By Ram Govardhan
Of all the disasters, Sara knew, coming across one’s ex is the most fatal one.
Cosmopolitan tastes were lifelines for her to survive, so she relocated to Bangalore from Delhi just a week after the divorce, five years ago. She shook the memories off, licked her wounds, brushed herself up and moved on, for those were the best ways her friends had tested, and succeeded, taking not too long to heal.
In a moment of release the consequence of catharsis produces, she had resolved that men had no place in her life anymore. The carnal grand slam was over; game, set, and match. What mattered were her goals; setting out precise milestones to achieve her career goal, the Asia Pacific chair in Singapore, was easier, while defining life goals proved elusive. Shrouded in uncertainties, when relationships are volatile, there isn’t much that could be called life.
Just out of a toxic relationship, putting life back on track wasn’t a priority, mere survival was. She had no time for recreation, unwinding or even for a tranquil moment. Even music, her panacea, had to go out of her life; she had given her Bose system to her maid’s son, while leaving Delhi.
Unlike trust, singlehood and freedom could be regained. Repossession of singlehood was gratifying, while the redeemed freedom made life simple, which, in turn, made work a cakewalk.
Even if it’s regained, singlehood is never left alone. For all their pragmatism, conquests, exploits, and wisdom, when it comes to women, men will be men. Period. When men made advances, Sara usually beamed a stern look or fired a soft caveat that invariably fixed the intruders. Rougher treatment was seldom required. The Indian machos and poseurs instantly turned timid when she betrayed a semblance of defiance. In fact, most of them, a little puzzled and a bit baffled, suddenly called her ‘sis’. Others quietly chickened out, mumbling sheepishly.
Battling a raft of well-connected colleagues, emerging from every struggle stronger, she has just achieved her first five-year goal: a posh, top-floor, six-bedroom penthouse in a high-rise in downtown, a remarkable rarity for a thirty-year-old single woman.
She has also achieved another of her intimate goals: going braless for five years, which was far more pleasing, for her breasts seemed happy and didn’t sag as much as she dreaded.
She sprung out of bed this morning with excitement as getting the Asia Pacific chair in Singapore hinged on the outcome of this afternoon’s presentation. If this mega enough project is through, she would be the first one to shatter the glass ceiling. No one, then, would be able to slow her up, she could even end up on the board in Frankfurt.
As Sara and her secretary Neelam were on their way to the client’s office, the VP informed her that his boss from New York had landed last night and will be there within an hour. A while after she mailed the slides, the VP wanted her in his new cabin, which was as big as half a tennis court, including the doubles sidelines. He asked her to delete the one slide that said the current burn rate of cash is unsustainable.
While sipping tea, the VP abruptly walked out and returned with someone who looked very familiar.
Sara was shocked. He was Aditya, her ex, in his Armani, a little rotund, with a bigger, protruding paunch well bridled by a thick belt. Aditya eased into the sofa, like a disdainful monarch easing into his throne, legs crossed, resting hands on the handcrafted side tables, one of his piked shoes pointing towards ceiling.
The VP waved Sara to start.
Aditya betrayed no signs of knowing her; neither did she.
As she wound up, Aditya clapped haltingly, looking at Neelam, not Sara, and asked, “Why did the last campaign fall flat?”
The VP stared at Sara.
“…We couldn’t figure out…perhaps it’s too late…” Sara said.
“…it tried to address a problem that didn’t exist,” Aditya said, “Only a fully vetted campaign must be disseminated… a corporate genius pitches the solution first and unearths a suitable problem to back it up…”
Sara was quiet.
“You had a month to prepare…things must roll off your tongue… have marshalled your facts irrationally, vague about alpha specifics too. Could have been concise and crisp, broad-strokes are what I want…I like to see the numbers I can get my teeth into,” Aditya said.
He had a glass of water and resumed.
