“You won’t find a better apartment at this price anywhere in the locality. I can guarantee you that!”
Although Chandar had learned through years of experiences of suffering the wrong end of a terrible deal to never trust the claims of a person interested in selling something to you, he had no qualms against this particular claim made by this particular real estate agent.
It really was an amazing apartment, a one bedroom flat with an extra room for spares and a large foyer which worked both as the dining room and the kitchen (there was a modular set placed in one corner). The whole apartment was colored in a distinct combination of white and yellow which resembled the color of milk which has recently turned sour. In the middle of the dining room was a small poplar kitchen table with two wooden chairs and a sofa for three. There was also a large ottoman in the corner, upon which was placed a small Sony TV. The sofa was maroon in color, while the Ottoman’s original dark green had faded to bare recognition. Standing in the middle of the room one felt like they were in an IKEA store in the 90s. The bedroom had a medium sized credenza and a single bed, and that was all. The spare room had a small bookshelf in it, currently empty. But what really caught Chandar’s attention was not the bookshelf, it was the wall opposite to it. An unpainted brick wall, completely in contrast with the rest of the apartment’s aesthetics with a quote written in small print –
“You become lonely because of others, you reach solitude because it’s your choice.”
“What’s up with the quote on the wall back there?” the agent was sitting on one of the chairs, probably going through the rental agreement one last time before asking him about a final yes or no.
“It’s just a wall, a normal wall which the painter botched in his last job. Anyways, it’s just a spare room with an inspirational quote in it. You’ll rarely ever visit it,” the agent turned to Chandar with a wide smile of a negotiator ready to make the final kill, “So what say you? Shall we get the paperwork done. You know you are getting a steal here.”
Chandar felt that the agent was extremely eager to sell the apartment, bordering on the edge of being irritating. But by that time, he was already in love with this quiet, old place.
Maybe he could’ve used the wall as a way to get a better price but then he had never been a good negotiator. In any case, that quote was currently his only companion.
“Hello Mrs. Pandey, how are you?”
“Hello Beta, so nice to see you. Where are you going all dressed up pretty, are you bringing someone back today?” Mrs. Pandey almost always ended her questions with a little wink and a mischievous smile on her face. She lived next door to him, and was the first person whom Chandar met after shifting into the new apartment. The first day in his new home, she brought him foods and numerous other necessities at 8 in the morning. They had developed quite a friendship since then.
“No Mrs. Pandey, it’s just an office party. A lot of us were promoted today.”
“So, you must have some girls in your office who are not roaming around with someone. Take your pick.” Once again, that wink.
“It’s not as easy as it looks Mrs. Pandey. And anyways, I am not interested in such stuff at this time in my life.”
“Oh, you always say this. But a person can’t live without love. I don’t know how you people manage it today.” Mrs. Pandey’s husband died 7 years ago, lung cancer. According to her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Pandey lost her enthusiasm for life since then. He could easily imagine the wild, euphoric personality she must have been back then. Some traces of it became visible to him from time to time.
“I’ll get going Mam, my Uber’s here.”
It was not like he didn’t want to feel loved by someone in his life. Everybody does. But he wasn’t ready to give up the comfort of his solitude and get mired in all the intricacies and complexities of another person just because everyone else is doing it too. Unlike everyone, Chandar never felt the need, the emptiness in his heart which can only be fulfilled by the presence of another person and the unadulterated love and attention which they bring with them. What he was looking for was another complete person, who connected with him, a person with whom he was as comfortable talking about the meaning of life as he was about their fifth favourite animal. And such a perosn is a rarely ever found.
“Hey”, she opened the door a little, still latched from inside. Chandar could hear the opening theme of her favourite South Korean drama playing loudly on speakers. She was wearing a white tank top coupled with white shorts. She had a confused expression on her face and her eyes were tired from hours of binge watching.
“Hey,” the alcohol had started effecting his brain. Why else would he knock on her door instead of his. “I’m sorry, I must have gotten confused in the dark.”
“It’s okay.” her expression changed to one of mild amusement, “but as far as I can see, all of the lights are working perfectly.” As he turned his head upwards, he could feel the white, hot brightness of the corridor stinging in his eyes. Quickly, he shifted his gaze back to the radiance which she was.
“Are you okay by the way?” the expression quickly changed to one of genuine care, “Your eyes are all bloodshot.” the expression was slowly reverting back to the previous one, “you look like you’re drunk. Are you drunk?”
Her name was Devi, which roughly translates to goddess. And as far as Chandar had noticed, she did indeed carry herself like one. When she walked in the neighbourhood at her rapid pace, all the while brushing her hair ever so slightly behind with a gentle stroke of her hands, his heart almost skips a beat. She had celestial physical features; dark black hairs which came down like a waterfall till her waist, she sometimes wore round specs which partially shielded the black pools of magnetism underneath them, that you once noticed you couldn’t turn your gaze away. She always had an ever-present smile on her face. It was the smile of someone who’s truly happy with their lives. She was magnetic, magnificent, marvellous. No matter how hard Chandar tried, he could never find a fault in her. Even her imperfections, like her silly song choices and her irritating habit of biting her nails and her one-dimensional dance moves, were perfectly aligned with everything that she was.
