Wednesday, Aug 10, 2022
Outlook.com
#WeekendReads

Book Excerpt: We Are All Beggars Of Love

You can’t explain love to a plant or philosophy to a dog. We feel only what we understand. And he felt love for me. He wanted me to understand that.

We are all beggars of love (Representative image)
We are all beggars of love (Representative image) Shutterstock

Our love story began the way most big love stories begin, after great sex. It didn’t matter that it was in the bathroom of a low-cost airline called  Air  Deccan, that we’d nicknamed  Air Dhakkan because its engine rattled throughout the journey, like a lid on a boiling pan. It didn’t matter that the air hostess had to force open the bathroom door after banging on it for ten minutes. The only thing that mattered was that when we got back to our seats, he’d said, ‘Close your eyes and look into the darkness, jaanu.’

This was how Suneet spoke. I wanted him to know that I understood him. I shut my eyes.

‘What do you see?’ he asked.

I took a deep breath. ‘I see you,’ I said.

‘Smiling?’

‘No, frowning.’

He punched my arm. We laughed. ‘Be serious. I want you to see me. Do you see me?’ he asked.

‘I see something,’ I said. ‘I see the clouds above you . . . the aisle behind you. I see you lifting your hand to your mouth and chewing your fingernails.’

Silence. Even in the darkness I could sense his disapproval.

It was 2006, two days before Valentine’s Day. Suneet and I were returning to Mumbai after a weekend trip to Goa. It was the type of trip that only new lovers can take. The type we took after meeting each other randomly in the US and spending eight months chatting on Skype and MSN. The type where people watched us with their hearts in their eyes, wishing they could experience a love like ours. The type where he  whispered into my ears, ‘You’re an oasis for a desert full of thirsty men, everyone wants a sip!’

But Suneet was flying back to his job in Boston the next day. We didn’t know when we would meet again.

‘Sorry . . . I see you. Of course, I see you, jaan,’ I said. He was actually all I saw.

‘Good. Now, tell me, my angel. Do you know what love is?’ he asked me. 

Love? I smirked. Of course, I knew what love was. Everyone knew what love was. We’d all said it to someone. We’d all had someone say it to us. But when I opened my mouth, nothing came out. What the fuck? I was drawing a blank. Why had no one taught me what love was? 

My orderly mind crumbled. Loosened fragments arranged and rearranged themselves at random. Bits of life made themselves prominent, the small and insignificant injustices of love, the silence of victories from deep within the noise of love. My heart had been broken at twenty-one by my straying first love. The hearts I had broken in the following years to draw blood back into my own. The men who’d said they loved me, some of whom I’d said I loved back, only because crushing someone’s hopes seemed like the worst kind of sin. 

‘I can’t . . . you know . . . define love. I need a dictionary,’ I mumbled and smiled.

‘Answer me.’

‘Fine,’ I said quickly. 

‘You are love.’

‘No.’

‘No?’

‘No.’

How can a correct answer be incorrect?

‘I am not love, jaanu, because I cannot be everybody’s love. Only yours, forever yours,’ he said.

Ah! I was his and he didn’t even know it.

‘Okay,’ I said.

‘Love is yielding.’

‘Love is caring.’

‘Love is acceptance.’

‘No! No! No! No clichés,’ he said. 

‘You call yourself a writer, don’t you?’The previous night I had given Suneet a half-written love letter, in which I had told him that he was the song for those who didn’t sing ...his love an anthem that rose like hope. I wanted him to fill in the rest, because I knew his heart. Now he wanted to know mine. Could I tell him? ‘I guess I...I don’t know what love is,’ I admitted.

 

'You call yourself a writer, right?'
'You call yourself a writer, right?' Shutterstock

‘Love is something we can’t control,’ he said quickly, as if he’d been anticipating my failure. ‘If I tell my hand to hold your hand, it will hold your hand. If I tell my foot to kick you, it will kick you. I can control my physical body. But what I have inside...the stuff I cannot see, and you cannot see ...is what I cannot control. I cannot tell my cells, “Okay, today you will not grow.” I cannot tell my liver, “Okay, today you cannot make bile.” I cannot tell my heart not to beat. But when my heart thinks of you, it beats faster, on its own. That is love.’

Something inside me stirred, as if a long slumbering giant had awakened.

‘You are love,’ he added. ‘You’re an amazing person with an energy that is pure and innocent.’

‘That’s so sweet, Suneet,’ I said. He always found ways to define what I couldn’t. I kissed him.

‘Now...slowly...’  he added, ‘Put your left hand into your right hand.’

I put my left hand into my right hand.

‘Is it warm?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ I said slowly. ‘It’s warm.’

‘That warmth belongs to me. Don’t you ever forget that.’ 

I opened my eyes. They were fluttering with delight. Isn’t the eye where the heart comes to rest?  I looked into his eyes.  They were brown. I liked everything brown, I decided: chocolate, mud after rain, rusted doorknobs, the first fallen leaf in a desert.

‘If you ever miss me just hold your hands together, feel that warmth, and you’ll feel me,’ he added. ‘That’s love.’

I understood what he was doing. You can’t explain love to a plant or philosophy to a dog. We feel only what we understand. And he felt love for me. He wanted me to understand that.

