Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Total Eclipse Of The Heart

'This week I was traveling from Goa—and a fellow-traveler asked me if she can use mine...' Smita Nair, a journalist, recounts an incident to tell how gifts make their own journey

Total Eclipse Of The Heart
Total Eclipse Of The Heart Artwork by Aradhana Seth

My love is black.
A remnant.
A memory left unfinished.
A string of what could have beens.
My love is black.
It continues to burn.
Charcoal underneath a furnace.
It’s there I still hold you.

Sometimes gifts make their own journey. There are two small vials of surma—one is jet black and one is grey, I possess. I carry them alw­ays in my pocket — sometimes in my bag. Since I started driving, I have one kept in my car, the other on me.

This week I was traveling from Goa—and a fellow-traveler asked me if she can use mine. We met, as ladies sometimes do, in the washroom. She used it and instantly looked at me for app­roval. I told her it’s good. I prefer a surma, sometimes for that killing bite it gives seconds after it touches the eyelashes. A friend once said, it cleanses only when you cry. Or you cry, when it cleanses. Both are true.

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I love kohl, and I know many women in my phone directory and WhatsApp windows do too. It’s the colour of my space, my feelings, most of the time. I have one Jai Kajal on my study table, a gift from my mother, who till date uses a closed pin to apply it. On days when I miss my mother terribly—and cannot be with her in Bombay, I touch the rad­ium green box of Jai Kajal.  

Back in the washroom,, my fellow-traveler spoke of how she had one vial of surma, and months ago, lost it, and then went looking for it a whole night. She didn’t detail the search, so I imagined it with lot of drama, spilled-over wine, and beautiful locations. I told her, she could have mine. Though, I was hoping she said no. It never reached that stage, thankfully.

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But, something magical happened. She went on to speak about her ex-lover, the man who gifted it to her, almost with all the pain of a moist heart and lots of memories. Two other women who wanted to use the loo stopped, too.  They didn’t need to eavesdrop, story-telling had become public in that private space. Then she said it was nice to see a surma vial again, though she would have preferred it jet black. I allowed her, her opinion; knowing very well, the vial was still mine. I hadn’t lost mine yet.

The announcer of Indigo flight came as an int­ermission as my flight was announced. We parted ways, only after she said, “maybe mine is being used somewhere. Hopefully!” I sat in my seat and wondered the number of times I have lost things and also on how gifts make their own stories. The grey I use on days when I feel like letting go, black on days when I already have.

I hope she finds another vial, soon.

Since she seemed happy, I didn’t tell her that mine was given by an ex-lover too. It emptied long ago. I now do refills when I visit Bombay. My vials are a memory too. The surma is mostly mine.

(Views expressed are personal.)

(From the writer’s 2018 Facebook post)


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Smita Nair Is a journalist