowledge of being inadequate, I love with fear of loss, I love, expecting to be unloved for every little thing, till I watch my every move like an ingenious director behind a camera in action. I try to fit into gaps where there are none, I try to make up for everything, my size, my shape, my voice, my words, my tears, my smiles, my laughter. My love is an apology for being myself. And I wasn’t this way, to begin with. And who knows that better than you?

***

She watched the words pour out like the murky water that seeps out like an ugly secret when a washcloth is wrung. She was giving it shape, she felt like a sculptor, the grey-white clay coating her fingers, drying on them, till her hands had more clay than what she was trying to give form to. Writing did feel futile sometimes. But it was all she could do while trying to make sense where none seemed to exist. The words always mercurially escaped her. If it wasn’t the words then it was their meanings. Sense eluded her like love always tended to.

Even now. Even with the one man who made her each day feel like a strawberry shortcake. Who made love seem easy when it was perhaps the most singularly difficult thing in the world. She found herself falling short, making mistakes that she knew would have long-standing repercussions. And even though it was easy to blame the ex, she knew she did not want to do that. That would be easy, but not right. And she did not want to correct a wrong with another. That would be fair to no one.

***

Do you know I dreamt of you last night? You know where I saw you? On a brown stretch of muddy road by a huge grey wall that smelt so strongly of the winter air, and of the only warmth I hold so close to me now. You were there in your grey striped thermals, walking towards me as lamely as an excuse. I felt sorry for you even in my dream, and guilty for seeing you in it. Guilt is one of the legacies you left in your wake. It took me months to un-believe a bit of that guilt. But it sticks to the glistening pink tissue of my oesophagus, my epithelia, my pylori, exactly like soot inside a chimney. If you ever loved me, how could you leave so much bitter bile in your wake? It’s dark green, slimy and its bitterness has a smell to it. Not your smell. I still remember your smell very distinctly. I still find it in some of my clothes and pillowcases, suddenly without warning. It does not fill me with that acute pain anymore. It is just another of those smells I used to be fond of, and recognise as a memory-smell. Smells have types, but you always thought I spoke hogwash.

***

She paused. Some bird trilled persistently. The sun was bright today. There was enough love in her heart. And some gladness. At her age, she was plain grateful to still find things to be happy about.

Unlettered Love

Illustration is sourced from iStock by Getty Images.

Once upon a time, she would never run out of happiness. Now she rationed her portions. She was dieting, and like dessert, happiness was best cut and eaten in tiny portions. Calorie-conscious or no, she was afraid to be too happy. She checked herself, allowed the apprehensions to flow in where there was room for none, and hated herself for skipping the brownie again. The fat girl, the heartbroken girl inside her was like the guiltiest conscience, forever pricking her for every pleasure, every delight she had been unused to, and that she had earned so hard. After so long.

***

Love, I do not love you. Is that a relief to you too? I hope it is, I hope you can love anew. I hope that now when you love, you can love wholly, undauntedly, gladly. I hope happiness finds you in ways I never could. I hope that now when you love, your lover never feels half-loved. Nothing kills like half-heartedness. Letting you go has been beautiful, no matter how hard. I found myself in the process. Loving is a wondrous verb, do it well this time. And whatever you do, do not undermine love. It is too vast and too wonderful to be reduced to bitterness. I loved you, and let us say you loved me. And let that knowledge be enough.

***

She was done. Writing it out felt like centuries of dammed waters had found a way out, she could finally be free. She hoped he would read it, and know, and smile. She did not count on it, though, but it would be nice if he thought less bitterly of her. Nothing was worth the delicately maintained acrimony. If she was free of that ugly aftertaste, she wanted him to be free of it too. So that if years later, they suddenly met each other, they would not have to avert their eyes and walk away like people who had only wronged each other and nothing else, so that they could look at each other with grace and just enough cordiality to be able to smile and say hello and goodbye.

The warm winter afternoon settled on her face like a smile, as she looked forward to tomorrow, with the promise of a river, sunshine, goosebumps; the surprise of young love at a late age, the sheer joy of walking together, hand in hand, soul in soul, song in song. It would all be good now.

Cover Image from iStock by Getty Images.

Dyuti is a lawyer, and a professional dreamer, a part-time poet, and a full-time overthinker. She tries to be, amongst other things, a writer, a scholar, and a good influence. Can talk to cats more than to most humans, and is fierce and passionate about words. She has previously written for The Times of India.

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