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With or Without You

She’s all I have. Even when she’s gone. Even if she never comes back. I have her in my heart. I am all her.

“For God’s sake,I can’t be married to an independent film-maker!.”,she said,hurling the words into the distance of two meters between me and her, filled with pure air.“Independent” met me with slowly pronounced sarcasm while “film-maker” was more subdued.I thank God(if there is one) for crests and troughs in sound waves.“If there is one” is a recurrent phrase in my agnostic reflections and in times like this, it sticks to me like an addiction.And while you are headed for a break-up,religion seems to be more important than ever.Especially when they help you take your mind off things and you try to love an abstract concept(come on,it’s not like you all have actually interacted with the big old guy.Sorry,Guy) instead of a person. To be humanly honest,it hasn’t really helped so far.

Back to reality though.She always said I am not meant for the real world. I shifted my focus from the “Annie Hall” poster on the eastern wall in my office,remembering the great Woody Allen for a moment and looking at her to concentrate.Not that I fancied Woody Allen over Anita. Oh,no. It’s just that I thought in some ways Anita was like Annie in the movie.But more so because that makes me Woody Allen. So you see, I want to be “like” Woody Allen. And Anita could be my Annie.

“Why aren’t you saying something? What happened to the chatterbox I once knew?” Ouch, I always thought Anita should read more.While “chatterbox” met the same fate as “independent”, I really felt she could have used something like “blabbermouth” instead of that favorite word of all middle school teachers in English medium private schools. She moved again and this time she really caught my attention.Back to business, Homi. We have a break up in the making here.And you as the “hero” should do all that you heroically can to stop it.Her face was now inclined at a 60 degree angle,looking straight at me with frowning,big,dark brown, piercing eyes. She was searching for something in my face. Gosh, did my nose blackheads increase? Her hands were locked tightly on her chest,but they were moving as if she was warming up for a fight. Gosh,is she going to punch me?On my nose?

Come on Homi,say something.But what? Oh no,her hands are unlocking…

“I love you! okay?”, I said.Girls love that. When you say you love them. They forgive you 99% of the time.

Her hands went on her hips(and I gave a sigh of relief).“So?” Her head took a curvy swing to her left. It remained there.Her pupils got bigger and bigger. Her eyes always speak more than her mouth. Hey, that’s a good thought. I will try that in my next screenplay.“Talking Eyes”.

“You know what, I am just going to go. I don’t want to lose my job over some self-absorbed,idealistic slacker who loves a character in a film more than me!” She took hold of her bag and moved towards the door,looking at me all the time. I moved forward. Now, I am not good with break-ups,not that I have been in too many relationships anyway.But a break-up is always harder for the partner who doesn’t want it.

“Please wait,come on,let’s talk about this.”,That’s it Homi,just talk. Talk,talk,talk. Don’t say anything stupid though.

Anita was always up for talking. She’s the real “chatterbox”(officially in my least-favorite word list now) if you ask me. And I am not the only artist in this relationship. After all, I met her at a college fest four years ago where she performed the original “Knocking on heaven’s door” version by Bob Dylan. Anyone who does that is on my “thank-you” list. I am a purist and when I see this college fest staple being churned out in an Axl Rose gravel(Guns and Roses front man,for those uninitiated), I turn my face and block my ears in agony. I bumped into her later in the day(and I realized she was two inches taller than me) when we were up for the solo musical event. She could have been a real rock chick(so sparse in the the Calcutta music scene) and when she did a solo on her guitar a la Slash(Guns and Roses guitarist but wait a minute,she does like them), I realized she was too good for me. And too cool. I was the follow-up act and I only had a sitar. The last time I checked,college crowds aren’t blown away by it.
But she loved it, as she told me later. She really didn’t care whether it was hip or not.She cared about string instruments in general and we had a chat backstage about our common love. Though now,come to think of it,that is the only thing we had in common. And music seemed to be the only art she liked. But that’s the reason I dared to fall in love with her,even though I knew she was too good for me and we couldn’t be married with children one day. See, I have always known it.

But I love her. I wonder,in times like these and there have been many in the past,why does she love me?Wait,does she love me? If so,why? If no,then to my greater curiosity,why?

“Why do you love me?”,she got my full attention this time.
“What?”,she looked shaky,insecure. I felt a sneaky sense of dominating pleasure. There,balls on your court honey.

“Why are you asking me this?You know I love you.” Bag’s on the floor,hands back on the hips.
“Yes,but why?”Wow,I felt intelligent. If only those judges at debates knew.

