A love story.
“Look, darling, my new ring. Sweet, isn’t it?” she said and pretended a childish enthusiasm.
He stared at the ring for some time and said, “You are not sweet. You are a slut.”
He appeared as calm and composed as he was on the day he declared that he loved her. They were silent for a long time for their own reasons. Then she almost shouted, “Why the hell it’s like when a man sleeps around, he is called a Dude; but when a woman does, she is called a Slut?”
She was looking at him, waiting for an answer. He didn’t say anything but gave a meek smile. Then she explained herself, “Because, it’s a man’s world. Because a man’s ego is always bigger than a woman’s feeling. Because you, men, feel insulted with the thought of a woman playing on you. And that’s what makes me happy – the insult imposed upon the man in you.”
She felt relaxed a bit after all the reasoning but still wanted to hear from him. He was still staring into her eyes. Her eyes were looking for an answer into his and then they turned weaker.
He got up; moved towards the door. He was ready to leave but returned a few steps. His one hand was in his trouser pocket and the other above the shoulders, holding a leather jacket. He was standing in his usual relaxed posture.
“May be, because man pays for the nights in one or the other way when he plays around but when you play, the payee is still the man.”
He stared for longer than required and, then, left her to the wilderness of the statement he just made. She wanted to reach out to him, hold him and give him a tight slap.
But she could not.
She could not move.
She could not move away from the wilderness of the statement he just made.
It was her fourth break up; his first and last. He never fell in love again because he could never come out of it.
A year had passed since then. One day, Prashant saw Radhika, sitting in the same café as he did, with some guy who looked quite older than her. He smiled. After a while, the guy left; Radhika was still there, all immersed in her thoughts. She had an unusual smile on her face.
Prashant walked up to her. When she saw him, she pretended neither surprise nor shock. It felt as if she was waiting for him. He said, “You remember the count?”
“Oh! Yes, I do. He was the seventh.”
“Yeah! We just broke up.”
“Thank you. And I mean it as I take your wish in a real sense.” She paused, and then said, “I am happy.”
“I know you are. Once again you have insulted the Man, isn’t it?” he smirked.
“You are correct. But only partly.”
There was a long silence. She played with the wine glass for sometime. He sat. Just that, and did nothing else. She looked up, up into his eyes. The gaze was direct like a sharpshooter’s. She said, “Whenever my father sleeps with another woman, I break up with my boyfriend. I feel that’s the only way I can take my revenge against my dad; that’s the only way I can look into my mom’s eyes. And whenever I see her, I see pain smiling and dancing and celebrating its existence. You know why?”
Prashant was not here, at least, mentally. He was thinking about the night they separated.
Radhika, in her usual way, replied her own question, “Because men can only pay but suffering is mostly credited to women’s account. And if ever men suffer, they make it hysterical and then historical. But women’s suffering is coated with a beautiful silence and wrapped into umpteen numbers of fake smiles and empty laughter. To understand that, you’ll have to meet my mom.” She was looking for an expression; He did not react. She thought, “Men will always be men.” She said, “I shall leave now. It’s late already.”
“Do you mind if I accompany you to the bus stop?”
She shrugged with indifference. They walked all the way in silence. The bus stop was almost empty if the thin, old man can be ignored. They stood resting their back on the side bar of the stand.
After an unusually long silence, Prashant asked, “Are you really happy?”
“Why? Of course!! I love it when my ex-boyfriends plead me to return, when they say they can’t live without me. Some did, some still do; except you. But that doesn’t matter much. By the way what makes you ask such a question?”
The question was followed by a pause; and then an abrupt out-of-no-where statement.
“Please come back, Radhika. I can’t live without you.”
Radhika displayed an utter melancholic solemnity.
She asked, “Why…..? Why you say this now, after almost a year?”
He questioned back in his reply, “That makes you happy, right?”
She burst into tears.
Prashant thought: If a person is physically sick one can force him/her to get cured. But for her, it’s her psychological state that is diseased. How can one medicate the psyche without the consent of the patient? And what kind of logic can a diseased psyche formulate to give its consent for a right cause?
He felt something similar to the doctor who helplessly sees a patient dying in front of him in short of an invention of a proper medication for some ridiculous disease.
“Radhika, I remember what you said that night. I wanted to tell you too many things but…” He paused and then continued with the same spirit, “It’s not a men’s world, Radhika. Men don’t rule. They are offered the rule, if at all they rule; like the poor does to rich, the weak to powerful, and the minority to majority. Because they think they cannot fight. They fear they are too small, too weak against the opponent. When one surrenders before the battle begins, it’s not the power of the other party, not their cunningness, not their strategies, nothing in their virtue which makes them a winner, but the loser’s own fear.”
“I don’t fear that bastard. I just hate him. I hate him with the same intensity with which I love my mom.”
“It was fear. Then it graduated to become hatred. Now the subject you are mastering in is Revenge. You are on a revenge spree against your father, the man; but you do not realize that in all this, the loser is still you. Your father is still doing what he wants. Your self-torture has no effect on him. It will never have –for we are born with a free spirit. Now it’s up us to direct it to a right or wrong direction. You can force your will on someone’s choice of direction momentarily, if at all you can, but not for a long time.”
Radhika was looking at him like a kid does to her teacher in a class where she does not understand a single word taught but wants to learn desperately.
Prashant continued, “What you think, your mother will be happy to hear about your self-destruction in the name of her sufferings? Will she not be happier to hear a life for you that she never had– A life full of love? Give yourself a chance, Radhika. Whatever happened with your mother is not your fault. And you are doing no good by making her a reason for your destruction. Come back, dear. Things will be fine.”
“I feel incapable of loving a man, Prashant.”
“You can take your time to come out of it. I shall wait. We will be friends till then.”
“It may take my whole life. I feel you are the most genuine man I have ever met and I don’t want you to suffer because of me.”
“Now, this is not suffering; it’s pure, simple love. If you allow it to be… or even if you don’t.”
They smiled to each other.
Radhika and Prashant married after thirteen years from that evening.