(Lovelogue: where love and travel meet)
A journey through Punjab and Himachal and through the unmapped terrains of love.
Piyush’s call asking for evening’s plan woke me up with no enthusiasm. “Let me see..I will update you” saying so I lazed about in bed. The snow capped mountains and the verdant greenery of the valley could be seen through the door to the balcony. Everything looked fresh and beautiful after the drizzle. It’s been two days since I reached Manali. The rooms are done up with minimal furniture with a pretty pinewood theme. It’s around 7 in the evening when the journey from Shimla enlivened with Gary Sandhu’s Punjabi songs on the ghats took me here to this cottage. Mind and body in exhaustion became light and micro in form.
It’s somewhere near Pandoh dam across Beas, Piyush shifted to playing Nusrat’s songs. Like the little rivulets trickling down from the dry hills, memories and pains trickled silently down deep within me. Quite natural that Piyush was unaware of it. Yes, how do we expect people around to get their mind around to what goes within us? The difference between ‘loneliness’ and ‘aloneness’ is rarely understood. He didn’t know that the song he played triggered the memories of the past five days in Punjab and the pangs of those days with her. “Ek aag ka dariya hai dub ke jaana hai”, Nusrat sings.
Neither the ghats nor the song could monoplize my mind. The sultry summer at the coastal town. The first day she had come home. Though we had talked a while on the phone she had carried in her bosom the nimbus of unexpressed love, something which the living presence alone can express. Someone rang the bell. I woke up from my siesta in the living room where the gentle afternoon breeze through the open balcony lulled my day’s exhaustion. There she was at the door with a naughty smile and a proud wink for having given me a surprise. She had always loved giving surprises!! She glowed like a ripe guava. As if to show me her new whilte T-Shirt and all the more to show the caption on it “Me ‘n’ U”, she took off her pink jacket and hurried off to the kitchen with no air of unfamiliarity. She opened the fridge peered into, frowned and grumbled. I ran to the bedroom, did a quick cleaning and hiding and stuffing of clothes lying here and there into cupboards and trunks. Some I rolled into balls and deftly threw into the available space among the mess in the cupboards. A bachelor’s den comes to life and neatness only if there is a visitor who needs to be impressed. The refreshing floral scent of her presence spread in the rooms. By the time I entered the kitchen after a quick self approval in the mirror wearing jeans and kurta, I saw her pouring tea into two cups. She had opened the window of my kitchen to the land adjacent that had a grove of jackfruit & mango.
Sitting in the living room sipping her special ginger tea we continued talking about Punjab from where we had stopped last night on the phone. The Punjabi qissa about literature and music. I have always praised the beauty and sensitivity of her fingers. In order to bask in the luxury of my love for her fingers, she kept stretching them towards me when she went on talking. They flowed towards me like the five rivers of Punjab. I drank thirstily from them, smelt and relished the fragrance and flavor of Punjab through her dense locks and lips. She got ready to leave. Though we hadn’t had enough of each other I didn’t force her. “Papa will be waiting for me….aur main itni velli bhi nahi hoon” saying this she fondled me like a working mother leaving for work with promises to the child of better times ahead. She drove off like a bee on her princess pink scooty against the yellow boulevard of cassia in full bloom. I stood in the balcony looking in her direction, surrounded by the heady fragrance she left behind.
After four days she will be leaving for her home town in Patiala. She shared this sobbing on the phone last night. It would be a long separation, she would be back only in June. Settlement of some family issues about property for her parents, then the usual things and the festivals. We both cried on the phone last night thinking of the impending separation. Three months!!! Three days seem like years!! Her father had come to this coastal town and settled down when she was twelve years old. Now she is twenty five. Her paternal grandfather was one among many who had to exile from Punjab during the Partition. Now there is a huge colony of Punjabis here. In this hot summer, she conquers me here at home, at many of our secret meeting places with her surprises and with the delicious flavors of her land. In these two months she has fed me with amritsari kulcha, sweet lassi, saag sabji,makki roti and churi.
