DELHI AND DESIRES
DOES ROMANTIC DESIRE LEAD TO A HIGHER SELF OR DISTRACT FROM A GREATER POTENTIAL? THINK ABOUT THAT WHILE I RELAY THIS STORY TO YOU.
I started with desire but I could have started with Delhi. This story has no clear beginning, but there is a boy inside its heart. Delhi, desire, the boy, and me. These are some of the elements. As you can see, I am struggling with the beginning. So I’m going to, instead, write about bicycles.
Think of our emotional lives as bicycle rides. Each one of us is given a different type of machine – equipped with various kinds of seats, wheels and gears. Each one of us has a slightly different terrain ahead of us. Each one of us is also predisposed with unique levels of stamina and endurance; we are all inclined to ride with our own speed. Some of us are careful, choosing comfortable, familiar paths over adventure and thrill; others like to travel far, to exotic places, over rough, uncharted territory. Such diversity; but there is no way to predict who might meet with an accident, or who will ride through life in relative safety. Accidents, like so many other things, are completely random. When they occur, there is nothing one can do, apart from gathering oneself, trying to get up and recover.
Now, on top of bicycles, I am also making you think of accidents, aren’t I? These are all related. All these factors are part of the same equation. And since we are speaking of various factors, a small clarification. We know that desires, specially the romantic kind, are intrinsically linked to emotions. The difference between the two, according to psychology, is that desires arise from our bodily structures – hunger leads to a desire for food – whereas emotions are tied to our mental states. Keep that in mind.
One could say that my bicycle ride has been pretty rough. Rough, not necessarily in the sense of just sad and soppy and full of little accidents – although all that is true – but rough in the sense of thrills and adventures also. You see, being a gay Nepali is like riding down a hill with no path. There is only a sense of falling down, of descending into the jungle, knowing that you are away from society and civilization. Yes, at one point, being a Nepali gay guy felt like I was headed for one big accident and there is nothing to look forward to other than bloody death with broken limbs. Blood and death in the jungle, undiscovered for days.
That is why we gay boys say that we are all damaged. Being a minority, being misunderstood, ridiculed, ignored. All the forces out there sweeping over us, pushing us towards corners, inside walls, under the bed, compelled to hide – all that leads to series of emotional accidents. And when you spend so much of your time just reeling from the pain, just recovering and healing and trying to make sense of what the hell happened, we gay boys are hardly prepared for romance or relationship. All that makes sense, right?
That was quite a long background for you. Now let’s zoom into year 2014. After my long ride through young adulthood, after having my share of bruises and adventures, after seeing places and meeting people, I arrived at year 2014, to my utter surprise, relatively safe and sound. And specially in the context of emotions and desires. I mean, I was actually astonished that my bicycle was in pretty good shape. In fact, it seemed that it had reincarnated itself into a shiny, new form.
You could say that I had learned a few tricks, learned how to maintain the bicycle. Many years from now, I know that whenever I look back at 2014, I will think of it as a year when I was deeply content. And specially content being single. I started renting a flat on my own – I had never lived by myself before – and discovered genuine joy in being completely alone.
It was sometime in mid-2014 that the boy entered the scene. (Don’t forget about the other factors of the equation – desires, me, accidents). He buzzed me on Grindr. He was from Darjeeling but lived in Delhi. We started talking, flirting, exchanging photos, became Facebook friends, which revealed an entirely different side of him. His profile pictures – just the angles and the combination of clothes and settings and graphics – were breathtaking.
I want you, he started saying.
I’ll come and see you, I said. In January.
January is so far, he wrote.
So I bought a plane ticket in early December and flew to Delhi five days before Christmas.
I’ll drop off my bags at my friends’ and come see you right away, I had said. But inside the cab, on the way to South Delhi, he postponed the date. He was hungover, he said.
Ouch; a small bump. But no matter. Instead, I went to Old Delhi that evening with friends for a butter chicken dinner.
The following morning, I woke up inside the friend’s apartment, shivering. Delhi’s winter is very different from Kathmandu’s. The temperature may be a bit higher, but the city gets no sun. The air is all fog and smoke. Besides, my friend’s apartment received very little light. But that’s not why I was shivering really. I was shivering out of anticipation, excitement. My desire for the boy had gotten so strong over the months that I physically felt like something was about to burst inside and flow out of my body.
I finally managed to set an afternoon coffee date at Hauz Khas Village and killed a few restless hours. Finally, I took a shower, borrowed a scarf from the friend, got dressed and walked out to the auto stand. I was completely unfamiliar with Delhi. The previous night, I had studied South Delhi’s map briefly to get orientated. The google map in my phone had three different stars that plotted the neighborhoods – Malviya Nagar, where my friend lived; Lajpat Nagar, where the boy lived; and Hauz Khas Village, which was somewhere in between.
The auto guy charged seventy rupees for a twenty minute ride. I stepped inside a cafe and scanned the tables to choose an appropriate place. I browsed through Times of India, twice, while waiting for him. He was ten minutes late, then twenty, and finally sent a message saying he was on his way. I kept looking towards the door, trying to imagine his tall, slim frame approaching me.
“It’s bizarre to finally see you,” he spoke softly, with small halts, after gently perching himself at the edge of a seat across from me.
All this time, I had wondered what he would sound like. He spoke Nepali, he had said, and I longed to speak to him in my mother tongue. But then, he was Indian. I was eager to hear his accent. I had also discovered, through Facebook, that he was quite a reader. In fact, I had gone over his list of “Ten Favorite Books” while that fad was going on online.
