In the months before my move to his parent's place at Udaipur, we got to work together often. Between the canal project and the panchayat work we shared, we hardly had any time to chat up or get to know the other person better, despite the opportunities presented. With the exception of the few times I had called to alleviate my fears about going to a prestigious institution such as IIMU, we didn't phone each other otherwise. During the times I got unreasonably restless over my enrollment, he always managed show patience, talking me though it and I was grateful for that one virtue, if nothing else.
Although, we shared a curiously weird relationship, I believe it wasn't far from the truth to say we had grown to prefer each other's company by the end of that summer. Without notice, I began looking forward to our trips that took us far from Jaitsar. Was it the drives, or the music that we didn't debate over, or the air that was a tad bit more moist than it was back home, I couldn't tell. The sunrises and the sunsets became landmarks unto themselves in our journey. I was left to ponder if it was the searchable silence that made us companionable.
On one such trips, our conversation struck a surprisingly personal note. I may not be so wrong as to claim that that exchange shifted something between us; let us find an unexpected confidant in the other.
We were parked outside an almost barren farm that was in the process of being prepped for another rotation of crop. He wanted to stock up on drinking water from a nearby hand pump and I got out of the jeep, not minding to stretch my weary limbs. When he came back with the cans of water, I was leaning on his side of the vehicle, watching the sun go down behind the mountains. The wind had lost its heat and the breeze began to move in then.
"I wonder how many more years they could do that?" he took me out of the stupor I was falling under the spell of the ocher sky, as he pointed to a midde-aged couple settling under a tree for an early dinner spread. Given the distance, I could only catch a glimpse at their silhouette moving against the backdrop of in-numerous orange shades.
"Until their last day on earth." I found myself saying without meaning to.
"Well, that is if boredom doesn't kill them sooner," he said gesturing to the landscape that appeared to be devoid of all life. In the sweep of his hand, I spotted a house in its last days and made it to be the couple's home. "This place is in the middle of nowhere. They practically spend all their time together. I'm certain, there will be a day they will want to go back home and strangle each other," he said with dry humor.
Smiling, I shook my head in response. "And wake up the next morning to fall in love over again. If indeed love was what had kept them together all this while - in this boondocks, as you call it," I said, twisting my finger around my chain and shifted my gaze to the ground.
"Indeed!" he said nodding, but only to refute the next instant, "But, it fades like everything else."
"If love does fade, then it wasn't love to start with," I said gazing away at the distant couple. "Love is like Santa Claus, a fairy tale of sorts. It exists only until you believe in it. The problem is it lives on even if its only one person believing in it. Now, what takes work are relationships. That's another story, Shiv."
When I didn't hear him quip in return, I raised my eyes back to him. He stood with one arm braced against his hip and the other taking support from a rim. Contemplative and assessing; he wasn't any bit amazed then.
"What?" I asked him when his long minute of study made me self-conscious.
"After all that you have been through, I didn't think you would believe in love, let alone vouch for it."
"We are desert people, Shiv." I moved to come around the front and settle in the passenger seat as I continued. For the first time, I spoke freely of the truth I had learnt from the time Jagya had left me for another woman. "You don't swear off on rain because you go through a drought. I would be stupid if I did that. You live with what you have. Live to see another day and you wait. Hope pulls you though - its the first thing that the desert teaches you."
I didn't turn back to gauge his reactions, but just as he keyed in and pedaled gas, he asked "Are you in wait too, Anandi?"
Of course, I hadn't expected him to pose that question. That instant, answering him felt wrong - somehow it would be an expose and I wasn't sure I was ready for that: bare my soul to him with only a few words. I caught his full gaze on me and my breath quivered at its wake - I felt consumed, spent and judged all at the same time, which furthermore made me acutely aware of the tenderness in that moment.
"Its getting late, Shiv. Drop me off at home, will you?" I tried to deflect and he acquiesced after seconds by pulling away from the spot. We traveled in mutual silence for a while until he commented on the song that was playing on the radio and from thereon we easily moved to other subjects.
I was nearly about to take a breath of relief when we reached home without being pressed to respond to his query. But, it was just my luck that the question resurfaced as I got off the jeep and bid him goodbye.
"You haven't answered my question yet," he asked and I paused picking up my file and handbag.
In reality, I was at a standstill at that phase of my life. Taking a step back did not make sense, while taking a step further caused an aching that reached deep into my bones. Without knowing what was the push or shove I was waiting for, I couldn't take my life forward. Beyond education, I had no vision for a future. As embarrassing it could turn out, I best decided to be honest than appear curt.
"There isn't one, Shiv," I said softly with a smile. "At least, not yet." I added and turned around to go home.