By: Shyama Laxman
12 September 2000
Kabir is finally getting married.
Soon he will have a new person in his life. No longer would he feel the need to reach out to me, in times of distress or elation, because there will be a wife; sometimes in his bed, sometimes in his arms, always in his contact list and forever on his mind. She, who will distract him and dispel his worries with her dazzling smile and gentle caress, with generous servings of his favourite dish in exquisite pieces of china and her body clad in the sheerest of lingerie.
The excitement in his voice was palpable when Revathi agreed to marry him.
‘She said yes’ he told me over the phone that day, barely able to contain his laughter of disbelief.
So what the fuck am I supposed to do is what I wanted to say.
That is great news is what he heard, minus the lump in my throat.
Then he replayed the entire conversation for me. He had met her after work and with trepidation had broached the topic of love and togetherness and fumbled the four words ‘will you marry me’. He told me she had laughed. I could see her laughing. Throwing back her head, her long fingers covering her mouth, she laughed, the nerves in her long slim neck moving rhythmically. Her eyes lit up and her pert bosom heaved as she laughed and Kabir fell more in love with her as she laughed. At that point, I could see him too. Prancing around, like a grateful puppy that has been given a fresh bone to chew on by his mistress and is waiting to be petted on his head as an additional gesture of affection.
Revathi, she who is the fair dark-eyed beautiful bitch!
She always wore well cut salwar kameez in deep shades of maroon, green, orange and burgundy. Eyes heavily lined with kohl, nails painted scarlet and a cluster of metallic bangles on her left arm which jangled when she raised her hand, to tame a stray hair, to drink water, to use her phone, to cover her mouth while laughing at Kabir’s proposal and finally throwing her arms around his neck and hugging him to indicate her assent.
Yes, he told me about the hug too!
And that is how it had always been with us. We told each other everything. It was a promise that we had made years ago, a time so different and distant. I still remember that day when I was sitting on a bench in our neighbourhood park and I had seen Amma intercept Kabir as he was coming towards me. I could see them talking. A little later he had come and sat next to me.
‘So you became a big girl today’ he had said without any warning. I remember looking at him and going red in my face. I still wonder what exactly had my mother told him. But back then I had wanted to pound her for exposing me. I couldn’t continue looking at him. Shame, confusion, fear and a sinking feeling of innocence lost had overpowered me and I had burst out crying. He had put his arm around my shoulders and calmed me down. My tears had left a wet patch on the sleeve of his shirt. We had sat like that for a long time.
‘It is not a big deal. It happens to all the girls. Boys too,’ he had said when I had stopped crying. I had looked up at him with surprise…relief…gratitude.
That was the day the promise was made.
My stepping into womanhood was the rite of passage that both of us had gone through to test our attitudes and perceptions as well as our loyalties to each other. There was no separating us from that day onwards much to Amma’s chagrin. Kabir and I had our individual set of friends with whom we spent time. But what he and I shared was special. He had seen me at my most vulnerable and exposed moment-the day I had got my period. He was the first man who had said that it was okay; who didn’t treat me any differently when I no longer remained a little girl and who made sure that I didn’t derive unwarranted comfort out of being a woman. When I was eleven he taught me how to ride a cycle. When I was eighteen he was sitting pillion with hands on my shoulders as I navigated his motorcycle through the narrow lanes of our colony.
On his twenty-fifth birthday, I took him out to get him a gift. I wanted to give him a wine red shirt. Two hours and six shops later we had managed to reach an outlet where we got the exact shade that I was looking for. I couldn’t take my eyes off him when he came out of the trial room wearing the shirt. The colour highlighted his sharp features and made him look taller. He was looking at his reflection in the mirror visibly pleased with the shirt. I was smoothing out the crease from the shirt to make it fit as snugly as it could. Something happened within, when my hands were on his shoulders. I was taken by surprise for a moment and then it all seemed natural, obvious, ‘not a big deal’.
That was the first time I had broken my promise and I could never make amends. There was another rite of passage waiting to be passed. But this time, Kabir was not the participant. He wasn’t even aware. That day in that shopping mall when I had smoothed his shirt, I had not touched a garment. Without his knowledge, but in the presence of my conscience, I had touched him, in the processdisturbing what was lying dormant within me-that thing called desire which is a cruel bastard with a mind of its own.
Kabir never go to know I had broken my promise. Not in the mall when we picked the wine red shirt for him, not later when my hands found more excuses to be around him, not when I began dreaming about him with open eyes while I lay in my bed at night or while I was watching TV and imagined us in place of the couple on the screen singing songs, kissing and having sex.
It is not very difficult telling someone what you feel about them. The brave ones prefer to say it directly to their object of affection or hatred, whatever the case may be. The not so daring take a less direct approach of writing a letter, or confessing over the phone or getting a third person to convey the message. In this case, the approach was not the issue, the recipient was. He was completely mine. The place on his bike, the first slot on his phone’s speed dial, the first and sometimes exclusive rights to his secrets were all mine. And I was secure in the knowledge of my singular uncontested place in his life. What was happening then was just a sudden realization of the affect his beauty and physicality were having on me. I had begun feeling sensations in the yet untouched parts of my body whenever he stood close to me or sat next to me or randomly brushed against my body. I didn’t want these sensations to stop. But I couldn’t have told him what I was feeling. I had to play and please myself by combining his presence with the torrid images, ensconced safely in my brain which had long forgotten propriety.
When he told me about Revathi, the totality of my impending loss dawned on me, shaking me out of my complacence. I was no longer going to be the singular one in his life. She had ousted me. Desire-which until then had been for his body-had taken on another meaning. We had a shared past. I had wished for a shared future. The present, where Kabir and Revathi would share their mind body and soul, was going to be soon solemnized.
It was a foregone conclusion from the day I first broke my promise that I could never have Kabir the way I had imagined. He wouldn’t have approved of it. The ease with which I use the word ‘approve’ makes me laugh, as if it was a choice of university or subject that was at stake. Kabir would have been shocked, disgusted perhaps I cannot say with certainty. Maybe he would have sat me down and explained though this time without putting his arm around my shoulder. Or maybe he would have severed all contact with me till he could make sense of things and bring himself around to look at me and talk to me without constantly worrying about the choice of his words or the look on his face. And I cannot even begin to think about the stunned faces of Amma and Appa. I wouldn’t be surprised if either or both of them had a heart attack.
I am taking the help of contraries to come to terms with my feelings. I don’t know and will never know how Kabir would have reacted if he had any inkling of what was in my mind. It is also not one of those love stories or attraction where a chance can be taken by confessing rather than forever meditating on ‘what if I had told him’.
Normally, a proposal is either accepted or meets with outright rejection. But how normal can things be for me when I had already transgressed?
How ‘normal’ a reaction was I expecting to my proposal when I realized I had desired Kabir?
Kabir, the first man in my life after my father;
Kabir, who said periods were not a big deal;
Kabir, my friend;
Kabir, my confidante;
Kabir, my desire gone wrong;
Kabir, my brother!
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