“As far as I can figure, the way that it works is this: everyone has something that happened to them. The thing that we each carry. And you can see it in people, if you look. See it in the way someone walks, in the way someone takes a compliment, sometimes you can just see it in someone’s eyes. In one moment of desperation, of fear, in one quick moment you can see that thing that happened. Everyone has it. The thing that keeps you up at night, or makes you not trust people, or stops love. The thing that hurts. And to stop it, to stop the hurt, you have to turn it into a story. And not just a story you play over and over for yourself, but a story that you tell. A story’s not a story unless you tell it. And once you tell it, it’s not yours anymore. You give it away. And once you give it away, it’s not something that hurts you anymore, it’s something that helps everyone who hears it. It’s the kind of thing that’s hard to explain. It’s probably best if we just show you how it works.”
― Daniel MacIvor, How It Works
Dheeraj Khare woke up, hypnogagic. The best thing about dreams is that fleeting moment, when you are between asleep and awake, when you don’t know the difference between reality and fantasy, when for just that one moment you feel with your entire soul that the dream is reality, and it really happened. You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you, Monica. That’s where I’ll be waiting, he thought to himself. He didn’t want to wake up. He was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. Dheeraj woke up into a nightmare. And thus began the most solitary day of his life.
Old and frail, his body bogged down by age, he was no stranger to this moment. In fact, it had been a part of his life for as long as he could remember. Only there was something different about it today. He couldn’t quite exactly put his finger on it, but he woke up with a sense of inevitable finality that had never been a part of his usual transition from being asleep to being awake. On other days, he just came to the sense that an imaginary bubble that had enveloped him warmly had suddenly popped, and he was back in the cold, real world. But not today.
He then went about his morning routine. He placed the eggs to boil in a pot of water on the stove, inserted two slices of bread in the toaster and set the temperature to high, and took out the butter from the fridge and placed it near the flames of the stove to let it melt a bit. Started the coffee pot and started the home stereo to listen to his age old playlist of classic instrumentals, which also drowned out the sound of the kitchen appliances. After completing his morning ablutions and having his breakfast on the porch with a spectacular view of the valley located in front of his hill-top villa, he went out for a walk down the hill on the nature trail that led straight to the market downhill. He bought that day’s newspaper and paid the newspaper girl his monthly fee, including a large tip which brought a huge smile on that innocent face, as it had done for the past two years.
Childhood, he thought. When we are children we seldom think of the future. This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves as few adults can. The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind. Then he trudged up the hill, sat on the swing in front of his house, and opened the ‘Obituaries’ section to find out who he had outlasted this day. The second name on the list, and the photo that accompanied it, sent cold shivers down his spine.
“Monica Shrikanth Karanjkar, aged 88, breathed her last and was found deceased by her maid on Monday, 3rd June at her residence in West Andheri, Mumbai. She will be fondly missed by all the people whose lives she has touched in her long, illustrious life. She is survived by two sons, and a daughter. The final cremation rites will be performed on Tuesday, 4th June morning at Boregaon Crematorium.”
Monica… No more…
65 years earlier
“Of course, I will die before you, you idiot”, Monica said, and looked down at her plate, trying to decide whether to devour the noodles first, or to munch down the scant remaining crispy, dark brown French fries. Dheeraj smiled wryly. “Happy Birthday, Monica. Would it be terribly inconvenient for you if we didn’t speak about the subject of dying on your 23rd birthday?”
It had been three years since they had come to this eatery for lunch, and everything was almost the same, yet different. Monica still didn’t know what to order, and where to eat, and even after he had decided the restaurant and ordered food, she raised her eyebrows in her characteristic way, and crinkled her nose which made her look so adorable, that he couldn’t help but grin at her innocent indecisiveness.
“I would rather prefer we talk about what are your future plans? You are already of a marriageable age and you’ve not yet decided what you want to do with your life. Dare you die before me, though, I will simply turn the world upside down to find a way to bring you back”, he continued, and to help her make her decision, poured ketchup freely on two of the crispiest fries, gobbled one up, and offered another to her. She gave him the faintest smile, and then they returned to their normal conversations. She made him talk like no one else did. He opened up to her and simply let all his thoughts flow freely in her presence and she took it all in her stride. And she understood. She understood every single thing he said, why he said it, and what made him say it. And he understood that she understood. Every single time.
“Just because I am a girl, I have to decide what to do with my life? What have you decided? Except whom you want to marry. Because that is one decision it seems you have already made”, and she beamed at him, knowing that he would blush at her outright accusation which was ironically true, although she didn’t realize that herself.