“…this is a novel manner of misspending time…executing is all about rhythm and flow…you have to monkey around with the figures you have. Not respecting the patterns big data is throwing up is missing a massive trick…am not a CEO who sleeps in ivory towers…”
Sara was quiet.
“To have a better understanding, misunderstanding is a prerequisite…” Aditya said.
The VP had already told her about Aditya’s penchant for unpleasant of reactions if he finds something isn’t original. And that he is strict and fussy about communicational syntax and executional rhythm. And that he is a very jovial, free-spirited man, yet displays a sudden constipated look on his face if he feels something is half-baked.
The VP asked Sara to wait at the lobby; within minutes, Sara stormed out asking Neelam to stay back.
Her chauffeur discreetly dropped the cigarette butt and opened the door. On the way home, in a not so wistful recollection of not so happier times, which turned unbearable within two years of their wedding, glimpses of Delhi days flashed.
Introduced by a friend in a gym, Sara found Aditya fit, hard and tough. With a straight nose that continued the line of the forehead, with a well-proportioned torso, he was the most handsome man she had met. With a fabulous, rounded, bluesy voice, he seemed a showstopper and an upper crust lord belonging to a timeless class.
Like Jeff Bezos, he often let out bursts of maniacal, raucous laughter. With a certainty that characterised his utterances, he seemed impressive, serious and someone who wouldn’t press lies even in the service of truth. All in all, he seemed an ideal man God ever invented.
Her sixth sense was quick to hint, “Don’t be so quick to assume.” But young and impressionable minds always give thumbs down to such intuitive insights.
An hour later, he drove the ladies to his futuristic bungalow with an imposing facade of glass and steel.
As she stepped in, she was at once struck by the grand scale, dimensions, and symmetry of the bungalow. The synthesis of traditional materials like terracotta bricks, tiles, red-oxide flooring, wooden pillars, and columns was ethereal and yet so earthly. With Kerala style sitouts, elegant terrace gardens, graceful porticos of brass, the bungalow had contemporary charm, Bohemian spirit, and rustic tone. A couple of Mahogany armchairs in the French taste and other bespoke interiors enhanced the ambience.
As Sara was mesmerised with the portraits of yore adorning every wall, Aditya said, “Am one of the largest collectors of Rembrandts.”
The loosestrife flowers suffused with purple in the gardens were too intoxicating.
“My bungalow looks mint, but it’s thirty-years old. This is the time am usually found at the bar…but I have to defer to lovely ladies…,” Aditya said.
In the dimly lit, professional grade set-up home bar, showing off wonders of his house, he threw a wine and cheese party. His refreshing wit, facility of thought, and chain of reasoning captivated her. Sara’s friend, who was quiet until then, left the place citing some situation.
As his enjoyable, unstoppable monologues continued, Sara could sense more heart in his humour and more head in his wit.
Unlike John Wayne, Aditya believed that one-liners are often misleading and convey imprecise, pompous account. He wasn’t a sort of a man who would salivate at the sight of a woman, nor one to give in to impulses thoughtlessly.
“Stumbling upon a real beauty and not having thoughts of sex isn’t a manly trait… keeping one’s sanity in check is…” Aditya said.
Sara kept quiet.
“I can tolerate even fickle women…but not the ones that want to die in their four-inch heels…” Aditya said.
He was for women getting a fair shot at opportunities, and he said he champions for queer rights too. His words put her in a warm place, and it was clear that he never suffers prudes and snobs.
With a reassured swagger, lucid and luminous mind, his prudence seemed as timeless as that of early Victorian gentry. He was exceptionally sensitive to nuance and duality of human nature, even during his expansive monologues. His accent was better than that of Londoners, and he pronounced his vowels better than them. She was dumbstruck when he marvellously mimicked the English accents of Irish, Poles, Spaniards, and Scotsmen.
A yoga freak and a workaholic, he said he can lift the legendary Thomas Inch Dumbbell with one hand. Aditya loved overworking, wearing burnout as a badge of honour, swearing by the outcomes of tears and toil.
