This story is for Roshni, who actually remembered this from ten years ago and asked for a link! Thanks Roshni, and hope it lives up to your memory.
If you are reading this, I am hopeful. Hopeful because you have not torn up the letter. Hopeful that you have gotten over your anger against me. I know the turn of events was unexpected for you. I dreaded the day you would come to know the truth, because I feared precisely this sort of reaction from you. Perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part that you would come around, you would understand, and somehow you would find it in yourself to love me as I am. As once you loved me, even though it was for a brief moment, like the flash of a distant star in the sky that makes you wonder if you have really seen it.
Prakash, remember that day we went swimming in the village pond? I’m sure you remember. The cool waters were always our recourse during the hot summers. Remember the small fish that we tried to catch in the palms of our hands, and how they always got away? And the tadpoles we caught together and put in the pickle jar? I still wonder why they died, even though I know that captivity always kills: if not the body, at least the spirit. I know how it feels to be captive – how it feels to have your every move monitored, and even the freedom to laugh has a price attached. I was never under the impression that this was the perfect life, but I never could have imagined the pain it would drag along with it like a severed limb.
The perfect life was when we were children. When you and I ran in the fields, shouting and laughing, scaring the peacefully grazing cows, and making the birds flutter into the blue skies, alarmed by the accuracy of your catapult. When we shared sour mangoes under shady green canopies, hiding from our mothers when they came looking for us at sundown. When we stole coconut pieces and camphor from the temple, while the village priest snored during his siesta. When we flew kites together, I could see the excitement in your eyes, the passion in your lips. And my heart soared like the kite, quivering and trembling in response to every tug of your hand. My heart is heavy now. I am indeed like a kati patang – a kite with no mooring, a kite let loose to roam where the wind wills, a kite that gets more and more ragged with every rogue branch that snags and rips through its very soul.
Did it make sense to you then, Prakash? That brief moment of passion we shared as your eyes caressed my body and our lips spoke a language of their own? That moment I have preserved carefully, like a flower pressed between the pages of a book. The memory of that moment is what uplifted me, that’s what kept me going through all the bleakness that painted my walls with its grey misery. Every time I put my kajal, it was for you. Every time I reddened my lips, it was for you. Every sari I draped around my cursed body, it was for you. The perfume of the flowers in my hair faded into the scent of your body. Do you remember how it felt? Or have you tossed it like discarded flowers that are swept away so swiftly by the stream? I cannot write any more. I am crying.
I have resolved I must finish what I wanted to say. I must unburden myself, I have carried it too long with me.
It’s been a long time since I cried, Prakash. The tears that bled from my wounds have dried, but they have left behind a raw salt residue that burns and stings. I cried when I boarded the train from the village in the dark of the night. I was leaving behind my innocence, clutching onto the useless currency of my dreams. I was leaving behind a life that was familiar but stifling and painful, towards a vast unknown. I was leaving like a thief indeed, ostracized and shamed. But I cried above all because I had to part from you, the sweetest love of my life. You were that first love one ceaselessly seeks in all subsequent loves, an unattainable fantasy fed by hungry dreams, a shimmering mirage in an arid and aching memory.
I cried again when I saw you at the bar. Isn’t it strange that of all the bars in Mumbai, you should come to my bar? Perhaps it was the tears that shone in my eyes, perhaps it was Fate playing a cruel game with me. What did attract you to me? Was it some vestige of passion that reared its ugly head just when I had begun to give up my battle with life out of sheer fatigue? Was it some wicked instinct of self-destruction that made me come and sit by you, and initiate that age-old game of seduction?
You didn’t recognize me, and I was both glad and hurt. I thought I could start anew what we had left half-finished so many years ago, in the cool waters of the village pond. After all, I had reinvented myself. I was Mohini, the enchantress. So many men had succumbed to my charms, but most had been disgusted when they found out what I really was. Did I really think I could take up where I had left off with you? Indeed, where had I left off with you? My fantasies had so clouded the reality of my memories. That entire night I tossed and turned, wondering in feverish anticipation if you would come back.
You did. And the night after. And the night after. You seemed content just to talk to me, to look at me, to tuck my stray hair behind my ear in a caress that sent shivers down my spine. I dared not to long for more. I had rolled dice with Fate, and even a modest win was enough. We spent long hours in eloquent silence, you lost in the smoky haze of your thoughts, and I, sneaking glances in a vain attempt to capture and possess your every feature and make it mine. It was a strange happiness, almost a contentment, and I clung to it as desperately as a drowning man a straw. For the first time in my turbulent, topsy-turvy life, I felt I was floating, just letting go, just being.
It was too good to last, wasn’t it? That night, when you finally came to my room, I tried to hide my delirious joy behind a mask of boredom. I didn’t want to tempt Fate, I didn’t want to ruin what I had. But Fate is an expert at playing cat and mouse: just when you think you’ve managed to get away, she sinks her claws deep into you and relishes the blood-bath that follows.
There we are, enmeshed and eager, when your eyes fall upon the photo. A faded photo pressed into a cheap plastic frame. Your eyes widen with surprise. My mouth is suddenly dry, and I can feel my breath coming in short bursts. I try to turn you away, but you reach out and pick it up. How did you get this photo, you ask me, puzzled. I mumble something incoherent, while my thoughts fly to that morning. Our mothers smiling and asking us to stand together. The painted cardboard cutout with brightly coloured flowers as the backdrop. The photographer urging us to stand closer. You put your hand on my shoulder and I turn and look straight into your eyes. Something changes between us that instant, and I am immediately conscious of the warmth of your fingers pressing into my skin. I look away, disturbed, but not before I catch your half-smile. And that is the moment the camera clicks. The photo lies: it does not show your smile, but it catches my naked awkwardness. An awkwardness that remains when we jump into the pool later that afternoon, peeling off our clothes in a strange exhuberance. And when I run away, both exhilarated and ashamed, you look on, unfathomable.
I am jolted out of the past when the edge of the frame hits me on my lips and draws blood. Tears of a twisted anguish flow as I battle my demons. I try to calm you down, but you are as disgusted and horrified by me as countless others. Listen to me, I weep. Let me tell you what an agony my life has been. A life that is not a life; no hope of love, no hope of dreams; trapped, with no release. A life where Love is forced to walk fettered in narrow corridors that open no doors for the likes of me.
But you were so angry with what you considered my deceit. You are not the Mohini I thought I loved,but you are not the Mohan I once knew either, you shouted. What are you, you freak, you perversity of nature? My face, my body still bears the bruises of your beatings. I haven’t gone out since you left.
I began this letter on a conciliatory note. I wanted to beg your forgiveness for the hurt I caused you, for my perceived deceit. But now I just wish to thank you for opening my eyes, and for shattering the one dream I had. Unshackled from the ghosts of my past, I experience a tremendous sense of relief. I can now hope that my true love is still out there, waiting for me. A true love that loves me as I am. And for that, I thank you.