And that’s why he loved her. Only once in your life, he truly believed, you find someone who can completely turn your world around. You tell them things that you’ve never shared with another soul and they absorb everything you say and actually want to hear more. You share hopes for the future, dreams that will never come true, goals that were never achieved and the many disappointments life has thrown at you. When something wonderful happens, you can’t wait to tell them about it, knowing they will share in your excitement. They are not embarrassed to cry with you when you are hurting or laugh with you when you make a fool of yourself. Never do they hurt your feelings or make you feel like you are not good enough, but rather they build you up and show you the things about yourself that make you special and even beautiful.
Only if she realized what she meant to him without him having to say it outright to her. He didn’t want to risk the misery of having his heart broken again.
Dheeraj had known heartache before, and he blamed it on love. He had made wrong decisions, with imperfect information, having permanent consequences, he told her. But Monica taught him that that was not true. “Loneliness hurts, rejection hurts, losing someone hurts”, she said. She thought people confused these things with love, but in reality, love was the only thing in this world that covers up all the pain and makes us feel wonderful again. “Of course, you’re going to get your heart broken. And it isn’t just going to happen once, but a lot. That’s just part of growing up, and it makes you stronger. Then you can handle it better next time. You may not get through it yourself, but your friends will help you through it. And you’ll be a stronger person because of it. Then one day someone will come along, and it’ll all pay off and no one will ever break your heart again”, she said.
And so, following the dialogue of a movie he had seen years earlier, (“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” – We Bought a Zoo) he asked her, “Will you marry me?”
But real life hardly follows reel life. That’s why people make movies, write books. It’s a way of escape. Imagining a world where things happen differently, people meet differently, live differently. It’s only because they borrow heavily from the real world that we feel the reel world is just a reflection of reality. And that was the moment the imaginary bubble burst for Dheeraj. He didn’t remember details. He just knew that the whole of her body language was signifying something else. She loved someone else. Only she wouldn’t tell him. He wasn’t the person she went to, to tell everything. She meant the world to him. He was just another person in her life, replaceable. And if not replaceable, her world wouldn’t crash about, if he wasn’t there.
He always wanted to marry the person he met on his own terms. The person who he approached with no reason in particular. The one who went from stranger to friend to confidante; from the person he never spoke to, to the person who kept you up at night. He wanted to marry her, because he felt from the bottom of his heart that she would always have been those things — friend, confidante and perhaps even accomplice in all of his journeys, because he thought she loved him too.
Monica said bluntly, “I am going to marry when it feels like I should marry. And I don’t feel that way about you.” She didn’t love him. She loved someone else. She didn’t say it outright though. It was one thing to accept he couldn’t have Monica. It was something entirely different to realize someone else could. Losing an illusion makes you wiser than knowing a truth. You never know what is enough, until you know what is more than enough. And Dheeraj had had enough.
Monica married Shrikanth Karanjkar who had become an important part of her life at a time when she needed an escape from everyone constantly expecting her to act a certain way. With Shrikanth, she could be herself. There was never any pressure, jealousy or competition but only a quiet calmness when he was around. She could be herself and not worry about what Shrikanth will think of her because he loved her for who she was.
But there was something missing. Honesty was not an integral part of their relationship. Before Dheeraj abruptly went out of her life, she remembered him telling her how much he valued honesty. He had told her, “I love unmade beds. I love when people are drunk and crying and cannot be anything but honest in that moment. I love the look in people’s eyes when they realize they’re in love. I love the way people look when they first wake up and they’ve forgotten their surroundings. I love the gasp people take when their favourite character dies. I love when people close their eyes and drift to somewhere in the clouds. I fall in love with people and their honest moments all the time. I fall in love with their breakdowns and their smeared makeup and their daydreams. Honesty is just too beautiful to ever put into words.” But she herself had not valued honesty ever that much. People are who they are, and you have to accept them that way. She could never be an idealist as it only led to a world of hurt.
