It read like a regular engagement invite. Time, venue, directions, et al. And I had vaguely heard about their relationship. They had been introduced to each other on Twitter by a well-meaning friend. And it had been a long-distance relationship for the last few months. She and I bonded over words. He and I were acquaintances at best.
The sun and the clouds played hide and seek that afternoon. Alternating between powerful bouts of sunshine and a gentle soothing breeze. It was a small, intimate gathering (later I remarked to the husband that I was overwhelmed that they counted us among their closest set of friends). But both sets of parents were conspicuous by their absence. A fact that nagged me the entire time.
When the couple took centre stage, after a flurry of photographs, both candid and posed, it was refreshing to see just the two of them. Standing next to each other. Alone, but together. Just like their days to come would be. One for the other. There were some awkward pauses with the microphone in hand. But they led each other by instinct. Conviction. And hope.
They exchanged rings with wide smiles on their faces. They showed off the rings like they had been rehearsing for that very moment all their lives. And they let the emotions flow. She spoke of how “normal” her fiancé is, perhaps his most endearing trait. And he acknowledged her planning skills. They sang for each other, full-throated. Oblivious that they had an audience. And both reiterated that the simplicity, intimacy and informality was a conscious decision.
It was a brave, bold thing to do. I had dreamt of an engagement ceremony just like this. But I had lacked the conviction and strength to push for it. And that Saturday afternoon showed me what I had missed. It was a subtle reminder of what I should have stood up for.
I left the venue feeling bittersweet. In awe of their courage. And a little disappointed by the lack of my own. But I knew that change was on its way. In the tiny leaps of faith, I saw that afternoon.
I seek it every time I glance at the self in the mirror, to tuck an errant hair strand in place. I seek it each time I slip into a traditional outfit that I know will wow the extended family. I seek it each time I choose the comfort of a sensible shoe over a shiny, glamorous pair of heels.
I’ve sought it in the numerous sunsets that have moved me to tears of gratitude. I’ve sought it alone, atop a mountain, bereft of internet connectivity. I’ve sought it in a roomful of well-meaning friends.
I’ve searched for it, with a magnifying glass, in the many job profiles strewn across the internet. I’ve searched for it in a neat and tidy home (the mother would have been proud!). I’ve searched for it in the eyes of my lover.
I’ve combed through stacks of photographs, mark-sheets and certificates, and snail mail. I’ve scoured the insides of umpteen ice cream bowls and wine glasses. I’ve rummaged through emails, memories and the many regrets that the heart holds.
I’ve looked for it in sly, furtive glances across the table, secret text messages and heaps of 3 am phone conversations.
And one day, I found it. In a bookstore, on a Sunday morning, selecting books for strangers to savour. The books weren’t mine to give. Neither were the words they held. Only the selection was mine. Almost like I was sharing a piece of myself with someone whom I was yet to meet. And surprisingly, it felt really good.
A warm rush of contentment embraced me, and the lips could barely frame a coherent sentence.
I remember that evening well. Not just because I had laughed myself silly. Mostly because I had waited a long time for it. He was all of a year old when I first set my eyes on him. And I just wasn’t able to break the ice with him. I had tried candy, toys and all sorts of goofy faces. But he just wouldn’t come to me! On a good day, I’d be greeted with a reluctant smile and half a wave, gently prodded by his well-meaning parents. And it bugged me to no end!
Until one evening, he accompanied his father into our living room. He took his time to acquaint himself with his new surroundings. He wandered in and out of rooms, and finally made his way towards me. I saw him take tentative steps, my heart brimming with joy! He apparently wanted to play.
We went to my bedroom, the air laden with expectation. I scrambled to locate some remnants of a childhood I hadn’t spent in that room. A not-so stuffed tortoise and a teddy bear crafted out of cardboard came to my rescue! The tortoise was the last of the stuffed toys the mother had given me. And I wasn’t ready to let go, just yet. The bear was a colourful reminder that the room still belonged to a kid!
For the next hour, we alternated between the two toys. He wanted to why the tortoise was so thin. Did he need to eat more? Why was he unable to bend the bear? What had I named them? Could he take them to school with him? I tried my best to keep pace with the storytelling. We communicated in very functional English, but exchanged a lot of nods, smiles and laughter that evening. I had finally crossed the chasm and become an ally.
He took the toys with him home that night, in protest that our time together had been very short. And I couldn’t wipe the silly grin off my face!
He pinged on WhatsApp, asking if I could meet him in Bombay next week. Only I don’t live there anymore. And neither does he. I reminded him. And then it hit him. It had been sent to the wrong recipient.
It was an innocuous question. One that I’ve asked people often myself. But here, even the intended recipient wasn’t in Bombay. It would have been a flight’s journey for both. And thanks to mistaken identities, I was now aware of this exchange.
I know both well. Happily married, as social media would inform me. With partners they had picked for themselves. In jobs, they I knew they had carefully chosen. In cities, they had wanted. And it was an innocuous question. But something about the exchange nagged me.
Would it be a clandestine rendezvous? Or was the spouse invited as well? Did the respective partners know? Was he going to be in Bombay specifically only to meet her or he had other business. None of the answers to any of these questions matter to me. Perhaps, they don’t to them, either. But I felt uncomfortable, having been privy to this exchange.
Today, I have no idea if the intended meeting took place at all. But each time, I see happy shiny family portraits on Facebook (of them or other folks); this innocuous question reinstates itself into my head.