The sun casts its tangerine rays upon the freshly mown lawn of Kadhalar Kootam, making the freshly formed dewdrops of the cold November evening shine in that serene light. It was strange that a park should be named so… in fact, it seemed positively insane to name a park as “Lovers’ Park” when the concept of love was yet to be accepted properly in society. If that seemed out of place, then the street being named Iruvar Lane was even stranger. It felt like destiny that a lot of love stories found its beginnings at the park. It feels right that a second one would be beginning from here. I look down and smile, seeing her hand held tightly in mine, as we look down on the park from a bench near the entrance.
“You okay?” she asks me, seeing my usually expressive eyes going blank today, and my hand shivering.
“No. But I will be,” I reply, looking at her and giving her hand a squeeze.
“Why did we have to come here? It doesn’t feel right. It feels mad to return here, Ani,” she says, her tone admonishing me for my decision to bring us here. I wasn’t sure myself that it was the right thing to do, but some part of me wanted to return, to bring Nia here for the first time. Maybe it would be the last time I’d see Kadhalar Kootam too.
Here where everything began
Here where my heart sang
Here where my heart broke
Here where everything lies
Where love can never die
But I am afraid it will
What if it will, tonight?
It had been years – four to be exact – since I was here last. Four years… time passes quickly, and memories return just as quick.
The whole country – no, the whole world – was excitedly waiting for the New Year to come. It was going to be a special one, to see a millennium in our lifetime; and there was just over a month left to go.
It was nine in the morning when I got down from the school bus, but the mist had still not completely shed its blanket. A big banner saying, “Inspira – 1999” hung across the entrance to the park, and as I stood on the top step and looked down on the sprawling park, I could see that children from other schools were already there. The last interschool competition for the year, and it was the biggest one I had seen till then. I was determined that it would be my first winning competition, so I could make the school proud for the confidence they had shown in my poetry, urging me on when I didn’t think I had a poet in me.
A thread suddenly fell around my neck with a participant’s badge, and I smiled, knowing my teacher was standing behind me. “You can do it, Ani,” she said, and patted my cheek, as she handed me a few sheets of paper and a card with the topics of all the contests on it. “Go find your inspiration, and write. You have to be back here by noon to submit, okay?”
I nodded, and walked off to find a little free space on the park lawn, and write. When I began, I was lost to the world, as I usually was when I wrote a poem; but I knew my teacher would be keeping an eye on me.
“Can I sit with you, please?”
Her voice broke my chain of thought, and I looked up to see her smile at me. She wasn’t from my school, but I could tell she was about the same age as me. I looked at my watch, and it was a quarter past ten.
“If it is a problem, you can say so at least. I won’t disturb,” she said, and began to walk away.
“No no. Please, it is fine. I was lost in thought, that’s all,” I told her, pointing to the blanket I sat on, and asking her to sit. She smiled, and adjusting her skirt, sat down.
“Hi. I am Nisha, from St. Paul’s. You are from Bishop’s right?” she asked, and I nodded. “You’re a poet too, oh I’m so glad. Now I understand why you were lost in thought, the same happens to me,” she said, and I smiled back at her.
“I’m Anirban, good to meet you,” I replied. I was usually silent when I wrote, but that day was different. We talked as we wrote, laughed and discussed school. It felt strangely saddening when we submitted our poems and went to our schoolmates. Even though I knew I hadn’t won any prize, I returned the next day for the competition, hoping she would be too. And she was. She stood on that top step, looking at the parking lot, waiting for the yellow bus that said “Bishop’s School” on the side, and for me to step down. We found that same spot, and sat there all day, writing a story instead of a poem, but not really writing to win. We just wanted to talk, strengthen a friendship that was barely two hours young, and turn it into a longer one. When the day was over, we hadn’t won anything, but a new friendship had started. Two seventh graders, from two different schools, from two different parts of the city but with a common passion, knew their friendship would withstand the test of time.
Two strangers we were
Introduced by a poem
That joined heartbeats
It was instinctive, a trust
That came so quickly
Even on that first meet
I met Nisha often over the next three years. Being the so-called creative writing experts of our school meant we were chosen for competitions. We’d always find a spot to sit together and chitchat as we wrote. We felt happy in each other’s company and poetry brought us closer. We’d talk on the phone sometimes. We were both introverts in school before we met, but we began to interact more with others, play, read and just enjoy school. It was our friendship that made us win some of those competitions, and the weekends after the competitions, we’d meet at the park where we first met, and celebrate with chocolate ice-cream. Our parents were supportive of our friendship, and they’d smile seeing us. It was her dad who decided to shift houses and bring us closer. We became neighbors, and classmates from ninth grade. No one could break us.
Friendship’s a blessing
I know it to be true
Because I have you
Those who do matter
They understand us
And our love true
We joined the same college, one that was adjacent to the park, knowing we could celebrate a lot of memories, and make new ones. It was only then that we really checked the name of the park. “Kadhalar Kootam” – a crowd of lovers. We laughed, told that it should also be named aptly for beginning new friendships. Being so close to a place we loved, we hung out there often. From chocolate ice-cream, we shifted to pani-puri and it became a tradition, a habit we knew we wouldn’t let go of. We’d bunk classes, and sit in the park, writing poems, sometimes just admiring the park in silence. She’d lean on my shoulder and put her feet up on the bench, and it felt warm, caring… loving. It felt right.
