Sameer sat, hunched like he was drawing himself into a shell, his breathing still ragged, drawing in deep breaths of air like he had just surfaced after a long underwater submerge stint. His eyes half closed, trying to gain a control on himself, feeling like a puppeteer whose puppet suddenly decided to cut its own strings, he sat still holding the phone, his hands clenched around it, knuckles white with the pressure he was exerting on it, almost as if his life depended on it. It had been another of those fights, bitter and ever intensifying like a volcano building up pressure just before the blowout. He glanced at his watch and noticed that he had been arguing and fighting for nearly an hour. He felt exhausted and drained but still high strung and all nervy, waiting for some kind of a release.
It had been Anamika, his girlfriend now of over 4 years. Cat eyed and raven haired, she also had the temper and foul mouth that came with the territory. Theirs had been a meeting that seemed like it was destined. They had hit it off instantly, almost losing themselves in each other, wanting to and spending all their time with each other, unable to be without each other. It was like they had been consumed by each other. The intensity of their chemistry and emotion was something that surprised both of them at the start but only seemed to build with time.
Theirs was the ideal love affair, building up with time and never shy, always out in the open. Everyone talked about them being the ideal couple. He was a year senior and used to help her with all her academic work, spending time on her work as much as he needed to spend on his. They would do everything together, even if it was one of his friend’s birthdays or a party thrown by one hers. They could talk to each other for hours or so it seemed, about themselves, about each other, about anything at all that seemed important to either of them. They both loved music, going to every concert that came to town, often spending hours with an IPOD and each with one of the headphones, eyes closed and simply listening. And then they would talk about what they had imagined, in vivid detail, exulting when there was something common in their narratives. Driving was another passion, both just preferring to up and ride away by themselves and reaching some remote spot where they would spend the afternoon by themselves.
The idyllic period came to an end when he passed out a year ahead of her and got into a job. The saving grace was that he was still in the same city. So, they would still meet every day. There was a strain when they were not always together. They no longer went everywhere together. He would still want to take her everywhere. But she would refuse to go saying that all his friends would talk about was work, which was true at one level. And she no longer invited him to go with her to her friend’s parties, saying that they were different and that he wouldn't enjoy them. Also, she now had a few very close male friends that she constantly talked about. He felt that she was constantly talking about herself and about her friends; she never had time to ask him about himself or listen to anything he had to say.
Then the next blow came. He got transferred out to Mumbai from Delhi, three months before her final exam. So, they met only when either of them made a trip down during a holiday. And they could rely only on the phone. The distance affected their closeness, getting in the way, casting clouds where there had been clarity before, creating breaks in what had been familiar roads and putting in a distance where there had been togetherness and closeness before. The telephone conversations started becoming strained. She did not have him to help her with her exams and so relied on one of her friends who happened to be a guy. So conversations dwindled and sometimes did not happen at all. And even if they did, they were short and staccato. Mostly about her exams and how the preparation was so tough and how her friend was helping her. It seemed like her friend was spending a lot of time with her. Jealousy reared its ugly head and they had their first big fight the day before her first exam – about her friend. It was a new experience for either of them, fighting like that. But the words came pouring out, as if a dam that had been built up over the past few months had broken and the waters surged forth. Faults were found, conversations were rewound and dissected, issues made out of small things and names were called, a lot of French and German was spoken. They didn't speak to each other for the next couple of weeks while her exams were going on.
She had then come to Mumbai to stay with him after the exams and the whole issue had just disappeared. The two months that she had stayed was like a throwback to their college time together. Every day was an experience that they built together and relived a countless times. They discovered nooks and crannies of the city that they doubted existed outside their imagination and spent hours there, just drinking in the silence and each other, an island of quiet in the river of noise that was the city. Then she had gone back to Delhi, having gotten a job there. The first months were a hangover of their time together and went with their spending time on the phone and money on their phone bills, calling each other at least a dozen times in the day to tell each other what had happened or what they had seen or what they imagined. The bond seemed to have been rebuilt and cemented for good.
