“Rain ko, Hindi me, kya khati hain?”
He looks at me, awaiting an answer. But I only caught the inflection at the end of the sentence that hinted of a question.
Shoot. He’s asked me a question. But I haven’t any idea what. Not because I don’t know the vocabulary, but because my mind refuses to stay present.
“Maf kijiye Ji. Phirse boliye?”
Ever patient, he replies, “Don’t apologize. It’s okay. Of course, I’ll repeat it again: “Rain ko, Hindi me, kya khati hain?”
“Barish,” I answer confidently.
“Ha,” he says affirming that “barish” in Hindi, means rain.
Weather is often a subject of my Hindi classes and now that the first clouds of the Indian monsoon have arrived, I am forewarned that it will soon be difficult to hear my teacher’s voice when I hear the evening’s first tear-sized drops begin to pang on the metal roof overhanging our outdoor classroom.
He shuffles through our text book looking for the chapter on passive voice, where we left off before our tea break, and I steal the opportunity to return to my prior consuming thought: “Such an emotional letter. He’ll think I’m a nutcase. But maybe I am. And shouldn’t he know if that’s the case? I certainly feel myself one. This isn’t sustainable. How much easier, calmer life was when I had only myself and independent life to think about! A little mental peace; a little confidence of heart and in who I am. How did I lose these things and get so lost in this?”
Oh no. I’ve done it again already! My teacher, again, is looking at me expectedly. But he also knows.
After a few months of these regular evening sessions, he’s seen my full range of emotions and energy levels. Just as he instinctively knows exactly which clue will jog my memory of the construction of a tense or sentence, I’ve also learned that he always intuitively knows, sometimes better than I do, exactly when and to where my mind wanders.
Knowing my limits, kindly, he offers, “Is it something to do with work? Your students? Your co-leader?”
His eyes are shinning in a way that makes me imagine he offered the first two options just to keep me guessing as to the intuitive powers of which I often accuse him.
I sigh and give in, “I’m so sorry. My mind is just on other matters. You are, as always, right. I guess I’m just still stuck in the last conversation I had with my co-leader….”
“Is it something you’d like to talk about?”
I think back to the room where the conversation took place; to where I was sitting when you said goodbye. When you left, I just sat there, starring at your absence in the doorway for ten minutes. And then suddenly you re-appeared, re-filling that same frame, and I barely had time to realize or believe it before you started, “I went down the stairs and to my bike. And I got on it and started riding down the block, but I just have this feeling that even though you tell me you are okay, and insist that everything is fine, that really, something is bothering you. So I turned my bike around, and here I am. Please tell me if there is something I did, or can do?”
I’m touched by your actions and I feel my eyes well with tears. But I don’t want to cry. And I know if I try to speak, tears will inevitable fall before words. So I protect myself, as I am so accustomed to doing, by white lying: “You are sweet. But really. I am fine. Just fine. Don’t look at me like that. Really! Please go. I have Hindi in an hour and I have to study. I promise you. I’m okay.”
You look around outside the door frame to assure you are free of witnesses, and then you step across the mat on the floor, lean down and place a secret kiss on my forehead, and say, “okay, if you say so.” You then smile somewhat begrudgingly, wish me a happy Hindi class, and disappear out the door. Only when the heavy metal door slams shut, announcing your final departure, do my tears finally escape the physical bond in which I tried to encase them.
A monsoon of tears; unburdening dark and heavy clouds of equally deep and obscured emotions. And as I let them rain down, I feel a tiny fire suddenly lit. And with this fire, yet still under the barrage of unrestrained storm and sentiment, I open up my laptop and start typing. Madly typing. Run-on sentences. Exclamation marks. Question marks in triplicate. I start with my conclusion, build upon no foundation, and end with questions. It’s a tirade; the mindless banter of mental extremes you normally and discretely allow only between you and yourself. But it’s on paper. Or rather in email. And with face flushed by this outburst of sentiments finally, if irrationally, expressed, and with a confidence plucked from the entitlement of my emotional rage, I open up the wireless connections and hit, “SEND.”
