I am back from Delhi. I have plenty of snaps, loads of stories, heaps of memories, and not many presents. I still have a couple of days before I get back to work. So I spend my days wrapped in an after-holiday gossamer sheath of bliss. I get up lazily, sip my coffee by the window watching the roads get bright and dusty, feel the sheets getting cool in the air conditioning, and look at the snaps. This feels a little strange now.
What look like glossy reminiscences were actually moments that were clicked in anticipation. Sometimes a stranger was hailed to click a photo, sometimes the gardener of a manicured lawn was taught to zoom and focus, sometimes a waiter added a vase of flowers to the table to enhance the composition, sometimes my cousin or Jaygee or boyfriend clicked me looking sharp in the setting sun.
Now, when I see the photographs, I think of how much got recorded with each click – the mood, the memory of the person not in the frame, the hope of what this picture will mean to me tomorrow…so much.
Then, there was the exciting journey of discovering who my boyfriend really is. While I had some idea of how much he cared for me, I did realize I didn’t enthuse him as much as his car did, or all the clients who owed him money. These two topics, particularly, moved him to an eloquence I didn’t know he was capable of.
Interestingly, before I got to know his mother, I was introduced to the ‘Car’. No love lost there – mutually.
As affectionate as one may get about one’s third car, I think it is a little unnatural to get misty-eyed when you talk of each bump or scratch on it. The coagulated fondness for the car must be seen to be believed. When he picked me up from the airport, he first fumbled for the car keys, and then for the single rose he had bought for me. He was happier finding the keys.
Another one of his extremely irritating habits is switching radio channels without checking with anybody else in the car. And the one time I happened to do it, I was met with a thick wall of hurt silence. I mean, it’s not as if I had killed his pet rabbit and made a stew out of it.
Then, there is his absurd quirk of never getting out of the car once he has got into it. He would pick me up from Jaygee’s place and we’d drive off without having a plan of what we’d do during the day. Now, I like going on drives but I’m not sure if I’d like to conduct every single activity in the cruise mode. When I’d ask him to stop somewhere for breakfast, he’d say, ‘Not here. No place to park.’ And we’d drive off with me gazing at the empty lanes with some puzzlement. ‘No place to park’ indeed! I think that boyfriend thought that cars grow to twice their size if left motionless and therefore one must keep driving them to maintain their ‘lean machine’ status. However, a couple of hours and a few tantrums later, the car did stop in front of a restaurant. And there was honking. Why? Because boyfriend seemed to have this arrangement with some joints where the food is brought to the car. When I suggested that we actually park the car, leave it on the road, get out of it (the resistance begins here), and go inside for grub, he sputtered a little plaintively, ‘But….but…’
Anyway, we had a lovely, if an unconventional, breakfast of chicken momos and hazelnut lattes.
Speaking of breakfast, Jaygee and I had a nice, sated morning snack one Sunday. There was tava toast, marmalade, cheese, and good coffee. And the conversation was, as usual, solid and comforting. Thankfully, some things don’t change with time and distance.
I met up, quite unexpectedly, with my cousin and his friend. All of us went to the ‘Garden of Five Senses’ where we respectfully appreciated the landscaping without understanding much of its raison d’etre, so to speak. We just took a whole lot of pictures in quiet incomprehension – like when you read, and then randomly quote Walt Whitman.
There was a token shopping spree at Lajpat Nagar where I got all that I needed in 30 minutes flat. Everything in 30 minutes. Boyfriend was quite pleased, although he told me that he knew a shop where the shopkeeper would show you all that you were interested in and ‘you wouldn’t even have to leave the car.’ I didn’t pay any attention to that.
Then, my experience with Delhi food. Well, every thing – every single, minute, broad, sweeping, flattering, hyperbolic, deifying, eulogizing, praise-worthy, worship-worthy, paean-like thing you have heard about Kareem’s – it’s true. You taste tender marrow and succulent mutton, all wedded with spices in artistic marination and cooked with such guile as to render the taste of meat immortal – you taste something like that and you start looking for a culinary altar where you could worship it.
Boyfriend had always told me that this place was special. I had guessed as much when he readily got out of the car to get inside the restaurant. Otherwise, we’d be outside and honking for food.
Then there were these other times that I think about to get a sudden wave of euphoria. These are the times I thought of when the plane lurched in the turbulent weather and people closed their eyes and clutched at prayers.
I think of the night he and I visited Mocha – both spiffily dressed in black. This was where we had first talked two years ago. After that night, we had become steady friends while we separately explored the little travesties in our routine lives.
I think of the day we both stumbled onto this stunning ruin on Pandara Road – this huge, red-bricked assemblage of timelessness. The kind of thing you see and get a glimpse of how old ‘forever’ really is.
Then there was the night we drove and drove and drove and every song that played on the radio, played for us.
There was the evening when he took me to the temple. He prayed while I waited outside under a blanket of glassy stars. I watched him and strangely felt him holding my hand – despite being several feet away.
There was the afternoon when I was in his office checking mail while he talked to a client. I turned back to see him smiling at me.
One dusk, I fell asleep in the spare bedroom, subconsciously listening to the regular household noises in the background. I woke up to see him looking at me and making one of those silent promises you make when your heart is so full of love.
And most of all, I think of my last night in Delhi.
It was getting increasingly difficult to get through. The evening felt sour and my heart just seemed to be padding away on a lonely road. I had seen so much of him – where he worked, where he lived, where he prayed, where he played, where he got foolish with his friends, where his mother and he dined on special occasions. I had seen Delhi with him. I had seen his Delhi. I had seen what he’d shown me. I missed what he’d whizzed past. I didn’t think I could ever remember Delhi other than the city where he lived.
It was one of those feelings you get when you want to gauge how much you’ll take with you and how much you’ve left behind. It is so darn difficult. Like if you had to relinquish your shadow, how do you figure out how much darkness and how much light you’re letting go of?
As the hour neared midnight, I was filled with that soul-bursting urge to celebrate. I could feel the explosion of firecrackers in my fingernails.
We went to Taj (after carefully counting pennies.) In the walk from the lobby to the café, I wondered why I loved him the way I did. After all, he smoked, he didn’t read books, he didn’t watch English films, he didn’t dance..but…inspite of that (or maybe, because of that – who can tell?), I felt so together. It is weird, the places where the heart finds its home.
I love the way he will fearlessly voice his opinion and gently help his mother up the stairs. I love the way he explains patiently that his car does not have a central locking system and I must be careful to not leave it unlocked.
I love the way he rubbishes my taste in films but unexpectedly steals my heart when he narrates this scene from ‘The Doors’; the scene where Jim Morrison follows a girl to her house and keeps watching her from outside. Many hours later, when she confronts him and asks him why he’d followed her, he replies, ‘Because you’re the one.’ My heart twists a little bit every time he says that.
I love the way he is not barraged with pessimistic thoughts. How he doesn’t have the arrogance of cynical people – of having seen it all and not finding a new day important enough to be hopeful for. I love the way my eyes shine with unshed tears when he holds my hand.
I love the way when, at Taj, he ordered for beverage and asked the waiter to take his time and not hurry back with the order. I love the way he said ‘I love you’ and knelt down (upsetting the table.) I love the way he earnestly slipped a ring in my finger (the wrong one at first) and asked me, ‘Will you marry me?’ I loved the way his eyes lit up with a hundred sunrises when I said yes.
They say that the best trips are where you surprise yourself. In a word, my Delhi trip was fantastic!