Mehr: A Love Story

  • BY SIDDHARTHA GIGOO
  • Publish Date: Oct 1 2018 4:46AM
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  • Updated Date: Oct 1 2018 4:46AM
Mehr: A Love StoryRepresentational Pic

Longlisted in 2015 for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award for A Fistful of Earth and Other Stories and the winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize (Asia), Siddhartha brings this gripping non-linear narrative of a love story between Mehr, a Shia woman from Pakistan and Firdaus, a youngster from Kashmir. Portrayed through the letters exchanged between them, this book depicts patriotism, love, and religion in its most unconventional form.

 

An excerpt:

HER LAST WORDS—‘If my end is horrible, then begin my story at the end’—remind me of a promise I had never thought I would keep. The broken promise makes me go back to the place she had once shown me. Its memory had lasted for a day and then faded like a dream. ‘I shall meet you in spring when everything is burgeoning,’ I had said to her when she was silhouetted against a haze. ‘The haze will lift when you close your eyes and make a wish,’ she had whispered.

Thus, I begin, not at the beginning, but at the end when I had met her for the first time. She had journeyed a great distance, sneaked across the border our countries shared, and somewhere near the land of the five mirages, sat next to me for long hours under the wing of a downed and abandoned Dakota airplane, waiting for a meteor to light up the sky. The day had brought an end to her strange, weary journey. 

For years, the land with undetonated bombs in its womb had kept us apart.

The land, whose purpose of existence was to swallow more bombs, had readied its last miracle for us. Celestial events in the battered land where we had met and where invisible fighter jets had dropped bombs were not unusual. There was a time when women wearing colourful dresses flocked by the marshlands nearby to catch a glimpse of the dancing lights in the lustrous sky. Those who were lucky spotted the lights and prayed for the rain. Their children mistook earthquakes and sandstorms for bombing raids and believed that bombs falling off fighter planes brought rain. Upon hearing the distant rumble of bombers piercing through the clouds, they would run out of their shanty huts and dance to welcome the rain. Barren women, whose husbands were away, lisped secret wishes as sparkles lit up the sky. Streaks of blue, magenta, yellow, white, and green! The spectre of a fighter jet performing an impossible sortie! Smiles illuminated the faces of these women, and they returned home, thinking of the names they would give their newborns.

With her gaze traversing the sky, she had sat patiently, waiting for the meteor to appear. Then, moments after twilight, the meteor had flashed past. 

A flaming marvel in the sky! In that momentary flash, lasting not even a fraction, the meteor had taken birth, sailed a million miles across the sky, and vanished forever. In that briefest flash, as the meteor’s reflection had shone in her misty eyes, she had made a wish for the unattainable, knowing that it was her only chance at possessing something that was not destined to be hers. Ever.

‘What will become of this place when we’re gone?’ she had asked. ‘What will become of this ashen earth and this moon of sand entangled in the ruinous sky? Let’s not call this place by its name. Names have brought ruin upon our lives. Let’s not give this place a new name. Let it be nameless. Let it be neither yours nor mine.’

The dusk had paled before her gleaming cheeks. Marvelling at the splendor in her eyes, I had shown her a blinking constellation in the sky. It had always been in flux, but that very moment it had come to a standstill as if it was going to vanish. Sitting with her feet hidden in sand, she had shown me a spectacle she had always wanted me to see—an acacia rebelling against the dwindling light. Darkness had stood vanquished.

In that dreamy moment of entrancement and communion, I had uttered her name for the first time. Mehr, Mehr, Mehr, I had gone on unceasingly up to infinity’s end. I had decided to tell her the truth about myself. 

The promised miracle had unfolded before me. A feeling of seeing the unseen, knowing the unknown! The sorcery of Time! The moment when sin isn’t sin and virtue isn’t virtue. The blushful moon hiding deep inside the coral of Mehr’s lips, aching to be kissed and smothered until it was no longer round and blushful. At that very moment, a dream had shone upon Mehr’s pupils. If only I had mustered the courage, I would have struck gold.

The miracle hadn’t been fortuitous. Her beauty had caused it. The mirage, the celestial rhapsody, and the dancing lights owed their birth to her beauty.

