God of Love: A Literary Adaptation
Clad in a maroon polo-neck, he walks with his head tilted towards the ground, perhaps, in an attempt to hide his grey-bearded partially bald face from the scorching Mumbai skies. His shoulders are weary as he turns towards an old two-storeyed building, with yellow coated brick walls that almost oddly synchronize with the warm yellow of the sky. He looks up as he hears a young man, from the top storey of the building screaming to the watchman who appears to be repairing a small lamp at the entrance on the ground floor, asking him, in a thick Bengali coated accent, “Gaurav, check if the lamp is working now? I have tried everything!” and almost immediately hears Gaurav retort, irritatedly, “Try again. It is still not working!”. As he enters the building, Gaurav looks at him, surprised.
“Sir, you came back early today!”, he exclaims. The old man without stopping to talk, responds with a quick, “Arrey no! I will head out again” and continues to walk along the long corridor. The house is warm and cosy, painted with a shade of green that you would only see the city wearing during monsoon. He continues to hear the watchman arguing with the electrician, as he quickly sifts through rooms, and walks towards a wall to pick up a worn-out racquet that is oddly placed among six similarly coloured hats.
And suddenly, cutting through all the noise, he hears loud tunes of classical jazz, the kind that would immediately transport you back to the early 90s’. The song seems to be surfacing from one of the rooms in the house. Perplexed, he makes his way up the stairs and finds that with each step, the music only gets louder. He quickens his pace, scanning each room and pauses, as his eyes see her.
Dressed in a plain pink t-shirt and a floral printed skirt, with a dupatta entangled across both her elbows, there she was, moving from left to right, eyes closed, wobbling her head and swaying her hair, visibly lost to the beats of the blaring jazz rhythm. He stands at the bedroom window, quietly and continues to watch his seventy-year-old wife, a smile escaping his wrinkled face. And as though sensing his mild gaze, she opens her eyes only to see him grinning and suddenly, the smile on her face disappears. At a loss of words, she stands there, quickly moving her hands to her back in a failed attempt to hide her dupatta. The music continues to clamour, as she takes one nervous step towards him.
“Why are you smiling?”, she asks quietly. “I can’t hear you”, he responds, “I think the music is too loud”. She moves towards the table and turns off the music.
“Why are you smiling,” she asks again, her voice laced with anger. “I am not,” he responds, nodding his head, with an air of defence.
Blushing, she purses her lips and begins to move the armchair back to the middle of the room, in an endeavour to avoid meeting his gaze. “I thought you had gone to play squash. What are you doing here? And can you please stop smiling like a duffer!”, she says exasperated.
He chuckles, “I had. I just forgot my racquet. What were you doing?”. He continues to stand at the threshold as he watches his wife move towards the mirror, hysterically tying and then untying her hair. “What do you think I was doing?”, she grimaces.
“Dancing?”, he questions teasingly. “Genius!”, his wife exclaims her embarrassment at the sudden appearance of her husband, now, very apparent. “I was just never aware of that. Is that the reason you never accompany me to gymkhana?”, he quizzes. “Oh wait, wait, wait”, he exclaims with a sudden revelation and makes his way towards the bedroom door, “No wonder Shamik complains about the loud music. He said we throw parties every Sunday. I told him that he is a crazy old Bawa and that he should go see a doctor. He does not play with me anymore and he returned the racket. Remember? Now this!”, the man continues to laugh, pointing at his racquet and lovingly gazing at his wife.
“Listen, why don’t you go play squash?”, she retorts. He chuckles again, “I think I will stay for a while. So, Dancing?”He continues to lean against the wall and smile at her. “Are you going to continue to stand there like a statue?”, she questions, her hands on her hips.
The old man slowly makes his way towards the armchair, and as he proceeds to take a seat, she says, “Can you please stop making fun of me?”. He looks up at her calmly and says, “I am not. I was just not aware that you were doing this. You keep surprising me, my love”.
She glances at him and moves towards the CD-Player. Picking up the discs from the floor, she starts arranging them on the table in their rightful order, and asks, “Isn’t Kishore waiting for you?”. To which, he exclaims, “Oh yes yes! I need to give him back the card. Good, good. I remember.” He watches his fuming wife, who has now moved onto hurriedly folding the dupatta, as though tucking away the evidence of her miscreancy.
“That bloody Bihari watchman has been trying to get an upper hand on us for the last 45 years, and finally this fool Kishore has given him the chance to. He forgot his card. And now he is not allowed to enter. After 45 years. Maybe because he is a Bengali.”, he chirps on animatedly. “It is right there on the table”, she replies, matter-of-factly.“Where?”, the old man places his racquet on the floor, gets up from his armchair and starts looking for the card on the table.
A growling, ominous rumbling snaps the air, like the casual pressing of the pause button to the ongoing banter between the aged small, yellow bedroom walls. She looks up from avoidantly frisking her books, “Was that thunder?”. “No”, he responds immediately. “It is thunder”, she declares, determined. The old man shakes his head pragmatically, “Can’t be. Do you remember the last time it rained in February?”.
