It is the truth. The men have left. It has been a long time now. The affairs, the so-called loves of my life, the ones I could not do without (or so it seemed then) and the ones who used me as well. They are all long, away and out of my life. What have remained though are books. With all the sex we did not have and all the sex we did, in between you gave me books – all of you. That is also because you knew that I loved them so much, that you could not have given me anything else. You left and the books stayed. Here are some of them. They still some times remind me of all of you, of bitter memories, of happy ones, of the sad ones and of the most sexual ones.
The Complete Poems of Pablo Neruda: You bought this for me on a whim. There were no online shopping sites then. We went to Prithvi Café for a cup of coffee. We played footsie for a while. I knew how this was going to end – in bed as always. You would be on top of me and I would give in gladly. There was a book shop – a quaint one at Prithvi. I insisted we check it out. Your testosterone was raging and you wanted the book browsing to get done. I loved Neruda. I still do. You bought the book for me. The only half decent thing you did. The affair did not last for more than a month. The book on the other hand, still adorns the bookshelf. I think of you sometimes. I am thankful.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: I remember this is how we started off. It was a chat room – one of those ubiquitous ones, where everyone wanted to chat up with everyone. Your ID was Heathcliff. I could not resist but ping you. I wanted to be the Catherine to your Heathcliff. I wanted to live up to Wuthering Heights. We spoke about it for days. You were in a different country. I used to stay up, just to speak with you. It so happened, that you visited India. I came to pick you up at the airport, only to see a hardbound edition of Wuthering Heights under your arm, for me. I was overwhelmed. You also told me that you were seeing someone by then. The book as usual stayed. You insisted. I could not refuse. I was never Catherine. You were definitely not Heathcliff. We have not spoken since.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert: Isn’t it ironic that you were a married man, and sort of very loosely the plot of Madame Bovary played out between us? You could not meet me that often. I would yearn for you. I could not message. Neither could I call. It was futile. This relationship or so we thought it was then. You were married. I was younger back then. I should have known. It would not work, for the world and yet somewhere, I hoped it would. It was that time when you gifted me a copy of Madame Bovary. We watched the movie and loved it. I told you I already had a copy. You said, “Use this one for marginalia”. I did just that. I wrote notes, in the margins, of a love gone by.
Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami: This was one of those times, when I hated you. I hated the fact that I met you. I hated everything about you. You were probably the only man, who brought out the worst in me. I do not even know why we dated. I have no clue why it happened or how. It should not have. You left me bereft in the wake of heartache. I did not want to know you. I did not care about you. It was not easy. It was almost like you took away the joy of reading with you, because all said and done, you were the only man I had met in a long time, who read. You read extensively and I also hated you for that. I chanced upon a copy of my favourite book with you – Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami. I reread it the day I left you. I read it in your house. I left the book. I did not want a part of you.
The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller: I do not know why you gifted me this book. It was almost at the peak of the relationship, and here you were, gifting me a book about unrequited love. It was almost as if you knew that we would not survive. Were we that self-destructive? We wanted a lot of each other, I guess. We could never get enough of each other. That was always the case. A stranger meeting a lonely housewife and their love not seeing the light of day. It was almost metaphorical. All we can say is that we tried, you and I and somehow there have been no regrets. Funnily enough, then I thought the book was cheesy. I have read it about ten times since you left. There was nothing more to do.
The Three Mistakes of my Life by Chetan Bhagat: This was a long-standing joke between us. I was a Literature Student. You a Commerce Student. You challenged me then to read a book by Chetan Bhagat. You knew it would be most difficult for me and yet you posed the challenge. I chuckled. You smirked. You knew I would never read it. The book still is there on the bookshelf somewhere. I have not been able to throw it. Your memories matter. We still meet; chat for a while and I hope we don’t see each other’s mistakes.
Our Lady of Flowers by Jean Genet: This was not something which I had expected from anyone. This book was not even heard of by most Gay men, but you knew of it and you made it a point to procure it for me. Jean Genet bound us. Lawrence Durrell strengthened the bond. You quoted to me from these books. I had to wait, catch my breath and continue gazing at your neck as you spoke. I wanted to bite you then. I wanted to taste you. I wanted to own you. I could not. Love is like that – the bittersweet feeling and then the yearning. It rained when you gifted me this book. The book got wet. I went home. I ironed the book. It reminds me of you, time and again.
By Grand Central Station, I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart: You were fascinated by the title. You said that it touched you. I could comprehend that. But the fact of the matter was that you did not read. You just wanted me to read it. You said, “Read to me” and I did. You said, “Write for me” and I did. I read the book, over and over again. I read it more than a dozen times. I read it. I wanted to know. I wanted to know why you left me the way you did. I could not find my answer.
So these are the eight books, given to me by very special men in my life. The various points of time – of love, of heartbreak, of memories, of spending time with all of you. Of a world which you gave me, sometimes introduced me to books and sometimes I introduced you to good books. They stayed. And sometimes in the form of memories, so did all of you.