Textual content by Harsh Aditya Pictures by Naveed Hussain
It’s late December when my greatest pal Firoz and I arrive in Calcutta. After a brutal breakup (him) and more and more frequent episodes of emotional breakdowns (me), we determined to make a fast escape to the town of our desires earlier than being catapulted again to our respective semesters in Delhi and Guwahati. I suppose we had imagined that our tears would really feel extra poignant towards the backdrop of Tagore and romantic Indo-Saracenic structure.
“Keep in mind the pal I used to be speaking about on the prepare at present? I’ve requested her to hitch us for tea,” I inform him whereas we’re preparing in our homestay.
“Keep in mind?! Lawl. My ears are burning from listening to the title ‘Vrinda Woolwalla’.”
Though I’ve come to search out most of Firoz’s quirks endearing, I can barely tolerate his behavior of announcing “LOL” prefer it’s an precise phrase. I suppose two years at DU has made me considerably of a language purist.
I tighten my clutch on the copy of Orlando I’m holding. “Effectively, she’s particular to me… and I really need you each to fulfill earlier than we go away.”
“Wait, is she additionally one in all you Literaturewallas?” Firoz places down his mascara wand to present me and my e-book a skeptical look. An unruly lock falls out of his black-and-red polka-dot hair clip.
“I suppose. However don’t fear, you received’t really feel unnoticed together with her.” I reassure him, understanding he’s nonetheless irritated concerning the rambling three-hour dialogue on Foucault that he not too long ago needed to endure with a few of my drunk final-year Lit classmates.
“Okay, anyway…how do I look?” he asks, puckering his lips.
At this time, he has chosen a black turtleneck and classic trousers, a houndstooth coat and Chelsea boots.
“P.H.A.T. Fairly, sizzling and tempting!” I say with out lacking a beat. I can’t bear in mind how or when this cringe-y K3G getting-ready ritual started, nevertheless it’s develop into our factor.
“I assumed you’d approve. I’m attempting out darkish academia.”
“What about me?” I ask, nervously adjusting my khaadi kurta and woollen scarf.
“Uh, what’s with that gaudy nawab ring?! It’s ruining the outfit.” He dismisses my prized classic discover together with his signature two-finger wave.
“Chalo, let’s go earlier than we’re late. You look fairly although…let me simply repair your scarf,” he provides to melt the blow.
An hour later, we’re sitting in an Instagram-worthy cafe someplace close to Hindustan Park, ready for Vrinda. In Patna, the town the place we’re each from (however but, don’t belong to), we’re used to the judgemental stares of strangers. Right here, the eyes that observe us are a lot kinder. I scan the group and land on a bunch of girlfriends catching up over a bottle of wine; a bearded 20-something typing profusely on his laptop computer; and a nonchalant Kolkata boy gang passing a single cigarette between them, a replica of the Communist Manifesto positioned conspicuously on the desk. A low-quality black-and-white portrait of Amrita Shergill, in all probability downloaded from Pinterest and framed at a neighborhood store, hangs within the far left nook. Subsequent to it, I observe an enigmatically lovely lady in a handloom saree, smoking and gazing out on the road.
The bearded man seems to be up from behind his tortoiseshell glasses and, for a cut up second, makes deliberate eye contact with me. He returns to his display screen, unbothered as I stand there attempting to learn into his physique language. Did I think about that trade? The thoughts is sweet at taking part in video games, isn’t it?
“Ooh… so now you don’t have an issue with Milk and Honey? Firoz gestures on the e-book on the man’s desk. All that fireplace you spewed at me as a result of I appreciated it…why don’t you cease ogling and go give him the identical lecture about ‘co-opting trauma’?” His chunky rings clink collectively as he makes air quotes.
I ignore his remark and ask a passing waiter for prawn cutlets and sizzling espresso.
Had my stares been that apparent to everybody?
“Lets order for Vrinda?” Firoz asks. We’re virtually finished consuming, and it’s now 45 minutes after she promised to be right here.
Simply then I see a tall determine half working, half strolling into the cafe. Vrinda pauses on the entrance to search for me. Her delicate silver rings, septum piercing and tiny nostril pin glint as shards of daylight catch them. Her hair hangs down loosely, hurriedly combed, as traditional, partially masking the phrases inked onto her collarbone: “Die Younger”. I vividly recall following her right into a shady Hauz Khas parlour throughout one in all our post-lunch strolls, when she made the spontaneous choice to get a tattoo.
Peculiar issues are inclined to tackle a poetic air with Vrinda: the way in which she solutions calls with a melodious “Jee, boliye [Please speak]”, her behavior of marking new books with a “VW” in black pen, the truth that she solely drinks shikanji regardless of the season or venue.
“Dude, she is serving a glance! Ruby Woo lips, these silver rings are from Janpath, and the embroidered wool jacket is from the Tibetan market. The ajrakh costume is bespoke, and people Oxford boots are from Woodland,” says Firoz, who’s in any other case fairly the model cynic.
