(Dear reader, I’ve written this newsletter in my head so many times over the last few months. But just as I would find the words to write coherently about what’s happening in the world, I’d be waylaid by another unprecedented, once-in-a-lifetime development. I still don’t know what I want to say about the violence in my beloved Delhi. Or the relentless brutality on students everywhere in India. Or the resilience of women and men who still, despite everything, are fighting for the India of their dreams. Soon, I will. For today, I offer you the solace of fiction — something which has kept me afloat in our winter of discontent. Here’s a short (I think) story I’ve written, which I am publishing in parts. (“Who reads so much these days, Maanvi?”) I hope you enjoy it. Let me know, irrespective, by replying to this email.)
"Samay dekhiye sar par dauda jaa raha hain, toh shrotaon ko ek aur geet sunaate hain. Yeh geet ki farmaiyish ki hai Akola, Maharashtra se Archana ne...."
"Oh shit!" shouted Archana, as she almost hit the Swift Dzire in front of her. "Sorry!" she waved her hand at the irate driver, and slumped back in her seat. Pushing her curly hair firmly out of her eyes, she glared at her old car radio — the cause of all that trouble. Which was now playing an old Hindi film song which she didn't recognise. (Ashish would know, she made a mental note to ask him.) Had the old-fashioned, sing-song voice on the radio actually said her name? Or had Delhi's peak-hour traffic finally drove her insane? What the hell is "Vividh Bharati"? Her car radio had clocked out a few weeks ago and was stuck on just one radio station since then. Usually, Archana preferred the company of her thoughts as she drove, but today, after one too many mental replays of her fight with Ashish, she gave into the whims of the radio. "Must get the damn thing fixed," she said, while making another mental note to ask Ashish the name of a good mechanic.
If, that is, he would ever talk to her again. She shook her head in frustration, her curly hair gleefully dislodging from behind her ear. Why was it so difficult for Ashish to understand this one thing? He was a data scientist, for God’s sake. He'd been teasing out meaning from far more obscure data points and numbers, than her emphatic "I don't want to get married now, Ashish."
And yet, instead of understanding her reasons (very logical ones too, Archana thought to herself as she replayed earlier reiterations of their fight, there had been many), he had taken an irrational view of the whole situation. It's not like she didn't want to marry him at all, or that she didn't love him, or that there was someone else, or even that she was commitment-phobic ("a most unfair assumption," she bristled with indignation). She just didn't want to marry him now.
Time was a variable she was unhappy with, other variables notwithstanding. It didn't mean she wanted to rework the entire equation! "How is it that I, a journalist with a legendary hatred of Maths, can get this simple fact, but Ashish, scientist extraordinaire is refusing to acknowledge it?” she thought to herself.
It’s not like she had irrationally said “no.” She had told him her reasons. She wanted more time to establish her career and to build a life with the financial foundation necessary to start a family. She wanted to be someone, before being anyone’s wife. Before being Ashish’s wife, who she was pretty certain was as close to The One as she could possibly get. Ashish, who she had unexpectedly fallen in love with at a time when she had reconciled herself to the joys and sorrows of singlehood. Ashish, who made her want to be a better; not by being a human form of a TEDx speaker (she’d met some of her friends’ husbands) but by just being himself. Ashish, who after decades of feeling like she always didn’t fit in, made her feel like she was home.
“Of course, she loved him! But her desire to be more than who she was right now had nothing to do with her love for him. She wanted to be someone; a name to reckon with, a person people looked up to, a career and a life she could claim for her own even after she got married. “It’s not like I am no one now, but still…,” thought Archana as she inched closer to her office building.
As she got out of her car and walked to the office building, thinking of what she had to do in the newsroom today, pushing away the fight replays at the back of her mind, her inner monologue had condensed to just one fragment of a sentence. “I don’t just want to be a wife…”
“Yeh geet ki farmaiyish ki hai Akola, Maharashtra se Archana ne...."
A shriek interrupted the calm dismembering of the tomatoes in Archana’s hand. She rushed to the radio kept in the corner and increased the volume until the house reverberated with Geeta Dutt singing “waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam…” Archana couldn’t believe it. The song she requested was on the radio! The woman had actually said her name! She rushed to her phone and dialed Ajit’s number, hoping fervently that he was still on his way to work and had listened to her name being uttered on the radio. “
But would he like it?” She kept her phone away. She knew Ajit wouldn’t think of this as miracle. He’d think of this a personal jibe. A public declaration of the private shame of their crumbling marriage. He didn’t know that she’d been calling the “Subah Ki Bahar” program for weeks — just one more chore to do after cleaning the kitchen and before she took a plate full of vegetables to the dining table to cut.
He also didn’t know why she had chosen this song, out of all the songs in the world. He hadn’t heard the applause in the auditorium after she sang this song; she, just at the end of her college life, flushing with joy, as she heard the ringing applause reassuringly tell her what she knew — she was going to be a famous singer.
“No. For Ajit, I am just his wife.”
(To be continued…)
You can listen to Geeta Dutt singing “waqt ne kiya haseen sitam” here, in case you haven’t ever.
No links to read this time, since God knows, we’ve already been bombarded with images and articles we’d never hope to see. But lest I be accused of encouraging you to turn a blind eye to what’s happening (which I most certainly am not), here are some news organisations which I trust, and which have been doing exceptional journalism in extraordinary circumstances.
Also, people who’re helping. (Not an exhaustive list, there are so many more out there.)
(As always, if you enjoyed reading this or even if you didn’t, reply to this email. If you know someone who might like something like this, ask them to subscribe.)
I will write again soon.