My Sapphire Is Blue
My Sapphire Is Blue10 mins 24.7K 10 mins 24.7K
“Are you okay, Kannan?” And then “You look drained out. Can I get you something to drink?” Kanupriya was holding my face in her hands.
I started, eyes screwed up. For a moment I could not make out why am I in this unfamiliar room.
“You have been sitting here since lunch. Get up and go for a bath. Arif is waiting and we can have tea” She sounded tremulous and slightly worried. I could sense that she was not sure about my reactions to the last few hours in the company of her friend, Arif.
I looked into her eyes, looking for some assurance that all is as usual and normal. Her concern for me was not contrived. And then she stretched over me to switch on the lights. The smell of her perfume and her freshly bathed body stirred up the usual upsurge in my body. The mind was confused.
I got up abruptly with a brusque “I am ok” Kanu was taken aback, “Is anything wrong, Kannu. Please tell me. Have I done anything wrong” I smiled wryly.
It was normally the other way round. She would get miffed at any small thing and I would go around asking “Is anything wrong, babe?” “Have I done anything to upset you?”
I went round her to the washroom. The thought of Arif and Kanu together is very heavy on my chest. Did she smile contentedly in his embrace, afterwards? Does she feel that embrace of over 16 years ago as passionately as with me? Have they met again after we got married?
“Dad, you been in there for half an hour. It’s 5, and we are waiting for tea” Gaurangi shouted and banged on the washroom door. I could see in my mind the pose she usually adopts when irritated; hands on waist, head aggressively bent forward, lips pouting, eyes screwed up in feigned anger. I smiled weakly to myself “Coming, Beta”.
I slowly got up from the pot. Rubbed my face and splashed cold water from the basin. The mirror in the harsh light reflected the haggard and morose face. I also noticed a few wrinkles as if on someone else. I showered slowly.
“It’s 5:15, Dad. And Arif Mamu is waiting for us. Mom has made pakodas” Gaurangi said angrily through the door. “And I am hungry”
“I am coming, Gaura. A few moments, please” I lifted my left hand and looked at the sapphire ring that I had bought 3 days ago, on the advice from the Pandit at the temple hoping for a promotion. I slowly stretched myself to my full height. I am a handsome man of 40 years.
Kanupriya had tried to tell me about a relationship, when she was Nafisa Quereishi. In the true tradition of Bollywood films I refused to hear anything then. I didn’t want to entertain anything that may potentially take her away from me. Additionally I was fearful that if I heard her confessions I would be obliged to share mine too.
It was love at first sight. Or was it lust at first sight! She was a dusky beauty, with a robust and athletic figure. And the smell of her body when I bumped into her at water cooler was powerful and intoxicating (Is it the kewra in biryani?)
I learned from her classmates that she was in a relationship with someone at college, one Arif Sheikh. He was from a well to do family of our town. Their affair was whispered about in the college. Abba upon hearing of it was livid.
Actually he was diffident about approaching the boy’s upper class family. A rejection, almost certain in his view, would have destroyed his rising pride following the steady improvement in his small business. He forced her to change college which was in our part of town.
I found Nafisa’s exotic looks irresistible, and I courted her assiduously and was successful in getting her attention and affections after about six months. We saw each other almost daily for the next 3 years with many moments of ecstatic intimacies. Our circumstances were hopeless in the context of our town: she a Muslim and I an OBC.
We ran away to get married once I was settled in the large town with a decent job and lodgings, thanks to the reservations policies of our country. In the anonymity of the large town we were able to organise a decent life of a normal upwardly mobile young couple.
Nafisa chose the name “Kanupriya” for herself, and I was thrilled to approve. The sound of “Kanupriya” made me, Kannan Manjhi, feel so special and my love for her took on a sharper edge.
Last week, Gaurangi learned that her teacher of Political Sciences, Arif Sheikh was from the same town as mom and dad, a town made famous by its regular Hindu –Muslim riots. She reported excitedly, “Mum, Arif sir is from your home town. He is such a soft spoken and nice man.”
“Oh”. Both of us started. Kanupriya looked up at me, and then at Gaurangi. Gaurangi went on, “Arif sir was explaining the irrational and visceral nature of riots that need very little to get them going. Last week, some boys found a Hindu boy holding hands with a Muslim girl. The boy was beaten up, and that lead to a small riot. His uncle was also hurt and his factory was damaged”
“That must be Anwar Chacha” Kanupriya spoke up involuntarily, And then looked at me helplessly. The cat was out of the bag.
“Oh, so you know Arif Sir’ family” Gaurangi then decided to have Arif Sir for lunch on this Saturday. We can never resist any plan our Gaurangi makes. But did we want to!