In the three hours they spent together, he explained as to how the Persian term Shahmat (death of emperor) had become Checkmate, how persuasive and elegant Bible is, how irreducible the complexity of DNA is, why Elon Musk sleeps in Tesla’s Gigafactory, how Tyson would launch unrequited punches even while suffering from fever, why Hindus find it easier to get a job at BBC than the Catholics, why political correctness can’t be progress, how stunningly beautiful Manhattan skyline looks from Hudson River Walkway, how to fillet a flathead boneless and easy, how illustrious was Bill Shankly as Liverpool’s manager, how something considered cheeky in the ’70s is illegal now, how critical is Al Gore’s DVD to understand Global Warming, why Tunisian spring couldn’t galvanise the Arab world the way it ought to have, how oxymoronic is Danes talking about slaughtering pigs the humane way, how vintage and inimitable is Rado’s Captain Cook collection, how impressively philosophy illuminates our physical world, how the giant Douglas Fir logs are milled to lumber, and how subtle yet unmistakable is British racism, and as to why mathematics was discovered and not invented.
He also extolled the virtues of ethical porn consumption and dwelt at length as to how ethics and erotica are compatible.
In the candle-lit brilliance, appreciating her magical full-skirted lilac dress, he found Sara angelic.
“In the dim ambience, your glow is like bio-luminescence,” Aditya said.
“Have you heard of ‘precision sex’…?” Aditya asked, and, without waiting for her answer, began talking about the sort of solid nourishment he loves as opposed to drinks.
His food preferences were too rich for her blood. His chocolatey breakfast and lunch made up of oatmeal, cornmeal and yogurt seemed too alien to her. He said he employs Russian cooks at home and prided that he himself could conjure up French onion soup in a jiffy, and, like the orthodox Jews, he wouldn’t touch anything that isn’t kosher.
“I was born in a food obsessed family…I love Italian the most…” Aditya said, “Moonstruck, not Goodfellas, is the most indispensable Italian food movie…”
He then unveiled his collection of vintage gunstones, motley array of guns and gold-plated guitars. He then showed her his large wardrobe consisting of cowboy boots, gaiter shoes, Navy Cashmere-Mix Coats, jean jackets, sneakers, cravats, Moscot Nebb sunglasses, bow-ties, sockettes, Go-With-Everything Loafers, Miansai heritage rings, V-neck jumpers, Windsor chinos, and golden cuff-links.
He was too gracious, as if she was entitled to courtesy at his hands and made her feel home and loved.
Not just his tastes and class but what clinched the deal was his love for white roses, artisanal chocolates, poetry, and his generous donations to various non-profits.
“Never look for elevated meanings in poems…and never subject sermons to moral reflections…” Aditya said, “I have a couple of unpublished poems of Marilyn Monroe in my library.”
Learning that Sara is a devout Catholic, Aditya unwrapped a two-hundred-year-old, brilliantly restored calligraphic Bible and said, “Despite persecuting the unbelievers, the Jews, heretics and the orphans, isn’t Catholicism largely a benevolent faith?”
He then said he loves songs with longer intros and all his favourite singers were gospel singers and he had once taken Epiphany dip in the icy waters of Belgrade along with Orthodox Christians.
“But why was the papacy silent when Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis was happening? Of all the places, Rwanda…the most Catholic nation in Africa and one of the most Catholic one in the world…,” Aditya said, “…Thank God, the current Jesuit Pope is too wonderful…too pragmatic…”
“…the comfort and joy one derives from this faith is out of the world and, of course, one can hardly find salvation outside of it…” Aditya said.
Sara was quiet.
“You are extraordinarily fluent in silence…” Aditya said.
“You talk incredibly faster than you think,” Sara said.
“But why did Thomas More torture people for owning English language Bibles in England in 16th century?” Aditya asked, “And they shamelessly bestowed sainthood on him a little later…ha, haa, haaa…haaaa…this is what happens when nationalism becomes a religion.”