The day before she was to leave for Patiala, I got a call from her. “Where are you? Come out. Come to the balcony”. I rushed to the balcony and saw her sitting on her scooty wearing a pretty ghaghra and choli. Snapping her fingers with a swag she asked me to hurry down. I was getting ready and she kept honking. Leaning against my car, she shouted to me, “chaabbi fenko…”. I couldn’t resist an impressed smile at her weirdly amusing ways and happily obeyed her order. When I came down ready, I saw her meditatively munching some toffees picked up from the dashboard. We drove towards the church on the hill. On the way she played some good Punjabi and Hindi songs. She kept stretching her adorable cheeks towards me like a gazelle as I fondled her behind her lobes. In her impatience to share everything about her Punjab, she talked about her ghaghra choli. On the way where we stopped among the lush greenery, she looked like a ripe leaf in her yellow attire. We sat on the hill till sunset looking at the horizon. The setting remains even after the sun sets. There on the vantage point of love we snuggled up together securely caught in the noose of love. Love makes everything look fresh, everything around suddenly comes to life, the trees, the seasons, the sky and we gather wings, life gets a purpose, a meaning. That’s the alchemy of love, its incredible magic to turn the mundane into the miraculous, the bland into the colorful. We looked into each other’s eyes for long. If you can look into each other’s eyes and see beyond you’re in love. We hugged passionately. Lifting her lehenga I kissed on the mole on her hips. “I can’t think of a day without you. This whole city will be so deserted and lifeless”, I whispered in her ears.
The journey from Chandigarh was meant for Amritsar. When the train stopped at Ludhiana, her thoughts came rushing. She had told me profusely about the city. I hardly spent two days at Chandigarh in one of the hotels in sector 22. She used to love her Patiala for its blend of tradition and modernity and felt that though Chandigarh is a beautiful city, it is like any other cities. I explored the city by e-autos and hop on hop off bus service. The evening brought a fresh air of experience with the loud celebration of a birthday on the bus top. The Rock Garden on the banks of Sukhna is like an oasis where rural life,nature and everything that is so genuine and essential are recreated as a reminder to the receding human harmony with nature.
One of the days when she talked about Sahir Ludhianvi when we went for a boat ride in the serene backwaters, she read out lines from Amrita Pritam’s poem “main tenu phir milaangi”. She spoke so passionately about each line and somewhere when the words disappeared and we saw tears in each other’s eyes, we burst out hugging like a river that breached its banks. Somewhere far off on the banks of Sutlej we lay naked against the beautiful twilight sky.
Between Sutlej and Beas lies Doaba or Jalandhar. It’s not a city unfamiliar to sports enthusiasts. Five years ago when I visited Ghalib’s haveli in Balli Maran, every corner of my mind echoed the melodious tunes of his poetry in the soulful voice of Jagjit Singh and Chitra Singh from the serial by Gulzar. A moonlight tryst on the beach she had something really special to share about my favourite singer from Jalandhar and his unique contribution to music. She said, “You know, many have given music to Ghalib’s poetry but Jagjit doesn’t impose his knowledge on poetry but gives it the deserving musical touch being extremely sensitive to its beauty and depth.” She became wildly excited and an unusual glow of rebellion and indignation in her eyes unleashed eloquence on the wounds and woes of Punjab, the lost paradise. Her concern for her land intensified while she spoke of drug abuse among the youth and the complacency of the middle class who preferred a life of comfort to agriculture. A derisive laughter on the stereotypes about Punjab shown in films with romance, tractors and agriculture nailed it. “ਮੈਂ ਆਪਣਾ ਪੰਜਾਬ ਗਵਾਇਆ ਹੈ” (main apna Punjab gawaiyan) saying this she broke into my lap like the crest of a huge wave that broke. We sat silent for long. I could feel her tears making my lap more tender. Looking at the bluish sea, I hummed “Dil hi toh hai na sangh-o-khisht dard se bhar na aaye kyun“. She said, “jaanu, whenever I listen to Jagjit’s voice I feel so lost and depressed like a ship without anchor”. There was a sudden change in her. She turned restless, hysteric and ecstatic. She held my hands tight and started crying bitterly. The waves on the full moon night rose high in lunatic frenzy. She rested her head on my lap and we sat on the seashore of endless love. She kept cuddling more and my arms holding her close to me grew warm and tender. How beautiful is this journey of love!! No diversity is unknown to it, submerging and emerging from every peril on its way, freezing and melting, torn down and built again, worn and born again it journeys on.
