A Harbour Line Love Story
I don’t know why he made my life impossibly hard. The last few months had been hell. I didn’t know a loving man could have such violence in him. I think love and violence are two sides of a coin. That’s why a lover strikes when denied love. Or, he or she thinks of revenge. Violence is the reason why I left him and went to live with my father in Vashi. Violence that could happen any time in your own house, without warning. I can’t believe he is the same person I once loved, the boy who proposed to me in art class, the man with whom I rode the harbor line train, the man for whom I waited endless hours at Marine Drive, and, eventually, the man who called me a bitch, a rand, a word man often uses without thinking.
This account is just to unburden my sorrow. I write my story in the train because that’s where our affair began. Though I work in Vashi I have to meet clients and that gives me a lot of time to introspect and put things down. I look out as the train sweeps past the city’s cluttered stations, insignificant, except for the colourful expanse of humanity that sweeps past, dressed in casual clothes, not particularly caring how they looked. There are always new sights to be seen and people to be observed, which is why I like a train ride.
It all started so casually. I met Swapnil in an art class where they teach graphic designing. Swapnil means “one with dreams” and Swapnil was full of dreams. He talked of his dreams all the time. He wanted to be so good at designing, he wanted to win awards, and he wanted to be somebody whose photographs and busts hang in the portals of colleges and libraries. He is sharp and good at graphic designing. But truth is a different matter, which I learnt later. Well, that’s for later.
We used to travel to class along the same route, Bombay’s Harbour Line. I lived in Vashi with my parents and he lived in Andheri with his parents. As a middle class family our parents were very protective of us, their children. When I would travel from Vashi to Victoria Terminus (VT) for art class I would get down at Wadala and wait for Swapnil. If he was early he would get down and wait for me. Then we would travel by train together to VT. It was during these daily travels that love happened, just like that. On looking back, it seems a stupid thing, but it happened. The trains were crowded. But we found corner seats near windows and talked and compared notes.
One day he asked me with his strange sense of ambiguity:
“Does the possibility exist, if I ask you now, for you to accept my invitation to see a movie?”
How can anyone possibly say no to a request like that? I liked the ingenuousness of the request, the innocence. His eyes shone with sincerity.
That weekend, on a Saturday, we students went for a movie at the Sterling, after art class. It was a late night show. During the movie – I forget its name – he cupped my palm in his. I sat there bewildered, my body motionless, not knowing what to do as a rather sexy actress began gyrating to the insistent rhythm of a bawdy Bollywood song. I observed that he too was moving to the rhythm. I sat there still, unable to move, not being able to figure out what this gesture from him meant. I didn’t object to it because I could feel something happening between us. However, in the darkened theatre, where the coolness of the air-conditioner, the loudness of the music, and his body pulsing with the rhythm; he seemed a different man.
“Did you like it?” He asked as we came out of the movie.
“I like original films, not films made on a formula.”
“But this had an original twist in the end. Usually, boy meets girl, flirts, fights, then they get married, is the plot of most of our cinemas. Here it’s the girl who proposes.”
“It’s all the same.”
“Come on, it’s not the same.”
That was our first argument.
It’s 11.30 p.m. when we reach VT station and the platforms are deserted. There are a few tired people stretched out and sleeping; a weary, exhausted sleep. We board what must be one of the last trains of the day. Our love train.Swapnil comes with me all the way to Vashi. I say no need, but he insists. Then he takes a taxi to Andheri.
“Because you didn’t like that movie, I will take you to another one.”
Then the session of movies started. Those were Bollywood movies which were noisy and in which the middle-aged hero and heroine tried to be the cutest and most modern teenagers. They wore colourful clothes and in the span of a song, changed a several costumes. They also would sometimes dance with their retinue of background dancers in the Swiss Alps and then in the mountains of Machu Pichu, all in the course of one song. For me these antics became very difficult to digest after some time.
I used to like the English movies, more sophisticated, less colourful and gaudy. After the movie we would board our Love Train and Swapnil would drop me back home. My father, a retired art professor, grew suspicious and asks me why I came home late every day. I told him that we have special practical classes. His father asked him who this girl is whom he is seeing, because some people reported having seen us together. Since middle class Maharashtrians constitute the majority of Bombay’s population, word got around fast. There were sly whispers behind our backs. There were meaningful nods and pokes in the ribs. I had outraged the feelings of my community. I realized then, painfully, that the city hates lovers.
Then we stopped meeting. We were still in art school but took different trains. I would scan the platforms for him, wait for a fleeting glimpse of him through the crowds, watch for somebody with his walk, and his mannerisms. Sometimes, my heart thudding, I would get a fleeting glimpse of a man with his walk and mannerisms. My expectations would go up. Then it would turn out to be somebody else and my misery knew no bounds. I don’t know how, but I am amazed at the number of people who look alike in this city. We would sit in the same class but we wouldn’t talk. We didn’t go to movies or to Marine Drive after class. I go home to Vashi and he to Andheri. I began to miss him and longed for him. I pined him as only a woman can pine for a man. I didn’t know if he felt the same.
Then one day, when there was this photography class going to click the heritage buildings of Bombay we talk.
