A New Hope
All we need is the silence - of sympathy and understanding, of love and support, of wanting and being there for each other. From then to now, the years merge seamlessly. It does not matter that this is 2009, or 2007 or even 2005. What matters is that I am with Karthik. This is where we belong, with each other. I draw my strength from him, he from me.
We both get up, ready to face the day, our life. We haven’t talked of love – not yet. We haven’t talked of life – not yet. We have to travel a long distance from our pain before we can talk of anything else. But meanwhile, we do talk of mundane things – of food, the fuel for the body. He suggests we go out. I shake my head. This moment will vanish if we step out of our small world. Not yet, there is time for that too, when we have to be out in the wider world. Now, let it be just us.
I go into the kitchen, and am happy when he automatically follows me. His leaning on the countertop, within my arm’s reach, is reassuring. His looking at me, at such close quarters, makes me self-conscious.
As I put the lid on the wok to let the upma cook, Karthik takes my arm and hugs me. He kisses me lightly, and then they grow stronger in passion. If the smell of upma hadn’t wafted just then, he would have gone further. As it is, he waits for me to switch the stove off. I don’t let him get closer now. I serve breakfast and he takes it, half amused, half irritated.
“I missed you,” he says, taking the plate in one hand and holding me by the other. “I waited for you initially, waited for you to call every day, every hour, every minute, saying it was all a mistake…”
I move back to pick up my plate and ask, “Why didn’t you call?”
He is silent for a minute, before he says, “I did, Shelley did for me. Around the time of your father’s anniversary. If you had asked her for help, I would have come instantly. When you called, I thought you would ask me to come…” I remember the calls well. I hear his disappointment. He shrugs. “If I had known any of this before…”
He continues, “I brought the documents and photos hoping to see you, to find out for myself that you were fine…not finding you here was disappointing.” I had been at the exhibition then. “Then Uma told me you were at the birthday dinner. I was dying to see you, but you were so distant. Then that episode between Madhuri and Vijay over you… Madhuri was cribbing about how Vijay had changed, neglected her, since you came to work… That is why, when Uma became interested in him, I wanted her to back off. I didn’t want both of you to end up hurting each other again.” He looks at me.
“Madhuri was wrong…insecure,” I say simply. “What about Madhuri and you?” I look away.
I can hear his voice from far away, “She was a frequent visitor to Mani’s house. I could see her interest… I thought she was a lot like you… sensitive, parents divorced so alone, on her own.” I feel a hot flush of anger at the comparison and purse my lips. I hear him chuckle, “But where you withdraw, she grabs with both her hands.”
I look at him, wondering how much she tried to grab him, how much he wanted her.
“That Vijay thing upset me, though I knew I had no right to be. I was surprised it could hurt still. I thought I was over it…over you. But I couldn’t move forward with her. I felt bad about letting things hang between her and me – I was on the verge of proposing this weekend…”
“When the cyclone happened…?”
“When the cyclone happened…” he acknowledges with a tilt of his head.
“What happened still happened, no Karthik? What has changed that? Why should you feel any differently now?”
“Everything has changed…how do you feel? Do you still feel angry and hurtful? It was you who moved away, Kalpa, not me.”
I look down. He lifts my chin and looks into my eyes. “It was a period of pain. Now we have been given a second chance to look back, and to look forward.”
I put my hand on his chest as he tries to pull me close to him.
“And your surgery? Would she have been interested in you after knowing about it? She is young, she would want a family. Did you tell her about that? Did that make you hesitate?”
Karthik looks hurt, understanding my insinuation. “No, Kalpana, she doesn’t know about…my surgery. We hadn’t gone that far. But, she wants to adopt children, if at all.”
“Oh!” the coldness that enters my heart evident in my voice, “you have discussed children?”
He looks at me hard. “What is it Kalpana? Are you jealous?”
“Just trying to make sure, that you are not in two minds due to….any…” I shrug, unable to say – lack of choice.
He puts his plate down angrily. “You are still my wife, Kalpana! I am not thinking of a choice. And if I had a choice, all this wouldn’t have happened.”
I turn away. Washing my hands, I say, “She is beautiful, elegant, intelligent… sensitive.”
He puts his hand under the running water, washing his hand while the other slips around me. “I have got used to you. I will make do with you.”
Closing the tap, he kisses my hair, then my cheek, then the nape of my neck. He leads me to the bedroom. He whispers, “Do you want to?”
But that is just a formality. He doesn’t wait for my answer.
(To be concluded next week)