Then came her training trip to the US, for a period of four weeks. He did not have a way of reaching her. She said that the company did not allow her an international roaming and therefore, she would email him and call him from a land line when she could. At first, there were calls on alternate days and photos mailed. Then the calls stopped and the photos became more sporadic with just one line emails about meetings and dinners out or parties. He felt a keen sense of loss, something like the loss of a body part. He had been unable to deal with not being able to talk or see her for that long. The waiting became unbearable. Then the email came that due to her performance in her training, they had asked her to stay back and take an advanced training for another month. He had written back to her that he was missing her and that maybe she could take the training after some time. Her answer about her career being important and her wanting to succeed at her work stunned and shocked him beyond belief. After that, he had not written to her and she had also only sent routine emails about what was happening, a line or two here and there. It was almost as if, there was a crack in the glass bubble that held their togetherness and it had started draining out.
She had come back after two months and started her work. Her first phone call to him that weekend was their first fight. It was about all the things he had felt and all that he had wanted to tell her for those eight weeks and all that she didn't want to hear. They had both yelled, talking at the same time, not listening. They had both been right and the other wrong. After a while, she had cut the phone on him. He tried calling and after about eight attempts, she picked up. He had been shocked at her anger and her decision to simply cut him off. He did not know how to deal with it and though he was angry, his shock was like a bucket of cold water on the fire. He was apologetic and begged for her forgiveness. For the first time, he was unsure of himself in their equation and that scared him.
Their phone calls continued for the next year and they visited each other a couple of times as well. They had one or two more fights but he took care not to push it beyond, afraid that she would simply decide to cut him off. Then came the next change, she moved to another company in a senior role. This role needed her to travel more frequently. And then the fights had started again. With her travelling, she could not talk to him sometimes for days and even then, they were very short conversations with very little said. She was always with someone or going somewhere or doing something. When he brought up the issue, she blamed him for not being supportive of her career and not being there for her when she needed him. He couldn't for the life of him understand what she needed from him. The fights had ended with either of them apologizing and promising to make it up, though they never did get around to it.
It was now a year since they had started fighting over this issue. The distance between them had worsened to the point where neither of them could understand each other. Most conversations ended in a fight and more lately, almost every one of them did. He had started travelling as well and between them, there was never time for a conversation. He would message her almost always when he went somewhere or did something or finished something. And she would respond hours later when she could. He was used to the time when she would respond instantaneously and they would have a mini conversation on the messages. He would call her at times but most often, she would either not pick up or would pick up and say that she was busy in a meeting and would call back. She wouldn't call back until a few hours later when he was already tired of waiting.
Finally the last straw came when he had laid all of this open in a conversation about three months ago. The lack of response from her, the lack of time, the lack of closeness was something that he could no longer live with and he decided to ask her outright if there was a problem. Only, the words didn't come out quite right and he appeared to be blaming her for all of this. Maybe at one level, he had been doing just that. It blew up in his face with her anger reaching a level that he had never seen before. She gave it all right back to him. A lot of bitter words were said and a lot of hurt caused that time. The conversation ended abruptly when the signal dropped. Neither of them called back. And that was that. For the next week, they did not speak to each other until one morning she called and just picked up as if nothing had happened. He was still smarting from all that and didn't give up. The fight reared its head once more and the gloves were off.
Since then, this had become the routine. He had reached the point where he no longer knew what they were doing with each other and whether there was any point to their fighting. He kept telling her that all he wanted was time from her and her attention. And he kept finding faults with her about things that she did and things that she did not do. The fights kept escalating and there were breaks in between when they did not speak to each other, almost did not dare to call. But the routine did not break and the fights continued. The instances different each time, but the reasons the same. He wanted her to be the same again. And somehow, she wasn't ready for that.
Until this morning and the call from here when he had just reached office, saying that she was in Goa with some friends. He hadn't quite understood what had happened and then had gone white in anger, remembering how he had pleaded with her for give him time two nights before and her telling him that she could not take time off as there was too much work. The trip to Goa just like that was the icing on the cake for him and he had gone silent first and then exploded. She had tried reasoning it out with him that she needed a break and when that was established, that she needed to be with her friends because she couldn't be with him. That settled it for him. And the whole merry go round started once again, going back to conversations a year old and what had been said or not said, what had been done or not done and why that had been wrong anyway. Both of them had grown increasingly vocal, almost yelling. He forgot that he was in office and when his colleague Ajay waved to him and motioned him to go to one of the conference rooms was when he came to his senses. She finally told him that her friends were waiting and that she had to go, something that sparked off the fight again. It finally ended with him yelling that she couldn't give him time or importance anymore and that she was just calling him because he would fight if she didn't. She simply put the phone down then and switched it off. He gave up trying to call her after a few minutes and now sat there in the conference room with the phone in his hand, like someone who had been battered from all sides and left curled up, wounded and bleeding.
