Tuesday, Aug 09, 2022
From Our Readers

Measured Love: They Found Each Other In The Darkness Of Things

Whenever they were together, they spoke of poetry, melancholy, love and Kashmir. Words helped forge connections, which they nurtured by writing letters to each other.

Representative image.
Representative image. Shutterstock

Whenever they were together, they spoke of poetry, melancholy, love and Kashmir. Words helped forge connections, which they nurtured by writing letters to each other. What happened between them was meant to go nowhere, but it did get them somewhere.

Morpheus and Neo

Two people met on a boat in Kashmir when the floods came in 2014. The man was rescuing people. The woman was reporting on the floods. They exchanged only a few words then. They bumped into each other in the virtual world, met a few times and told each other stories about this and that. He called her Morpheus. He called himself Neo. They called their situation a matrix. Was it a love story? They did not know. They still do not know. But a letter is a confession. He once quoted poet Agha Shahid Ali —“the world is full of paper, write to me.”

Dear Morpheus,

The first time I saw you were at the flood rescue camp; a woman with a diary and water bottle in her hands. Having a water bottle was a luxury then; everything was flooded and the city seemed at a still. We were not taking any non-Kashmiri journalists with us to the affected areas because no one tells the truth that happens in Kashmir, but somehow I felt we should take you along and show you the real side. The side where you might not like your pretty sneakers and glaring wayfarers; and we rowed into the alleys of Srinagar. We spoke of Kashmir, bravery, human stories and the struggle of people who were unwilling to leave their flooded homes. I remember giving you my slippers to keep your shoes dry or the 'Parle G' biscuit which was a luxury, too, in times of flood and despair. We had tea at the camp and I was barefoot, walking around carrying teacups in my hand. And then you left. 

After a few weeks, I got a call from you which said you need my full name for the piece that you wrote about the floods. I hadn’t looked you up on the internet until I read the piece. “Among the Castaway”, read the title of your story; I felt connected with the way you wrote your words. It is an unusual style of writing where you visually imagine every single word you write. ‘Show, do not tell’, that’s how you put it and that I learnt from you.
We spoke virtually; we spoke of poetry, melancholy, love and Kashmir. You were always different from others, you made me think, you made me speak and write. I knew poetry because of you, I knew about the lilies and yellow lights. We spoke about my childhood, about my fears and abandonments, about winters and snowflakes. We talked about everything and we found each other in that darkness. A writer must consume the circumstances before they write about it, you said. I fell in love with all the words you said and I fell in love with you. For the first time in my life, I felt being heard and valued. We had a language of our own which others wouldn’t understand. When we wouldn’t speak, I would leave a line out there in the Universe and it somehow would reach you. It was surreal and it was beautiful.

And then we met in Cordoba in a dark room with a stone bed inside. Your eyes wouldn’t stop crying because you were allergic to cold; the things we do for love. You never looked me in the eye but I remember your face with a red light on it every time you lit a smoke. We spoke less and the dogs never stopped barking. I remember the walk back home; it was raining and I didn’t know that one would travel so far for love. 

“I have to see you,” read your message and I’d reply “come soon”; but I never came. You waited for me at the boulevard and I never showed up. And before you left I came hurriedly on a motorbike in that winter chill. I wanted to see you, I had to see you; no one had waited for me before. I never told you why I came late; I wasn’t busy but I had no means of transport to get there. I waited for my friend to take his bike and ride to you; it sounds very cute when I look at it now. You gave me books of poetry and stories, you took my pictures against the sunset at the Dal. We smoked a cigarette and spoke less as always; you left and I stayed there for a while. It was cold and I was in love with you. I wanted to tell you more but I couldn’t; maybe I felt embarrassed by sharing those things with you. You stayed back and I couldn’t see you again, you sat on the ghats and watched fishermen row back to their homes. Even the moon came and settled, and you were alone with the lake that night. 

Tonight, the heart is in outrage with itself. 
Yesterday we walked together;
Today I ran alone in the crowd. 
She called night her home! 
Weak and wretched. 
It has no peace; no colors. 
Tomorrow I’ll wake up to haze;
Of sorrows and regrets. 
But the sun will shine; 
And the moon will follow.
To a place where the lake ends. 
And tonight the moon is alone.

