I am not much adept in adjusting to heights, much more in an extremely chilling atmosphere. But that day, the occasion demanded me to comply with the situations and keep my fuss about the unnatural acrophobia, and even more peculiar timing of onset of chills; to myself. The view was exotic to say the least. It was not many days that you get to see your city nightscape laid out before you like some life like canvas of colours and fascination (unless of course you are living on these terrible heights. But I won’t count you in) so I must not complain much as of now.
To let me begin, let’s start with the reason I landed up at that secluded highs of the city tower. As usual and as cheesy and clichéd it may sound, it was my girl. Though this scenario was affected more by innocuous inquisitiveness than adolescent anticipation. There you go, this shows how life can sometimes cheat on you worser than a promiscuous partner…
Our love story is, or rather was never a perfect one. I guess it’ll be too imprudent to call it the greatest or the most touching or associate it with all those frilly epithets you usually come across with love stories. No. Absolutely not! We weren’t like that.
Matter of fact-: Now that you come to think about it… I doubt if ever it was love. I guess we had both succumbed to weak circumstances, which finally culminated into disastrous and mutual misconception.
The fact cannot be ignored that our relationship wasn’t exactly a paradise on earth when she had called me on that high rise, on the New Year’s Eve. I admit this. We were going through that waspishly poisonous phase that descends into almost every relationship. That puppy love, rosey-dovey period seemed to have evaporated, as if it were a myth. Nevertheless we were carrying on with ourselves through those tough waters… Maybe because of an incandescent yet dimming flare of hope from each other, or maybe because of selfish or ulterior reasons of god-knows what inferences, I dunno. Memory of that lull phase between the fall from grace of our love and the developments-laced New Years Eve is still repugnant.
Anyways, it came as a bit of surprise that day, when she called up to meet. And my surprise turned part horror, part suspicion when Leela told me about the time and place of our rendezvous.
Yes, Leela is my girlfriend, who had called me at the dead of the night (though this city never seems to die at all; endlessly droning like some insomniac monster) for some unknown and unfathomable reasons. This particular building had some Frankenstein number of floors, which will be better left unknown, or else I will have to puke on these pages. But if I were to put across an estimate, I’ll bet there were at least half of a century.
Since it was an office premise-cum-shopping arcade, entering the building at given time was not a problem, more so on New Years Eve. Thus staying on the balcony of the 25th floor of that gigantic skeletal glassy bastion was quite easy.
Let me mention you this. If you have ever visited this city you’ll come to accept the commonly acknowledged fact that December nights are no less than rattle breaths of Hades (that lord of underworld in Greek mythology. We correlate because of the freeze of the underworld.) But never in my wildest dreams had I anticipated those breaths to be so damn bitingly cold! These unmerciful gusts of winds moved slowly and deliberately as if they had an impertinent life of their own. As if teasing the already beleaguered man, they would blow like freight trains and seemingly pause at the contact of slightest human touch. One minute on the pedestal and goosebumps had erupted all over my body. Shivering and clattering of my teeth was not out of place after another minute and in the next one, and I started to get alarmed that the progressing inactivity in my body was not because of freezing of my bones!
But the next second, a shadow cut the gleaming slit of light which was falling across the gateway on to the balcony. The shadow was decently tall, beautiful, and seemingly danced like a flickering flame. Slowly it emerged out of the dark corridors to reveal its visage and after so long a time, something within me stirred when I saw her face.
Before some time, seeing Leela had become some sort of a habit. It no longer excited me as it used to do once. It had regressed into something like a daily ritual, like eating food. And who the hell enjoys eating the same food all over again!!?
But on 31st eve, her appearance on the doorway sent shivers and cold rolling over to oblivion, dispelling the cursory darkness in the ambience and enlightening, or rather, enwhitening the gloomy atmosphere. Suddenly blood was surging all through my body, and my heartbeats became extra vigorous. I became conscious of some tinkling in my background, as if someone was playing a particularly soft-romantic note on a piano with a base of violin. It all returned back, those past days of long lost sensation of love, they all came back to me gift wrapped, and with a sprig of bouquet. I felt the same excitement I used to feel when I met her, the same gush of adrenaline pumping through me, making my hand shiver reasonlessly. Somewhere down the line, I was falling in love all over again …
She had dressed impeccably in a black gown, her hair tied up behind in a tight bun, and a look of austere superiority in her make-up less face, shining like a glowing beacon. Her eyes reflected the same blaze they had when we had met for the first time I had proposed her. Her demeanour made me forget the coldness of the night; in fact, it made me forget the coldness we were sharing over the past few months. Things seemed good and right suddenly again.
She crossed the threshold, and came closer. I was facing the door then, with elbow resting nonchalantly on the wrought iron railings. She came over and entwined her fingers in the hand that was resting by my sides; and stood facing the skyline, in an opposite direction. After ruminating the sparkling dots of city lights, she turned her face in my direction to return my affectionate gaze. Even in the darkness, a flare seemed to be dancing in her eyes. Her hand was warm, and her touch affectionate, something that I had sensed only after a long time. After some intent moments of eye talk, she came and pecked my cheeks and whispered solicitously,
“How are you?”