Shrikanth could make her laugh. Laughter seemed a part of daily life where before it was infrequent or didn’t exist at all. And she always had wanted that. Always the one trying to make others smile, she had mastered the art of plastering a fake smile on her face, and pleasing everyone, not letting anyone see how she felt, and with Shrikanth, she found that he was content to let her be. He didn’t have any interest in knowing how she felt, and their personalities somehow complemented each others. She was of a cooperative nature, and he was the dominant decision maker. She was a faithful wife to him all his years, and though it was not a fairy tale, there were fights, there were times when she felt that he didn’t understand her, that he had so many stereotypes about her, and at the end, she started letting most of them go unnoticed as she trudged through matrimonial life. She had two sons and a daughter to take care of, and her plate was too full most of the times, to react to Shrikanth. She knew real life was tough, in fact, she had prepared herself all life to be disappointed, and so she believed that things would have been the same had she married someone else too.
This is why almost every story, novel, stage play and movie dealing with romance ends with “And they lived happily ever after”. However, had the author continued on to describe living happily ever after they would have put the audience/reader to sleep because, while living happily ever after is great for those is great for oneself, it is boring to read about or view it in others. Sure, we may be happy for them and even be slightly envious of what they have, but for entertaining diversion most of us want something with more action, suspense and tragedy. Perfect relationships are not perfect. It’s just about two people who never gave up.
Dheeraj decided to focus on other things in his life in the coming years. The quarter life crisis he had faced had taught him many things. He had lost out on close friends. He had had to make tricky, complicated decisions in his work life that made him question his own personal ethics and moral beliefs. Monica had been there throughout to guide him in making those choices. He had opened himself to her completely, leaving himself vulnerable to even the smallest amount of hurt. And he had never anticipated, or even considered the possibility that life wouldn’t even be slightly like what he had always pictured it as, in his head.
He had opened his heart knowing that there’s a chance it may be broken one day and in opening his heart, he experienced a love and joy that he never dreamt possible. But there are so many fragile things, after all. People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts.
He thought of her on every occasion and in everything he did. His wish had always been to write his own story, to create a life that’s worth writing about. But is a story worth anything at all if he had no one to tell it to?
Dheeraj thought he fell in love with her, a little bit. Wasn’t that dumb? But it was like he knew her. Like she was his oldest, dearest friend. The kind of person you can tell anything to, no matter how bad, and they’ll still love you, because they know you. He wanted to go with her. He wanted her to notice him. And then, that day, she stopped walking. Under the moon, she stopped. She looked at me. Maybe she was trying to tell me something; I don’t know. She probably didn’t even know I was there. But I’ll always love her. All my life. It was strange the way he loved her: a sidelong and almost casual love, as if loving her were simply a matter of course, too natural to mention.
With Shrikanth and every guy before Shrikanth, what passed for love had always been eye to eye, nose to nose; he thought she must have felt watched, observed, like the prize inhabitant of a zoo. Whereas he was always beside her. Maybe that’s where he went wrong. She didn’t want someone who would walk with her, she wanted someone who would take her hand and lead her somewhere.
To sum up, there exist only three kinds of love:
- Where you love someone, and they love you back.
- Where you learn to love someone who loves you.
- Where you love someone, and they don’t love you.
The first one is the happiest.
The second is the strongest.
The third, he wouldn’t wish even on his worst enemy.
“Actually, there is a word for that. It’s love. I’m in love with her, okay? If you’re looking for the word that means caring about someone beyond all rationality and wanting them to have everything they want no matter how much it destroys you, it’s love. And when you love someone you just, you…you don’t stop, ever. Even when people roll their eyes, and call you crazy. Even then. Especially then. You just– you don’t give up. Because if I could just give up…if I could just, you know, take the whole world’s advice and– and move on and find someone else, that wouldn’t be love. That would be… that would be some other disposable thing that is not worth fighting for. But I– that is not what this is.”
– Ted Mosby, How I Met Your Mother
Monica… No more…
Dheeraj felt a stab of loneliness like he had never felt before. He had lived all his life with the one hope that she would be his, someday. For a moment, his eyes grew hazy and he thought of the conversation he should have had with her. The smoke coming from the road turned into their 25-year-old young selves. He knew he was hallucinating, and was just replaying another scene he had watched somewhere, editing it to suit his convenience. He was imagining a world, where Dheeraj and Monica met in a different way, lived in their own way. Beyond the world of right and wrong, the one with no boundaries, they talked.
Both of them started the conversation with the same sentence.
Both: I knew exactly what love looked like… In school.
Monica: Even though I hadn’t met love yet, if love had wandered into my life I would’ve recognized him at first glance. Love was an athlete.
Dheeraj: I would’ve recognized her at first glance; love had long, beautiful hair.
Monica: Love played acoustic guitar and knew all my favourite movie songs.
Dheeraj: Love wasn’t afraid to eat lots of sweets with me.
Both: And I knew,
Monica: I just must be searching the wrong classrooms,
Dheeraj: just must be checking the wrong hallways, she was there, I was sure of it.
Monica: If only I could find him.
Both: But when love finally showed up,
Dheeraj: she didn’t have long hair.
Monica: He wore the same clothes every day for a week.
Dheeraj: Love hated sweets.
Monica: Love didn’t know anything about most of the movie songs.
Dheeraj: every time I try to kiss love,
Both: our teeth got in the way.
Monica: Love became the reason I lied to my parents.
Dheeraj: I’m going to- go for a walk.
Monica: Love had terrible rhythm on the dance floor, but made sure we never missed a slow song.
Dheeraj: Love waited by the phone because she knew that if her father picked up it would be:
Monica: “Hello? Hello? *heavy breathing* I guess they hung up.”
Dheeraj: And love grew,
Monica: stretched like a trampoline.
Dheeraj: Love changed.
Monica: Love disappeared, slowly, like baby teeth, losing parts of me I thought I needed.
Dheeraj: Love vanished like an amateur magician, and everyone could see the trapdoor but me.
Monica: Like a flat tire, there were other places I had planned on going,
Both: but my plans didn’t matter.
Monica: Love stayed away for years, and when love finally reappeared, I barely recognized him.
Dheeraj: Love smelled different now, had darker eyes,
Monica: a broader back, love came with scars I didn’t recognize.
Dheeraj: New birthmarks, a softer voice.
Monica: Now there were new sleeping patterns,
Dheeraj: new favourite books.
Monica: Love had songs that reminded him of someone else,
Dheeraj: songs love didn’t like to listen to.
Both: So did I.
Dheeraj: But we found a lake side bench that fit us perfectly,
Monica: we found jokes that made us laugh.
Dheeraj: And now, love makes me fresh homemade food.
Monica: But love will probably finish most of them for a midnight snack.
Dheeraj: Love looks great in lingerie but still likes to wear her pajamas.
Monica: Love is a terrible driver, but a great navigator.
Dheeraj: Love knows where she’s going; it just might take her two hours longer than she planned.
Monica: Love is messier now,
Dheeraj: not as simple.
Monica: Love uses inappropriate words in front of my parents sometimes.
Dheeraj: Love chews too loud.
Monica: Love leaves the cap off the toothpaste.
Dheeraj: Love uses smiley faces in her text messages.
Monica: And turns out,
Both: love sucks!
Monica: But love also cries. And love will tell you, you are beautiful
Dheeraj: and mean it,
Monica: over and over again.
Dheeraj: You are beautiful.
Monica: When you first wake up,
Dheeraj: “you are beautiful.”
Monica: When you’ve just been crying,
Dheeraj: “you are beautiful.”
Monica: When you don’t want to hear it,
Dheeraj: “you are beautiful.”
Monica: When you don’t believe it,
Dheeraj: “you are beautiful.”
Monica: When nobody else will tell you,
Dheeraj: “you are beautiful.”
Monica: Love still thinks – you are beautiful.
Dheeraj: But love is not perfect and will sometimes forget,
Monica: when you need to hear it most,
Both: you are beautiful,
Monica: do not forget this.
Dheeraj: Love is not who you were expecting, love is not what you can predict.
Monica: Maybe love is in another city, already asleep, and you are in New York, wide awake. Maybe love is always in the wrong time zone,
Dheeraj: maybe love is not ready for you. Maybe you are not ready for love.
Monica: Maybe love just isn’t the marrying type.
Dheeraj: Maybe the next time you see love is sixty five years after, love looks older now, but just as beautiful as you remembered.
Monica: Maybe love is only there for a month.
Dheeraj: Maybe love is there for every firework, every birthday party, every hospital visit.
Monica: Maybe love stays-
Dheeraj: maybe love can’t.
Both: Maybe love shouldn’t.
Dheeraj: Love arrives exactly when love is supposed to, and love leaves exactly when love must.
Monica: When love arrives, say,
Both: “Welcome. Make yourself comfortable.”
Dheeraj: If love leaves, ask her to leave the door open behind her.
Monica: Turn off the music, listen to the quiet,
Both: “Thank you. Thank you for stopping by.”
For a fleeting moment, he imagined hundreds of scenarios of how those two youngsters could have come together as one.
His eyes however, closed for one last time, and then there were none.
Follow on Facebook for regular updates: SVJ’s Blog