There was a knock on the door and Ajay peeked in and asked, “Are you okay?” Not trusting his voice, Sameer just nodded. Ajay gave him a cup of water that he had been holding and simply patted Sameer’s back and walked out. The rest of the day was a disaster and Sameer quickly closed for the day and left office, waving his thanks to Ajay. Ajay was on the phone with someone and simply waved back. He seemed to be patiently saying something on the phone, taking care not to raise his voice and keep it flat and even, spacing his words out. Sameer walked out not registering what was happening, lost in his own world.
The next day, Sameer was back in office early, trying to catch up with the time that he had lost the day before. He had spent the night up, thinking about what had happened the previous day on the phone call and had been having a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach about himself and Anamika. Ajay came in talking on the phone, put his bag down, waved at Sameer and went straight to the conference room and continued his conversation. Disturbed by the resemblance to his own experience the day before, Sameer shook his head and after a few seconds, continued with his work. After what seemed to be half an hour, Ajay came out of the conference room, looking tired and worn out. His was the cabin next to Sameer’s and he sat down heavily in his chair. At first Sameer thought he would ignore it but then decided to simply peek into Ajay’s cabin and reciprocate the previous day’s help. He carried two cups of coffee into Ajay’s room and gave Ajay one of them and sat down opposite him.
“All well?” asked Sameer. Ajay mumbled a quick yes and then hit behind the coffee mug. After a couple of minutes of strained silence, Ajay broke it by saying, “I am sorry, I was on the phone with my sister. She is going through a rough patch in her relationship with this guy.” Sameer knew what that was like and simply nodded, not trusting himself to speak and waited for Ajay to continue. Ajay continued with a question that seemed to rock Sameer right down to his shoes, “Why do people in love fight? And especially, why do they fight about love itself and with each other about it?” Ajay seemed to be speaking to himself and didn't need a reply. Sameer kept silent wondering if Ajay was speaking about him and Anamika. Ajay continued, “My sister and her boyfriend seem to be fighting with each other about why they love each other and why they think the other person doesn't love them. I am very close to her and we have been almost friends ever since we were kids. So every time this happens, she calls me and wants me to help. Last afternoon was a fight and I thought I had told her how to sort it out and now this morning, another fight and this one about his not calling her or messaging her enough. And she wanted me to help with this one as well.” Ajay stopped at that, suddenly catching himself, looking embarrassed for having spoken too much. He then changed the topic to his son Aditya and the school annual function that was coming up and how Aditya was playing the part of Little John in a play about Robin Hood. But the conversation kept playing back in Sameer’s head and he kept silent, just nodding encouragement without really listening.
When Ajay stopped his explaining after almost ten minutes, Sameer was unable to keep his curiosity under control and asked him, “So, what did you tell your sister? Did you solve her problem?” Ajay leaned back, took a deep breath and said;”I told her that I couldn't sort out her problem and that she needed to do it. But I also told her that you can’t demand love or time. It has to be given of its own accord. There is no point in fighting for what the other person doesn't give because they have already decided that they don’t want to give you that. So I simply told her to figure out if there was anything left between her and this guy and then act accordingly. In any case, there is no point in fighting for something that isn't there anymore. Is the fight really worth it then?”
Sameer hunched in his chair like he had been punched in the stomach. The words rang in his mind again and again. Ajay finished his coffee and excused himself saying that he had a meeting to go to. Sameer simply nodded and went back to his cabin, in a trance, still thinking about what Ajay had said. Slowly, but surely, the jig saw pieces began to fall into place. He realized that he was in the same boat as Ajay’s sister, trying to command Anamika’s time and attention which she didn't want to give him in the first place, be it a question of priorities or simply a desire not to. As it all fell into place, that sinking feeling, the quick sand at the pit of his stomach, slowly disappeared. A curious sense of calm descended on him. He walked out of office and went down to the cafeteria which he knew would be deserted now. He called up Anamika and in a calm and quiet voice, told her exactly what he thought they should do. At first she seemed surprised and shocked and then angry at what he was suggesting. But his calm voice and the clarity in his words helped. After a few minutes, he signed off from the conversation with a simple thanks and bye and walked back to his cabin, feeling a curious sense of relief and miraculously, a sense of peace about himself, something that seemed to have been missing in the past year.