It was this that stumbled me. Not the kiss, but that extra something in her tone, which seemed foreign. I had this unique sensation of tones. Whether she had fought me, or caressed, her tone had always had the same modulation. But that night, suddenly, an extra edge appeared in her greeting. This extra thingy hurt my ears, as if a scalding new, unseen object was slipped into them.
“Me…” I stuttered, partly due to the return of cold and partly due to excitement, “I am fine… nice place, by the way…” I said, unable to keep out a hint of contempt in my tone.
“Oh Arjun…” she sighed, again in the same irritatingly alien baritone.
She took her time to sort out what exactly she had to say. To her it might have been few minutes. To me, it was ages. It was like hanging from a perilous cliff.
Finally she spoke. And when she did, again it felt as if the cold had disappeared.
“How many days has it been since we have enjoyed each others company truly?” she asked, looking over the railings.
“It’s pathetic. Don’t even ask me to recount.” I answered spiritedly, playing with her pinkie. Somewhere her appearance that night raised my hopes.
“I mean don’t you think, we have been pushing the cart too long for our own good?” she continued her diatribe.
Again my heart plummeted. What is this girl up to? Why such melancholic questions?
“Yeah, it’s high time I think we made a difference to our relation.” I continued my endeavour in vain…
“Exactly! That’s why I have called you up here tonight.”
Now if I had been stumbled before, it was nothing compared to what I felt then.
“Here for…? You mean…? Hang on…I don’t really understand you… what’s this all about?” I stammered.
“I mean, isn’t it better to release an agonized jinn from his captivation, than earn his curse?” she spelt her intentions. I, on the other hand, was left to bewilderment for next some moments before the final blow struck.
Was it my imagination, or did actually a shadow had leapt up on her face, I don’t know about it. All I know that something had crossed her silken countenance. Somewhere her expression was contradicting my hopes.
“Arjun…” she said slowly, and tersely, as if emphasizing on each syllable, “I called you here to liberate us from the burden we are carrying from so long…”
There she goes; one card already open. Had it not been her tone and shadows prancing her expressions, I would have taken it as a sure cue to rekindling of flames. But something woefully dissimilar seemed to have been written in destiny.
“Arjun…” she continued in her mildewed narration, “I think its time to move on… to different space…”
She looked up in my eyes. And there I saw the stark reality being played out for the first time, although I did not recognise it immediately then. I saw for the first time in her eyes, not love, not affection, but compassion… Mocking compassion… Laughing compassion… Giggling, guffawing maniac compassion… Compassion disdainful of my weaknesses and failure… Compassion chiding me for my final defeat...
And then the golden slit was again eclipsed by another shadow. The shadow sliced the slit of light in a perfect nodal way, generating a crescent halo across its mass. And through the dust particles falling head-first on the balcony, I understood what her third and final card was…
The shadow stood on the door ledge, cross legged and leaning on the ridge. From the quaint distance, the shadow was giving out the same vibe of mockingness which Leela so painfully displaying to me. I was not able to see the face, but am sure it carried the same scowling grin which was playing on Leela’s lips. She extended her right hand towards me, holding something in her palm, placing the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle our intertwined lives had become.
While my excitement turned into fits of seizure, in a slow and deliberate motion, she brought forward her left hand. On it I saw sitting smugly, a new ring on the third finger. And in her outstretched right palm was the ring I had presented to her in proposal of my emotions.
With a crash of realization that made the winds stop and time still, it all dawned on me like falling dominoes…
She hadn’t come there for any reconciliation…
She was there for the express purpose of ending our sojourn journey together… for ending our foray together into the hell-like-paradise of love…
…In the older tale, it did not turn out like this. It was Arjun who had triumphed over Eklavya… both had vied for the same goal, but in the older tale, fate and history had chosen Arjun. Eklavya had had to back out of the game as a loser, as the mocked one. It was Eklavya, who had to bow his head in obeisance to Arjun’s submission.
But in my tale, it was the unseen Eklavya who had beat out Arjun in the race for love. In the final foil of the deception of human nature, the plot had turned against Arjun. Destiny and love choose this unseen Eklavya over Arjun…
Or rather Leela did…
She left my hand and glided back to the threshold, lost into the gossamer folds of darkness. And then after an eternity of crushing silence, her shadow united with the one on the door… and I could not look further…
I looked at the ring she had returned back to me. A single ray of light hit it from the corridor and the silver glinted in the gold of light strand…I finally came to know it… it was all over… her train had changed tracks…
I looked up at the lacy velvets of the scaffolding that the sky was. Did I imagine it that time, or did the stars had actually backed out slowly from the face of it…? It seemed I was not alone in my sadness…
Sharp at twelve, behind me, in a blast equivalent to that of a cannon, BANG! A shoot flew vertically up at the sky until it reached my eye level. And then, the shoot bloomed in front of me, creating a lavender flower in midst of the sky.
When I again cast a glance towards the sky, all the stars had disappeared… all that was left in the sky to glow were the arbitrary blasts of colours being issued from the multitudes of fireworks, a symbol of celebration, for the new beginning of the New Year…
But there I was, celebrating a new end, all on my own and alone, Here… now… and then…