You sent me an email which wrote:
“And you know the truth. You have always known it. I am there as I have always been. 
So, when you feel you can talk, I am a phone call away. 
I will wait”.
And to which I replied:
“I don’t do goodbyes... they all leave like the seasons leave…” 

It was a beautiful love story that started in the cold of winter. You were in your apartment with a yellow bulb in it. I lived miles away with snowflakes dancing around in a winter wonderland. You sat there by the window and wrote letters to me. I wrote back to them and we laughed at the silly arguments we had about the electricity problem in Kashmir. “Do you see me as an occupier,” you’d often ask. I never saw you that way. I was never envious of the fact that you were there in a better life and place than mine. To understand the feeling of being free, I had to be free of my own fears and abandonments.

I wrote a reply to you: "What have I done to be occupied or be watched? I don’t live in a corporate world, nor do I care for the luxuries of that world. I am a man from the Valley, a highlander that’s what they call me."

I have a ruthless winter coming in; more ruthless than the enemy that sits in my backyard. I have to think of the food supplies because the only way that connects us to the outside world would soon be buried under that beautiful snow that you find so beautiful.

I have to think about that lonely bulb that glows in my smoky room, the energy it uses is being stolen by the same occupier to keep my beloved’s cosy apartment lit. Soon all the water pipes would freeze to death, making me fire that chunk of wood to loosen them up. All the roads would die a death of sudden shock, the whole world would stop for me, and life would come to a standstill.
But the purple flower she talks about would bloom through that pile of snow, and soon I would smile the way the sun peeks through those wandering clouds. 

Spring came and it brought you along, we met in the gardens of the royal family. I rode the motorbike through that alley of blossoming trees, it was as if it were a living movie. You sat there in the garden and there I was walking towards you and not believing in what I saw or felt. We had tea and I told you about the trees and flowers, and you asked why each of them couldn’t blossom in winters also. Our love story was like that — melancholic and we knew it would end soon. But it wasn’t like others had, we sat in cafes and could tell why people sat next to each other and are never so close in life. And here we were, always apart and distant, yet so close and touched; the endless nights of talks about life and love. The rabbit hole and the red pill; it was a constant battle of intellect and poetry. Anyone who heard us envied us, the way we were. When I tell people our stories they smile and have nothing to reply to. You left me with your note at the hotel by the lake and went to an unknown place. You asked me to find you and forget you; I rode my bike and rode straight to the saints’ place. I climbed the stairs with the wind in my face; there were people around asking for mercy and praying for forgiveness. I couldn’t pray with my hands or lips. I spoke in my heart and I wanted to see you. And when I thought I had lost you I saw you walking down the stairs. You wore black and the wind blew your hair and we knew we were in love that we could never forget. 

I’ll write more about what happened to us in the next letter but before I leave, here’s a letter from you to me when we thought we had forgotten each other. 

Yours Truly


The Letter

“Dear Neo,

My memory is a curse and a blessing. I forget nothing. Not even the morning you came riding the bike in that strange place called Almond Villa by the lake. I remember the leather jacket you wore, the way you leaned forward to ask if I knew where we stood. You had asked me that evening we met at Córdoba. With all those zero power bulbs and dust and a broken chair.
I had said then we stood nowhere. You and I were green dots on enemy sides. 

But the encounter was full of possibilities and even though it was always meant to lead nowhere, we did get somewhere. 

I am nobody to forgive. I knew what I was getting into. But the lilies were beautiful and the lake, too. The houseboat was like a world in itself and I remember the shrine and the signs. There were threads I tied and I will return to untie them. 

I always knew we would meet again. And we did. And it didn’t feel odd. 

I was born with webbed feet. 

And behind what’s right and what’s wrong, there is always a connection that we have with people. And that stays. You had your reasons. I had mine. What remains is us. And all those letters and all those pictures. And all those little encounters. And the lilies. 

And that love. Who knows what love is. I don’t. But I know that after all the storms that we faced on our own, we ended up on my terrace having tea. Like old friends. Maybe that’s what it is. 

I miss those months. I miss the whole mess that our lives were. Mine is still a mess but I like my mess. 

And I always remember those days with a lot of fondness. Kashmir was beautiful then. The lake, the trees and everything else.