How pop-culture failed us 90s’ kids

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“Pyaar toh mein ne kar liya hai maa,” says a morose Anjali when her mother questions her about her feelings. Anjali Sharma, the quintessential tomboy, spent a decade loving her best friend Rahul Khanna from college. The best part is, she didn’t even see him in the last decade. We all loved watching these movies. I mean, BuzzFeed even has quizzes on Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhie Kushi Kabhie Gham and we have all scored a good 90% in those. Because obviously, no one gives a damn about your ICSE Board Results in this day and age anyway. Rahul Khanna, on the other hand, is one of those guys with zero self-awareness – he does not know what he needs ever, he gets attracted to the hottest girl in college because she can sing ‘Om Jai Jagdeesh’ and delivers cheesy lines about ‘Mard ka sir sirf 3 auraton ke saamne jhukta hai,’ and all that BS. I mean, how about your boss, how about your teachers, how about a respectable woman? NO. He doesn’t care because he doesn’t know better.

Yes, Rahul Khanna’s character did receive a lot of flak in the recent years with feminism taking centre stage. But the female lead in the movie is of no good either, did anyone realise that? I mean, get over him, that boy is a shallow boy who loses to you in basketball every single day and wears a chain that says ‘C.O.O.L’ for crying out loud. And in 10 years, you haven’t seen his face. I mean in those days, there was no Facebook, how did you even remember his face? But no, Anjali Sharma’s character decided to stay in love with him and hence Karan Johar successfully taught an entire generation that love is painful and the beauty of it is in the suffering. Aman Mehra (Salman Khan’s character; had to mention since the dude only appears for an extended cameo and surprisingly, in a movie with Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol and Rani Mukherjee, he is the only one you can really stand), people say, is far more mature and actually deserves Anjali. But I don’t agree. The truth is, Anjali doesn’t deserve Aman. He is sorted and he is a peaceful soul. She would have drained his energies had they married. Anjali and Rahul actually deserved each other because if Rahul is shallow, Anjali is a loser. A sore loser who loved another loser for years on end and actually did nothing with her life expect learning how to tie a saree and grow her hair. *Potential bahu in the neighbourhood alert*

Not just this. There are a plethora of these films that us, as 90s kids, grew up watching. And for whatever reason, these stood out the most and the lessons they tried to teach got drilled in our head so deep that it is alarming how some of us might be living in beliefs that this is how love and life should be. Do we remember Kal Ho Na Ho? Oh yes, that movie with that song with the heart beat music that everyone uses as background score in farewell videos. Naina loves Aman, Aman loves Naina, but we are not proud of you. GUJJU. Okay, that Aman dude literally forces Naina to marry someone else because he is dying. I mean, that woman is walking into the mandap of her own wedding, in tears. But Rohit (Saif’s character) has no self respect, so he will marry her anyway. Because love is supposed to hurt, right? And some 20 years later, Naina recounts this story to her kids and Rohit walks in and says ‘I love you’ to her and she doesn’t even say it back. I mean, still? Aman died. Rohit is nice. Love your husband. Stop showing us that love is painful and love is all about the suffering.

kaho-na-pyaar-hai

Death brings me to the rise of Hrithik Roshan. Remember those days when most of us actually liked Hrithik Roshan and him making a debut on silver screen was actually the best thing that happened in the year 2000? Everyone knew how to groove to Ek Pal Ka Jeena. The dude dies in the movie. And his girlfriend finds his doppelganger and falls in love with him. I mean, what’s the guarantee that she won’t scream the previous dude’s name instead of the new dude’s when they are doing it, man? And this new guy is rich, suave and dances well and can score anyone. But why not be the shining knight in armour to that damsel in distress, although you can clearly see that she has issues and that’s why she is stalking you. But he will fall in love with her although he knows she may never really love him back because well, love is supposed to hurt, right?

