Nearly 62 per cent people surveyed on St. Valentine’s Day some years ago confessed they often feel empty and lonely, even if in an otherwise stable and loving relationship. Romance in most relationships is ethereal, delicate, fragile… and its often gone before you know it… And I’m not saying this from a pedestal. It could happen to anybody including every author who ever wrote a ‘How-to-love-better’ book, but why are you nodding your head? That anyway isn’t the point of this piece…. The point is… Aha! I get it… you’re feeling lonely too, aren’t you? No, don’t get me wrong… I didn’t say that you are unhappy or alone… I just said lonely, as in, you feel incomplete and unfulfilled though you may well be in good company. Sounds familiar?
Well, here’s the deal for this week… I’m going to turn you into a fly and we’ll go into the lives and homes of some friends I know and we’ll hang out on a wall by the corner and see if we can learn some lessons on love, whether love be what you breathe, make or miss… so let fly, fellow fly….
First stop: The bedroom of a mansion, Saltlake, Kolkata: Fellow fly, do you see that girl? No, no, not the one soiling her diapers, the other one… yes, yes, the mother… What do you mean she’s not a girl? She’s only 33, and she doesn’t even look it. Her name is Kobita. She was with me in school in Delhi. We were good friends then but then she had to move to Kolkata when her father retired. While in first year she fell in love with Nikunj, a final year student and the college president. Now Nikunj is quite a character. Although not a Bengali, he had the charisma to become the president in a predominantly all-bong college against a Bengali rival. A usually quiet and intense man, he has this self –deprecating sense of humour that catches everybody unawares, thus underscoring its impact. A fairly popular Bengali theatre and TV actor today, and a successful ad-man, everyone agrees, he’s quite a catch.
Kobita and I had stayed in touch over letters and emails but I hadn’t seen her since school. So when I did see her recently, I was rather disappointed. Why? Well, because when I met her a few months back, I couldn’t recognise her. She’d grown prettier, and a wee bit plumper, than she was in school but it wasn’t about her appearance… it was her soul. I couldn’t see it, and I have a feeling that nor can Nik. You see, in the two hours we spent together, Kobita didn’t once disagree with Nik. Though a measured talker, Nik had very strong opinions, even about things like the party plans for their daughter Koel’s birthday. And all that Kobita would do is nod, smile, giggle and mouth the lines that he just said and repeat them like a parrot… at times she would offer token resistance and disagree but I could see she didn’t mean any of it.
Look at her now… her life looks complete, doesn’t it? A big mansion, a closet full of fine clothes, a big rock on her finger, a beautiful little baby and an affectionate and successful husband. But… she’s bored. And it isn’t anybody else’s fault but her own. She has become a boring yes-girl. Agreed her husband is a confident, dynamic and a very willful person who might not be easy to disagree with. But he does not need a ‘yes-girl’. He will have enough of them at work.
Kobita and Nik are an intelligent pair and will perhaps live conveniently ever after, but I’m sure they feel lonely quite often, perhaps even when they’re together. And I’m sure if we hang around on this wall long enough, we’ll see that intimacy and romance have given way to one-way discussions about bringing up the baby, stuff at work and the lives of others. Can things get better? Sure they can, but only if Kobita realizes that she can’t give up who she is to become what she thinks Nik wants. She needs to realise that by becoming agreeable, she has lost her identity and in order to maintain ‘the peaceable kingdom’, become pretentious and boring. And the day you start pretending with the love of your life, you’ve traded in love in the hope of longevity. And while a marriage can survive on mere convenience alone, love will surely flicker and die without romance to keep it alive… Kobita had reduced herself to what the famous love Dr Phil Mcgraw calls an ‘accessory’.
An apartment in south Bangalore: You see that photograph there? Do you recognize it? That’s Kobita… just before she had her baby. That’s when VJ had last seen her in Kolkata. VJ was with us in school and was Kobita’s best friend. When she moved to Kolkata, VJ stayed in touch with her and then moved to Kolkata for his post graduation.
He did not tell us then and nor did he ever let Kobita know, but he had always been besotted by her. Kobita too liked him a lot and was surprised that he never popped the question. Then of course, she met Nik and before either of them knew it, she was married to Nik after a whirlwind romance. VJ was there at the wedding; older, wiser, bolder and lonelier.
VJ visits Kobita and Nik whenever he’s in Kolkata and he genuinely likes Nik. They’re good friends now and Nik had even asked VJ to help him with the surprise he’d planned for Kobita for their first Valentine’s after the wedding. With each passing day though, VJ’s found himself getting drawn towards Kobita. Both Nik and Kobita trusted VJ and thought the world of him and pampered him whenever he visited Kolkata. And on such occasions, VJ would feel guilty and ask himself if he was wrong to feel the way he did about Kobita….
A lot of water has flown under the Howrah bridge since the day VJ first got in touch with his feelings for Kobita. Today, as he sits in his living room on the eve of Valentine’s Day with a plane ticket to Dum Dum in his hand, he thinks: “ If only I had not taken forever before telling Kobita how I feel about her… I don’t know how she feels about me, then or now, but at least I would’ve told her… I know she can only be happiest with me for no one understands her the way I do… and she knows this too… This is why I haven’t told her how I feel… she seems content with her lot in life. Perhaps it wouldn’t be fair to disrupt her world… and Nik… what about Nik? He trusts me and treats me like a good friend… I can’t do this to him… I know that if I bare my heart to Kobita, it’ll stir a tempest in her world but… but who would she really be happy with? Who would she be herself with? I love her and I love her more than any man… She’ll be happiest with me… so what if she is married and has a child… and so what if she has a husband who is a nice man and a good father… There’s no magic in their lives, no romance… but sparks fly when Kobita and I meet… we share an indescribable bond. Nik too knows that what we share is special and has told both of us so… then why o why is it wrong for me to want to love her, for me to want to be with her… for us to want to be together. Won’t Nik understand? Won’t the world understand?”
VJ had made up his mind. He knew that Kobita would really find true happiness with him and that is a fact that even Nik would have to accept. If Nik truly cared for Kobita, wouldn’t he be happy for her, and after all, wouldn’t he be happier with someone who really was his ‘true north’, like he knew he was for Kobita. VJ was going through what might happen in his head… he’ll meet Kobita at work on V-day and surprise her. Then, maybe over lunch, he’ll confess to Kobita. She’ll be shocked but then she’ll calm down and realize that they both had seen it coming… maybe Nik too had seen this coming, maybe he’ll understand when… or if… no, no… when they tell him… it’s only right. It’ll be difficult, but it’s the right thing to do… the right thing for him, the right thing for Kobita, the right thing for Nik and… for Koel? He had forgotten about Koel… was this the right thing for Koel too? And if not, should the three of them end up living incomplete lives just so that one child could be happy? VJ’s resolve seemed to weaken… it was an unfair question.. especially on the eve of Valentine’s day…. Until next week then… happy Valentine’s day!