Rain in my heart

Anjana Basu

It was in the days when Vrish was still in his dilemma - 'to be or not to be my boyfriend'. I had stopped believing he’d ever snap out of it. Besides, he had set a policy of 'you go out and I go out' since we were in different countries. He used to say he was being considerate. I was sure that meant he was planning to date girls from his campus in the States.

It’s raining and that always makes me nostalgic. The picture on the wall is crooked. Vrish’s picture. I think the wind did it. Is that significant?

It was first of March of 1997 when I went to Kalyan Mukherjee’s birthday party. He played chess with my dad, and had been my tutor for calculus and physics.

Well...he was a very nice person but a bit boring, he never ever talks about anything other than chess, physics or his University. And yes, occasionally his nephew who was in my college, but whom I had never met.

(I tell you God punishes… that’s why He has sent the rain today and tilted the picture. Rain after two dry monsoons one after the other.)

His nephew's name was Neel. He was dark, my god, he was so dark the light bounced off him with blue highlights. Good thing he was a boy, hunh?

At the party, we were introduced to Kalyan Mukherjee’s family. Actually his sister's family, since it was at her house that the party was taking place. Kalyan Da talked to Ma, Papa and me. But he rambled eternally on chess and chess tournaments.

I heard strains of flute music from the other room and wandered in. It was Neel playing. We hit it off immediately! I swear it wasn’t our intention, but we started to not talk. We would start phrases and never finish the ideas, because we already knew what we would say. Then someone thought that we were getting along TOO well, and decided to call his girlfriend and tell her to come over.

It was Kalyan Da’s party and only family members were there. That's why it looked really strange when Rukmini showed up.

She watched us for a while not talking, it wasn’t intentional, I swear, then got furious, said her stomach ached and went home. But not before asking Neel to play a piece on his flute. She asked him to play a tune something with Rain. Oh...he played it beautifully!

Yes that’s the one! Rain In My Heart. Grief, monsoons, lost love and a dark guy playing the flute. Pure kitsch, right?

Well, I had no intention of getting between them. But Neel didn’t seem to care if she was jealous or not. We were both interesting to each other for the simple reason that it was like looking at ourselves in different bodies. By the time my parents called me to leave the party, we had exchanged telephone numbers and had agreed on talking frequently to keep studying the phenomenon.

Only the 'frequently' started that same night. He called me at 1 am and we talked until the sun came up. We talked every night until dawn for a time that seemed forever.

Two weeks after I had met Neel there was a chess tournament in Ghatshila. Since both my dad and Kalyan Da were Class A players they intended to go. Neel and I convinced them to take us along.

Sorry.... I had to leave suddenly... I’ll tell you the rest of the story after I shut the window! The room is full of water, it’s trickling down the walls and spattering the bookcase!

Where was I?

We were very excited about going to Ghatshila. We were planning on having the time of our life, enjoying the same things we loved with ourselves in another person. You can see that we’re both narcissists.

So we started to flirt with each other. It was fun seeing someone play your own tricks on you. For the same reasons.

Still, it was interesting for him and for me, to see what weapon the other had chosen. Then we would simply take the intention and dismiss the action, like absorbing the vitamins without eating the fruit. A game of flattery. A dangerous game of tactics and self-love. A sword of double-edged sharpness.

We went to Ghatshila. It was lovely there. The temperature was perfect for flowers to bloom and for birds to sing. Papa, Ma and I arrived there at noon. The tournament wouldn’t start for at least an hour. I hadn’t talked to Neel the night before, and even though I knew his uncle had told him he would take him, it was yet not confirmed. It was almost 1 pm, and Kalyan Da was nowhere to be seen.

It was quite a bit past 1 p.m. and he still hadn’t arrived. Thank goodness punctuality is an abstract concept here, because the tournament didn’t start until much later. Finally, when I was planning what solitary card games to play and what book I was to read first during the weekend, when I was trying to pick up my mood from being buried in miles of disappointment, a lorry drove up. From the back of the lorry, Kalyan Da jumped out.

Nobody else jumped off the vehicle when the driver started the engine.

