I’ve never seen a girl more feminine than this one, like out from an old Victorian painting. But she wasn’t that conventionally pretty: her face was odd shaped like an isosceles triangle, she almost looked like one those Vicks lozenges, and her features were not that beautiful: her nose and eyes were plain and she had a small dry mouth. Though she had an old time charm about her, and she carried herself well. She wore her hair short, was as pale as fog, and always dressed exceptionally well. Good sense for clothing is a rarity. It’s as rare as finding open spaces in any major city. When we were toddlers she would always hit me. There was this one incident my mother tells me where I and she were sitting on her mother’s lap and she tried to push me. Being the new baby on the block she was obviously jealous of me. I couldn’t help it I was one cute baby, and I was well behaved too. My mother tells me I rarely cried or threw tantrums. You wouldn’t believe that if you saw me now, but it might be true.
She had an odd way of playing badminton. She would never strike the shuttle-cock but always give it a loving tap, like one does when he or she suddenly feels intimate with another. She was just too delicate. But then she’d never wait for it to come to her. She’d do this sort of desperate hop and tap it with a soft, ‘Woo…!’ coming from her lips. It looked quite silly and sometimes it would make me stop playing, and I’d just stand there laughing. But I guess there’s no end to the list of human quirks. I wish the same could be said about individuality as well. The quirk is at the fringe, I’m talking of the stem. I don’t know why but I always feel the modern way of life is solely, or at any rate is responsible a great deal for this narrowing down of individuality, so much so that you now even know all the clichés and stereotypes, me included.
I don’t know why but again her overt delicateness is swirling in my head. Is the trait of being gentle a given in the female or is it because the way they’re raised, or is it both, like a ball bouncing against two narrow parallel walls with no way out? For she was always like that, I remember in the games-room even while playing carrom this same retrograde femininity persisted. She’d never strike the striker hard, even when required, say when hitting a rebound. A trait like that though at first might charm you can pretty soon become nauseating. For it is a weakness. And it even stinks of shallowness. Women today have to be strong, I don’t mean in a wrestler sort of way but you know what I mean. Otherwise they’ll perish under the stacks of chaos of this modern world like they did by way sexism in the old one, though not to say sexism has disappeared altogether. If anything things are still more or less the same, there’re just different things to be taken into account today, for society has changed, though not in its kernel.
During our early and mid-teens she had a crush on me. It’s strange how her hatred as a baby then later on transmuted into fondness when it came to me. She’d always be hitting me and so I’d try and be on my best behaviour. And I guess that won her over, even though it took years and years. I’ve observed this through the years many times: where one person hates the other vehemently, but that other person for reasons only known to him sticks to the one hating like glue and eventually the situation flips. It’s as if the person receiving hate just wanted something from the other and when he receives it, he throws the other away like a prostitute.
Her room window looked down at our play area, and if I were playing down she’d always be at the window staring at me. Even if I were to stare back she wouldn’t budge. You had to stop whatever you were doing, or rather playing, and just keep staring at her to stop her from doing the same. I don’t know what delight she experienced by staring at me like that. I wasn’t that great an athlete anyway. In fact I was jumpy and had no elegance, like you know how some sportsmen have elegance, like Roger Federer, it almost seems as if he’s doing ballet. From downstairs it looked kind of sad though, as if she was a caged princess wanting to break free, wanting something different but not knowing what. Like how some people see through the hypocrisy of their conventions or are simply bored with them. Her face projected exhaustion. She wanted to go against the order of her life. She was weary of it, so weary that she’d try anything, even the unknown black cesspool of me.
For a teenager her pose was unusually that of melancholy, like a young socialite tired and weary of all the wealth and parties. And like it does to the rich, especially women, her weariness gave her elegance. Her parents aware of this always tried to get her to pursue some hobby, like Indian classical singing and dancing. But she’d get disinterested in few months time. Fortunately she was clever enough to always keep her grades well above average, despite her weariness.
