An off-white ceiling fan coated with grime, probably installed during colonial times, whirred noisily as it spat a hot, dry ga
An off-white ceiling fan coated with grime, probably installed during colonial times, whirred noisily as it spat a hot, dry gust that burnt wherever it touched bare skin. Suppressing a sudden impulse to scratch his groin, a tall, thin man in his early twenties – dressed in a shabby white vest and dusty brown shorts fraying at the seams – opened his mouth to speak in a loud, grating voice.
“If women were mangoes,” Sharad Sinha lamented, “…then she was an Alphonso.” He sighed audibly, stared at a framed photo of a girl placed nearby, and dramatically pressed a cheap cigarette to his chapped lips. “The Jumbo 747-200 of my Romantic-Life Airline exploded mid-air…moments before it was to safely land at the airport of the Democratic Republic of Marriage. The gory, mangled remains of my heart’s black box cry in silent pain…”
Sharad sighed again and continued morosely, “I feel like Voldemort…for she…along with that asshole boyfriend of hers…with each passing day…destroy the horcruxes of my love, which I had concealed all over my subconscious…killing newer parts of me I never even knew existed…” He clasped the photo to his chest, traced her outline with his finger, and angrily rasped, “We are now but Gollum…robbed of our precious by that unworthy hobbit…we must have it back, yes, we must! We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. For she is…my precioussss…”
Sharad’s voice became a frightening squeal and he started pounding the table till Abhishek Singh, taller and dark-skinned with a nasty gash across his left forearm, looked up from his book, pushed back his plastic chair, and turned back to squarely face him.
The two men grudgingly shared a cramped, fourth floor apartment. The shabby room they were in was covered in a fine layer of dust and smelt of marijuana, sweat, and rum. Posters of a few Hollywood divas clung to the dilapidated walls with an uneasy bravado as flakes of yellow paint peeled off. The room comprised two metal cots covered with unwashed sheets, a pair of swaying study tables, a small, bug-infested wardrobe, and a dying potted plant in a corner.
“Now what?” Abhishek barked, fed up of Sharad’s daily whining. This was the last straw. Now it was no longer funny, just plain irritating.
“What?” Sharad shrank back, hurt, and replied with the due caution of a man who knows what’s coming next.
“Weren’t you already over her?” Abhishek shot back. He could no longer tolerate his heartbroken room-mate’s poisonous negativity. He was preparing for an important competitive exam and wanted to stay focused and positive. Babysitting his depressed room-mate was the last thing he wanted to do.
Sharad kept mum for a few seconds before replying, “Can the Earth ever get over the sun?”
Abhishek shook his head vehemently. “Oh please! Let it go man. She has moved on! While you were pining for her, she was with random men but you…”
“And she should have. I am happy for her…It’s that day of the fortnight when she prefers to have Thai food. I am sure he would have taken her to a nice Thai place today.”
“If you really are happy, then you will let her go…and move on yourself. Why do you always have to think about what she is doing with her new BF at this moment? Stop torturing yourself!”
“I can’t move on. I love her. I always will. You know that bhai,” Sharad choked.
Abhishek clucked sympathetically. “But… Why? She is not coming back. What is the use of such love? Focus on your career.”
“Did Arjun ever think so?” Sharad replied laconically.
A frankly puzzled Abhishek stood up, went to his bed, and slowly sat down. “Arjun? Arjun who? If you are referring to that jerk from third year then…”
“No no! I mean the Arjun!” Sharad shot an imaginary arrow into the distance.
“Oh that Arjun!” Abhishek reached for a pillow, folded it, and thrust it under his head. He could see the slowly rotating blades of the fan and he felt time had slowed down. “How does he come into the picture now?”
“Remember what he was told?”
“Enlighten me,” Abhishek sighed in exasperation.
Sharad placed a hand over his heart, bent low, and sermonized in a slow, clear voice, “Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma phaleshou kada chana…”
“What the hell…” Abhishek wriggled in bed. “How is this even related to you?”
A slow, faint smile tugged at Sharad’s lips. “Loving her is my dharma. Whether she loves me back or not, whether she returns to me or not, is irrelevant. She may come back, she may not, what truly matters is that I do my dharma of loving her and expect not the fruits of my labour.”
Abhishek looked stunned, and managed to mutter after a few seconds, “You need help, dude. I mean, professional help.”
Sharad, always ready with a retort, dreamily mumbled, “She is my help. I need her.”
