We Will Always Have Bhopal

An email pops into my inbox. I open it idly, thinking it’s probably a reader. At first, I can’t place the person at all. But like a photograph that slowly takes shape when you insert the print into the hypo solution, a memory stirs. A face, a figure, a voice appears, haunting and melancholy. It triggers a yearning so powerful that nothing can quench it. It is as if the messenger has held up an antique mirror, and peering into its half-opaque surface, I have seen myself across the decades—a young, slim, bony woman with eyes so big, they dare to see outsized dreams.

Perusing the message, tears stream down my face. From my window, I gaze forlornly at the white, translucent, prolonged twilight of the Nordic night. I am in Iceland at the moment, where, in the summertime, darkness never comes—and I long for the distant past. The surreal light, the purple and orange sky, the glow of that magical hour, makes me want to grab on to that bygone image and never let go of it. I see the messenger in the mirror too—a tall, dark man with dreamy eyes who would listen to old songs sung by Mukesh with me, seeking a life unlived.

There is something about the construction of his missive, the phrasing of the idiom, and the tone of the sentences. The writer has said more with less—he has kept the heart of the matter unsaid, he has conveyed deep meaning through ordinary words.

The man who wrote the message has been searching for me for decades, it turns out. We only knew one another for a couple of years in Bhopal, but the connection has left upon both of us a powerful imprint. I was married at the time, and so was he. His formal role in my life was nothing more than that of a family friend. The feelings we had for one another were never expressed, nor were they acted upon. We simply lived the life of the soul, unrequited, unfulfilled, unvalidated, marveling that such a feeling could even exist. That two people could be in such harmony with one another.

What we felt was not some youthful infatuation; it was a recognition that had we met at another time and place, we could have had a lasting relationship.
But it was not to be.

So looking out through my bedroom window at the green hills bathed in the ethereal light of an Icelandic summer evening, I wonder what to do. I write to him, mainly to confirm that he is in fact who I think he is. And I thank him for holding the mirror up to me.

It turns out that he is one of those rare men who admires my untraditional life choices, my daring, courage, strength, and intellect. He tells me he has been searching for me mainly to verify my welfare, and that he has no ulterior motives.

For a moment, I consider what could have been. But much to my surprise, I discover that at a certain stage in life, could- have- beens lose their meaning. It couldn’t-have-been is all one can think of. It wouldn’t have been possible for us to meet in college, I realize. For I grew up in Maharashtra, he in Madhya Pradesh. I was a science student, he studied business, economics, and law. If I had not moved to Bhopal after my marriage, our paths would never have crossed.

After so many decades, he proposes speaking on Facetime. I hesitate. I have never liked Facetime anyway, I am not sure why. When it stopped working on my phone, I thought—“Good riddance.” Besides, it seems to be a very intimate way of reconnecting with someone. Am I up to it? Would such an interaction destroy what we had before?

We could be friends of course. But what kind of friends? I cannot envision going to visit his family in India. Nor can I imagine us meeting in America where his daughters live. It seems to be a complicated situation.

And yet I want someone like this man in my corner. I want someone to have the kind of feeling he has for me. Can we call it love? Romance? A crush? Lust? I don’t think so. The feeling remains as bewilderingly indefinable, unlabeled, and esoteric as ever.

Quantum mechanics predicts the existence of parallel universes in which dinosaurs didn’t become extinct or Germany won the Second World War. Is it possible then that he and I are together in some parallel universe? That instead of being separated by the distance of decades and oceans, we are living as soul mates in some distant galaxy?

Perhaps. But does it really matter?

What matters, I realize, is this indescribable feeling, this life of the soul, and this intensely deep capacity for human connection.

And the fact that we will always have Bhopal.

Sarita Sarvate (www.saritasarvate.com) has published commentaries for New America Media, KQED FM, San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune, and many nationwide publications.

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