It was a sweltering afternoon when the train reached Amritsar. As intimated, Gurdeep Singh was at the station waiting for me. His bike manouvered the narrow galis to a traditional inn close to the Golden Temple. Amritsar is one of the hottest places in Punjab. After a bath I sat on the balcony from where I could see the beautiful dome of the holy shrine. She sent me pictures of her palms decked with mehndi from Patiala. And also her arms with red and white chudas (bangles). It shocked me as this is done during one’s wedding. A naughty smiley followed the message, “dar gaya? Hehe..this is just to surprise you. Am at a wedding here. Qila Mubarak”. Though it relieved me, the shock didn’t wane at once. For Qila Mubarak she wrote, “I am at Patiala”. Then came a spate of colourful pics of the bride shaking her chooda and kalire on her. She appeared dazzling in her blue Patiala suit and her face shone with a hitherto unseen bliss. It is a belief that if a part of the kalire falls on any girl’s head, she would be the next bride.The following day saw my phone flooded with photos of her childhood clicked from an old album with the tagline “presenting you dad’s princess”. The smile hasn’t changed all these years. Maybe that’s the way it is with everyone. There is something that doesn’t age. I got ready in the blue Patani suit she had got for me on my birthday.
Gurdeep explained in detail the history and rituals of the Golden Temple and of the Sikhs. After the delicious langar I sat till ‘sukh-asan’ by the serene ambience of the sarovar. Gurdeep gifted me a ‘kada’ and I retired to my room for the night. She rarely spoke about the partition of Punjab or the blue star operation. It upset her beyond imagination. Not everyone in Punjab is a Sikh. She is a Hindu Brahmin. A visit to the Partition Museum and Jalianwalabagh left me drained of energy and elan. The crack of bullets and the wail of the dispossessed reveberated in every nook and corner of my mind. Neither Amritsari kulcha nor the varieties of lassi prepared at the inn could cool my burning chest. Vishal promptly arrived in the afternoon to take me to Wagah Border. During the patriotic ceremonies there the faces of people on both sides of the border left a deep imprint in me. On the way back in the taxi, the gut-wrenching picture of a joint family that saw loss and bloodshed surged up my mind.
It’s drizzling here again. The view from the balcony fills me with a strange melancholia. Sipping coffee and patting Kokko I sit here looking beyond the silhouette of hills and the valley wrapping itself gradually in foggy blanket. The dogs of the hills, I have heard, are moody. True, see his eyes, there is some deep sadness though he loves my pat. It was on a rainy evening she came home crying loud like a girl who had a bad day at school. I have never seen her cry like that. We sat on the bed and I tried to console her wiping her tears and kissing her. She was struggling for breath. Between her sobs she broke the news. Her marriage is being finalized!!!! He is a paternal relative who works as an officer in the Indian Army. His parents were there for the wedding at Patiala but she wasn’t told about the plans till the day she returned here after our long separation of three months. We both cried bitterly on each other’s shoulders feeling so defeated and helpless. We discussed various alternatives but nothing seemed practical. Her parents would never approve of a love marriage. The worst wounds and bruises of separation are within, deep and unseen. “Don’t you remember the night I sent you those pics of mine with bangles and mehendi?? You know jaanu, that night for once I lived every bit of our togetherness in my imagination. What a blissful moment it was for me you know. I felt like a bride for you…when a girl is deeply in love, she is liberated from everything like a child. Those heavenly days of kite flying and hopscotch are back..but..”
We cried like orphaned siblings one of whom is adopted against wish. In a couple of days I got a call from an unknown number. It was she. Her phone is under the custody of her parents and she requested me not to send messages or calls to that number anymore. The new phone and number is known hereafter only to us. She keeps it silent and hidden. “How pathetic and shameful it is to hide your love for someone like an insidious disease!!!!” she said. We waited for stolen moments to talk or write to each other. How ironical you see, true lovers appear like outlaws!!! Gradually I saw the symptoms of Depression in her voice and messages. It was true. Her friend from Patiala called me and shared the details of her mental condition. I was shattered. I felt so lost unable to communicate. She became more inaccessible day by day. Each time the bridge came up the river widened and we were lost on the banks helpless and heartbroken.
One morning she came home looking like a withered flower. Sitting on the sofa hugging me close she burst into tears. I tried to tie her unkempt hair and comfort her. But I saw something strange in her expressions and behavior. She kept rubbing her palms, panted and looked at me with wide open eyes in fright as if I were a stranger. It’s a scary sight!! Those eyes that once lit every corner of my soul with unfathomable love looked so appallingly drab. I struggled in vain to hold my tears. In her bag I saw anti depressants and the prescription!!! Omg!! “My heart sinks jaanu, like the way you feel when a flight takes off, or when you are on a giant wheel. In fact, hundreds and thousands of times more than that. These tablets are to keep the balance.” Saying this she wiped my tears and tenderly kissed my droopy eyelids with a long hiss that showed their reluctance to part. “But how long?”, I asked. She gave a scornful smile. To my dismay, I could sense something strengthening within her. She is no more in pain and the increasing indifference scared me because it is a clear sign of deep depression.