Abhishek decided he was going to shift ASAP. He had no desire to stay with a man who could enter his “K-k-k-kiran” phase anytime – just because he had been dumped by his first girlfriend.
“You cannot have her. She doesn’t want to be with you. It takes two to tango, boy. And now, when she is gone, all you can think about is her.”
“So what do you think I should do?” Sharad asked, teary-eyed.
“Move on, damn it!” He had an exam coming up. He should be studying in the library, not debating existentialism with a psychotic, obsessed jerk. How he wished he had chosen to go to university today, instead of staying back to catch up on sleep. He was stuck now, but still, he knew his depressed friend needed his counsel.
“Move on!” Abhishek repeated through gritted teeth.
“And how exactly do you propose I do that?” Sharad spoke again, his voice calmer this time.
“Well, stop thinking about her, for a start. And stop loving her.”
“I cannot! She’s still my best friend!”
“Be your own best friend first,” Abhishek spat, “Hate her for a while, if it helps you heal. Cut all contact, till you become less toxic towards yourself. Some things aren’t meant to be!”
“No buts…” Abhishek gestured as if chopping the stale air with his bare hands, “Let me get this straight. She likes you, but even she cut you off for some time after the break-up, and tried to hate you so that she could move on…it worked. She moved on. And now she’s back in your life…this time as a friend, but it is dragging you down!”
“She is back because she’s still my best friend and because she wants to help me move on!” Sharad defended her.
Abhishek could never understand how men, good men, could become such emotional wrecks, simply because of a failed romance. Had they nothing to worry about other than love? What about their career, parents, duties, obligations? He swore to himself in disgust. He hated such spineless, shallow fools.
Surprisingly, the conversation had awakened a dull pang in his heart, one that he hadn’t felt for a long time now. Unknown to all, Abhishek too had been a victim of love once. Or the exact opposite. A long time ago, Abhishek had been in love, but the girl was too sweet for him. He had been a paranoid, hypocritical, and possessive jerk. He’d bossed the girl around, forbidden her from seeing her male friends (while he himself shamelessly flirted with other women), and demanded all her attention be focused at him. One day, she had asked him to meet her parents. He had refused, citing his financial situation. He needed to focus on his career. Marriage was the last thing he wanted at that stage, he told her.
Desperate, she had persisted, but he had refused to see her point. Consequently, she had broken up with him and cut him out of her life. Before he knew what was happening, she had married a school-mate, an engineer-turned-banker settled in the US. There was no more contact between them. Frankly, Abhishek did feel bad in retrospect, but he had not allowed it to get to him. Instead, he had learnt to hate the woman. He woke up every morning and swore he would make the bitch pay for being such a gold-digger. Couldn’t she have waited a few more years? Abhishek thus became more career-oriented; he stopped fraternizing, and worked harder to become professionally successful. He was almost on the verge of success. The exam was next week.
He came back to the present, realizing that not everyone was as strong as him. He needed to go soft on Sharad. After all, this was his first heartbreak.
Abhishek sucked in a deep breath, opened his mouth, and tried to drill sense into his semi-crazed friend. “Everyone suffers setbacks in love, yaar, but eventually they embrace it. At some point you have to accept that she is with someone else and not coming back. Let her be. And most importantly, let yourself be. This self-abnegation is not going to help anyone! Know this – you would have been unhappy with her…”
“I know,” Sharad mumbled.
“Hang on,” Abhishek’s mouth dropped, “You know you would have been unhappy with her? And still you do this to yourself?”
“I know I would be unhappy with her,” Sharad muttered sadly, “…But without her, I’m unhappier.”
Ah. I should have known, thought Abhishek. “You’ve lost it man. Yes you have.”
Sharad did not respond. Instead, he lapsed into an uncomfortable, incomprehensible silence. He stared at a point on the wall, unblinkingly, and started to move his head in perfect circles. It seemed to Abhishek that he had finally reached Sharad and this was just the fucked-up manifestation of him coming to terms with reality. A self-congratulatory grin lit up his face. But then a scream jerked him back.
“Abhishek! Got it!!”
Abhishek raised a skeptical, alarmed eyebrow. “Got what?”
“Green waves! Multiverse!”
“Green waves? Multiverse? What the fuck, dude?”