She places “Late Fall” by Noelle Adams on top of the book pile, shrugs her shoulders as she takes a seat on the bed, smiles and says, “Well, maybe the season has changed in the last ten seconds and you haven’t noticed it.” He looks at her questioningly, “What?”. “Maybe it is monsoon again”, she smirks. “Maybe when you walked from the chair to the table, March had passed.” “And”, She clambers down from the bed and walks towards the window, “maybe while I am going to open the window, April and May have passed”
As she pushes the window open, a strong gust of hot wind greets her, smeared with an amalgamate of noises of honking, yelling neighbours and the distant hooting of the Mumbai local. She looks at him and shrugs her shoulders, “While you’re looking for the card inside that book you have checked a hundred times, June is passing and it is monsoon again.”
“Imagine, I did not notice the card before”, he waves the card at her, chuckling at the second thing, under his very nose, that he had failed to notice in the last hour. “You never listen to me”, she states. “I never listen to you”, he reiterates. “I am happy that finally admit it”, she scowls, crossing her hands across her chest. Snickering, he whispers, “No, I just repeated your previous sentence so you know that I do listen to you.”
And as though, the hypothetical monsoon winds had brought along with them a certain misty cheer, the air suddenly turns pink, as she cannot help but smile at her husband’s cheeky attempt at pacifying her anger. “Hasee toh phasee!”, he dances, placing the card carefully in his pocket, “You are right. It is the last day of February. And it’s hot again. Abhi said that it’s snowing in New York.”
“Who?”, she looks at him, blankly. “Who? Abhishek!”, he responds. “Oh, I thought you said abhi,” she continues, “You know it’s strange… when I was younger I used to hate it when people would tell me ‘Life passes by so fast you will not even notice when you turn seventy’. Now I’m seventy and it turns out they were right. I just never thought it would happen to me. And here we are, back in this heat”, she sighs, taking a seat on the bed. “And do you know why that is?”, he sits next to her, and observes, “In Mumbai, we only have three seasons. We don’t have winter. So the time goes faster. But had we been in New York, we would have been much younger”. “How old?”, she laughs. “35?”, he guffaws along.
“Nice”, she examines the room, and says, “But here we are, trapped in this city and its heat”. “Well, all of us are trapped”, he suggests, continuing to knot his shoelaces. She interrupts, “Don’t say by life. That is too cliche”. He pulls up his socks, and without looking at her implies, “Well, I won’t. I am trapped”. “What by?”, she questions, her guard suddenly up. “By you”, he smiles delicately and longingly at his partner. “By my irritating behaviour?”, she asks in a stern voice, disguised with worry and unwillingness to hear his response. He inches closer to her face and breathes, “By love”.
As another treacherous smile falls prey to her eighty-year-old partner’s words, she coyly gets off the bed, picks up her orphaned pair of dancing heels and asks, “Don’t you think you are talking too much today?”. “Well, I did not know you were dancing here, like this, today. What do you usually dance to?”, he asks, resting his arms on his knees. “Your CDs. Usually, Jazz”, she responds, as she sits on the armchair and wears her navy blue Hawai chappals. “Oh”, he asserts, grappling with the new-found knowledge he had discovered about his partner of fifty long years, “Good old music. I wish I knew”. He descends from the bed and makes his way towards the CD player.
“Oh, what a drama queen you are!”, she blurts, with her arms in the air.
Picking up the CDs that his wife had tucked away safely, he earnestly says, “No, If only I knew, I wouldn’t go anywhere ever. I would stay here and dance with you. Would you?”. “What?”, she gets up from her armchair. “Would you do me the honor of this dance?”, he asks, turning on the music. And as the soothing rhythm of Jazz fills the room, “No!”, she responds, and storms towards the CD player and switches the music off. “But why?”, he asks, confused at his wife’s refusal. “Because, because I do this alone”. “But why?”, he asks again and turns on the music. “Because”, she sighs and switches it off.
“Why are you turning it off? Are you afraid that you won’t be able to control yourself? That your body will dance against your will? Let’s dance”, he implores, placing his arm on her. She shrugs off his arm lightly and teases, “Uncle, you had come to pick up your racquet, no? So, why don’t you take that and leave?”. “No, this is my racquet”, he smiles, pulling her closer to him. As she laughs, he quickly turns on the music and pulls her in a warm embrace.“What is wrong with you?”, she giggles. “I am in love again”, he sings.
Wrapping their arms around each other, they move in circles, as though creating ripples in the calm, abandoned ocean of love. “I love you”, he says, delightedly. “Does that mean you were not in love before?”, she teases. “I was, I just forgot”, he smiles as he moves his face closer to hers and holds her tight, just like he did for the very first time, many many years ago.
What is it about love, hidden in the crevices of ordinary conversations and daily routines, that makes it so tough for us to recognise it even when we are staring at it right in the face? What is it then about us humans that makes us believe that love would always look the same and mistake its growth for loss?