“Are you for actual? How did you simply do this?”
“I examine trend. This comes naturally to me,” he says. “I’m one in all a form, na? Simply don’t ask me what e-book she’s carrying!”
I recognise the duvet immediately, even from a distance. “Virginia and Vita!” I say, as if it’s my flip to guess in a recreation of dumb charades. Firoz absent-mindedly locations his hand on my mine and performs with my ring, nonetheless trying her up and down.
“Jaanan!” I stand as much as hug Vrinda.
One…two…three…4…5. I let her go.
“5 seconds,” she instructed me once we first grew to become pals. “I don’t hug folks for greater than 5 seconds, regardless of how shut we’re. Not massive into lengthy hugs.” Since then, it has develop into a cardinal rule for me as properly.
“The remainder of the world forgets, however you by no means do,” she says. Her signature attar wafts over me (she nonetheless hasn’t revealed the mysterious scent).
“Lady, you look bomb…the literal definition of fashionably late. I give it a ten. Chef’s kiss.”
I roll my eyes at Firoz. “Okay RuPaul, cease with the style critique already.”
“Thanks. I strive.” Vrinda smiles graciously and turns to me. “I like this one, Janaan.”
“Earlier than you get too comfy, I believe you’ve some explaining to do.” I crinkle my face right into a pretend scowl.
“How may you randomly determine to maneuver away, to my favorite metropolis at that, with out even one final hug? All I acquired was a textual content saying ‘A girl will need to have a room of her personal’…yeah positive, however didn’t I no less than deserve a goodbye in your individual phrases?!”
Vrinda had been my senior in school, however two years of lengthy strolls alongside Delhi College’s North Campus ridge, getting emotional over all the things from Walt Whitman’s poetry and Faiz’s ghazals to Amrita and Imroz’s love story to our common Sunday dosas at Madras Espresso Home had turned us into one another’s “janaans”.
“I couldn’t even meet myself, Harsheey. I simply wanted to develop. I needed to get away. The second I realised that, I packed up no matter I may and left my previous life behind – Waiter! teen shikanji, please.” She interrupts herself and presumptuously orders for the three of us, a lot to Firoz’s amusement.
“I did let you know concerning the publishing home job, proper? I texted that quote to you as a result of it was the one factor I needed to say at the moment.”
“Okay, okay. You might be forgiven. I’m simply pleased to see you once more.”
Vrinda pulls out a elaborate DIY cigarette holder from her bag, an old style brown leather-based tote with a bunch of vibrant tassels. I spot another acquainted objects – black cat-eye sun shades, the Pilot pen that she takes in every single place and an ikat-print pocket book that I had purchased her for her birthday final October (she calls it her “dump diary” and spills the various ideas and concepts that run by her overactive thoughts onto its pages). There’s additionally a crumpled sheaf of handwritten letters – I do know they’re love letters, and I do know who they’re from, however I don’t say something. I suppose she needs to go away out this a part of the story of why she moved right here.
She locations the tote on the empty chair between us, subsequent to Firoz’s open messenger bag. I discover a e-book poking out of it.
Did I actually miss that in our complete prepare experience? When did he cease needing my opinion?
“So, All About Love now?” I ask.
“Yeah, I’m attempting to recover from a heartbreak. And Rega Jha recommends bell hooks. It is best to add her to your bookshelf too, you realize, Harsheey. There’s extra to literature than the ideas of the centuries-old folks you retain obsessing over.”
“Ooh, burn!” Vrinda’s trademark mischievous smile performs on her lips. “So, what else are you Instagram gays studying?”
“Please, I don’t put myself in any packing containers. And what even is an Instagram homosexual?!” My voice prickles with defensiveness.
“Something for the primary course?” Fortunately a waiter emerges. We order kheema samosas, a BLT and cheesecake.
“Anyway, I’m really curious Firoz. Has All About Love helped you cope along with your breakup?”
“I believe so. It’s comforting that somebody took up the accountability to jot down so sensitively about what it means to like. Like, what it means to be in love. However we don’t have a rule e-book. We don’t, proper?” Firoz seems to be at me expectantly and fidgets with the 2 silver-plated chains round his neck. I discover that he has left his high two shirt buttons open, one thing he solely does when he’s feeling fearless and assured. Have to be Kolkata.
“‘We don’t,” I say. “Isn’t that scary? However I additionally discover it liberating. In contrast to the heteros, we now have the liberty to create our personal world and norms. Sorry to get all professor-ish, however I simply need to level out how we’re made to imagine that the non-conventional is transient and that our expertise is an irregular section within the grand scheme of issues. However truthfully, the mainstream makes no promise of endlessly both. And that’s precisely why I hold going again to Virginia Woolf.”
I attain for Orlando and skim aloud:
“At one and the identical time, due to this fact, society is all the things and society is nothing. Society is probably the most highly effective concoction on the planet and society has no existence by any means.”
