I want you to forget the years that have separated us. And the silence that reared like a rampart between us.
I want you to take me, if you can, as the callow youth that came to know you, wanted to know more of you, and became hopelessly attached to you. I woke up every morning thinking of you, ran out in the first light of day to see how beautiful you were, watched every dusk slowly gather the tiniest drops of glimmer to unravel your darkest beauty and let me go to sleep with your mysterious, incandescent souvenir. Now I know I knew so little of you, but Heaven knows how obsessively I pursued you, how your strange aroma filled my heart, how you pervaded all my adolescent dreams.
Forgive me if I look different today. There are lines on my face and wrinkles on my hand. But you will recognize me yet. I still walk fast, and I still wear glasses. I still talk the same way. You must believe me when I say I still feel the same way.
I must be honest and admit that there have been a few other changes too. I have become a little more used to comfort. I am not running short of money all the time. I am a little healthier too. I don’t get stomach cramps any more. Maybe because I don’t drink the water you used to give me. Specialists have taken out some curious parasites from my entrails. Maybe they came from all that I ate from roadside vendors. I am quite well, thank you. I still run comfortably, though a trifle slowly.
You will be happy to know that I have two little girls. Not so little, really. They have grown up. They work, they are married. They cook, do laundry, party with friends. Occasionally they call their dad and fill his heart. They have not met you yet. I hope one day they get to know you and understand why you mean so much to me.
Yes, my life has changed a bit. You can’t take a man to the other end of the earth and expect no changes in his life. Some of my ways and habits have changed. But I have not changed. What really matters hasn’t changed one bit. I can feel it palpitating within me, in just the same way.
Otherwise, how do you explain this curious warmth I feel when I think of you? Like I am a kid again, falling in love, longing to see you, yearning to be near you, aching to hear the music of your voice? Why do I have to throw away the offer of a charming cruise or an exotic tour of Galapagos to rush every year to be with you? Why must I come, so compulsively, to your feet to know that I have done what I cannot do without?
What is this magical spell you hold over me, through years and decades? Not I alone, I know others who are as servile as me in their inept effort to be free of your wiles? To all of us, nothing compares with you. Other may be better, more congenial or more talented, but we want you. Our ambitions, our search for comfort or convenience, may take us elsewhere, but you haunt our dreams, run in our veins and, through winter and spring and summer, rule our passion.
For me, I have wandered far and wide, but in my loneliest hour and jauntiest moment, I think of you. I turn to you in my mind for respite and reassurance. And the absurd hope of recovering a fragment of my passion. I am no longer naïve enough to think of my youth as the peak of my life; nor do I think of my mature days as the start of an inglorious fadeout. My heart still beats, and I live a life resonant with effort and meaning. I flatter myself I have a clearer view of what matters, at least in my life.
You may stand indifferent, caring little for a legion of supplicants, and go your capricious way: let pedestrians stumble on ruined sidewalks, cars choke in narrow lanes and traffic gridlocks, patients wait interminably for medical relief, the old cough in buildings as frail as their bodies, day laborers trudge across and under bridges about to collapse, saffron fanatics and pious hacks coerce ‘donations,’ and children’s eyes blur and lungs blacken with grimy air. You will draw me still, irresistibly. Forever.
When Shakespeare makes Maecenas say of Cleopatra that Mark Antony “must leave her utterly,” we know he is right, for he should run from the fatal attraction of the enchantress. But we also know that Enobarbus is right when he replies, “Never, he will not.” The reason? “Other women cloy appetites they feed.” But, Kolkata, like Cleopatra, “makes hungry where most she satisfies.”