[ Issue 4 / February 2013 ]
I chose to address her as ‘her’ and not ‘he’ as most peoplein the neighbourhood did, whether in innocence or ignorance, in abhorrence or mockery. Almost all H-words are such. Here it was ‘The Hijda’ and people went berserk when she called herself ‘Krishna’. She did not know her real name. But that did not matter, for neither of us had read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and we did not know much about names and roses. I used to call her Melancholia, for in her I had found my own Calliope, a vapour perhaps captivated in the bottle of sadness. We had met at a time when happiness was a state of the wallet, and love a perversion of the heart. I was jobless and she, just hopeless.
Of those moribund evenings we shared, she blewcoiling rings from apuff ofher signature ‘Classic Mild’ cigarette, opening bottles of smoke and sadness. When asked why she would cast a wry smile, the kind people on their deathbeds gave when Doctors lied about their living another ten years, and then she’d whisper in intervals, “Feeding the gut is not enough, bondhu. I need to feed my lungs. They are close to this unadorned piece inside me, my heart. There’s no love to feed it anymore. It is just a vestigial mesh of flesh and blood. Moreover it will make my cosmic journey easier. I need to leave early and meet him.”
And then with mawkish laughter, she would hold the cigarette between her wrinkled fingers and kiss its butt, saying aloud, “It’s my magic wand, bondhu. My Magic Wand.”
Five years ago when she worked in that NGO for sexual minorities, Krishna a.k.a. Melancholia, used to send her lover letters in blue envelopes.He had once mentioned in one of his letters to her that blue was his favourite colour, SHIVA his favourite God and KRISHNA his Bal-Gopal, his Godly son. She did not believe in Colours and Gods or, rather, Coloured Gods—a monochromatic agnostic! But she loved him and therefore sent his letters in blue envelopes. After writing nineteen perfumed letters over a period of six months, she decided to visit him.
When Krishna landed at the airport and saw him, her legs froze. He stood just ten steps away, leaning on the arrival-counter, gesturing her to him with a smile, unaware that her legs were cemented in place and her sartorius, gluteus, tibialis vibrated like puppet legs. His Blue UCB shirt was drenched in sweat. Under the evening sun she could see his perfect Bengali skin develop rosettes of glory, proof of his work with the slum holders near the river Hooghly, which was contaminated with chemicals, carcasses and a thousand diseases of sorrow.
He stayed in a small two bedroom apartment near Park Street. Strange trees with brown leaves and coconut bushes grew in the backyard, the only witnesses, perhaps, to the sultry nights of passion that took place throughout the next week.
Krishna loved Park Street: the local station with its green trains still bearing colonial resemblances, the nearby ice-cream parlour that they went to during nights of load shedding, the confectionary shop called “Flurry’s” where a tadpole-nosed butler had smiled at her, showing his tobacco stained teeth. But most of all she loved the nights: the scent of sweat and the taste of his kisses.
Before leaving her at the airport, he told her he’d had eight lovers in the past but she would be his last. He would never be able to love anyone else. Their last kiss was through the mirror-walls of the airport, for the attendants were not allowed to enter the passengers’ lounge. It felt like swallowing broken pieces of glass, she told me later.
After a month when no letter arrived, she thought that this too was another promiscuous trick of fate. But she waited, as they promised that they would communicate only through blue-enveloped letters. And so it came at last—a white letter of declaration. It had his love for her written in cursive and the story of how he had entered the land of incurables.
By the time Krishna landed at the airport as she had done some months before, his soul had ascended to a strange land. His co-worker at the slum handed her his belongings from the hospital, including her own photograph and three of her letters, left unanswered in his purse. He had succumbed to disease, as some men did in their searches for love, which she refused to mention to me when I asked her to name it. She felt no guilt, but a desire to comprehend her own state of being, to collect, to survive, to be resistant to forlornness and other damages. Sadly, she couldn’t.
The funeral took place at night. The Bengali culture, though not sexist, kept Krishna from the cremation grounds. Yet when all was done, she gathered courage in the middle of that night to walk three miles and look at the burning blue pyre. There was no miasma, just the fragrance of a particular creeper—Aparajita.
She took all she could inhale. Hours later when she found her lungs full of the dead, she decided to exhale. On her way back to the airport, she picked up one of those forbidden sticks, ‘the magic wands’ he had not allowed, and she fed her lungs to replace his Love. For when beautiful men died, it was impossible not to keep loving them.
Rivulets of blue bile rolled skyward as she exhaled more of the creeper’s smell through the nicotine ends, blackening her throat and that of the eight other men sitting in the airport lounge.