I think it was love at first sight, but I just didn’t know it then. The first time I saw you was when you were sitting with a common friend, and I caught you off guard by suddenly appearing when you guys had just been talking about me, some friendly banter, trying to rate my looks, like people do in an Indian academic institute where the girl boy ratio is balanced at a precarious 25:75. You looked sheepish and that impish smile just drew me in. I didn’t give much thought to you until I ran into you again, when by some stroke of fate, you ended up walking just behind me during that day long trek on the hills. There was not one moment of silence between us and each of us excitedly tried to talk over the other, as if trying to confirm whether we had really found each other, by gauging each other’s reactions to what we said and how much we resonated with each other. It didn’t matter what we talked about. All I knew was that your voice was music to my ears. I have had my fair share of attention from the opposite sex, and as a result, have devised a number of maneuvers to ward it off. However, when you decided to pursue me, I could sense something very different about it and all my usual defenses simply fell away, perhaps because I saw in your eyes a great sort of love, the kind of love that looks for a mirror and when it finds one, has to inevitably reflect off it and create infinity like two mirrors reflecting each other.
The twist in the tale was that you were Tamil and I was a Punjabi. And thus began my grand education about the Southern part of the country which up until now, I had taken to be one lump where dark-complexioned people adept at pelvic thrusts and funny dance moves lived and that I had minimum interest in ever encountering. The South for me was simply a channel on TV that I turned to when bored by the same old shows to laugh at the movies that seemed strange and silly to me. Up until now, I had a definitive notion of what is beautiful and for a person fed on Hollywood and Bollywood movies where fair is beautiful, and a state where girls rub cream on their faces and avoid the sun like the plague so that they can get the perfect peaches and crème complexion, the first thing that a person had to be to be attractive for me was to have a complexion on the lighter side, which in more offensive terms means that he had to be fair, the whiter the better. Brown hair and light eyes would probably represent the Adonis in my head. But destiny had other plans for me. I found you, who had beetle black eyes, jet black hair, and skin the shade that qualifies to be called “kaalu” in Punjabi which is something that you say to someone when you wish to offend them. All my notions of what I would want my dream man to look like came crashing down. What didn’t change however is how I had imagined I would feel once I actually met someone who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. The feeling I would get when I looked into their eyes, the way my hand would always seek theirs, the way I would just want to snuggle up on their chest, and the delicious feeling I would get simply when he was around, saying nothing, doing nothing, everything that you think exists in some fairy land (even while typing I realize the embedded notions of what constitutes beauty embedded in the English language, for example fairy comes from the word fair folk) far far away and that you wouldn’t expect to find in reality. All of this and more is what I found, and boy, was it a surprise package!
I love aesthetics, be they in paintings or in books or even in interiors. Even the way you put food on a plate and the way you go about eating, I would want to be aesthetically pleasing, and anyone who slurped or dirtied their hands while eating would be a huge turn off for me. A gentleman in Victorian England who ate daintily when in company and never made a sound when the cutlery touched the plates was the epitome of what constitutes perfection for me. But surprise of surprises, here you were, who didn’t even believe in cutlery! You plopped a variety of things on your plate in a very random mixture and didn’t care if the different dishes were separated and then you dug in, with your bare fingers without sparing any thoughts for a possible spoon or a fork. I dreaded the day I would go out with you for a dinner or a lunch date, anywhere in the northern part of the country and had prepared an elaborate plan on ensuring you used cutlery so people wouldn’t stare at us. But, when we did go out and you did eat the rice with your fingers, I found myself not giving a damn! For it was a pleasure just watching you eat and enjoying everything I ordered for you, and sharing the taste of exquisitely prepared dishes and feeling like the heavens had blessed me for giving me the pleasure of your company even though it came with curry laden hands that didn’t seem to want to hold a spoon! Even though over the years, I have embraced the way you eat, I insist on ensuring that you wash your hands with soap and repeatedly gift you handwash which you take in good spirit and even actually use most of the time.
Next came the culture shock! You loved music, especially Tamil music, and in the beginning, I just couldn’t bear to listen to the cacophony of sounds that meant nothing to me. But, your dogged insistence on sharing something that you love and adore finally paid off, and one day, I finally opened up my ears to the beauty of the music of your land. Your excitement rubbed off on me and I found myself listening to the music from your ears, and actually enjoying it so much so, that whenever I want the feeling of solace or of feeling like home, I find myself tuning in even without your persistence. I don’t know what it is about it that appeals to me, and it is definitely not the fact that Tamil music is the best in the world, as you insist! I think it is the fact that it connects me to you and offers me a window into your world that makes me turn to it in times when being apart from you seems to become especially unbearable. The connection through music was a two-way street, to my pleasant surprise, and my heart sometimes still does a flip when I find you suddenly crooning “Ambersariya” a Punjabi folk song. My penchant for Tamil music however is not taken very well by my fellow northerners, who are used to listening to the peppy Punjabi beats or songs from foreign shores and I’m close to finding myself disinvited from a lot of places for my new addiction.
One thing that completely separates the state you come from from the rest of the country is the fact that you take immense pride in your language and wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world. On the other hand, where I come from, there s a running joke that “If you want to teach a Punjabi English, give him a few drinks” for after a few drinks, every Punjabi thinks he is adept at the language and wants to come across as suave by conversing in it. More than me talking romantically or professing my love to you in high sounding poetic terms, the easy way out, to my great amusement, to make you feel almost euphoric was to simply speak a word of Tamil to you, even if it was something as banal as “Enna aachu” (What happened) or Vanakkam (a greeting). Anyone with a different pronunciation of what constituted English for me was met with inner laughter and sense of derision followed by multiple corrections. But you, you made me fall in love with even your “whiiiiiiiiiis” instead of “why” and your “weaaaaaaaar” instead of “where”, so much so that I want to destroy my own smug, self-satisfied way of speaking English and adopt your musical way of talking.
Although I didn’t find what was conventional beauty in my head with you, I find beauty in you that is a thousandfold more beautiful then anything that was in my head. Your thick, curly eyelashes that frame your beautiful eyes, the butter softness in your hands, the smile that reaches right up to your ears and makes your eyes glitter, the pale whiteness at the bottom of your feet, your perfectly shaped nose, your slender neck, and most of all, simply the way you are, and a lot of other things that I still discover every day and that I am yet to discover in the still to come journey of life that I hope to share with you!