Siddhartha Gigoo has earlier written The Garden of Solitude and A Fistful of Earth and Other Stories. The latter was long listed 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.He lives in New Delhi, India. Below you can read an excerpt from his book, Mehr. Courtesy: Rupa Publications.
Mehr had once asked me a question. ‘Will I live and die loveless?’ She was sitting alone in a corner of a café, and looking furtively at a stranger. She had mistaken the stranger for me. Everything unexpected had happened that evening. ‘Won’t you even reveal yourself?’ she had said, accusing the stranger of ignoring her. That chance encounter should not have taken place. I shouldn’t have turned up there. She had thrown dagger-like questions at the stranger, believing that he was nobody else but me in disguise. ‘Answer me for the last time. Why does nobody want to love me? Am I the most despicable woman in the world? Am I too flawed for love? Will I live an utterly incomplete, worthless life? Is my love for you a stigma? Do I bring you shame?’
She had stopped expecting answers. She had reconciled to living with the burden of having set me free. The freedom was a gift. Little did I know that, years later, she would have to bear the cost of that freedom, and that the price of the freedom would be no less than her life. Next to Mehr’s bed is a patient admission form. It reads:
Name: Mehr un Nisa
Date of birth: 16 December 1971
Place of residence: London
Occupation: Non-Governmental Organisation
Family Contact: Unknown
Medical History: Unknown
A wavy line is traversing the two ends of the monitor overhead. Mehr would have loved to see it and trace its mysterious journey. I know what she would say. ‘This is not just any other line. It’s the line of certainty and it narrates a story of an extraordinary event. If only you could follow it on its endless journey.’
By Mehr’s bedside is a red handbag with a purple strap. The letter ‘M’ is inscribed on it. I rummage through the possessions in the handbag. A bottle of perfume. A platinum pendant. A protective case containing two passports—one issued by Britain and another by Pakistan. An organ donor card bearing an image of a heart. I flip it over. The declaration reads: I want to donate the following organs for transplantation after my death. There are tick marks on checkboxes for heart and eyes.
I know the first thing Mehr will say to me when she wakes up.
‘You could be arrested for sneaking into the hospital in disguise. But then, there is only one person who can protect you in this miserable place. Look at me! I am in no condition to hide you. Look at my luck. You appear in my dream. I wake up and you are in front of me. Undisguised. The masks are off.
‘Your lies were my life. Your lies gave me the strength to bear the unbearable. I wish you had kept me away from the truth and its horror. I wish you had shielded me from its curse. The truth has now turned me into a profane woman. This truth has come to haunt me in my last hour. Why did you do it? You could have waited and let me die without its knowledge. This gruesome truth is keeping me away from a happy death. It is destroying me, and I am doomed for eternity. I will see hell even after I am gone. I do not deserve this damnation. Nothing can save me now. Not even you. There is nothing that can alter my fate now. I do not wish to see you. Leave me alone. Let me cry and repent. Let me plead forgiveness. Look what you have done. You made me believe in a God other than you. How do I invoke Him now? I have no morality left to face Him whose existence I denied for years. Even the devil, if at all he exists, won’t come near me now.
‘I am the one who saved you from ruin. You are the one who couldn’t save me from disgrace.
‘My greatest fear has come true. It will consume me. But it will consume you, too. The greatest love story
of our times will be someone else’s. It always is. Isn’t it? You and I will part, not as lovers, but as strangers.
Remember this right up to the end. I won’t live to whisper this in your ears, but this truth will haunt you. You
will live to see that day. You will live to repent. You won’t find atonement in this lifetime. Repentance will
elude you. You will never know if I forgave you or not. My undying love for you will be your torment.
‘This moment won’t occur again. See me suffer. My suffering shouldn’t matter to you. It never mattered to
anyone. This malady will be over soon. It will set me free.’