Sara was quiet.
“I am sweet only to those who deserve…if women assume I am a badass, I don’t disappoint them…,” Aditya said.
“…mmm, if men assume women are millstones around their necks, I rather prefer keeping their necks burdened…” said Sara.
Aditya looked a bit stunned, but he was too haughty to continue to look so.
“Love should always be mad, passionate and extraordinary…too many things in life are mediocre, love can’t be one of them…”
Sara was quiet.
Aditya continued, “Love or no love, life is a balance between holding on and letting go….”
They tied the knot within months of meeting. But, within weeks of wedding, the worst ordeals began unfolding. In fits of rage, he exceeded her reckoning of what constituted tantrums, outbursts, and spasmodics. The moody beast once bragged that he once had a date with two girls the same evening…he flipped a coin and chose the one who came out heads.
During the whole of second year of their matrimony, they hadn’t been to bed, except to sleep. And then, he turned as cruel as the Athenian legislator Draco, exhibiting, what else, Draconian mercilessness. After cutting her access to phone, newspapers and television, Sara was confined to one tiny room in the bungalow, turning it into a gold-plated prison.
The Russian cooks recounted Aditya’s eccentricities. That he pays every call-girl by credit card, only to remember the date, not the woman. And that he frequents Gambia as a sex tourist and that he usually body shames black women immediately after having hot tub sex. And that he has a relaxed relationship with truth, honesty, and even morality. It was too late by the time she grasped that he was not just a casual flirt, but a sheer pervert.
When confronted, Aditya considered his sins, vices, and usual transgressions harmless, overrated peccadilloes. That was that. She decided to break-off; he was more than happy to sign the divorce papers.
“Separation leads to better appreciation,” Aditya said after signing the papers, “Of course, I could have given you hell before signing…but, but…”
While the elevator dashed to the top floor, Sara shuddered to recall Aditya’s cruelty in deriding, mocking, and jeering her presentation. The realisation that she has killed all her hopes of getting the Singapore role devastated her. Fear gripped her, followed by a weak fluttering in the stomach. She had staked her life on the outcome, she had worked relentlessly for this for over five years now.
She was crestfallen and, as tears rolled, someone called her.
“I am Aditya…Aditya Sharma…,” he said.
She was quiet, she began sweating.
“I can double the costs or offer a lifeline…there are no failures in the world, only lessons all of us can learn from, benefit from…,” Aditya said.
She was quiet.
“…will be there in a jiffy…will be with you tonight…want a bed of white roses,” Aditya said.
Sara was quiet.
Aditya reached within a few minutes.
“I left an all-important meeting to see you,” Aditya said, “You are my long-lost flame…it’s surprising that you haven’t been taken for so long…”
She was quiet.
He handed her a box of Dolci’s Guido Gobino’s artisanal chocolate and three bottles of Sourwood Honey.
In the balcony with a view of the stunning downtown skyline, as it was getting kind of nippy, Aditya caressed her hair and said, “I love your swirling hair in the breeze…the salt of your perspiration tastes as sweet as it did years ago…”
Around five in the wee hours, he woke her up with a kiss and said, “Stumbling upon one’s ex isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be…you will realise before a day…”
He then left saying he has a flight to New York.
By noon, Sara received the confirmation for her elevation to the top Asian job in Singapore.
As her secretary didn’t show up for work, Sara called few of her friends only to know that Neelam had flown away with Aditya to US.
Ram Govardhan’s poems and short stories have appeared in Asian Cha, Open Road Review, The Literary Yard, The Bangalore Review, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, Indian Ruminations, The Spark, Muse India, Nether, The Bombay Review, and other Asian and African literary journals. His novel, Rough with the Smooth, was longlisted for the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize, The Economist-Crossword 2011 Award and published by Leadstart Publishing, Mumbai. He lives in Chennai, India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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