We had one book in common, Madame Bovary, and there were other alluring names on his list – Camus, Marquez, Calvino.
And that was just his mind. His face, typical to Darjeeling, had evolved from a genealogical mixture of Thakuri and Kiraant genes. It was ethereal, unlike anything I had seen before. The images of his lean and slender body was burned in my mind. His smiles, as seen in photos, were rare but magical. And he sang. There were a few photos of him holding a mic, looking up in the distance, lost in passionate abandon, flowing with the music, lips partly open.
It was indeed a little strange to finally see him. I could sense my muscles relaxing, nerves getting back in sync, while he collected himself and suggested that we go for a walk to a park nearby. I settled the bill, grabbed my jacket and went to the loo. Outside – I couldn’t help it – I squeezed his shoulders with both hands and quickly rubbed his back. I said it aloud too – I have to touch you to make sure you are real. He giggled, an indication that my gesture was appreciated.
It was a good date. We strolled around the park, exchanging small life details. We talked about drugs and alcohol, and also dreams and destiny. There was no awkwardness. Words flowed. Meanwhile, the foggy winter afternoon subtly turned into evening. So we walked out of the park, tried to find another cafe but chose to go for the quick and convenient street-stall for desi chai. The evening ended early after we decided to meet the following day. He gave me a gentle peck on a cheek during our goodbye hug.
The following evening, I took a set of white candles and Calvino to his place. He mixed rum in herbal tea and played jazz. We spent the entire evening and all night in bed, under layers of blanket; the room was so cold. At one point, he went to the kitchen and brought two bowls of Wai Wai, mixed with fried eggs. Lovemaking intermingled with conversations. We knew we had Flaubert and Calvino in common. But during the course of the evening, we also discovered our mutual love for Miyazaki. He played Princess Mononoke on his laptop. But around 3 am, with my palm on his bare back, I fell asleep before the movie ended.
I left early in the morning, in order to pack and catch an afternoon flight to Goa with my friends. On my way to the airport, he wrote, “You seem so familiar, yet I have never met anyone like you before.”
I waited for his messages in Goa; had to restrain myself from calling him. But he was mostly unavailable. I was all set, on my emotional bicycle, ready for a journey with him. So what if he lived in Delhi? Maybe he’ll move to Kathmandu; after all, he is Nepali, right? I dared to dream. I let my desires pour out. I was aware how my emotions were gradually taking hold of me. I did not like how I reached out for my phone, morning, noon and night, yearning for his words. But they were rare.
In Kerala, I was finally able to get a hold of him on Facebook messenger. “I can’t wait to come back and hold you,” I had written. To which, his response was, “Don’t develop feelings for me.”
“I am really into you,” I finally blurted out but his response was “I don’t have any ambitions for our relationship.” His messages were confusing. It was difficult to receive them. In person and online, it seemed that he was interested in me. But clearly, he wasn’t willing to go further.
There I was, at a crossroad again, trying to decide which way to go. I had a choice. Whether to keep going on this path, to keep riding, trying to convince him to travel along with me on this trip, to tell him that it was going to be special, that my instincts said we would travel well. I had a choice whether to take that risk. Or whether to turn my bicycle in a different direction.
I took a nap after that Facebook conversation – the previous night had been sleepless; Kochi was hot, the room was full of mosquitoes and my friends snored during the night – and when I woke up, I made a tough decision, realizing that my desires (or feelings, emotions, whatever) for him weren’t quite reciprocated. I deleted him from Facebook.
Because here’s the thing. Desires can be deadly, the unreciprocated, unforgiving kind of desires. They can lead to accidents, the deep, internal kind of accidents that may not leave any visible marks outside but will destroy your heart and mind.
I know some of you have gone through it – whether they were bruises from your adolescence, mistakes from your twenties or near-fatal crashes in adulthood. That sensation of witnessing your heart getting crushed by a beloved, the inability to understand what’s going on in your mind. Being in an accident; your desires turning you into a useless lump.
I also have a theory now. Partners, when they find each other and are able to balance and work out their emotional equations, can have a blissful life. But that idea should not apply to everyone. Perhaps some people are better off on their own. Perhaps some people are able to produce a higher quality of work if they are not distracted by desires. Any idea, generalized and applied to every human being, is dangerous. For example, some people make great parents; some don’t. Some women make great mothers; some simply don’t. Everyone should not be expected to deliver the same thing or follow a set model.
One should understand what one is capable of; also understand that life hands out things randomly. And you may not always get what you want.
After that Facebook conversation in Kerala, I took a few days to recover. I imagined myself at my flat in Kathmandu and remembered those joyful, solitary hours. How beautiful it was to wake up at early dawn, step out at the balcony and look at the sky. I remembered how wonderful it felt to not have to explain my idiosyncrasies to anyone. To have so many hours and days just for myself.
When I got back to Delhi, I did not contact the boy. He had expressed annoyance after being deleted from my social media circle but I guess he got over it and finally got in touch, inquiring whether I was back in town. I did not respond immediately. Instead, I met friends at Lodhi Gardens and the National Gallery of Modern Art. Once, I took an entire day just for myself. I caught up on articles I hadn’t read and finished editing pending stories. I laid still and listened to music.
I had had an accident; I was slightly bruised. My bicycle had hit a bumpy patch, so I spent some time trying to steady it again. I reminded myself that there was work to do; there were so many words that needed to be written. I told myself: the practice that solitude requires can sometimes be taxing, but it is worthwhile; that life is long and there was a long way to go.
But the question still lingers: Does romantic desire lead to a higher self or distract from a greater potential?