Deserted Love, Art and other things / Bharti Bansal

I had always seen love being given so freely, I was almost proud of myself for being worthy of it. The idea of a deserving or undeserving love never once crossed my mind. I firmly believed that one has no other way to exist but to love and be loved. 

My first encounter with love was when I spoke my first word which was my aunt’s name. Her name, like sugar on my tongue, dissolved so quickly that I said it again and again. My aunt’s name was just perfect amount of easy and pride. I learnt it years after when she recalled the stories of childhood with nostalgic, quivering voice as she would laugh afterwards, her voice slowly fading until it came to a halt. I think now I know why sound, after all, is just too much energy packed in such little space to make its way through the air, slashing through like a knife. The only remnants of sound is what stays in our heart.  The only memory that keeps rising and falling like waves is the faint realization that even when years pass, and all of this becomes a ghostly remembrance, her name and my voice will stay together. The earth will never stop spinning even  when we are gone, but my first tryst  with language will stay just like that first moment of me claiming my presence in this world. I whispered a name, and it took me where the sentences lied untouched, as I gathered everything with my broken voice. I was ready to speak, and ever so gently I did it with my aunt’s name.

As I grew up further, looking at the world in colors, and not finding any difference between red and violet, it was my aunt who first held a painting brush in her childhood, rebelled for it. I would see her eyes glued on canvas as she played with colors I didn’t know the names of and all the kids (me, my sister, my cousin) sat around her, looking in awe and surprise. She was god to us in those moments and we wanted to become her. How must it feel, to have that autonomy over something we created solely. She was the fiercest of all my aunts, spoke English which sounded foreign to our ears, and stood with such a pride, I sometimes thought about becoming her in all the little ways. The way she held paintbrushes, the way she turned a simple piece of fabric into art, I had started convincing myself that adulthood was something to wait for. She did it effortlessly, with every stroke of color. And we, all her little spectators,  tried to mimic her with our own rangila colors, holding brush like she did. We weren’t good but we felt invincible, the kids no older than ten, eleven, and wasn’t it wonderful, to make them believe that they too were heroes. We were. And then some of us stayed like that. And I drifted away from colors to words.

Words that stayed in my throat, hungry and angry. I was angry at my mother for giving birth to my little sister. So I did what a little kid at that age must, to show their anger. I stopped talking to her. Well the thing about conversing while being a child is that the world is eager to hear what they have to say. And the only way I could rebel was by not saying anything at all. Perhaps that’s how I understood that love wasn’t linear. It didn’t keep on growing or diminishing with time. All it did was take detours. My love reached my aunt as she waited peacefully for the mornings. I didn’t know how to tell her that I was hungry and scream for food as if she was bound to give it to me. It was a happy lie though. I did believe that the world revolved around me for a while. So she would bring me a cup of tea(I have loved morning tea since my childhood) and a roti and I would feel how a daughter must feel. So full of love that all I could do to return it was smile. Endearments are just sounds  which take shape for a specific person. While she called me gaffu, for me she was my “amma.” A word I certainly didn’t know the meaning of but just felt right. After all what was motherhood if not this. She was my mother, a rebellious child’s attempt at being loved and she gave it all to me.

Growing up wasn’t as easy as it seemed to be. What could a little girl expect from this world if not friendship. Wasn’t it the best way to tell someone that they weren’t alone? My youngest aunt did that for me and all the kids around. She was the funnier one. She made us all laugh. She herself was growing too but what camaraderie could an adult find in a child, I often wondered then. Years sailed so smoothly with her by our side, and I started believing that it wasn’t so bad to grow up. I knew I would understand her more if I grew up faster. She was our cat lady but without a cat, and we all thought that laughter was how a big family confessed their love. When I think of if now, I realize we were laughing all the times. She became my best friend, someone I would call and talk for hours. Wasn’t it love? I sometimes don’t believe in the narrative of how giving someone their time is a love language. I wasn’t giving her my time, I was reinventing the meaning of hours and seconds. I was re-watching the sea take shape, and it wasn’t all water. I was growing up with her, and she was, with me. Perhaps my vanity in our friendship lasted way too long. Perhaps some people never change and they end up changing the fabric of time around us. I was a child, I was a teenager, I entered my twenties and she was there, not in the backdrop, but here holding my hand just how she holds the hands of her little baby. Sometimes world does change in an instant, it did when she became a mother. And it will keep changing for me too but I think the only way inheritance works is by giving the same love to people who never stopped loving us. I think I am ready to be a big sister to her daughter. I think I am ready to give back.

