As a child, Chitra Das could name all the constellations in the night sky. An avid stargazer, her “need for space” was fuelled by her astronomer dad’s penchant for taking her on walks at night. To witness the breathtaking spectacle that was the Pune night sky. She would fondly ask her Baba about the temperature of the sun and the existence of black holes.
Years later, her dad got a transfer and they shifted to Kolkata. A few years on, she fell in love with Aurobindo, a Bengali boy. God was in the details, Chitra’s late grandfather would say. When you divide things, they become easier to study. Of late, she had an inkling of increasing space between Aurobindo and her. The shift was slow. Not as tardy as glacial melts or rising sea levels. Not fast enough to provoke alarm.
If there was one thought that lent her solace, it was this. They still had their Big Bang moments.
She was a professor of English at one of the best universities in Kolkata. He, a researcher studying dark matter.
That was one of the reasons she had been drawn to him. All girls look for something of their fathers in the men they marry. The move to Kolkata had not been easy for Chitra. It was worth it, though. A walk along the Howrah bridge or the umpteenth trip to Victoria Memorial. Ah! The sheer dichotomy of the outer beauty of the City of Joy, and the inner sanctum of her home library.
All her life, Chitra always got what she wanted
Of late, however, she found their modest one-bedroom apartment a tad cramped for comfort. All her life, she had dreamed of a terrace flat. There was one in Tollygunge she had secretly set her sights on. Not far away from Park Street, where they currently resided. On an evening when Aurobindo seemed especially cheerful, she let it slip.
“Really?” A hint of surprise.
“It’s not like we don’t have the money, Auro. It’s even got two bedrooms. An extra bed will be handy. Our parents are old.”
Auro sat poker-faced.
“What’s the one thing our flat doesn’t have, that this one does? Leave aside the extra bedroom.”
As she said that, Chitra’s eyes twinkled. As bright as the stars in the Pune sky.
“I get it. You want to look at the stars,” said a more relaxed Aurobindo, the trace of a smile playing across his lips.
“I-why-of course, yes!” But he saw through her lies, and she knew it. She also knew it would not be long before she would be doing up her new home. All her life, Chitra always got what she wanted.
Alone on the balcony, looking inside as though he might be a spectator
Is dividing space a healthy option in relationships?Unsplash
A year later, they hosted a housewarming party in their posh Tollygunge terrace flat. Posh, not garish. Everyone was complimenting Chitra on the stunning artefacts she had sourced from their recent trip to Thailand.
“Where’s Auro?” It was Chitra’s mother, who had just walked in late, her Baba in tow. As usual.
Mother would always take out 10 sarees, before choosing one.
Chitra strained to see, amidst the faces of noisily chattering guests in her living room. Until she finally found Auro. Alone on the balcony, looking inside as though he might be a spectator. Though not far away, he was distant.
The new house had an energy darker than the stuff Auro studied. For starters, they began sleeping in separate bedrooms. Auro would return home late at night and inadvertently knock something over while making his way to their bed. Chitra, roused from her slumber, found it impossible to sleep again.
“But you’re my teddy bear, no?”she cooed into his ears. The first night he kissed her on the forehead and told her he was going to be “next door”. That was a habit that stuck, even on the nights Auro did not work. Proximity did not help.
One day, desperately needing to take a pee, Chitra found her hubby in the bathroom.
“What are you doing here, Auro? Can’t you go to your bathroom?”
“Oh, so we’re dividing things now?”
“I’m…sorry. I just figured you were sleeping there, so…”
Perhaps Chitra had been wrong. Some things were best undivided.
One day she reflected that this was bound to happen. Aurobindo only worked late evenings. Chitra worked mornings. The rest of the time, they spent only with each other.
There were no vacations, no friends. Just a threesome. She, Auro and their couch.
Craving the idea of space more than space itself
The key to love is maintaining the balance between the space we need for ourselves and the space we need with our partnerPixabay
When Chitra was dating Aurobindo, she had thought, “I want to spend all my time with this man.” Now, at times, she could not stand the sight of him. Before she knew it, Aurobindo started hanging out with his lab buddies. This worried Chitra. In their Park Street days, he never had time for even his best friends. Those “happy times” when she would lovingly lay her head in his lap while he read her Dostoevsky were gone. Now, she was watching Breaking Bad alone on a Saturday night. On a couch reduced to a chair.
She did not quite know why, but she had the strangest thought one day. In the year since they had moved to their new house, how many times had she been on the terrace? Perhaps, all she had wanted was a bigger apartment. So she could have more space between her and her Auro.
One night, Auro returned to a surprise under the sheets.
“Chitra? What are you doing here?”
“This is my bedroom too, right?” A cry for help.
Auro lay silent.
“I’m sorry. I wanted space, Auro. I never should have..”
“We never should have…” And he took Chitra in his arms. They wept.
We all want space, Chitra thought years later, as she watered the potted roses in her garden terrace. The truth she had uncovered long ago had made her see things differently. She had never really wanted space. She had just wanted the idea of it.
And, often enough, so do we, in our quest to become free. But if we stray too far away, we tend to lose the planets we orbit.
Rohit Trilokekar is a novelist from Mumbai who flirts with the idea of what it means to love. His heart’s compass swerves ever so often towards Kolkata, the city he believes has the most discerning literary audience.