Letter to an Indian Girlfriend
‘Circumstances compel me to write to you’
How are you? How is your heart, apart from being ruthless? The words I write here carry the mood of those couplets of Mirza Ghalib, but trust me I am not trying to be romantic here.
I am writing because this is the only medium I can use to reach you. I am not performing any stunts to woo you or cheat you into getting us to be together again, as I have done several times.
Though there was a lot of romance and sincerity about ‘cheating you into being with me’, I have realised lately that it is always unfair to force someone into a relationship when they clearly do not want to be in one.
Circumstances compel me to write to you.
My phone rang in the morning today. I had no idea how to react in such a difficult situation, and that too when I was half asleep. I opened my eyes to see a reminder you had set on my mobile phone. You have an appointment with the cardiologist today. I am not sure if you are visiting her. I have no idea what must have changed in the world outside. Perhaps your heart is better now. Perhaps it is not. Perhaps you do not need to visit the cardiologist anymore, now that I am gone. Perhaps your idea of freedom was all your restless heart needed to be at peace.
Are you free now? How does freedom feel? Does it carry the same smell and joy as the idea of it does? Do you miss me any more? Do you still wear the same nose pin?
I would never let go of love but I had no other choice. Your choice mattered more than your position in my life. You still maintain that special status in my heart. I am yet to make sense of the separation. I haven’t yet found that red control button you always had, to turn off love in case of emergency, to shut the heart up.
I might have lost the capacity to love but I still dare a life for you, Indu. That dream still breathes in the suffocated corridors of my home, my heart. You still have my heart.
You know there is a little boy from Downtown. His name is Dilnawaz. He is into pigeon-raising. He has a special mysterious pigeon whose name is Jigar. Jigar delivers messages to people written on small pieces of paper. You tell him the name and address and he delivers your letter. At least that is what Dilnawaz claims. He charges 50 rupees a message.
My filmmaker friend, who told me about Dilnawaz, doesn’t believe in any of his claims. But he is working on a film script based on Dilnawaz and his pigeon. He has never made a film but has bundles of film scripts in his room. I went to his place in the morning and we took his father’s scooter Downtown, to Dilnawaz’s place.
At the entrance an old man walked out and said: “Beyi? Imran Khan kyah wanaan? (And, what does Imran Khan have to say?)” and left.
We had to take a separate staircase to reach the roof where he meets his clients. As we climbed, we saw a girl with a piece of paper in her hand talking to Dilnawaz. Though she was facing us and looking away from Dilnawaz, I couldn’t tell her age because her face was veiled. We had to wait till Dilnawaz was finished with her. She had to tell her boyfriend that she is getting married to her cousin brother. I hope the letter never arrives.
Dilnawaz told us Jigar cannot deliver any letters outside Kashmir, because Jigar cannot fly beyond its territory. But then my filmmaker friend told me the post office was still open. We crossed the old man again and he asked the same question: “Beyi, Imran Khan kyah wanaan?”
Back home, I had to face my father. He isn’t on talking terms with me. He recently discovered the reason behind my tarring lips. I want to tell him how sorry I am for letting him down. I locked myself in my room to write you a letter before I could complete that unfinished letter to my father. Probably I will never write it.
It’s been very long, Indu, since I heard from you. I deleted everything I found of you in the gallery, and cleared all my inboxes except for that silent voice note. I tried everything to forget you. I listened and listened to the silence of that voice note, trying to figure the difference between the silence then and now. I hated you, yet I wanted you to be around. You can ask my pillow for tales of my sleepless nights.
I thought your brutalities could be forgotten and forgiven when I had things more serious and difficult than you to deal with. I thought I too would have my freedom. I thought the wounds would heal. But you kept coming back in these most difficult and serious circumstances here. You are no longer confined to a body. You have turned into everything around me.
You keep coming back. I see you everywhere I see. I see you in those army trucks while I lie inside that ambulance waiting patiently for the hours-long convoy to pass and resisting death at the same time. I see you in those guns levelled against me by those young soldiers, probably somewhere from the northeast of India. I see you and myself together when the tanks march through the besieged streets and I witness something greater than love. I witness war.
I see you standing somewhere in the middle of those misty and smoky and lonely streets, speaking to me in a language I do not understand. You speak to me through those pellet guns. You are the pellets in my eyes, and as I turn blind, I see you again in the darkness of my future.
I smell you everywhere. I feel you in every touch and hear you in the sound of those stray gunshots. Even the pepper gas smells of you. I hear your voice in the roar of those fighter jets the whole night through, while I anticipate being the target for the payload.
So how do I get over you, when all this crap keeps coming back to remind me of you and perhaps your heartlessness? Where do I find that red control button to shut down my feelings? Or a gun to shoot the last bit of that idea of love in the head?
Perhaps language failed us.
I do understand, Indu, that we come from different cultures, but love has a universal language and we all understand it the same way. Didn’t we share the same idea when I became prey to your deceptive self? You made so many promises, Indu. We had such a great time together. Remember those Bollywood films we watched together? That was perhaps the only interest connecting us, apart from our shared idea of love and hate and pain and happiness and desire. We shared every sentiment, every feeling.
Why have you turned blind now, Indu, when the pellets have hit my eyes?
I talked, for hours, to this old woman who lives next door. Her son hasn’t returned home. It’s been around two weeks now. I see her every day waiting outside her door. She tells me about the things she will do when he returns. We share a lot in common. Her longing is what connects me with her. She tells me she sees him in every passer by. She says Indu will contact me once the network resumes and her son comes back.
It sounds so beautiful. Perhaps ideas are always beautiful.
I hope her son comes back but I do not need you any more, Indu. Leave my heart, you couldn’t win it, you managed to occupy it. You don’t belong here. You have your freedom, Indu. Let me have mine. Take away everything that reminds me of you. Take everything that doesn’t belong here in my heart.
Let it beat with the rustling chinar leaves rather than the unmusical clatter of gun shots, the roaring of fighter jets and the war tanks’ rumble.
I do keep waiting for your call, but I no longer want you to call or write back to me even when the network resumes. I will wait for you to never return. I will keep waiting forever for you to never come back. I will wait for a response to this letter but please do not write back.
Let this waiting and longing keep me and the longing of my heart for freedom alive.
ya rabb na woh samjhein hain na samjhenge meri baat
de aur dil unko, jo na de mujhko Zabaa’n aur ~ Ghalib
Perhaps you do need to visit the cardiologist. Please do visit her on the next appointment.
Your old friend,
Is’haq Bhat is an independent filmmaker based in Kashmir.
Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR