A romantic event – with an insight – in Madhuri’s life.
It was 1997. I had just come back to Poona from working in Japan, so I was well stocked with cash. I had a young boyfriend I did not love but could not quite leave either; there was a bond of lust. We both enrolled in Jyoti’s channelling group, held in a room in the Pyramids.
I met a man in the group – Swiss, long pointy nose, stocky, mostly bald. Something about the back of his neck captivated me. My mother had said, once, long ago, that men with thick necks were gross and unsuitable for such intellectually refined women as we; since then I had loved wide-ish, strong necks on men and felt repelled by slender ones. (The boy I did not love had a thin brown throat between his valiant sharp shoulders and his dark narrow head.)
I drew pictures in my notebook, of the Schweizer’s neck-back, and the rest of him that I could see from where I sat behind him in the group. He looked sort of solid. I liked this. The man/boy I was with was twitchy and slidey and delicate, always complaining about his digestion… though determined as a badger.
After the group finished I spent half a night with the Schweizer (I’ll call him “W.”) He undressed me. Nothing else really happened. There were no buzzy ecstasies, no slottings-in-to-home. He told me he loved a fiery Spanish lassie. Perhaps we did not even have sex – I simply, now, cannot remember. (You know how that is?)
Next day I met my lover at lunch in Mariam, and told him where I’d been the previous night.
“But-a – “ exclaimed that young Italian, “He-a is-a BALD-a!”
“So what?” I shrugged. “That is masculine!”
The young ‘un swept his oily black locks away from his narrow face with his narrow hand. I was supposed to realize… hair is where it is at!
The pale W., with his leading nose and his abstracted air, became an inexplicable focus for my dreams of love. He dodged me, he gave me nothing but polite phrases as his eyes wandered away, but I persisted. Talked to him when I could find him.
Finally he agreed to meet me in Zurich, where, coincidentally, we were both headed. He even said he’d meet my flight at the airport. (The Spanish woman’s presence in his life I simply ignored. Some things just don’t have solutions, so why worry about them at all?)
Then I went into a flurry of creative overdrive. I was consumed with visions of clothes! Clothes I would wear on the plane, so that he’d meet an elegant woman at the airport. Clothes I’d wear to bed, to lounge around in, to walk in, to dine in. And, as I’ve said, I had the cash.
So my work in the Mystery School was punctuated with intense, bullet-fast yet thorough trips to M.G. Road. I knew all the cloth merchants of course; and I’d settled on my tailor, Mirajkar, underneath Wonderland Shopping Centre, years before. I recruited a sad little man in glasses with a shop next to his as well – there were so many garments to make. My trousseau!
Mirajkar was my hero – a tall, round-bodied fellow with betel-red teeth and a sharp mind, he could be counted on to make up my often-quirky designs, late – oh yes, very late – but with only a few trips’ worth of corrections to harass him about. He ‘got’ my requirements, more often than not. He employed several foldy-legged little men who sat all day stitching by hand or operating ancient treadle machines amidst the piles of floppy off-cuts of brocaded or sequinned and embroidered fabrics left over from rich ladies’ garments. My drawings he wrapped in the cloth I’d bought upstairs in the narrow concrete corridors of the mall, or in Centre Street; and stowed them amongst untidy piles of similar things behind the last sewing machine, or in a cupboard overhead.
I went for silk in a big way. I chose the best cream satin-silk for a loose poet blouse with full gathered sleeves and sturdy cotton lace (of the kind impossible to find in the West) at neck and frilled cuffs. I had a nightgown made of the same cloth and design, but it came down to the top of the instep. Raw silk tweed trousers in black and white nubbly stuff with a wonderful slub feel. A full ¾ length skirt in royal blue silk with matching nipped-waist jacket. A glorious vivid-blue dress with a huge dirndl skirt to just above the ankles; dolman sleeves and an open collar; small in the waist. A dark-pink cotton one in the same design. And so on.
I never make one thing but that I make ten. Or twenty. Or more. And so my passionate, intent trips to the tailor continued, and my little closet stuffed itself with black velvet opera coats lined with satin, and a mellow cream aviator scarf, and a long vest of the most gorgeous hot magenta raw silk with a woven-in design that would have looked right in a mosque, with its sacred geometry. And a kelly-green velvet one the same style.
The day came for me to fly. Both M. and the young ‘un had gone already, and I dressed so carefully for the longed-for meeting… tweed trousers, black silk jacket, white blouse. My hair washed and done in a French braid for travel. Black flats with a red dot at the toe, that pinched my foot rather, as M.G. Road shoes are wont to do.
And, of course, W. was not there to meet me.
I waited three hours – of course I did – and then, in dismal mood, took a taxi to the flat where I was renting a room.
I phoned him. No answer.
I finally got through to him next day. He mumbled some excuse and agreed to meet me at a street corner near the flat. I was a little cross by then, but gamely, hopefully, I bathed, lotioned my body, and dressed in another version of my best.
He didn’t show.
Finally, on the phone that evening, he said he was waiting for the Spanish girl, who was difficult, but that was where his energy was.
My birthday arrived, and the young ‘un managed to have flowers delivered to me just in time for a dinner I had cooked for my hostess and some friends – had managed this although he was in Sedona! I will admit I was impressed.
I took the train to Leysin, high on a mountainside in the Alps, where I was to lead a group. In my high-ceilinged room I sat down and wrote a long, vexed poem about those clothes, and all that that man was missing in turning his back on me.
And, bit by bit, I gave many of those clothes away. Not out of bitterness – how could I feel anything but covetous for such beauty? – but because of a general sense of just having too much – too many luxurious gorgeous clothes (I have so often felt this way about jewels, poems, paintings, as well). So I gave the poet blouse to someone whose complexion suited it better. And I left a negligee set in Sedona with a slightly-reluctant friend, when I went there next (and broke up finally with the rather ferocious young man, for good and all).
And the way I thought about the episode was this: “What a pitiable, preposterous, absurd idiot I am! A junkie for love, to the extent that I’ll waste masses of time, energy, money, passion – on a non-starter, an obvious non-match, a gap in the fabric of the Universe! How could I do such mind-blowingly idiotic things? Must be that my Distant Father is behind it all; his unavailability dragging me into futile attempts to engage unwilling men. Oh, woe, woe is me. Oh well! Let’s get up and go do something else now.”
But just the other night I was sitting in Nelson’s Wine Bar in Hebden Bridge, at a little round table, with two lovely women – one my open-hearted hostess where I was staying for a week, the other a young Indian who was her friend; a journalist-turned-actress I’ll call Naveen, with lush long sweeps of hair and a wide full grin. And we got into telling stories of crazy things we’d done for love. One had left her husband and children to fly to England to be with a man she’d met once. One escaped a long, moribund, abusive marriage in a highly suspenseful style, to live on her own.
And I told my little tale of the clothes that arose in me, and failed, and flew away.
“What a romantic story!” cried Naveen. “That is pure romance!”
“It is?” I asked, stunned.
“Yes!” she cried.
And I pondered this. And my perspective shifted. And I saw myself differently – or at least in an additional light, if not an altogether alternative one.
For is not this the essence of romance – to make something beautiful, whether anyone is there to appreciate it or not; and then cast it to the winds? Not holding – not selling – not demanding anything in return. Not preserving. Like a dance or a song or a piece of music played to the skies… a lovely blouse is born in concentration and labour and the lilt and puff of dreams. It rests on a moving form for an afternoon. It goes on elsewhere. A song sings because it must – and then it’s gone. An ache in the heart like autumn – not asking fulfilment. Just a dream of beauty, made flesh. Kissed, and then allowed to waft skywards.
I am thinking that when we die, and we cannot take anything with us – we might respect those gestures, those moments, greatly – more so than the things we gathered, measured, held.
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