And that magnum opus Mohabbatein that most of us were prohibited to watch (but still somehow sneek in rented DVDs and saw it) because Shamita Shetty’s character wore hairbands for blouses? Raj Aryan Malhotra returns to his college after years to seek vengeance on his deceased girlfriend’s father, in the form of love. So he propagates lessons in love to some dudes that can’t even manage to act and sings songs while he imagines his dead girlfriend running around pillars and meadows of England. He has psychological issues. He believed that love can change the world while he hurt himself and we all believed that he is the ultimate preacher of the lessons in love.

Has anyone noticed that all these characters that believed in this and waited till the end of time for their college lovers to return to them, actually lead pretty darn mediocre lives? Anjali Sharma was chilling in summer camps, Naina was storytelling to her kids, Raj Aryan Malhotra was teaching the violin and beating the drums on the roads during Karvachauth. The truth is, love is not about the suffering. And you’ve gotten your entire life wrong if you believed so. I don’t have an issue with the way Imtiaz Ali deals with love (well, mostly). Shahid Kapoor’s character returns happy and rejuvenated when he returns back to his normal life after falling in love and letting that person go, in Jab We Met. And when he returns and lets it go, he achieves a truck load of things. Love is the wisdom to realise that it is more important to love yourself the way you’d want to be loved. It is realising that you should validate yourself before some Raj or Rahul comes into your life to complete that fairy tale.

Indian pop culture failed us. There is a reason we don’t have our Devil Wears Pradas, there is a reason we don’t have our Batmans. There is a reason why most things that taught us sense back in the day (and even till date), is considered parallel cinema (or simply failed at the box office) or just remained on comic books and was restricted to TV (until crap Saas Bahu serials took over, of course). The reason is really simple. We don’t give ourselves enough credit and respect. And we as a growing economy, were so engrossed in the pretty locations and awesome new clothes on silver screen post liberalisation that we did not realise that the values and lessons that these movies were teaching us about ourselves were utter rubbish.

It is really up to us to cleanse ourselves of these disrespectful, self-deprecating ideologies ingrained so deep in our heads. And the first step to that is realisation. I mean watch Kuch Kuch Hota Hai the next time it’s on TV. But don’t you fucking feel bad for Anjali while watching it. Laugh at it. I know you’ve already done that. Laugh at it some more and go love yourself. And for all those people who somehow escaped the storm of the 90s Bollywood cinema, I am extremely happy for you. And I am coming for you. Let’s be friends.

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February to February

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I believe writing can break you;
yet we write the best when we are the most broken.

I believe writing can shake you;
yet we write the best when we are the most shaken.

I believe words can mend broken hearts.
I believe words have the ability to drag you
from that pit of darkness
and into the beginning of new dawns.
Some like them in songs;
some like them in psalms.

A close friend of mine once said to me, “you know, I don’t really have to worry about you, wherever you are. I know that you have the strength and courage to come out of whatever you face and promise me that you’ll keep writing because that’s how you heal.” But I broke that promise; somewhere between fighting for lost causes and holding onto beautiful relationships, I broke that promise, and eventually, I broke myself. But I don’t think it’s ever too late because breaking is just the beginning of another process of healing. It’s just another cycle from which you need to come out stronger than ever.

You need to find that light at the end of the tunnel and work your way to it. But just this one time, I decided to change my healing process. I realised that I don’t always have to lose something to find myself. Sometimes, the thing that gives you the most amount of pain is also the thing that gives you the most amount of happiness. It’s really your choice if you want to let both go or heal in such a way that you can keep the happiness. I had almost always inadvertently chosen to heal by letting both go; but not this time. This time, I opted to heal in such a way that I can retain the happiness. At the end of the day, pain and pleasure are but two sides of the same coin and healing is nothing but realising that this coin is not for you to be flip and await the probability of getting pleasure. It is realising that pain or pleasure actually come to you when the coin goes up in the air and takes one full circle before it comes back to you. Healing is about that, healing is about those full circles and realising that at the end of it, you can begin all over again.