“See. Isn’t it precisely what we’re saying?! I clap the e-book closed with a flourish.
“That is Woolf in 1928, however she was speaking about transcending the boundaries of gender and standard marriage even then.”
“Me subsequent!” Vrinda eagerly thumbs by the dog-eared pages of Virginia and Vita. I bear in mind her telling me that she purchased it utilizing her meagre first stipend throughout her days in DU. I all the time made enjoyable of how she would fill its margins with notes like “objectives” and “thoughts=blown” in her meticulous, calligraphy-like handwriting.
She reads us a brief passage, dramatically pausing each few phrases:
“I’m lowered to a factor that wishes Virginia. I composed a lovely letter to you within the sleepless nightmare hours of the night time, and it has all gone: I simply miss you, in a fairly easy determined human method.”
“God. I simply loooove love. In no matter form I get to expertise it.” Vrinda sighs.
“Wow guys, I assumed we had been finished with the every day dose of lit-freakism. However I’ll admit, I didn’t realise how related Virginia Woolf is. All I knew was that she had drowned herself…an excessive amount of tragedy for me. And Harsh, sorry to interrupt your coronary heart, however while you inevitably begin occurring about her on our Thursday calls, I often tune out and watch Otherwarya’s tales. However perhaps now I’ll really hear!”
I don’t reply to his dig as a result of I’m too caught up in a silent existential spiral due to Vita Sackville.
Determined human method. … Possibly I could make that my new relationship profile bio. Harsh, 21. Desperately human.
The repeated clicks of a lighter intrude on my ideas. Vrinda takes a deep puff of her cigarette and provides one to Firoz, who refuses and discreetly strikes his chair nearer to mine. (His ex’s new fling, a standard pal, additionally smokes Marlboro Golds; the odor and style make Firoz anxious now.)
I shortly look over at him to see if he’s okay. “, she and Vita exchanged letters for years, however I really feel like phrases had been simply not sufficient, even for Virginia Woolf. Her emotions went past what has been documented. Past our restricted idea of affection. And positively past her so-called love for her husband.”
“Leonard Woolf was trash,” Vrinda says, which is one thing she’s instructed me greater than as soon as about my very own romantic companions.
Firoz lastly perks up. “He can’t be worse than my ex!”
“Um, I don’t care how good of a husband he was to her. He principally saved her restricted to mattress and managed her life utilizing the excuse of her psychological sickness. Typical fragile male ego. Girls are a lot extra empathetic – I bear in mind having probably the most lovely days with my ex-girlfriend. And I’m really extra obsessive about what we share now, after the connection ended. There’s love however no romance, which works for me, you realize? We’ve even written a paper collectively on the illustration of ladies within the Athenian tragedy.”
“Lawl, right here we go once more,” says Firoz. “Can y’all make some references I’ll really get?”
“You’re making me lose my prepare of thought!” Vrinda seems to be labored up and reapplies her lipstick, most of which is now on the cigarette butt dying within the ashtray. (Firoz was proper, it’s Ruby Woo.) “Anywayyy….all I’m saying is who determined that we now have to expertise love in that head-over-heels, butterflies-in-the-tummy method? Most significantly, whose definition and standards are all of us blindly accepting?”
“Janaan, thanks for all the time reminding me that our romantic worlds and fantasies don’t need to be so inflexible and seedha. I want I could possibly be as free as you.”
“Vrinda Woolwala, extra like, Vrinda Woolf-wala!”, Firoz jumps in.
“Thanks, like I’ve by no means heard that one earlier than…. Effectively, clearly, I used to be destined to like Virginia Woolf, what do I say!”
At 21, it has begun to sink in that maybe the true great thing about queer relationships lies of their queerness itself. They current limitless potentialities when you’ll be able to break down constructions of morality and rebuild your world. I suppose that’s why I additionally prefer to revisit Kierkegard. He believed that the human thoughts is in a continuing conflict between ethics and aesthetics, the latter being transient and the previous the “‘proper”’ path to current in society. Nevertheless, I can’t think about that it isn’t doable to present oneself to the aesthetic of life, understanding the results that can observe this alternative?
The ladies subsequent to us at the moment are tipsy and holding one another by their shoulders, singing alongside to the track taking part in on the speaker.
Roka, haan roka isko kisne
Hai yeh toh behta paani…
Kaisi, paheli hai ye kaisi
“Lets? Don’t you each have early flights again to varsity tomorrow?” We pay the invoice and step out into the night breeze. Vrinda pulls out her vial of attar and ceremoniously dabs some onto mine and Firoz’s wrists, one other one in all her eccentricities that I am keen on. “Till we meet once more, my ships within the night time,” she says with a closing wave earlier than heading off to search for a taxi.
A dreamy, orange-tinged nightfall has set in, and Firoz and I determine to stroll again to our homestay. I don’t draw back when he takes my hand in his.