All My Yesterdays

 

My dearest Shiva,

I saw the pictures on Facebook yesterday. The baby has your eyes.

Remember that cold December day when we sat on our rock and spoke about how our babies would be? You said that you wanted our babies to have my eyes and your hair, my nose and your forehead. Remember how mad I got when you said that you wanted them to have my heart and your brain? That day, that last day that you and I spoke for hours, living out the rest of our lives in our imagination. The day we then decided what needs to be done. That day is still so fresh in my memory.

When I close my eyes and think of that day, I can feel the cold mist enveloping us and the smell of the tea bushes around us as we sat there. I can still feel the warmth of your hand in mine, the smell of your leather jacket and your musky aftershave. I can still hear the sound of your beating heart, the one that said my name. And then I feel the warm tears flowing down my cheeks and a lone teardrop rolls down and falls into my chest. That is when I get back to reality. The memories are from yesterday, but the tears are from today. Everyday.

It is such a wonder, how I am able to cry even now. I thought that all my tears would have dried up that last day. We watched the sunset across the mountains and then we broke ourselves away from the fantasy world we were living in. You took me back home, openly this time. There was no need to be surreptitious because tomorrow we would announce to our families that we were no longer a couple. We would no longer the stubborn pair who chose love and refused to consider family honor. We would go back into the good books of our respective families and once the initial buzz died down, we would agree to marry someone our families chose, someone of the same religion, caste, sub caste. Someone whose horoscope matched perfectly. Someone who would not bring the curse of dishonor to the generations to come.

 

Maybe it was the right thing we did, but Shiva, you know, nowadays men marry men and women marry women! Society has changed so much. When I read such stories, I feel such a sad clutch in my heart.  Maybe, I think, maybe we could have held on a little longer. Maybe we could have been a little more stubborn. Maybe we could have fought a bit harder.  But then, maybe it would have just caused more pain.

 

My father threatened to kill himself and my sister because she would never get a proper husband if I brought such shame to the family, he said. Shame. That’s what they called our love. Shame. And your family was no different, worse, if I may say so now. They used such harsh words about me, Shiva. I heard what they called me. Anandi told me everything after you left India. She told me about what actually happened in your house that made you want us to break up. I understand. I don’t think I would have been able to spend a single moment with your family after they used such words. How could your father have used such horrible words about me when he hadn’t even met me? I did not seduce you, Shiva. I was not after your family money. Of course, I know you knew that, but why didn’t you fight harder for me? I wish, I wish you had.

 

But anyway, all water under the bridge now.

 

Yes, I would have been the millstone around your neck. How smoothly everything happened after we broke up. It was like I was the biggest obstacle in your life, holding you back from reaching the great heights you reached today. All you had to do was to marry the girl your parents chose. Maybe there is something in those horoscopes that they gave so much importance to. She was the perfect match for you. With me, you would have had to take up the teaching job in St. Antony’s school to make ends meet. We would have had to fight society, the stigma, our families and difficult finances every single day had we gone ahead and got married against their wishes. I’m sure your father, the influential person he was, would have sabotaged every chance we got, just to make a point.

 

But today, look where you are. Harvard. A professor at Harvard. Not in our wildest dreams would we have imagined that back then, would we? We would have been content with a small life in our small town. But look where she took you. The woman you married was your key to the First World. It is not that easy to go to the US these days, so many formalities, so many questions at the embassy. My nephew had to come back to India because they refused to extend his visa. But for you, it was smooth sailing. Because I wasn’t there blocking the path? Probably. My love, our love, didn’t stand like a mountain you had to scale before you reached your future.  I read somewhere that you are even likely to win a Nobel Prize someday. Imagine. How my heart swells up with pride when I read such things about you. Of course, I saw the star in you way back then.

I have to confess, for a long time even after you left, I held on to the hope that by some twist of fate we would get back together. When Anandi told me that your wife was pregnant, I had the most evil thought. I can finally say it now and get the burden off my mind. I had the most evil thought that she should die in childbirth and you would write to me, telling me that you were now free from the family pressure and you are ready to marry me. Of course, God never answers evil prayers. There is not a day that passes when I don’t beg him for forgiveness for that evil thought I had.