Next morning a gentle voice on the phone woke me up. It was her father. As per his request we sat at a sea side restaurant. “See, she is under treatment. And therefore, the most important thing she has to do is to go away from you and your memories. We are leaving for Patiala for a few months. Her treatment will be continued there. We need her badly. Her elder sister’s love marriage has ended up in a divorce after severe conflicts and tension. She has also seen the tough times we had been through. But when you came into her life, she was in a dilemma. She loves you and can’t think of separation from you. Please understand, we can’t accept this. I know your pain and situation. Take a break, take a transfer, go travelling and exploring places. Everything will be alright. The boy and his parents are really good people, my distant relatives too. We have asked them a couple of month’s time for the engagement. They understand us.”
A couple of months passed. Unable to bear the excruciating pain of her absence, I sought refuge in counselors and travelled alone but wherever I went her presence became more and more intense. “Is there a better tribute to love than to be sick in love?? You see, I have fallen ill for you, for our love”. Her words resounded every nook of my mind. She rained on me, around me and within me. I opened her letter with considerable apprehension, “jaanu, please forgive me. I have started accepting the fact that you are not with me. But I can never and I will never accept the fact that you are not mine. My love for you will never perish; it will remain in me like the glorious memories of my undivided Punjab and like the unhealable wounds of Partition. There is no poetry more alive than Love.” She ends the letter quoting the song which she used to whisper in my ears, “Tusi kehri rutte aaye…” Ineffable pangs of separation, the helplessness of love, guilt and many more unsaid dripped down from her right slanted scrawl.
Her friend from Patiala called me up and said it. Yes, I heard it. Omg!! What a surreal moment!! The upcoming winter will deck her arms with mehndi and chuda and she will be someone’s bride. The walls and windows of my house that once came to life in our soulful union heard my helpless wails and sobs. Like a child alone on seashore with a snapped umbilical cord, I cried for help. The cocoons of seclusion within the four walls gave me more relief and I avoided people. I knew no soul could help me. The thought of visiting her in Patiala and talking to her parents also consumed me but in deep empathy for her condition and in overpowering concern for her freedom to be happy and healthy, I decided otherwise. Though this derailed me and left me orphaned, writing poems for her and for our indelible nanoseconds of togetherness proved to be cathartic for some time. We stood on the opposite banks of the river and the lone bridge lies broken and is lost in the current. Yes, love is no less a natural calamity.
Piyush reminded me to be up and ready by 4 in the morning if I had to reach Rohtang pass. I didn’t feel hungry and decided to call it a day with a bowl of soup. Next morning Piyush took me in his car to Gulaba. Another car took me ahead to Marhi. Since the pass is closed, I had to be happy with Marhi. The brief hours spent there playing in the snow and watching couples and families playing and posing for pics made me feel empty. Back in the room after a quick bath and lunch I dozed off. In the evening among the huge Deodar trees that surrounded the Hadimba temple I felt something inexplicable after so many years. The place with its untouched wilderness added to a transcendental experience.
The chill increased by night. She is here in this log home with me, around me. I feel her breath on my shoulders and we converse. She is somewhere in the chill longing to be with me. But we both stretch our arms in vain. At once someone knocked the balcony glass door. My blood ran cold in the dark room. I tiptoed towards the door, parted the curtains and saw her staring right at me pleading, “jaanu, please open..” the outline of her disheveled locks in the darkness seemed like a tangled bout of stress she was in. Beneath the blankets across her shoulders she shivered violently and craved for warmth. I opened the door to hug her off from all the anguish. But there was no one in the balcony!!! The maple trees and terraced maize fields in the fog appeared like faint shadows of the past. The wind howled on like the moan of a disgruntled soul. I feel her presence and her pining for me. Love’s vocabulary is alien except to the lovers.
I remember that rainy night, when she read out lines from Pash’s poetry till we cried ourselves to sleep. Why did we cry? I don’t know. Maybe for the impregnable questions the poet’s ember like eyes pierced us through, or the indomitable power of honesty, I don’t know why we cried our hearts out. Under the twin towered bridge she gifted me the copy of a book of Pash’s poems saying, “I have written something for you on one of the pages…dhoond lena”. Since then I have been searching for it. I keep searching days and nights.
On the way back from Manikaran where hot springs in the midst of biting chillness keep the visitors tongue frozen in surprise, I kept gazing at the abundance of the gigantic Deodars. Reading the glint of wonder in my eyes, Piyush said, “No one knows the life span of Deodars. They’re almost immortal. Once they catch fire, no force on earth can extinguish it.”
By Santhosh Kana