And this one time, since I’m healing differently, I also thought of documenting it differently. I’m done writing those stories of crash and burn. This time, I got the idea to start a page called ‘February to February’ (naming the page so because of very personal reasons), wherein I, with the help of a few of my ever supportive friends, will curate a set of poems, stories, songs and basically just words that come full circle  – just the kind of one the coin takes before it comes back to you; just the kind of one the earth takes from one February to another. These are words of wisdom, words of love, words of loss, words hurt, words of heart break and most of all, we will make sure these are always about words that make you heal and realise that you can begin again. These are words by you, words by me, words by your mother, words by Rumi or words by Floyd; these could be words by anybody and we will publish them on February to February if they can even create an iota of hope in you and empower your being.

 

 

Of Love and Other Demons

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I’m not very certain what love is. I won’t deny that I went looking for its meaning numerous times. I definitely rule out Romeo and Juliet here, for they were stupid, frivolous and if you ask me, they deserved to die. After having read Wuthering Heights countless number of times, I  am now convinced that neither Heathcliff nor Catherine ever loved each other. They were both just ambitious, spiteful and vindictive. Growing up, they were forced to cultivate these traits in themselves as defence mechanisms. Invariably, their ‘love’ was built on the same foundation; it was not something hidden in the ‘eternal rocks beneath’, as Catherine says on one occasion. I don’t think Gatsby ever loved Daisy, either. That’s just another tale of yet another 1920s’ ambitious American man aiming at the faraway green light.

What then is this enigmatic feeling owing to which battles have been fought, epics have been written and films are scripted. Is it the way Rick Blaine reacts when Ilsa asks Sam to play ‘As Time Goes By’ in Casablanca? Is it the way Jesse looks at Celine when he spots her at the Shakespeare and Company book store nine whole years after they had first met, in Before Sunset? Or is it the blind, unrequited, undying and unwavering passion that Florentino Ariza contains for Fermina Daza for 50-odd years in Love in the Time of Cholera? I don’t know, these come close, don’t they? At least, they definitely make more sense than the rubbish Nicholas Sparks, Stephenie Meyer and the likes try to sell to you. Love is patient, love is kind. Love means slowly losing your mind (slightly ironic that I had to quote 27 Dresses here).

I’m serious, when I was younger and stupider,  I watched that mush-fest of a movie called The Notebook (yeah, Ryan Gosling is jaw-dropping hot, I don’t deny that but I would rather watch Crazy Stupid Love to ogle at his well sculpted body), which set my hormones to some sort of tango. So I logged into my Yahoo chat and PINGed the guy I had a crush on and typed ‘I love you!’. Comic sans was the font and purple was the colour of the text, I still remember. I don’t remember what exactly he said, but I do remember that it didn’t go well. That’s where my aversion towards the word ‘love’ started. Proposed in comic sans, rejected without a glance. Nicholas Sparks was feeding bullshit to an entire generation and thanks to books, films and teenage hormones, he is going to continue to do so. My friends around were doing worse. I don’t know what they were high on. I stopped at ‘love’, while some of them (guys included) had marriage on their mind, from the age of 15!

The next guy I would like to talk about entered the scene a couple of years later. Actually, it is more apt to say that this particular guy came back into my life. This is my very own version of Wuthering Heights, except more stupid and child-like or should I say less dark and gruesome? Anyway, the Heathcliff in this story didn’t come back to seek vengeance. He came back because of the existence of Facebook. Rewinding 10 years from this period – Heathcliff and I were neighbours, went to the same school, sat in the same auto, shared our lunch boxes, played together all evening, did homework together, etc. How cute, right? So this time when Heathcliff had come back, I was more careful with my words. When he asked me how I felt about him I said “Well, you are special”. Days passed by and this didn’t go anywhere either. *plays George Ezra’s Breakaway in the background* I can’t elaborate any further because Heathcliff and I are good friends now. But my Heathcliff never affected me in any major way. Yes, I did believe, at one point, that this was like the ‘eternal rocks beneath’. But let’s be honest, this sounds like an impractical, highly-dramatised Anuja Chauhan book right now. So I laughed it off, set sail into the sea again, constantly looking to lay anchor somewhere (Yes, I’ve got daddy issues and I cannot lie. Deal with it!).