Today, Arif exclaimed his recognition as soon as he saw Kanu. “Oh, I never could have guessed that Gaurangi’s mother is you, Nafisa. What a pleasant surprise”. Turning to me “Salaam-e-laikum, Kannan Bhai”
Gaurangi’s excitement knew no bounds “ Wow, you all know each other. What a coincidence” And Arif Sir, became Arif Mamu.
Now she wanted to know stories from the times we supposedly spent together. She was excited at the vague prospect of deepening her linkages to her roots. Only contact she had with her grandparents and families when we went there five years ago to bid final farewell to my mother. Gaurangi has been deprived of the love affection and warmth that only grandparents can provide, due to her parent’s social condition.
She was enthralled by her Arif Mamu. During the course of lunch the room was echoing with sparkling conversation, much laughter and jokes; idiosyncrasies of friends, the pranks pulled on each other. Many romantic linkages and heart breaks were recalled.
All of us were enjoying ourselves: there was good food and gossip. Kanupriya and Arif reminisced about people and events. As Arif and Nafisa spoke with warmth and easy familiarity, a sense of foreboding started settling in me.
Arif alluded that he had not married, darting a glance at Kanupriya; was it because he could not marry Nafisa. As my Kanupriya became Nafisa, an image of her in embrace with Arif flashed. I dared not let my imagination go beyond. But that spoiled my day.
Suddenly I was an outsider. Then Kanupriya started talking about her family and cousins who had abandoned her, She bitterly complained as if a bund broke and tears flowed. Sorrow at the loss of contact with loved ones, missing the joys of Eid and Ramadan celebrations with her brothers and sister, and many iftar parties with extended family were recalled with a sense of loss.
I had a quick shower changed into fresh clothes and went into the living room. Arif, Kanu and Gaurangi were lounging around. Kanu called for the bai to bring on the Tea.
All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am “Miyan Arif, did you have a restful siesta. These girls have been badgering you all afternoon”
“Yes, Bhaijan. It has been a very enjoyable day” Kanupriya poured tea and handed over the cup to Arif, and me. Gaurangi passed the pakoras and some finger food around. She was popping some into her own mouth while doing so. Gaurangi was very happy today.
Small conversation followed. Being a teacher Arif is comfortable with gupshup. He added that he goes home almost every month.
“Gaura told us about the recent clashes between a few youngmen in our town”. Kanu said. “Do you think it will ever change” I asked.
“Ein laundon ko kuchh kaam to hai nahin.” He went on, “And the media magnifies these incidents…. breaking news. Even upper classes have poor opportunities. There are now 4 people against 1 of our dad’s generation. The Scheduled castes and OBCs are now becoming the new Muslim”
“That is an interesting viewpoint, Arif Miyan.” I continued, “I have been thinking about these issues too for some time now. My friends have debated that over the last 68 years thru reservations many of us have benefitted. In this city for example, none of our friends care out my OBC status or Kanu’s religion. The class distinctions have broken down”
“That is very heartening ” Arif encouraged. “We now even have a Dalit Chamber of Commerce. Many of us do not need reservations anymore.” I said.
“Muslims ke liye to koi reservation nahin hai” said Nafisa.
“Many believe that RSS helped BJP lose election by raising this issue, even though the concerns are genuine. So Politicians will be afraid of touching this issue. It will go the same way as Family Planning and nasbandi of seventies. Aaj tak koi uski baat nahin karta.” Arif elaborated.
“That is an interesting observation and must be true, Arif Bhai. I have been thinking of a way forward, but am not sure”
“Let’s hear it”
“If you have thought this thru, it must be good” encouraged my Kanupriya.
“It came up due to positive response received to the #GiveItUp campaign with Cooking Gas subsidy. What if a similar campaign is started for reservations? #GiveupReservations?” I said, not sure of the reaction.
Arif got up with a start “Wow Bhaijan. This is revolutionary idea”
We discussed this some more and then Arif wanted to go. “Bhai Saheb, it was kind of you to have me over. I am delighted to meet your Kanupriya and Gaurangi. It was my priviledge to enjoy the hospitality today.’
“You are most welcome, Arif Bhai. Consider this as your own home” I said.
“With your permission, I would like to discuss your idea of #GiveitupReservations with the faculty at school and in my Rotary club and at the masjid this Jumma. I will let you know of their responses”
We waved our byes with hugs and handshakes.
After dinner when we retired to our room, she said “Have you thought about this issue of Reservations seriously. What will happen to your promotion then?”
I looked at my sapphire again and said “I will get it on merits”
She turned towards me and moved closer and crossed her leg over me. I turned and put my arms around her. I smiled content; she is back, my Kanupriya.
My sapphire is a deep Blue.