Saira didn’t want to get married to Mustafa, but she did. At the tender age of 17.
Saira didn’t want her Gulf husband to leave her and go only 10 days after their nuptials. But he did.
All she had to cling to when he departed was the smell of his Brut on her pillow, smeared with her soft sobs. All he took with him was the fragrance from a bride’s jasmine decked hair.
Mustafa didn’t see Saira for two long years after that. Saira couldn’t speak about her incipient love for him till he returned.
Two years. By then, a lot had happened in their lives.
There was no whatsapp back then; no video call; no means to convey love and longing except with tears. Sighs were the only medium of expression. And the silhouette of their lives was filled with sadness.
When I wrote about Mustafa and Saira in my debut novel, 𝙎𝙖𝙣𝙙𝙨𝙩𝙤𝙧𝙢𝙨, 𝙎𝙪𝙢𝙢𝙚𝙧 𝙍𝙖𝙞𝙣𝙨, nearly 20 years ago, this was the case with Indian migrant labourers who left their newly-wed wives back home and came to the Gulf.
It still is. Nothing much has changed in the realm of the heart, except that technology has given a semblance of proximity to their parting.
But does that mitigate the pain of having to live away for years together?
Yesterday, Mahesh (name changed), the docile, young man who helps us keep our home clean, came with a box of Gulab Jamun,
‘𝘔𝘦𝘳𝘢 𝘴𝘩𝘢𝘢𝘥𝘪 𝘬𝘢 𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘴𝘢𝘳𝘺 𝘩𝘢𝘪,' he said.
'𝘉𝘢𝘥𝘩𝘢𝘪 𝘩𝘰,' I twittered with delight.
I was surprised that a year had already passed since his marriage. It was around the same time last year that he had joined us, and I remember the pictures he showed us soon after he returned. They looked like stars on a marquee.
Mahesh’s wife is very pretty. Almost juvenile-looking and demure, like Saira.
He left her behind 10 days after their marriage. Like Mustafa. I wondered how the narrative had remained almost unchanged in 20 years.
‘When will you go home next?’ I asked as I took the sweet from him, regretting the question soon after. I wondered if I had touched a raw nerve, silently admonishing me for the mindless query.
‘After one year,’ he said.
Mahesh, by nature, is a soft-spoken person. It is hard to feel any emotion in his voice even in routine conversations. But it requires no major wisdom to sense the sadness in his reply. You don’t need special sensors to feel the pain the couple must have felt on a day like this. You don’t need a stethoscope to hear the throb in a lover’s lonely heart. Its noiseless din can drown the sound of heavy traffic on the Sheikh Zayed road outside.
Mahesh and his wife can attest their love in words any number of times over a video call. They can replicate passion in myriad ways over text messages. But nothing can substitute being with each other in the flesh and blood. Nothing can replace the raw sense of love that the occasion demanded.
Love cannot be expended in the proxy. It needs the real presence of the object of love. Anything other than that is mere fantasy.
I wonder how Mahesh’s young wife must have spent the day back home; how she will pass the next one year; how she will keep the memories of love’s most intimate moments alive; how love itself will transform in the long interim; what shades it will add and what hues it will shed.
Saira hadn’t even known Mustafa well in the 10 days that he was with her. How much of Mahesh and his wife would have known each other in their 10 days?
As Mahesh took our blessings after we gave him a small amount as a present, I felt a dull ache in my heart for the couple.
‘Hope you go home 𝘫𝘢𝘭𝘥𝘪,’ I said, knowing the 𝘫𝘢𝘭𝘥𝘪 was still a good 360 days away. It won’t be easy to bide their time away. Neither for Mahesh, nor for his love-sick wife.
One of the many injustices in life is the one that keeps loving hearts apart. Separation is one of life’s cruelest woes. And the hope of reunion is all that keeps life moving from one hopscotch square to the next. Although, there is little solace in the sentiment of standalone hope. At best, hope is only a placebo.
Tonight, I will write a poem for Mahesh and his young wife. I will live their pangs of separation. I will mourn their deprivations. I will sing a song of faraway love.
It’s in a poet/writer’s destiny to tell people’s stories as if the stories were their own.
(If you would like to read Sandstorms, Summer Rains, head straight to