But time is a cunning magician and I can tell it by seeing love stay the same but people changing. Sometimes memories of people are reminders that we can never go back in time. Sometimes I desperately want to. Sometimes I am just angry. But what does one do with all the potential love that ends up clustered in their hearts? Do we give it back to the people it was meant for? But I do have memories that are still young in the part of my heart where time has frozen, the part which is writing all of this like a letter to people I would never give. My aunt was a magician with food and, well, all the kids were mesmerized by her beauty. Ah! She was too beautiful for us to actually believe that she would love us back. My vanity made me believe that people too had the same. But she did. With all her magic tricks and specially prepared food and the girl talks and laughter, I sometimes had to stop for a while and actually see everyone around us laughing and God how I wished for it to stay the same. Memories, I tell you, have a way of ruining us without making it feel like so. Memory where she once kissed me on my cheeks because I felt I didn’t look good, memory where she held my hand as I was scared of putting my foot on those darn escalators, memory where she teased me with the name of the boy I liked once, memory where she was my aunt and I didn’t have to think twice before saying it out loud. Memory when she cheered along on our first ever flight. I knew my mother and her have changed in irreversible ways, the distance too vast for any of them to cross, but when I do go back in time, when I will go back in time as my  days here end, I will still see her. Not because it is a learned response of our brains but because love never dies. It never diminishes. It just turns into nostalgia, sometimes anger, an ache in the heart for everything to be as young as a flower, old as a scab of wound, when nothing matters and we know if given a chance, it will slowly wear off, this consistency of cemented silence.

But what do I know of? I have seen time aging but never the eldest aunt of our big family. She stands there, where time stops, ever gracious and calm as she paves way for all her sisters too. A young girl who built her home not by succumbing to what world wanted her to be but by rebelling for making her own. I think I indeed am born in the family of angry, rebellious people who love as strongly as they can. First in her family to take up a job, I think our loved ones do carve paths for their people or how else can we ever find where the trail starts and ends. I do know that love doesn’t need constant reminders but when it does, a simple conversation can satiate that feeling. I never thought I made a mark on anyone’s life. I believed I was as feeble as a lie. But when she expressed that she told her friends about me, I wondered if it were possible for someone to be so proud of me as her eyes twinkled and she googled my name to show me how I look from her eyes. I do know that even though she has aged, become a grandmother too, the warmth of her embrace has never changed. I don’t think it will any time soon. I have never needed any loud proclamation of love l, but just little moments so full of love, that they carve their imprints on my mind which I can never erase. Sometimes it is important too. To love is to be kind. And she has been kindest to me. I suppose this is how we build our own empires too. We stand where people who loved us stood before just so we feel their warmth in this cold cold world. I think I am going to stand there for a while before I start building my own.

This family has carved my heart into museum of sweet memories and sometimes it irks me when I can never ask them to love me how they did in my childhood. It is selfish too. But what is love if not a little demand to be cared for again, just how we liked it. It is a painful reminder, this growth but I believe I have enough memories to sustain me for a while. And when they fade, I think I can always go visit my नानी का घर before it is refurbished to match the modernity of changing times. I hope some things stay the same, I hope if they do change, they remind me that I was a good enough kid to be worthy of their love. In vanity, I found seamless love. In loneliness, I have memories to guide me back to life. As long as that stays, I think I can manage to find my way back home. 

Bharti is a 24 year old student from India. Her works have been published in magazines like Aaduna,, the sunflowers collective, two drops of ink, Livewire India, Feminism in India and is forthcoming in the anthology ,”the yearbook of Indian poetry”. She lives in a small village surrounded by mountains and find solace in poetry and stars.

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