Mehr had lived her life in fractions. It was at that place she had decided to give up the search. Hers had been a search not for the meaning of life, but for the meaning of dejection, of suffering, and of unseen love. For years, a mystery had remained unsolved in her heart. It had caused her pain, but it had also given her the strength to endure more pain. She had endured and gone on and on until the pain had lost its sting. Sitting next to me, and with love’s splinters still stuck in her heart, she had decided to let go of everything she had thought was hers. Hope. Longing. God. Me.

‘We pin hopes on things that don’t even exist,’ she had whispered. ‘We cling to a dream. We wait for it to come to us, and be ours. How do we find something that doesn’t even exist and never will? We fall for a devious charm and a wicked innocence.

‘I’d come here long before you were born. This was my secret place. Once, a river flowed here. A river so vast that you couldn’t see its other side! This is the place where dead lovers would meet and never part. This was the land of miracles and mirages—the land of smiling saints. Now it’s just a desert.

Under a wooden footbridge that arched over the river, I would sit and dream of people living on the other side of the invisible fence. Nature was bountiful then. Pristine whiteness ruled. There was a time I would be the first one to announce the arrival of spring. I would make a miniature garden, weave garlands of roheda petals and see them light up a lonesome night.

Now, everything is withered and disfigured. The ravages of time are just for you and me to see.

‘Look, the river has left a trail of its long journey, leaving your country and entering mine without ever being stopped. Rivers don’t need visas. They just flow. Yet, they destroy everything if you try to change their course. Nobody messes with them. But they give up, too, when humans show their true colours. Like me, this river never wanted to give up. Its waters once smelled of the ashes of our ancestors. Between you and me is this lifeless river that hasn’t forgotten its divisions. Like a curse, it will never let us unite.

‘This is the longest I will ever see you. Where do I go from here? This is the place where the sun comes to die. This is the summit of despair. Beauty and death climax here. Beyond here, there’s nowhere else to go. 

‘This is where my journey must end. This is where we shall part and not turn back. At this very place, where the river has left a trail, I will bury a memory. The river that is gone will be the lone witness to the unfading love throbbing in my heart. The love I mustn’t confess. The love you mustn’t know.

‘This interminable night is all that’s left. This emptiness is all I possess now. It’s time to set everything free. My departure will herald a caravan of endless beginnings. I won’t be around. You will be gone, too. But something of us will always remain. The me in you and the you in me. No one will ever discover it. It will be indestructible. Its traces will be everywhere. It will last forever.

‘Will you tell our story after I am gone? Someday, someone like me might come across it and discover hope.

‘I leave you with our song. The song that once brought me to you! The song will now take me far away. Don’t look at me when it takes me away.’

(Excerpted with permission from Mehr - A Love Story, Siddhartha Gigoo, Rupa Publications India.)

Pages: 205

Price: INR 295

 

 

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

 (Rs 295, 213pp)

 

‘Thus, I begin, not at the beginning, but at the end when I had met her for the first time.’

Mehr, a Shia woman from Pakistan, falls in love with Firdaus, a youngster from Kashmir. Sundered by an unforgiving border, Mehr writes to her beloved, begging him to meet her. Firdaus relents, not knowing that the two of them are consumed by something far more dangerous than love and passion. They have caught the eye of Indian Intelligence, and stirred the suspicion of one particularly tenacious officer. A deadly pursuit ensues. The lines between betrayal and revenge, deception and loyalty, love and madness, dream and reality stand blurred.

In Mehr, award-winning author Siddhartha Gigoo plumbs the depths of obsession in its many forms: love, patriotism, religion. Equal parts tragic and heroic, the novel explodes the boundaries between people and countries, finding peace amid the chaos of war, and love in the shards of desolation.

 

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Siddhartha Gigoo has earlier written The Garden of Solitude and A Fistful of Earth and Other Stories. The latter was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award 2015. Siddhartha also co-edited A Long Dream of Home: The Persecution, Exodus and Exile of Kashmiri Pandits. In 2015, he won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize (Asia) for his short story, The Umbrella Man. His two short films, The Last Day and Goodbye, Mayfly, have won various awards at international film festivals. To know more about him, visit siddharthagigoo.com.

He lives in New Delhi, India.