Sharad spoke like a man possessed. “You see… Everett’s Many World Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics states that anything that can happen, does happen, and in doing so creates a new time-line, a new universe, within the multiversal continuum that develops independently from that point onwards…”
“I am familiar with Everett,” Abhishek replied, his tone a mixture of exasperation and curiosity. “But how does it apply to you?”
“See, she may have left me in this universe, but out of the infinite number of universes within the multiverse, there will be at least one such universe in which she is still with me! In that world, she never leaves me in the first place and we grow old together! In which I do not suffer a heartbreak! I just need to connect to the Sharad Sinha in that universe somehow…and somehow create a conduit to transfer my happiness from that universe to this…if I can initiate contact with the me in that universe then…”
“Then…” Abhishek cut in, “I’d ensure that the you in that universe would never meet Pooja in the first place!”
“Kya yaar!” Sharad replied, visibly hurt, even angry at having this idea challenged and distorted.
Abhishek pretended not to hear him. “I hope you find a way to contact the you in that universe where Pooja never bumped into you at the Xavier’s fest! That would make you live in peace in this universe at least.”
“Still, the fact remains that in at least one universe within the multiversal continuum Pooja does stay with me…”
“What does it matter, Sharad?” Abhishek tried to counter quasi-logic with concrete logic, “She no longer loves you in this universe. She’s with someone else. Someone she finds better. Imagine her thinking about her new BF…half of the time you think about her!”
Sharad stopped speaking, stung by the ramifications of this line of thought. He muttered something under his breath, lunged for a sketch pen, and jumped to the wall next to his bed. With swift strokes, he started drawing.
“What are you doing? NO! Not on the wall!”
Sharad paid no heed and kept scribbling till the yellow wall was even dirtier than it had been. He was done in a few seconds.
“A sine graph?” Abhishek exclaimed, unable to contain himself.
Sharad nodded serenely as if this was the most natural thing.
“But…why? What?” Abhishek was at a loss for words.
Sharad smiled self-assuredly. “Because this represents modern love.”
“And pray tell, how an analogy between a sine graph and a modern romantic relationship would proceed?”
“Tell me, what does a sine graph contain?” Sharad asked professorially.
“Yes…umm…Okay…The sine graph has angles on the x-axis and values on the y-axis.”
“If we take time (t) as the x-axis and love (l) as the y-axis, then this is how a normal, average relationship proceeds. People fall in love at t=0, and then the quantitative and qualitative value of love keeps on increasing till it reaches the point of maximum love. From then on, love starts to diminish, either due to familiarity breeding contempt or the gradual expiration of the honeymoon period. Then it reaches equilibrium for a brief period of time as the modular quantity love becomes zero…”
“And then?” Abhishek asked, genuinely interested now.
“And then, we enter quadrant IV. The zone of negative love,” Sharad declared.
“Negative Love. You can call it Hate.”
“Ah! But shouldn’t negative love be indifference instead?” Abhishek queried.
Sharad stabbed the wall with the tip of the sketch-pen and shook his head. “Indifference is neutral. It represents zero – no physical entity, no presence. But love and hate do exist. They represent a whole, modular presence, which, ipso facto, cannot be zero. Love and hate are the two sides of the same coin. Only their signs change…and with it, their very purpose and meaning.”
“Okay, go on…”
“Negative love, or hate, continues to rise with respect to time, till it reaches a point of maximum hate. Then on, either due to maturity, or some other factors such as nostalgia, desire, indifference, or an attempt to revert to an earlier stage, hate starts to decrease until another equilibrium point is reached.
“Let me guess!” An excited Abhishek jumped up, “Thus begins another cycle of love-hate in the conjugal relationship!”
Sharad nodded zealously, leaned back in his chair, and slapped the table in response.
“So what if she hates me now? Or that she loves someone else? According to this graph, she will one day begin loving me back again and start hating the other guy who she currently loves. Moreover, the sum of love remains constant in this universe. Thus, if she’s not with me, then she’ll be with someone else. Still, the total amount of love mankind receives will remain constant, for love can neither be created nor destroyed, only transferred from one object to another. I just have to wait for my turn!”
“Indeed.” Abhishek opened his mouth in wonder as he realized that the shit flowing out of Sharad’s mouth actually made sense, even if from a senselessly twisted perspective. He thought for some time, scratched his head, and asked, “But I cannot get two things, Sharad. I know you’re comparing sine to love. You have mentioned the sine values but you have not specified a scale for the other analogy you’re trying to draw. I know quantifying love might be problematic, thus you haven’t given the y-axis a numerical basis, and rightly so. But why doesn’t the x-axis in the analogy have numerical values?”