Did Chandar like her? Of course, he did. Did she? Chandar didn’t know and did not want to. In the past few months, they had come on good terms with each other. Chandar felt lucky enough to be friends with her, and he couldn’t dare spoiling it with a question like this.
“I am not drunk Devi. I am perfectly fine. I just happen to be extremely tired.”
“Oh really.” the expression changed to one of sarcasm and mischief, “then I will take my leave. Good night.”
A wink and a smile, and then the slow closing of doors.
“Hey” Chandar opened the door to find her at his doorsteps, “You dropped your id card yesterday.”
“Oh, Thank you. It must have drop…” she cut him off before he could even complete his sentence.
“Ok, ok, ok. No need to explain yourself. You wanted to give me your number, that’s the real reason.”
“No, no. Why would I do that?”
“Because I am a beautiful person, and you are a creep.”
“I am not a beautiful person?” she faked horror.
“No. You are a beautiful person. But…” she again cut him off.
“Then why don’t you want to give me your number?”
“I mean…. it’s not like….” Chandar stopped in the middle of his sentence on hearing the sound of her sweet laughter. “Oh, I am just teasing you. You are not a creep. Or else why would I go out to eat lunch with you tomorrow, you haven’t forgotten that!! Or have you?”
“No, I haven’t.” he answered, although he couldn’t have given any other answer.
“Ok, see you then. Bye.”
Different men get attracted to different virtues of the same woman, but the same person gets attracted to the same virtues in all the women. For Chandar, that virtue was being true to oneself. He himself tried to follow the same principle. In fact, just a few weeks back he considered himself quite successful in his ideal approach to life. Then he met her, a person who lived life like no other. She enjoyed it, and all the ups and downs and summers and winters and sorrow and smile that comes with it. Her usual reaction to a problem would be that damned smile of hers. And when she laughed, it was music to his ears. The most honest and happy laugh he had ever heard, and as they have said, that’s where the trouble began.
But in reality the trouble began when he realised that she did seem to enjoy being in his company. His company. The company of a rough, conflicted, mediocre, ordinary person like him. He was never the smartest guy in a room, and if you want the definition of an average looking person then look no further than Chandar. Why would she ‘like to have lunch with’ him? And why did ever a person like her grace his house and help him decorate for Diwali? That Diwali, Chandar’s plan was to drink alcohol and sleep early. She barely knew him then, and yet what she did to his house that day turned it into his most memorable Diwali yet. Chandar returned the favour a few days later by accidentally splashing mud on her favourite dress as she was coming back from her office. She remained angry for a few days and then back to normal, like nothing ever happened.
The most natural question people to ask is did Chandar have the courage to make the first move?
The simple answer is that he did not have it. And the reason is also very simple, people like Chandar are really short on choices. They almost never find someone who would willingly spend their time with them. And when such a person comes along, they can’t help but get attracted. And this opens up the pandora’s box. Because almost always, the other person doesn’t feel the way Chandar wants them to. And once this fact is out for both of them to see, it becomes complex. It had happened to him before. The day he told the truth was the last day they acknowledged that he meant anything in their life.
Every time Chandar was with her it felt as though he was on fire, yet the burns only caused pain once he was alone. People like Chandar are a species of men who are so afraid of losing someone that they don’t try to be with them. They are happy remaining friends forever, because they don’t think they are worth even that.
The pain of a loss is something they are quite familiar with, but the euphoria of finding out that your feelings are reciprocated at the other end is something they have never known. So they continue to burn slowly, hoping for a rain that never falls and relieves them of this torture.
It was 2 o’clock already. As planned on her insistence, they were meeting for lunch today. Before every meet, Chandar tried to convince himself to flirt with her. Again, the problem was two folds. Firstly, he didn’t know how to and secondly that somehow, he always forgot to try it. As she widened her smile on seeing him, and waved at him enthusiastically, and her eyes started gleaming with happiness, and she called out his name at the top of her lungs, Chandar lost the control of his motor fucntions. In a drift like state, he got lost in her and her words of wisdom and wierdness.
And this was probably the most divine thing about her. Goddess, a name he sometimes called her out and she never seemed to mind, was the one person in whose company he never felt sadness. He never felt defeated or tired or fretted over the little things in life that don’t matter. She inspired confidence. Although he was an atheist, he felt that she was a reincarnation of Athena. And he just couldn’t imagine losing his only source of confidence in life, that stuff is what nightmares are made of.
People like Chandar are hopeless romantics and cowards. They are the kind of people who have suffered through loneliness long enough for it to transform into solitude. They prefer to suffer silently than to cry openly because they prefer to keep their pain with themselves.
And so people like Chandar hesitate. They continue to lie to themselves and probably will all their life. Chandar will never speak a word about it, because losing someone like Devi will break him for long, and break him for good. Maybe he will pick up his diary and write down some words, and then beg the person reading those words to take a chance, to make the first move, to have the courage.
He himself doesn’t have it, and he knows that he is slowly being burned to ashes. But worse still is the fact that he keeps his hopes fixated on a rain which will never fall.