Immediately, I put my hands to my hot face and in horror, out loud, stammer, “Oh my God. What have I done?!”
But a quick glance at my watch and I realize I’ll barely have time to speed walk to Hindi class, let alone ponder my stupid, stupid outburst and its inevitable consequences. Inevitable. I hold onto the word, while I gather my belongings and rush out the door with a heavy sigh of retreat and relief. What’s done is done. All I can do now is wait. The rest: inevitable.
While my Hindi teacher is something like the grandfather I never had, with wisdom and gentleness, softened by 60-something years of life learnings and experience, I now look at this loving face and, not out of protection, but honesty, reply softly, “No Ji. It’s not something I want to talk about. But thank you. Just please excuse my behavior this class?”
His eyes smile and he laughs softly. And in this gesture, I know that, just as were he my grandfather, I will always be forgiven. Inventing some made-up excuse on his end, he allows me to end my class early, escorts me to the door, and sees me off with an extra gentle and kind blessing of Namaste.
In the muddy alley of my teacher’s house, cows and goats and puppies have taken shelter, knowing as well as any, from the elevating panging of rooftops, that an equally inevitable storm is impending. Something of a peace comes over me; a mixture of relief and readiness as I look up at the dark skies. I inhale a deep and fresh breath of monsoon air and continue walking, whilst calmly shuffling through my bag for my rain jacket. Hopping puddles at the same time, I finally find my jacket, pull it out, and scout the upcoming intersection for a break in the rickshaw wallahs and homecoming water buffalo through which I regularly navigate the streets.
And there you are.
Leaning against the wall. Like it isn’t raining. Without rain coat or umbrella, but only the softest, and yes — I see it now — sympathetic smile.
My heart falls cushioned as all the noises of India fall silent and the only thing I hear is the rain, which speaks, now, for the two of us. You outstretch a hand, and as mine has already done a thousand times, I accept it. You turn and lead me down the gully, providing me leverage with a strong arm, over the puddles now converging into streams.
We emerge on the final Ghat of the river bank of the most sacred river in India, Ganga-gi. You lead me, still silent, down a few stairs, till we rest hidden in the now black darkness, which conveniently hides an otherwise culturally unpermitted sign of affection. You wrap me in your arms and we look out over the water where lightning, like God-sized and golden cymbals, is clashing against its own reflection.
You then turn me around, and say, “I had a feeling. And I got your email.”
I immediately open my mouth to issue excuses, denials, explanations….
But you stop me before I start, and continue, “I don’t always understand you…”
At this confession, a tear escapes.
With a gentle finger, you brush my tear away, “Let me continue; I don’t always understand you. But it doesn’t matter. Things will come and pass. I don’t have to understand everything you fear or feel. I only want you to know, how much I care for you, that I’ll always be here for you,”
You glance out to Ganga-ji, our only and silent witness to this first and final declaration,
With a soft hand still at my cheek…
“and that I love you.”
Into tears and arms I fully melt.
The declaration I return to you has no hesitation. It started, an unknown time ago, as a whisper in my head — at the end of each sentence, thought or parting glimpse. As paragraphs, chapters of our time together, wound on, that voice like a ball of string grew larger, longer. The low and continuous chanting of the mantra had not far to leap, from thought to speak, and less like words, my declaration to you is returned like the lightning’s reflection of itself on water.
It’s a love story.
A non-fictional one in which I re-live the depth of emotion, romance, commitment and unconditional love in that moment, every day. It’s personal, and maybe the most important story in my life; of course I had to write it. As every love story I’ve ever read, in some way contributed to mine, so let this one contribute to others.
As for you. 1 year, 7 months, 14 days and thousands of daily declarations later, I find myself exactly as many layers deeper in love with you. And when I return to Ganga-ji, next week, I will report to her of the thousand ways in which you’ve held true to your declaration made in her presence. And eyes closed, bowed low, I will thank her, for the countless blessings on that monsoon night, which she so benevolently showered upon us.