Nobody jumped off when it started to drive away.

I reconsidered doing crossword puzzles, the smile still on my face.

The pick up drove off.

Kalyan Da had finished greeting my family and the rest of the people. Then I noticed a guy standing where the lorry had been. A guy with battered jeans and a plaid kurta with the sleeves rolled up. A guy with a flute in his hand and a mischievous grin. My heart wanted to jump out. Only Neel noticed that.

Ma and I left Papa at the tournament and returned to the hotel. Neel and Kalyan Da were staying at the place where the tournament was being held. Some time later Ma and I went by to pick Papa up after his game. Time went by as fast as light. And my parents and I ended up spending lots of it with KM and Neel. On Saturday evening, I was supposed to meet up with Neel so I walked the three blocks from the hotel to the tournament place. I’d told Ma I was going to be by the hotel's aviary with him, but somehow she forgot. She went directly to pick up Papa, thinking I was there. In the meanwhile Neel and I had noticed that Ma had forgotten us, so we walked back to watch the birds.

It rained and we huddled close to the cages watching the curtain of water shutting us in. We huddled closer to each other than to the cages. Do I have to tell you that?

Somewhere in our conversation, we remembered his visit to my house during the week. It had been a happy torture for both of us. We had been trying to determine who gave in to whom. Whose skills were better. Whose mind was stronger. Who wanted the other more.

Neither of us really knows how we kissed that day. Perhaps the rain did. Perhaps Neel and I were falling in love.

We had forgotten about our 'normal' relationships. Rukmini and he weren't getting along at all. They weren’t even talking and when they were it was not nice. I had no hope of Vrish. I was sure he was never going to get serious. He had been going over and over his old dilemmas since 1993.

Neel and I were an interesting couple. We craved each other because it was like being with ourselves in a sense. It was being with a person that would do exactly what one would do; say exactly what one would have said. Feel like one. Think like one. There was no question about it. We understood each other perfectly without having to explain. Up to this day, that still hasn't changed.

And he’d do crazy things like stand outside my window at night and play the flute. Especially when it was raining. I’d wake up to the crash of the thunder and see the lightning flash and then I’d hear it. That slow birdcall.

I can tell you a whole lifetime has passed by since then.

We were planning on surprising my brother by inviting him over to my house, and having Neel show up too.

My brother is very important to us both. And he was deeply hurt because neither of us told him and he had known for some time already. He knew, he said, just by the way we behaved. And by the way we smelled. (Believe me, we are clean people... we smell nice…but I guess Neel lingered on me and I lingered on him).

After that Neel and I decided to break up, before we hurt more people. He went back to Rukmini. I thought about Vrish.

The tragedy was that when Vrish came back for summer that year, he finally made a move. He proposed. And in a burst of truth telling, I told him about Neel and the rain.

One month later, he confessed he had kissed a girl in the States, in his University. My blood boiled, but he was in his rights. I understood that I had no domain over times outside our times.

And then he stabbed his hand with an ice pick.

I wouldn’t do that even if I were forced. No, no! I’m too practical for that. Depression is good up to a point. It should never take over. Not me or anyone I love.

And definitely not for something that happened before "us".

Vrish felt if he hadn’t dilly-dallied for so long and asked me to marry him earlier, none of it would have happened.

And the truth is, he was totally right. If I had been Vrish’s fiancée I would have never considered anything else. Not even because of the rain.

Except…no, I’ve thought about it.

That would never work. It wasn’t an everyday thing...not even an every month. Sometimes I wouldn’t see him in several months. But then I’d see him several times in one month. And I would remember the rain. And I would see him remembering.

He called me as soon as Vrish went back to the States. I still said no. We’ve hurt too many people that don’t even know we’ve hurt them. But that flute calls on rainy nights, like a bird mourning its lost love. That damn flute…

Anjana Basu is a writer based in Calcutta. She has 5 novels, a book of short stories and two anthologies of poetry to her credit.Her byline has appeared in Vogue India, Conde Nast Traveller India, and India Today Travel Plus.


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