 

Why didn’t you keep in touch back then, Shiva? Why didn’t you write to me as you promised? If only we had this email and Facebook back then, would you have kept in touch? But what would we have written to each other? Just sent each other letters filled with regret to make our lives more miserable?  Maybe you did the right thing, to make the clean cut, to break away.

Was it difficult for you? Did you cry into your pillow every night? Did the world go dark for you? Did you have nightmares of running through a maze, a black, smoky maze and finding yourself up against cold mossy walls? Did you wake up screaming my name?

I broke, Shiva. I broke in to little pieces after you left. I know, Anandi didn’t tell you all this. I begged her not to. I feared that my collapse would have hurt you more than it hurt me. But today, I want to ask you, what was your life like after you left? After you left me? Was it easy for you to move on? Please tell me that it wasn’t easy. Please tell me how painful it was for you to live with another woman after all those hopes and dreams of yours were centered around me. I was your everything, Shiva. You were my everything. But do you love her now? I’m sure you do.  But do you love her as much as you loved me? No, don’t answer that.

It wasn’t just a breakdown I had after you left. I went insane. I sat staring at the wall, seeing your face everywhere, calling your name, talking to you. They pumped me with pills, trying to erase your memory from my mind. They took me to bearded men who fanned peacock feathers in my face and tied threads around my wrist.  It was horrible, Shiva. Horrible. But of course, there was nothing more horrible than the thought of a life without you. It took me a long time to learn that that was what my future was now. To accept reality. I was forced to accept it, accept the fact that you had gone. Gone from my life forever. And then when they thought that I was cured (cured? They cured me of you? Like it is even possible) they married me off to a man my father’s age to get me out of the way.

Well, you know how it is, life had to happen. But mercifully, that life lasted less than a year for me. He died. I cannot tell you about those days because I have absolutely no memory of them. He is just a blur somewhere in the back of my mind, just like how my life was during those few months. However hard I try, I am not able to remember that part of my life. Repressed memories. Is that what they call it these days?

*****

I lived with Zohara until last year. You remember my sister Zohara, don’t you? Your sister Anandi’s classmate, the one who used to act as postman for us, passing my letters to Anandi and yours back to me.  She died last September. She was my last link to you in this world. We used to sit up late nights and talk about those good old days. Now I have no one with whom I can talk to about you.

It was the logical step to be moved to this old age home. Zohara’s son Imtiaz refused to let me go at first. He loved me even more than his mother. But I made him. An old aunt is not something you burden your only nephew with. This home is a nice place. There are people I can talk to, books I can read, movies I can watch. Of course, there is no one here with whom I can talk about you. But maybe if I hadn’t come here, I wouldn’t have learnt to use this Facebook thing. Imtiaz bought me this laptop and set up this account for me. The first thing I searched for was your name, and there you were, looking all handsome and distinguished. A thousand butterflies fluttered in my heart the day I saw you on Facebook. I was that shy 20 year old again, falling in love all over again.  Imagine, feeling that same emotion after all these decades. Forty five years is it? Seems like yesterday.

******

The baby has your eyes, Shiva. Your grandchild looks exactly like you. Send me more pictures of your life. I want to know what has happened to you all these forty five years. I know, a lot has happened in your life, unlike mine. Send them quickly, Shiva. I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s’ a couple of months ago. It isn’t bad right now, but you know how it is. It will get worse. Soon. I want to soak up every bit of you that there is left before I fade away.

I can live with the disease, I know I can. They have people to look after me here when things go the way they are bound to. They are paid to.  I will have people who would feed me, bathe me and keep me alive. I’ll be alive, Shiva. Just the way I’ve been alive all these years without you, with you.   But you know what I dread the most?  The day I die. No, not the day I die because my heart has stopped beating or my brain has shut down. The day I die when this disease erases your memory from my mind. The day you are erased from my life. That is the day I dread.

Let me say it Shiva, let me say it to you one last time before you leave me again.

I love you.

 

Always,

 

Zeenath

 

(I know. It does seem to have shades of movies. Not a conscious inspiration, but yes, maybe.  It was something that I wrote long ago for some writing prompt based thingy. I went through my old posts from somewhere and dug this out. Oh, my resolution is to start writing more and I’m warming up by recycling old posts. The new financial year does count as a new year, right?)

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