The thing with ambitiously setting off into the sea has two major flaws. One is, although you’re trying to anchor yourself somewhere, in reality you are running far away from your ground (unintentionally so). You don’t let people in; you unknowingly close down to the people you want to open up to (did you read some innuendo? yeah, I like you already) in the first place. Secondly, if you meet anyone, on your way, who is asking you to stop and stay, you don’t even consider the proposition because you’re too ambitious and picky to settle. So you go ahead to kiss yet another prince who will eventually turn into a frog. A couple of assholes and zero tears later, it was time to face my first major blow in this aspect of life. I had never guessed that the way I looked at guys, selfishness, love, and even my own self, would change in the course of the next three years. This guy intimidated me (with his smartness) the first time I met him. Plus points, right there. For something that started off as so casual, this took a pretty nasty and serious turn in my head (yes, most drama in my life happens in my head alone).

When it was time to jump out of my introverted existence and face the reality, I was still unaware of the intensity of this in my own head. Because I had gauged my very own ground wrong, I messed it up. I messed it all up beyond the point of repair. I messed it up over and over again, honestly. I cried my eyes out and drank myself to sleep every night. That sense of regret overpowered me. I couldn’t think straight about anything else for anything longer than a minute. I named that regret ‘love’ after carefully calculating and assessing my emotions. I gathered the courage to finally use that word more seriously this time.

Wait, did I just blame myself for everything? Let’s strike that out, because the biggest gift that came out of this three-year-long painful phase is self-love. I never respected myself or loved myself enough before this. Just looking at the intensity of the emotions I felt (without any reciprocation) made me realise what a strong yet sensitive person I was and that was enough to make me start loving myself. I watched Before Sunset and had my hopes up for 9 years from then. I read Love in the Time of Cholera and had my hopes up for 50 years from then. I started writing better (oh, the angst of unrequited love is exactly what a creative mind requires!), I started valuing people better, I got more serious about men and I streamlined my choices in them (eventually), I made the best set of friends anyone could ever ask for, because for once I was convinced that I was good enough to deserve all of this.

A couple of cities, one whole year and no new distractions later, I met someone else who made me realise that I never really let anyone into my life ever before. My world was for myself, my defences were as high up as The Wall. A close friend of mine had sent me a hand-written letter from Dubai (when I was still trying to get over the previous guy) in which she wrote ‘maybe it was never meant to be, man. Some people are meant for themselves’. But this time, I did start to break down the wall, little by little. Because it is ‘worth it to let some people in’, this boy said. I slowly realised that I never really loved the previous guy and that it was all in my head. But as the universe conspires against everything I want, it didn’t work out this time either. But what did come out of it, in the very little time I gave it, was prioritization. I let everything that made me emotionally vulnerable fly out of the window, set myself, my health and my career way above everything else. I started giving more importance to myself than I give to other people (I did give more importance to others, all along). And I know I’ve never been so serious in my life before this. So did what I feel for this guy spell love to me? Of course not.

But I can’t deny that I didn’t find love after these numerous attempts. Love is that light at the end of the tunnel that I see every single time I go through an unpleasant phase. Love is that hope that is waiting for you after bad days; love is that determination you have to push yourself harder at everything you do; but love is definitely not that bitter and vicious feeling you foster after you face rejection or something doesn’t go as expected. Love, for me, is that insurmountable strength and positive energy that resides within me. Anyway, some people are meant for themselves, right? So I’m going to rest the idea of seeking love outside for now. Nicholas Sparks can chill with the ‘love is like the wind’ crap he’s feeding the world.