In the games-room if we were playing carrom, she’d always try and be my partner. And then she’d stare me in the eye. You’d have to stare back for she was very persistent. When our eyes would be locked, we’d be transported into some unknown world, and made aware of the possibilities that could’ve been between us. I’d feel the pull of her. I could feel her heart burning for me and she knew that mine had to burn for her too, and it did to a certain degree in spite of whatever rationalizing I did on the surface. Eyes truly are the windows of the soul, for in that stare we’d know more about each other than all the conversations in the world. So in some sense she was the new female of this modern world for she wasn’t afraid of asking the question. Why should men always play the lead, when in actuality women have a better intuition when it comes to our private lives? I feel women are closer to the centre, what I call the “all-essentials”, not men.
The situation though reversed itself in our late teens. I distinctly remember this happening in one of our annual gatherings. Our building every January would’ve a dinner party for its residents. I was on the way out for a smoke with the guys after dinner when she suddenly appeared with a girl, a neighbour of ours, and she looked so dazzlingly pretty I would’ve asked her out then and there. She was wearing a white Shalwar-kameez with silver sandals, her dupatta a multicoloured affair was like a rainbow encapsulated in a kaleidoscope. But the thing that made most our heads turn was her make-up. She had made herself out to be like a Bengali-bride. Man…like they say, ‘My brain was in my butt and my butt was in my brain!’ I even distinctly remember getting angry when while smoking one of the guys had remarked that seeing her like that, he wanted to pick her up on his shoulder and take her to some place private. While returning back that anger reflected in few hateful comments against him making the others laugh at him, which were not about the girl of course, but something else. If there’s one thing you don’t do when among guys is censure some guy being explicit about his libido, for fear of being called a sissy. When we returned, finding her among others, it was obvious she had dressed herself up a bit too much for the occasion, which could also be seen in the other girl’s eyes but who cares, she looked great!
They were a group: she, then the other girl who was at the party, and another one who I feel disliked me for some reason. I’d always want to chat with them, whenever I could, but the third one always made me awkward. If I get a sense of the fact that I’m not wanted, I try to jet ’cause I can’t bear thick tension between people, especially when I’m the cause of it. Girls like that, not her I’d say: the one whom these pages are about but the other two, after marriage mostly live for their families. I’d say they’re some of the most important people we need for if not for a good, stable home man has nothing. Girls like that on the whole are full to the brim with common decency. In short they can’t really cause anyone any serious harm, sometimes even if they want to. And that goodness is real like that of friendly dog, and not like the speeches of a vain moralist who in reality is as selfish and filthy a crook as any other. I don’t like it when “career” women look down upon such women, the excuse that, ‘It’s so shallow and old-fashioned,’ doesn’t hold true just because you’re too cold and detached to do it. In this day and age to raise a healthy, stable family is as difficult a job as having any career you can think of. These are the same kind of women who derive their complacency from the fact they’re now doing things that were only done by men few generations ago, regardless of how destructive or pointless those actions may be.
Though returning back to our girl, when my turn came I couldn’t play the role of the chaser as she had few years ago, it wasn’t as obvious as hers anyway. Even though I knew she liked me a lot in the past, I couldn’t use that as a spring to her ask her out. Dating always requires a certain effort and I feel I’ve always lacked the vitality needed for it, even though I’ve had my share. Sometimes I was so clumsy in my efforts with her that they’d leave me puzzled and embarrassed for days on end. I just couldn’t do it. The cheese was right there but I just couldn’t reach it. I guess doubt is an instinct in man, not something external forced upon by circumstance.
They say, ‘The chase is better than the catch.’ But I disagree. I say catch and see how it is. Even today I’m curious how it would have been. ’Cause I always felt she wanted something else than the usual humdrum of dating, something dark, unknown and potent: the unchartered waters, the deep-end of the pool where only few go. There was a definite need to break-away in her as if she thought she was above her surroundings, that it was a temporary muck she had to bear with till what she rightly deserved came to her. And maybe she sought that escape through me, for she pursued long enough.
Anyway her intuition was right, for today, I’d do anything to bypass the usual way of life.
Aman Chougle is a sound engineer. He loves music, books, and collecting paintings. Besides art and reading, travel, nature, occasional cooking, and meeting the multifarious lives of this planet are his other interests. Currently he’s working on his first novel.