The anger cooled somehow. Anita got all emotional. But she didn’t lose that confident swagger of hers. No,she was a new-age woman. The powerful female. Powerful yes,but very female. You should see her wearing a sari in a temple. They look at her more than at the deities.

“I love you because I know that inside you are this man with the largest and warmest heart I know of. To see you go out of your way to help a destitute while being thrown out of your parents’ house is amazing to me. To see you genuinely interested in your competitor’s work and shower praises even when he wins and you don’t, makes me admire you. I love this sensitive man(she pointed both her hands at me in a very CEO like manner), this caring,soulful,charismatic man because that is what he is.”

She looked towards the floor. And this is what i love most about her. Brutal honesty. Anita said what she felt exactly the way she felt it. She never sugarcoated anything. Of course,it’s good because all the things she said about me were nice. But that shouldn’t change your opinion. She called me a slacker,remember?

I went to her. I held her hand.“Anita…”
She looked up.“But I can’t be with you Homi.” She cried as she said.
“I can’t live like that. Opposites attract,remember?Since you are the idealist,I have to be the realist in this relationship. I admire you and love you and I always will. But I can’t be in a relationship where I don’t see myself married with children in ten years.”

“I want to marry you in the future,you know that. And I want to have kids too.” Now is the time to be serious.Persuade Homi,or she might reason her way out of leaving you. If there is one thing I have learned being with Anita,petty quarrels are better than full-fledged arguments.

“And how are we going to have that? Hire child actors and a camera? We live in a real world, Homi. Marrying you would be like looking after another kid. And anyway,my parents will throw me out if they got to know about you.Parsi? and please,they wouldn’t even know what an independent film-maker is!”

Hey,what about Mrinal Sen and all those Bengali directors? And what about Tagore tying rakhis between Hindus and Muslims? But she has got a point. I possibly couldn’t reason with her parents. And I couldn’t elope with her in a filmy style. First,she won’t come with me. And second, I wouldn’t dare. See, sometimes I do live in the real world.

“So you are breaking up with me?”, I asked her,letting go of her hand.
“Yes”, she didn’t look up. The fact that she got afraid of me sometimes always thrilled me. But I could feel some new emotion swelling up. I felt a force of nature waking up within me. But unlike “Brokeback Mountain”‘s tag line,it wasn’t love(how I wished it could be). It was anger.

“And you are going to blame this whole thing on me?”, I said,pointedly,standing up,locking my arms on my chest and looking at her. She could break up with me,but she couldn’t make me solely responsible for it.

She looked up. This girl,she only had momentary loss of confidence. I asked her once when we met up later(as friends) how to be unfailingly confident. With her experience,she could write a book.

Anita always struck a fair deal. Comes with the brutal honesty package I think. She was thinking of things she could blame herself for. Gosh, I love this girl. She was the sweetest thing I have ever known.

“Well, I guess I shouldn’t have gotten involved with you in the first place,when I knew you were the artistic type and I was preparing for the CAT. Artists,as we all know,rarely make it. But love just happens,you can’t do anything about it. You can’t decide who you love. And I have said that I will always love you.”

That’s it? She just made a wrong decision? Is that all the blame she will take? No way!

“But there are other things too.Maybe I could sacrifice my career for you and be your wife. But someone has to earn here and it has to be me. Also, I love my job,not as much as I love you, but longer than I loved you. And I am what I am because of my parents. I don’t want to disappoint them. I can’t afford to be romantic like you Homi. Being with someone when I love someone else,isn’t that romantic enough?”

Hey,is she the artist now? Why does she have to be smarter than me at everything? And why do I love her more because of that?

“Homi,let’s be friends for life Homi. I love you Homi and I would like to know you when your films get all those awards and congratulate you for them. But I can’t be with you on your journey towards your destiny. I have my own destiny.”

I looked at her. I didn’t feel like saying anything. I wasn’t thinking anything. We stood facing each other. And I felt a surge of warm emotion filling in and my anger melting away. Parting really was sweet sorrow.

Suddenly I remembered the first thing she said to me today." I got a promotion but I have to move to Bombay."

Soon she will be on her way.

But just like the movie, “Annie Hall”, Anita and I remained friends. Just like Annie living in Hollywood, Anita lived in the west coast of our country,Bombay. Just like Woody Allen’s character Alvie Singer living on in the dying city New York, I lived on near the east coast,Calcutta.

And just like Annie,Anita had been terrific to know.

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“cause its a bittersweet symphony, this life…”- The Verve

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about, break, comic, love, story, up

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