 

One stop ahead of sexism

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Through a blanket of dust, through shattered pieces of glass, a splash of water and a shower of red chillis; the quintessential Tollywood hero makes his entry in the middle of an action sequence, exhibiting his machismo to the goons and, through the screen, to the audience.

He beats up the bad guy and his army, protects the victims, seeks revenge, slaps the female lead character when he thinks she is being stupid and delivers a page long dialogue about being manly. That’s it. There is no more to his character. Wait, let’s rewind, he slaps women. He has no character.

The female lead on the other hand might as well sit at home in the comfort of an AC. But no, she comes on the screen every time the male audience is bored of ‘pants and shirts’ and the female audience wants to connect with the dumbness and dependency she epitomizes. Oh, more importantly, she turns up to be a part of the most redundant yet unavoidable sections of a film- song and dance.

Boy meets girl, boy stalks girl, girl feels uncomfortable, boy makes sexist jokes about her, the whole cast makes sexist comments about women, then boy ignores girl and girl falls in love with the boy. The stalking could be the other way round also, but the sexist comments are a constant.

I’ve grown up watching Telugu films. Don’t jump to conclusions, I was exposed to my fair share of international films, songs and other pop culture as well. I mean, I did have Hi TV and SS Music, Pogo and Cartoon Network and the legendary Skyline theatre for my monthly fix of good English films. But the truth is, our cinema provides such high decibel entertainment value that it is extremely difficult to sit at home, shut your ears and ignore its existence. So week after week, we flocked to the nearby RTC Crossroads, stared in awe at the god-sized posters of our heroes and enjoyed the hooting and immersed ourselves in the story line or the lack of it, while increasing the occupancy levels of an already highly occupied South Indian cinema hall.

Being the 90s kids, Telugu cinema for us has been synonymous to Mahesh Babu and Pawan Kalyan. Of course there was Indra, Narasimha Naidu, Manmadhudu and Samarasimha Reddy, but Obul Reddy, pata basti, kabbadi, Pandu gadu, vayyari bhama nee hamsa nadaka, made in andhra kurrollu and Siddu Siddhartha Roy will forever be fresh in our memory. These landmarks in Telugu cinema came at a point when Bollywood had stopped sexist portrayal of women and started exploring the sensitivity of a man behind the macho. Bollywood produced Dil Chahta Hai, Rang De Basanti and Fashion. It produced some good love stories as well. Stories where the girl and the boy played a man and a woman and the relationship was built from a genuine connection. Sex also became an easy thing. But Tollywood couldn’t say sex, they still had to jump into song and dance. The 2014 Mahesh Babu starrer ‘1 Nenokkadine’ is probably the only film where you feel that the girl and the boy might have a sexual relationship as well but it leaves no clues, because honestly, the film could have done away with the female lead character if given a choice.

Mahesh Babu and Pawan Kalyan thus churned out a million films with chauvinism and sexism sprinkled all over them, with love stories with no emotions and female characters with no importance. Tollywood simultaneously boasts of SS Rajamouli. The guy is a great director, he has never had a flop in his career, agreed. But Kajal Aggarwal plays an extremely dependent, insecure and suspicious character who falls for a stalker, in Magadheera, Genelia D’Souza exists in Sye to cheer lead and let’s not even get to Tamannah’s character in Bahubali: The Beginning. Again, I don’t blame the actors, I blame most of the directors who probably still think that women belong in the kitchen. I don’t mind making a list of the most sexist directors in Tollywood for anyone who is interested. Srinu Vaitla would undoubtedly top the list, followed by Gunashekar.

I shamelessly watched Mahesh Babu and Pawan Kalyan portray such sexist characters again and again. I adore Mahesh Babu, so I watched each of his films 10 times in the theatre (including the highly sexist films such as Dookudu), knowing fully well the influence they had on public and trying to ignore the offensive content, because the punch dialogues and forced comedy were too entertaining. I watched and I watched and I watched until I got tired and saturated and couldn’t take the sexism anymore. I saw Aagadu once and cringed at the idea of watching another Telugu film ever again. I had had enough. Just because you grew up with something doesn’t mean you let it disrespect you for the rest of your life.

