I thought of Raghav often in the next couple of weeks: thought of him with longing in those many moments when I was alone in my flat or taking one of my long walks around the colony. It was difficult then, to know how much of my longing was because I missed him and how much because I had no one to talk to. I had always had friends –a large group to hang around with and one or two special ones to talk late into the night with. Now all I had were colleagues, acquaintances, and a roommate whom I was leaving in a few days. And Raghav – my Raghav – seemed so far away.
What made it worse was that I knew I still had some power over him. I was sure if I called and said I wanted to be with him, he wouldn’t say no. After all, he wasn’t with Sonali yet. And what did she have compared to my shared history with Raghav, the closeness we had always shared?
I don’t know how I had the courage to desist. But whenever Miki or Mandakini broke down and voiced the thought – the other always reminded her that it would be wrong. That Raghav and I were friends and should not be anything more. That if I took the step I would regret it. I guess it was the fact that I had made so many mistakes in life that helped me resist making another. The others were incidental, insignificant: a mistake with Raghav might be something neither of us might recover from.
So I kept my loneliness and confusion to myself, and talked to him cheerfully when he called. And he did call, almost as often as he used to. Often he called late at night, right after hanging up the phone with Sonali. I gave him his space and rarely called him. He seemed to understand, for he didn’t complain. We talked for hours, but not like we used to before, about anything on earth. I did much more listening than talking, and I took care not to let him know how much I missed him, how hard I was trying to detach myself from him.
I accepted that I didn’t come first in his life any more – and though it might never stop hurting, it petered down to a twinge I could ignore.
I admitted to myself that it was easier because Raghav and I weren’t really meant to be together. I wasn’t the kind of girl who could make him happy – I was too vehement, too intense for that. And – more importantly – he wasn’t the guy who could complete me. We didn’t want the same things in life. He wanted sports cars – me, a mountain cottage. I might never live in one, but I wanted a guy who would dream of one with me.
And I hadn’t met him yet. I had to keep looking. “If an idiot like Raghav can find a dream partner,” said Miki, “so can I.”
But much as I tried to cheer myself up, the loneliness lingered.
The weekend passed miserably. Divya went to her parents as usual, and I was feeling extremely lonely. I had hoped Vikram would make a date for the weekend, but when he only waved a casual ‘hi’ in my direction before walking by in the cafeteria where I was getting myself coffee on Friday evening, my hope drowned.
The weather was depressing. It was cloudy, and there was a strong cold wind that lashed at me when I stood on the balcony and drove out any desire I may have had of venturing out alone. It was misty through the night and in the mornings. Winter had descended on Gurgaon.
There was a long power cut on Saturday night, and after I was tired of sitting in the dark with my one rapidly vanishing candle, I sat out on the balcony floor in the dim starlight, hugging myself against the wind. My feet were cold, but it was too dark to try finding any socks. I was hungry, and after waiting in vain for the power to return so that I could cook something, I ordered pizza. As if on cue, the power came back on within a few seconds of me disconnecting my call with the pizza people.
I sat up till late at night, having pizza and Coke and watching bad movies on TV.
My sister called at ten on Sunday morning, while I was still in bed. She proceeded to register her surprise that I wasn’t up yet, and went on to talk about all she and Sahil had already done that morning. I wanted to tell her I wasn’t an energetic two-year old – or his mom – but I bit my lip and responded to her monologue with polite grunts. She again urged me to visit her.
“It’s been six months since you came,” she said plaintively. My last visit had been a weekend long, right after I had finished b-school. I had had the excuse of my soon-to-start job for not staying longer. “You didn’t even come for Diwali. Do come at Christmas. You have no idea how much fun it is here at that time of the year. We have a lovely ball on New Year’s Eve.”
“I was actually thinking of, umm, visiting Ma at Christmas,” I said.
“Oh well, okay. Can’t you just come down for a weekend, then?”
“Not anytime soon, Ba. I have to move houses, you know.” And I told her about the place I had decided to take. At least it changed the subject.
“Don’t forget it’s Sahil’s birthday on Tuesday,” she said annoyingly, before hanging up. I wouldn’t forget Sahil’s birthday, but she disconnected the phone before I could have the satisfaction of saying so.
I soaked a pile of clothes to wash later in the afternoon when it would get a little warmer. Once they had dried on the balcony, I would pack them to take to my new home. I took down my one window curtain and pulled the sheet off the bed and soaked them in a separate bucket. I knew the colour would run, but at least it wouldn’t run over any of my nice work clothes.
After a strong cup of tea and some generously buttered toast, I called my mother. We would sometimes call each other in the middle of the week, but I made it a point to call her every Sunday so that we could share our lives. She worked Saturdays, which made Sundays the only time when we could talk comfortably, and it was my guilt at leaving her alone that fuelled my regularity as much as the fact that I missed her.
I gave her my news first, telling her about my new project. I told her that I had found a place to move to, that it was perfect and I was thrilled that I would finally be living alone. I hastened to assure her that it was perfectly safe, as I would live almost with the owner’s family.
She told me that she was well and updated me on the aches and pains that had begun to lay hold of her. She told me of news around the neighbourhood, of some old classmate of mine who was getting married. I braced myself for what was coming next.
“You should also think about marriage, Miki, you live alone, I worry so much about you…”
“I’m perfectly fine, Ma,” I assured her, speaking in my most cheerful voice. “I am very happy with my life and have no wish to get married anytime soon.”
“But my dear, how long will you live alone? I’m not asking you to agree to getting married right away, but there’s this nice boy your Gautam Mama was telling me about. He lives in Hyderabad, has a very nice job in an IT company.”
“And how is it supposed to work out, Ma, with me here and him in Hyderabad? I’m not giving up my job and moving.”
“I’m not asking you to move, ma. He can come to Gurgaon and meet you once, and then you can decide whether to carry it further.”
“No, Ma. I don’t want to, okay?”
“As you wish, ma.” Her tone of gentle resignation seemed calculated to make me feel guilty. By way of changing the subject, she went on to tell me about this cousin who was getting married and moving to the US.
I had lost my patience by then and went out of my way to be contrary. “You mean Deep Khura is letting Majoni go off to the US with this guy they’ve only met a couple of times? How can they be so stupid?”
“But they know the family, Miki. He’s a very good boy.”
“But he’s been in the US for years, Ma. They can’t really know him. What if he treats her badly? What if he abuses her? They used to be so protective of Majoni Ba, they didn’t even let her go out of Guwahati for her studies. Now they’re going to abandon her like that?”
Ma faltered, and I knew I had won. I pressed on my advantage by ending the conversation before she had time to marshal her forces.
“Whew,” said Miki. “That was exhausting.”
“That was mean,” chided Mandakini.
“Oh, come on. What am I supposed to do, agree to get married to a ‘nice Assamese boy’?”
“She’s your mother. She’s worried about you.”
That was the worst of my verbal tussles with my mother. Even if I managed to come out on top, part of me always felt miserable afterwards.