(A tale of two post-breakup romantics we meet in our daily lives).
I shared a two-bedroom flat with three guys in a not-so-costly area in Ahmedabad called Fatehpura. If you walk a mile from the Paldi bus depot without getting run over by an autorickshaw or a Tourister that plies between Vasna and Paldi, you’ll be in Fatehpura. The apartment we lived in overlooked the main road across which there was nothing but an empty plot. View from balcony wasn’t exactly nice.
I became friends with an Andhra guy named Chaintanya Sharma but I used to call him – in a very typical Tamilian way – Reddy-gaaru. Then there was Roopesh who remained “Roopesh” because he didn’t seem like a guy who’d respond well to nicknames. There was a fourth guy who I rarely saw. I don’t even remember his name. He worked night-shifts and lived in three different places so he came in occasionally – usually when I was leaving for work.
* * *
Like most guys in their mid-twenties, both Reddy-gaaru and Roopesh fell in love at some point of time in their lives. Only very close friends discuss their girlfriends so we never got around to talking about their romantic stories much. But sometime during those three years that I lived with them, both of them suffered their first love-related heartbreak – a breakup.
I got to know of Reddy-gaaru’s breakup much later by piecing together snippets of his utterances about love and life. I asked him why his name had “Sharma” which is usually a North Indian surname but he shrugged and said he didn’t know. And didn’t care. He was the calm, quite and happy-unto-himself kind of a guy who was very jovial and friendly on the outside but still kept his truest emotions and stories to himself.
Roopesh’s breakup was a drama with a scary “Act One”. One day, I settled down on the couch to watch a movie when he stormed into the room. One look at his face and I knew that he had found out who was stealing cigarettes out of his pack. I was getting ready for a knock-out punch to my stomach that would make me vomit the truth and apologize – but he just went straight ahead into his room and locked himself up. I heard a harsh, “Fuck you, love!” and then he never came out in over four hours.
I know it was over 4 hours because he went in when the title card of Cheran’s Thavamai Thavamirundhu came up on my laptop. By the time he opened the door, the movie was almost over. I had gulped down about two bottles of water – and it was a wintry December. There were two toilets in our apartment but the one in Reddy-gaaru’s room was out of order. The other one was beyond the closed door that led to Roopesh’s room. On that day, I swore that if there was anything harder than a breakup, it was holding back the urge to pee. I still hold that opinion.
* * *
The sun washes the balcony of our apartment in the mornings. In the winters, there’s no better place to be for a skinny guy. I was puffing Wills and sipping green tea – I had finally cracked the code to making the perfect green tea only recently – and I was relishing both the aroma and the success when I smelled something burning. I rushed to the kitchen and found Roopesh lighting up a few letters and a couple of photos of himself and his ex. Now, Roopesh is a stout guy. Well-built. I thought I’ll ask him to stop this nonsense but he’s the kind of a guy that can kick my ass when I am sober and he is drunk. And he could do that thrice in one night. Besides, there was this cigarette affair that I was scared of. So I just watched for a while and returned to my tea – which had become cold and tasteless by then. Damn.
Four days earlier, Reddy-gaaru was reading something on his laptop. There was a smile on his face but his eyes were sad and welling up. I couldn’t resist asking him what the matter was and he showed me some of the letters he had written to her, some letters she had written to him, some photos of her that he said were his favorites and some interesting screenshots from Facebook and Whatsapp – of conversations that didn’t make much sense to me but I think they meant a lot to him. He was preserving all this. I knew he had broken up so I asked him why he was doing this to himself. “Doesn’t this make you miss her more and feel bad about the past?” He said something like, “I miss her love more than I miss her, actually.” And then he quoted Rumi but I am not really good at these things so I don’t remember. But it was nice.
* * *
The only costly thing in our apartment was the Bose speaker system. If a burglar broke into our apartment, I’d recommend that he steal that one first. In fact, just take the speaker system and get going. That will fetch you enough bounty to last a few months if you spend frugally. But we all loved that system very much.
So one day, I was streaming one of Roopesh’s favorite songs via my laptop to the Bose speakers. Roopesh came charging at me – or more precisely, my poor laptop – and fumbled with it. I asked him, “kya kar rahe ho bhai?” and he curtly asked me to stop the playback. I did. And I was surprised. This was one of Roopesh’s most favorite songs. “Favorite” like you know how – you play the song on such an infinite loop that, ultimately, people around you hate you and the song because it’s been on a frigging loop for two days.
It was his favorite song because it was his ex’s most-favorite song too. Post-breakup, he began listening to fewer songs because most of his favorites were his ex’s too. Whenever Reddy-gaaru or I played one of his “ex-favorites” on the speaker, he’d ask us to turn it off or listen to them on earphones. Reddy-gaaru would just gracefully stop the playback but I – despite the guilt of stealing cigarettes from Roopesh – would plug my earphones and continue listening to the song. What the heck, man.
Every morning, I’d hear Rahman’s Moongil Thoattam filter through Reddy-gaaru’s room. At first, I thought this was his alarm #2 because the first alarm was a generic tri-tone. But on the second day, I discovered that the song played fully. He was listening to the song first thing in the morning. Reddy-gaaru’s music preference was interesting: he listened mostly to Rahman’s Tamil compositions, despite being what Tamilians call “a golti”. He could even sing the songs. Of some songs, he understood the lyrics too. It took me a lot of time to figure out that his ex was a Tamilian and that was how Reddy-gaaru understood those lyrics.
Not unlike Roopesh, Reddy-gaaru liked Moongil Thoattam precisely because it was the most-favorite song of the girl he loved. I was surprised how he could start the day with that song – I assumed that it would be very hard to start the day missing someone, or with memories that invariably end in hurting you. But Reddy-gaaru was different. He sure was.
On some Sundays, he’d listen to other favorites on his earphone, lying on the couch with a peaceful smile on his face while Roopesh was on the balcony moaning about a distant past to some friend on the phone. As for me, I’d slip into his room for a Wills.
* * *
I think Roopesh is that annoyingly funny guy who asserts incessantly, “I’ll get over her. I’ll move on. Yes!” Vehemently. Sometimes so firmly that it borders on a vengeful attitude. But these guys never do move on. The taste of defeat lingers on their lips for a long long time.
Reddy-gaaru rarely spoke of her. And when he did, it was with that peaceful, “no-regrets” smile on his lips that would narrate happy, romantic snippets from his time with her. I think his love never ceased. I think he was hurt but not broken.
On the day I moved out and went back to Chennai, I asked Chaitanya to promise me that he’ll not drown in her memories, that he’ll find another love. He smiled and said something like, “You don’t find love. Love finds you,” and winked. And then he quoted Rumi again. I forgot what he said. But it was nice.
Five years later, Roopesh called to say that he broke up with his third girlfriend of the season. And then he informed me that Reddy-gaaru died in a freak accident for no fault of his. I spent months recovering from the shock. It’s been years but the sickening feeling you get in your stomach when you miss someone exists to this day.
When people say “Love is life”, I think it’s because we’ve figured out neither. May be Reddy-gaaru figured out both. I think he did.
(This is a work of fiction in case it wasn’t obvious.)