Almost ten months went by and I didn’t dare watch a single Telugu film, not even on TV. Then came Bahubali: The Beginning, dragging me to the cinema hall. Apart from the magnum opus that it was, the emotions in the film were disappointing. While it had Tamannah and her immature love story on one side, it had Ramya Krishna roaring the screen on the other. It gave me hope. But avoiding sexism is not about making female dominated films. It’s about making an equally strong female character in even a male dominated film. But that sounded funny and Tollywood producing something like that was impossible.

It was August 7 and my deeply rooted love for Mahesh Babu drove me to a nearby cinema hall in New Delhi. Higher taxes and costlier popcorn, Srimanthudu better be worth it, I thought before entering the screen. The film got over and I walked out realising that I hardly ever noticed Mahesh Babu in the 2 hours and 43 minutes. Both my eyes on Shruti Haasan and all my heart with the writer and director Koratala Siva. I went back to the screen the next day hoping to feast my eyes with Mahesh Babu, but I saw Shruti Haasan yet again and fell in love with Harsha.

Harsha is the name of Mahesh Babu’s character from Srimanthudu. I watched every single film of Mahesh Babu’s a thousand times over. But I don’t remember falling in love with the character he portrays in any of the films. I read a lot of books and watch a lot of films in other languages and I’ve fallen in love with some fictitious characters before. But never one played by Mahesh Babu. Harsha was different, Harsha was acceptable and Harsha was respectful. He treats Charuseela (Shruti Haasan’s character) with immense respect and thinks she is beautiful on the inside. He doesn’t stalk her, he doesn’t pass any comments on her. He values conversations over coffee and he acts on the little things Charuseela says and accepts with dignity when she rejects his love.

Charuseela on the other hand is a strong independent character. She doesn’t fall for a stalker, she doesn’t encourage bullshit. She is smart and does anything to stick to her ideals, including rejecting the man she loves. She shows a confused Harsha the right path in life and he, finds his passion there. And the relationship between them is love, the real, genuine one (I don’t think I ever felt the love between the male and the female lead characters in a mainstream Telugu film before, as much as I felt in the scene where Charuseela and Harsha meet each other after 3 months, in the second half of the film). It is not a high school (fight with each other type) equation, it is not a damsel in distress falls for the shining knight equation and it is definitely not a love story made for the songs. It is, simply put, the light at the end of a long tunnel. A long dark tunnel full of Tollywood films.

Today, I don’t write this post to appreciate the fact that my favourite hero’s film managed to portray what was deemed to be hopeless and impossible in Telugu Cinema. Today, I write this post because I am genuinely happy as a woman. I am genuinely happy that an industry I grew up watching and giving so much of my time, mind and love to, finally respects me back.

Here’s hoping that Srimanthudu doesn’t remain as a one of a kind film but sets example and standards to all Telugu films in the future and marks the beginning of a much needed change in this industry that we love like no other.

At the Turning of a Road

'Isn't all fiction autobiographical?'

She woke up around 10 am, took a long shower, smiled at the pleasant Sun outside her window and put on a Sunshine coloured cotton dress, slipped on her white shoes and headed out to pursue her favourite Sunday morning activity. Going to the Shakespeare and Company book store, spending hours contemplating, reading, talking to new people and making new friends, every Sunday morning, had become a ritual for her ever since she had moved to Paris a year ago.

There, she met people who wrote books, who read the same books as her, who read much different books, who for once didn’t condemn her views on Jane Austen and didn’t always start a Murakami bashing. She loved those non-judgemental, life is much deeper, let’s ‘read between the lines, for figurative, literal and literature purposes’ conversations. After which she generally walked to the grocery store in the adjacent lane and spent another hour picking some healthy food and followed it by a coffee with her usual book store friends.

But this particular Sunday morning, her spirits seemed a little more joyous than usual.