“Let me ask you. What is there on the x-axis in our analogy?”
“Time,” Abhishek replied without thinking.
Sharad counter-questioned. “Precisely. Can we quantify time?”
“Of course we can. But you still haven’t…”
Sharad replied as if talking to a child. “I have not allocated temporal reference points on the x-axis to denote the time it takes for love to transmute into hate and vice versa, simply because this cycle of love-hate-love varies from couple to couple. For some, this cycle may be completed in 1 month. For others, in 10 years. In others, 50! It all depends on mutual chemistry. By not quantifying time, I have created a universal graph that can be applied to all couples!”
“Hmmm…” Abhishek nodded in agreement.
“You wanted to ask a second thing?”
“Yes…How is this graphical representation connected to your case?”
“Didn’t you want me to stop thinking about her?” Sharad asked sharply, “Didn’t you want me to move on?”
“Er…yes of course. But how…” Abhishek was surprised at the aggression that had crept into Sharad’s tone.
“Don’t you get it,” Sharad screamed, his eyes brimming with tears, “…the only time I do not think about her is when I think about random, crazy shit.”
Sharad started to sob.
Abhishek didn’t know what to do. It was the first time a bro had lost it in front of him. It was positively unnerving and made him quite uncomfortable. He inched towards Sharad, patted his shoulders, and gave him a bottle of lukewarm water.
Sharad looked up at him, his eyes still watery, and pressed the water bottle to his lips. He sat back and closed his eyes.
“Are you okay?”
Sharad smiled weakly. “Thank you, Abhishek. I feel better now. You are right. All this relationship crap is futile. We should focus on our careers. What is the loss of one girl? There are thousands of others – if you have the right mindset and the right bank balance!”
Abhishek could do nothing but stare at him. Hearing his own words made him feel a bit uncomfortable. Love and hate are the two sides of the same coin.
“There is no The One. If one girl goes, you’ll find another. I was a fool to waste my tears over her. Thank you Abhishek. I am over that woman…!” Sharad said triumphantly.
The statement pinched Abhishek. There is no The One.
“I’ll find someone else who loves me as much. To hell with her! I am liberated now!” Sharad concluded.
I’ll find someone else who loves me as much.
Once more, Abhishek was transported back in time. Inexplicably, the dam burst. He recalled her bespectacled face, and realized how happy he had been with her. He could never forget the way she looked at him when she thought he wasn’t looking – her expression a mixture of pride, adoration, and longing. Abhishek sniffed. With thoughts of her came her maddening, intoxicating fragrance. He missed it, badly. He remembered how her eyes lit up when she saw his texts. How she cooed a jovial “Hello!” whenever he called her. How she stayed awake at night waiting for his messages when they quarreled. And above all, he remembered the empowering feeling he had every morning upon waking up: a feeling of completion, of joy, of pride, at knowing that there was someone in this world who loved him unconditionally. How had he repaid her? By being a jerk.
Abhishek, from the corner of his eyes, saw Sharad smile, reach for a textbook, and open it. He looked much better. In another few minutes, he looked completely healed – the poison was out of his system. He was immersed in mathematical calculations. It seemed as if he had forgotten about Abhishek’s presence in the room.
His eyes started to water. He had let the love of his life get away. His temples throbbed, ferociously. He got up from the bed, darted around for his sandals, and slipped them on. He staggered to the balcony and felt the warm breeze kiss his face. He smelt her perfume in the air, just as Sharad began to hum a cheerful Bollywood song.
Abhishek cursed out loud. He felt a tear stream down his three-day stubble. Angered at his own weakness, he punched a chipped brick in the red balcony wall. The impact was hard enough to generate a loud crack, but it was drowned out by another sound – his weeping. Abhishek gasped for air and prayed it was the blow that had caused the tears.
Sami A. Khan’s debut thriller Red Jihad won the “Muse India Young Writer (Runner-Up) Award” at the Hyderabad Literary Festival 2013 and “Excellence in Youth Fiction Writing” award at Delhi World Book Fair 2013. He is now working on a sequel. He can be reached at email@example.com.
ust that burnt wherever it touched bare skin. Suppressing a sudden impulse to scratch his groin, a tall, thin man in his early twenties