I know things change
She says so often
But do I want it to?
If I say my heart
And she wants it not
What would I do?
It took me a couple of months, but I told her. On the fourth anniversary of our first meet, I held her hand, and told her I was in love with her, that nothing felt as beautiful as it did when I was with her. She looked at me silently, and I let her. She never took her hand away from mine, and after a while, without a word, she leaned towards me and gave me a kiss on my cheek. I looked at her, and she smiled, and told me that she was feeling the same, that she wasn’t sure how to tell… what if it destroyed our friendship? I assured her it wouldn’t, and she did the same. When we told our parents that night, they laughed, and didn’t say anything. It was as if they knew all along we’d be together.
Even when we joined university, we went to the same college. We found new friends, but they saw our love, and never split us up. Days went like hours, but we felt the world had slowed for us to savor every second of our relationship. My world revolved around her and hers around me, but we took it one step at a time. On her 20th birthday, I gifted to her a salwar set that she loved very much. When she wore it and came to the park, she looked amazing. When I told her, she blushed. I had told her many times before, but it was the first time that she had blushed. We sat under the clear night sky, looking at the full moon, and we kissed. When I looked into her eyes after, I knew I wanted to look into those eyes forever.
I see my reflection
In your eyes, dear
One that is true
And always near
One that I’d missed
Now I don’t want to
I want you forever
You, you… only you
Valentine’s Day of 2008, I waited for her at the park, having reached home early from college to prepare for the evening. The roads were empty since the day was a National Bundh for some silly reason. An odd car or bike zoomed past, but nothing else. I saw her coming from far away, and smiled, and saw her smile back. I walked towards her, and saw her cross the road. A second later, I froze on the spot and stood helplessly as a goddamned Omni hit her full on, and she rolled to the side as it sped away, not stopping or even looking back. The people teemed on to the road, and moments later, I saw them put her into an autorickshaw and take her away. I stood there, though I wanted to move, but couldn’t. An hour later, I was at the hospital, outside the Operation Theater, standing at the door, as my parents, and hers sat behind me, crying. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I prayed, fervently. A few minutes later, the doctor came out, and I heard him say the words I had been dreading to hear. “My condolences, we did everything we could,” he said, and walked away. I stood there again. I went into shock, and was never the same again for many months.
On what would have been our ninth anniversary, I opened my drawer and saw it there. I hadn’t opened it since the day it all ended. And that day was the first time I took it out.
For you was meant
This little gold ring
Now it lies alone
Lost, just like me
Without your hand
Without you at home
When I got a job opportunity away from the city, I took it with both hands, and moved. Nisha’s parents had moved after that fateful day, and my parents wanted me to go away for a fresh start. I denied them till I finished my graduation, and then did. I knew it was meant to be, because though no one would understand, Nisha was always close to me, would always be.
I went into my shell again, and interacted with very few. No one who knew about Nisha talked of her, and the ones who didn’t, never really talked to me much either. No one, till Tanya came into my life… she was the first to realize something was holding me back, something was bothering me, and that I could use a friend. She didn’t push me, and I didn’t jump in, but over the years, she understood me more than anyone else, other than Nisha had of course. I began to live again, and maybe it was meant to be that she was the one for me. I told her there was a park that made me, and then broke me. I told her there was a part of me I wanted to share at last, and I wanted to do it there. She nodded, and I smiled.
I return to a place
I called my home
Where my heart lies
I return to start
Another new chapter
In the story of life
“Are you mad?” she whispers to me as she holds me close.
It was the first time I had told her of that past. She had known some of it, but not all, and when I was done, I was shivering uncontrollably. All the memories had overwhelmed me.
“Tell me Ani, are you insane?” she presses on, admonishing me again.
“Of course I am, of course I’m insane. But I felt I had to. I feared this place since that day, feared love since that day, and I know it sounds, and is probably, insane, but the only way I could let go of it was to bring you here, and tell you everything, Nia,” I say, breathlessly.
“What the hell for?” she asks, holding me still closer.
“No one has ever understood me after Nisha, but you did. No one wanted to know of my past, but you did. No one who knew held me close, but you did. I don’t want to lose you too,” I say, as I go down on one knee, and take the ring out.
“Nia, would you marry me?”
I smile when she nods yes after a while, and put the ring on her finger, get up and give her a kiss, full on the mouth. She smiles too, and holds me tight, seeing that I still haven’t stopped shivering.
“Can I ever replace her, Ani?” she asks me, a little worry obvious in her voice.
“No one can. She’s always close to me, but I won’t love you any lesser than I did love her,” I tell, and she smiles. She knows that, and I know that. Perhaps it was destiny that on a day that one love turned thirteen years young, another was beginning.
I know I can’t stop
Can’t stop loving you
I know this also
That you know it too
This life wasn’t ours
But one life soon
We’ll be one again
Under that full moon
(’12, Dec 02)