The elation could be sensed in the air of her walk, for she moved like an angel with hidden wings. There was an aura of determination and confidence that took over her.

As she reached the book store and turned in to take a step, she lost it all. Her confidence left her like a baby out of the womb. A dry, burning and painful sensation in the pit of her stomach, replaced her elation. It had become so dominant that it was now physically painful.

‘This is a familiar feeling, I’ve felt it before,’ she thought to herself but she couldn’t quite place it. When she invested another five minutes to jog the origin of the feeling and emerged a failure, she decided to blame her capricious mind for it.

Not wanting to project her mood on to her friends, she quietly walked toward the languages section of the store, picked up a book she had been eyeing for a while and later seated herself in the mythology section and started reading various versions of Helena’s story and her perspective. After an hour of reading about Helena and buckling herself up for her forthcoming assignment in Greece, she walked ahead to pick up some books on the country.

She had reached a narrow but long room stacked of books. It was the ‘Travel’ section. There were two ancient looking wooden doors that opened into the room on either sides.

She went up to the Greece section to chose a book to read when a man who saw her entering walked up to her and said, “Excuse me, could you help me with this map.”

She turned around, looked at the map first. The man took two steps backwards and said, “Whoa! Hi?”

“Oh. Hi,” she said in a really low tone, trying to sound disinterested. But on the inside, she was blank. She didn’t know what was happening around here.

He then walked ahead and tried to engulf her into one of his big warm hugs which she quickly cut short after a small arm hug. Feeling a little awkward, he said, “It’s been four years. You..you look so different.”

“I know,” she said with a self-ascertained smile on her face.

“Well, that’s new. What are you doing here?” He asked.

“I’ve been here for a year, working.”

“That’s nice. I just moved here,” he said.

“Okay, that’s great. You’ll love this city.”

She looked into the map he was holding in his hands and helped him with the direction to the museum he wanted to visit.

“Hey, I have to go. It was nice bumping into you, see you,” she said and walked out of the wooden door on the opposite end.

He kept looking at her walking away. The farther she walked, the already narrow book store narrowed down further for him. He could see all the stacked books storm off their counters and blind his view once she reached the billing area. “Shit,” he muttered under his breath. A sudden stroke of regret overwhelmed him. He found himself wishing that he had never gotten things to a point where the only way they could see each other was by bumping in.

She, on the other side, got the book she picked up at the languages section billed and walked out of the book store emitting the biggest sigh of relief that had ever existed. She turned to the left and walked away from his sight forever.

He just stood there, motionless. He couldn’t gauge what was happening to him. Amid all the chaos that he had witnessed, he tried to calm himself down and think usefully. He had his answer. He wanted to talk to her this time. He ran out of the store to look if she was still around. But as luck would have it, she wasn’t. His hand immediately reached for his phone and waited for her message, like old times. A good five minutes later, nothing came.

“She wouldn’t make the effort to find out my phone number to message me. Why would she anyway,” he thought to himself while resolving to find her number.

He immediately called one of their mutual friends for her latest phone number and got it within a minute.

Not wasting a single second, he called her asking her where she was and if they could get a coffee.

Sounding wary, she replied saying she was in the grocery shop in the adjacent lane.

So he went there, met her and spent a few minutes while watching her pick up various things for her kitchen.

When she was done, they walked up to the coffee shop, in silence.

“So what’s your work here like,” he asked her after they took their table in the coffee shop and ordered for coffee.

“Well, I work for the UNESCO. For the culture part of it. I basically go around the world, seeing the condition of monuments, assessing them, reading up more about countries and histories, figuring out if we have left anything out and stuff like that.”

“Wow, that is immensely interesting. You’re definitely loving your job here.”

“Of course I am.”

“So I’m writing books, I don’t know if you know,” he said.

“I know. I read them all,” she replied even before he could finish, adding, “They are quite the best sellers, you know.”

“Haha yeah, so I also work for this agency which asked me to move to Paris for a while. I said why not, it’s a great place to write better as well.”

“If you could write any better. Sure. But yes, new ideas and plots, definitely. But like they say, I don’t know how far some imaginative “love” in the air of Paris can help you write better though.”

“Wow, you’ve become really cynical,” he remarked.

To which she flashed another one of her self-ascertained smiles, which was still new for him to see on her face. He was being taken aback by them.

Suddenly, sensing that they were going to run into an awkward silence, he said, “Let me see which book you bought from the store.”

She dished it out for him, the title read ‘El amor en los tiempos del cólera’.

“The Spanish version of ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’, nice. I didn’t know you could understand Spanish.” he said.

“We’ll yeah, started learning new languages a while ago. Did a Spanish course. I was with a Spanish guy last night, started talking to him Spanish only to realize that I was decently good with it. So when I attained enough confidence about the language, this was the first thing I was determined to do. So did you read this book?”

“Yeah, a long time ago. English translation, though. But why did you pick this book out of everything?”

“Well some books stay with you, you know. And this has in a major way. I took an extremely long time reading it when I read it in English around four years ago. The incidents in the book had started resonating with my mind so much that I stopped reading it mid way.”

“What do you mean incidents resonated with your mind?”

“Well, you know, Florentino Ariza was hopelessly in unrequited love. He was pathetic. But Fermina Daza was having a decent time in her marriage. I mean why is he the one suffering with unrequited love. Where is the damn balance. She does not go through any major suffering at all, anywhere in the story. So I stopped when I figured what was happening. When I figured he was going to wait for her for fifty years. I didn’t want to do that with my life. It was really uncomfortable. I couldn’t accept it. So I stopped reading. There is no literary justice, poetic justice. When she comes back to him after fifty years, he should have really walked away, let her die in misery. Now that would be literally justice.”

“So when did you start reading again?” he asked.

“Well, just a few days after, when I figured he had a point. He made sense. He loved her, after all. It’s very hard to stay away, say no, hurt the other person.”

There was silence when she finished. Their coffee had arrived meanwhile.

He took in everything she said and he knew what she was talking about, for he still couldn’t get it out of his head, the way she refused to hug him properly. She still liked him. And he regretted that he didn’t have the capacity to reciprocate it, back then. As a reflex action, he bent forward to her lips and gave her a small but lingering kiss. She cooperated but didn’t kiss him back. He didn’t show any regret.

She lounged back in her chair, looked away, a tear now rolled down her cheek.

A moment later, he said, “hey, I want to go around the city today. Will you come show me around?”

“Well, I am not kissing you under the Eiffel Tower,” she said, got up and walked out of the coffee shop.

He followed her. “When can I see you next?” he asked, his tone almost that of suffering.

“Well, you need to figure out what you just did. And if you don’t regret it, you still need to figure out what is going to happen. If you’ve already figured it all out, like you usually do, you still need to wait, for fifty days at least.”

“Fifty days?” he said, sounding terrified.

“Well then, that’s too much, isn’t it. But it’s better than the five years that I’ve gone through.”

His face fell.

She turned away, grinning brightly and thought to herself, “literary fucking justice. I’ll make him suffer for fifty hours, at least.”

It is not meant to meet the eyes

'Poetry arrived in search of me'

I stood at the threshold

Watched him be so cold;

Gave him valuable advice

To not salvage his love for life.

In solitude I shed silent tears

Telling myself this is not yours,

your love is not wise,

It’s not meant to meet the eyes.

But I’m no saint, cried my evil

Selfish I was like the devil

So I let myself hope for the fine,

That one day his love will be mine.

I sailed through tough times

And continued with my crimes,

Aiming at a distant hollow,

Containing all love my heart could follow.

I was a culprit, filled with hopes

Punishment came in due course.

When I dared to meet my own eye,

The mirror refused to be an alibi.

I gave up to chase a better life

But you never salvage your love for life;

So I decided to wait till the end of time,

Because one day, that love will be mine.