“How are you?” I ask.
“No phone calls, no messages, what happened?”
“Have you taken photography as your option?”
Monosyllables that don’t say anything. My heart is screaming, “Talk for God’s sake, say something.”
“We will meet after class and talk,” he says.
“Okay,” I say happy that I am able to establish contact.
The excitement at our first date after so long is magical. He hugs me and kisses my cheek for the first time. I can feel the softness of his touch, the lips hesitant at first then exploring boldly. I succumb to his warm body, I am so overcome I could have done anything. I missed him so much. We have sex in a shady hotel room behind Victoria Terminus train station. From the window I can see trains parked beside the platforms. It is a furtive kind of love both of us being novices. Awkwardly, after making love he proposes to me.
“Can you and I tie the knot of nuptial bliss take the seven rounds of the holy fire and lead our lives together?” he asks.
He is so sweet. How could I not be taken by surprise?
I consider his proposal in the grimy hotel room. A cockroach advances, hesitates, and then scrambles for its life. It’s difficult to make a decision so soon. I hesitate. The room is warm as there is no air-conditioning and the fan is inadequate. Then I make up my mind.
“Yes, if you promise to keep me happy.”
Back home I implore my father to go and meet Swapnil’s father and talk about it. In our community it’s the woman’s father who asks for the hand of another’s son. He agreed to do his best and make Swapnil’s father understand.
Our fathers – Mr. Sawant and Mr. Patil – meet and somehow they click. They have common friends and hail from the same district of Maharashtra, Solapur. My father Patil and his father Sawant worked in the railways before retiring. I know these sort of things count a lot in relationships. They both agreed that this is a good match from conservative Maharashtrian middle-class families. The wedding was a dream. It passed in a whirl of colourful events, food, clothes and general merriment in which I participated with enthusiasm. It was the best time of my life, a time that, I think, will never come again.
Then the time came to make a break with the past. All my clothes, books, laptop, toiletries were packed and moved to his flat in Andheri. That became my new home. There was no end to my tears when the time came to leave my father and my sisters. I cried and cried and cried. I have not known happiness since. Grief became a part of me in my home in Andheri. The first week was hell. I became tearful when I thought of my father and he couldn’t take it. He wanted me to be happy.
We went on a dream honeymoon to Thailand where we lived in Bangkok. We travelled to the sea-side resort of Pattaya. I was abashed to see near-nude women in bikinis; he told me that it was their culture. We went to various entertainment shows (basically sex shows) and ate in Thai restaurants. We lived in swank hotels which had swimming pools and Jacuzzis.
After returning from Thailand the fights started.
“Why don’t you come early so we can go out to do some shopping?” He would ask. I was secretly visiting my family in Vashi after work. The office was near my residence and I was tempted to go there often.
“Come on Swapnil, I work in Vashi and it takes time to get a train. I have to change trains at Wadala.”
“You know I used to wait for you at Wadala for our love train? What happened?”
“You have changed. You complain all the time. About the food I make, about my cleanliness.”
“That’s not true. I do it because I want to improve our lives. I want everyone to be happy including father and mother.”
His mother was understanding and did most of the work of cutting and cooking vegetables and preparing non-vegetarian food. Swapnil loves non-vegetarian food and I don’t know how to make it as we were strict vegetarians at home. That gave me even lesser work in my Andheri home. Of course I would help her to cook vegetarian food on Sundays when I had a holiday.
One thing led to another and the arguments didn’t stop. Swapnil took to drinking heavily and would come home late. Then the hitting started. He would catch me by my hair when no one was present and hit me across my face. Then one day after he came home drunk, I took him dinner to our bedroom.
He flung the plate on the floor and asked me to get out.
“Swapnil, you are educated, you are sensible, why are you behaving like this?”
“Because I want to.”
“Because you want to destroy my life? Tell me?”
“Yes, bitch. Yes I want to destroy you.”
Actually he called me “rand” a Marathi word meaning bitch. The next day I went to work with bruises on my face and a black eye. My father was alarmed and asked what happened, though he knew what happened. When this became a regular occurrence, my father, Patil, met his father, Sawant, and told him that he can’t let his daughter live in their house anymore.
“Mr. Patil, these things happen. Why take this extreme step.” He spoke as if hitting a woman was an everyday thing.
“Mr. Sawant, I have brought up my daughters like gold. After their mother’s death I have taken care of them. I can’t bear to see them being hit on their faces.”
I bundled my clothes, my books, and my laptop and moved back to my Vashi home. It was as if a chapter in my life had ended.
It’s been a year since I have been living in my Vashi home. His father calls my father and asks for a meeting so that there can be a reconciliation. But Swapnil never calls. What I need is for him to call and tell me he is sorry. I want him to tell me that he misses me. He is too proud to do that. I long to hear his voice, feel his touch, hear his sweet nonsense. Every time my cell phone rings, I imagine it is him and put on my sweetest flirty voice. But my face falls when it is a telecaller or a colleague from the office. My father became sick and my worries made him sicker. I nurse him and buy medicines for him and take him to the doctor for check-ups.
Meanwhile, I keep waiting for his call.