I went numb with joy.

‘Do you love me?’ he asked.

If you put a frog in cold water and heat it slowly, it will not notice. And, before you know it, you’ll have a boiled frog. Love’s like that. You’re bumbling through life not knowing what you’re doing, and suddenly, it’s there and you’re in love. I knew I was in love. I loved the curl in his arms, strong, even though he didn’t exercise. The way his butt looked after he came out of the shower. Taut like the crust of a freshly baked baguette I wanted to bite into.

I nodded. I really did. I really loved this man.

‘And I love you,’ he said. ‘I feel so lucky to have met you. You’re fabulous.’

I smiled. He said this to me all the time.

He smiled back at me and said, ‘That’s why I wanted to ask you, Manu, will you smoke my snake for life?’

I didn’t understand what he meant.  He took out a joint from his sock.

‘What ...are you crazy?’  

I whispered fiercely. I looked around. The cabin was dark. ‘You’ll get caught.’

‘Shhhh...’ he said calmly. ‘You know I call my weed my snake, right? So, I want to know if you would like to spend the rest of your life smoking my snake with me?’

I was still too alarmed for his words to sink in. ‘What?’ ‘Will you marry me?’ he asked.

I fell back in my seat and felt the breath go out of me. I looked out of the window. The moon was shining like a button in the black blanket of the night, lit with our love.

‘Should I?’ I asked.

I hadn’t known Suneet for long. It had only been a few months. In that time, with me in Mumbai and him in Boston, we’d only spend nine days together in total. Could I marry a stranger?

‘Give me one reason why we shouldn’t get married,’ he asked. He didn’t look upset.

‘Because we don’t know each other very well, Suneet. We’ve only met during trips like this,’ I said. He was one of the few people with whom I didn’t censor my thoughts. ‘Shouldn’t we give ourselves more time?’ ‘It’s not the time spent but the love given,’ he said. He paused as I let his words sink in. ‘Don’t overthink this, Manu.'

'You’re one in six billion. I never thought I’d meet someone like you. I really never did! It’s renewed my hope in mankind and in myself. Of course, it’s also ruined me for anyone else!’ I laughed. Suneet always knew exactly what to say and when.

I also knew that I was twenty-five years old which, by Indian standards then, made me a leftover bride: the one who attended only other people’s weddings. I didn’t know what I was waiting for. Back in Mumbai, there were men who were interested in marrying me, but I didn’t want their money or stability or goodness. I couldn’t bear their predictability. I wanted a man who was made only for me. I wanted striving. I wanted elevation. I wanted passion. Suneet offered me all that. A  middle-class  NRI  boy  working  in  the  US,  paving his own righteous path in the world, he was different from the rich spoilt deathly-dull south Mumbai boys I’d grown up around. In the musical chairs of potential matches, Suneet was the only one I wanted sitting down.

He held my hand tightly. ‘Manu, do you know that before I  met you last July, I’d never felt alive. My life was a burden. Then you came and everything  changed. I never thought I would meet someone so perfect, so amazing! It was like God had made an angel in the sky just for me, and dropped her into my lap. Since the day we met, I’ve woken up every morning feeling so grateful that you’re in my life. I can’t take a single breath without remembering you. You have no idea what you mean to me and how much, my darling.’

I sighed. I’d never met a boy who spoke this way.

We seek the extraordinary because it rarely occurs in our life. We don’t even know how to recognize it. Here was my chance. I could make the ordinary come alive and make it extraordinary.

'That’s why I want to marry you,’ he continued. ‘I know how lucky I am to have you in my life. I don’t want to spend another moment without you, my angel, my princess. You are the only thing I need in my life.’

I smiled. His words sounded poetic and deep, hence true.

‘I like to think that my hobby is to change people. I was trying to do that for you, but you ended up changing me,’ he continued. ‘For the first time in my life I trust someone. I feel so safe and secure with you. I cannot live without you.’

‘But will we make each other happy, Suneet?’

‘I don’t care about my happiness as long as you’re happy,’ he said quickly. ‘Promise to stay happy forever, my sonu. If not for yourself, please keep doing that for me. I don’t ever want to see a frown on that beautiful face.’

I smiled. Sometimes you need to be loved a certain way to find what you’re seeking.

‘Remember  one  thing,  Manu,  if  you’re  not  smiling  then  I’m  not  doing  something  right,’  he  added.  ‘You’re such an amazing person  with  so  much  potential.  You’re going to do great things with your life. And all I want is a ringside seat to cheer you on!’Life had taught me that it was important to be with someone who wanted you urgently, so I said, ‘Yes. Yes! Suneet, let’s smoke the snake together, forever.

Let’s get married.’

I knew then only passion and none of its consequences.

‘Pukka, my little bhondu?’ he asked.

‘Ermmm,  actually, let me think about it for forty more years,’ I said and laughed.

‘Chal hat!’ Suneet said with joy and hugged me.

He looked so happy. It made me so happy. After all, we are all beggars of love.

(Excerpted from ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ by Meghna Pant, with permission from Penguin Random House India. Meghna Pant is an award-winning author, journalist, feminist and speaker.)

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement