Saturday Features

Telling like it is

  • Two women traveling to a far-off destination together strike an incomplete friendship in untold stories
- Prateebha Tuladhar
Without expectations, there’s little hurt. And without expectations, there’s also little love. Much as we’ve told some people in our lives that we’ve loved them without expectations, we’ve known they were feeble lies

Dec 30, 2017-Tell me a story, didi,” I hear you say from the back seat.


The road is winding ahead of us. The four-wheeler trundles along the raw road. As it navigates potholes, craters, bumps and winding mountainous 

paths, our bodies defy gravity and threaten to burst out of the seat belts holding us down.

Let me think, I say. But it’s a long silence before I hear you speak again. You decide to tell me a story first, to buy me time to think of one to tell you. You start to tell me a story about a dog. The dog was adopted by a family as a puppy. And like all puppies, loved. He was called Rahul. As Rahul grows into an adult dog, he finds his own equation with the members of the family. He’s very special to every single person in the family. But the relationships begin to undergo change when the family decides to provide shelter to another puppy that needs adoption.

The puppy is just a puppy. Yet, a novelty and the new centre of attention. Rahul begins to feel neglected, even though it is not the intention of the family to ignore him. He stands at a distance watching as the puppy is being fed or spoken to in the tone that was originally reserved for him alone. He begins to growl at the puppy, refuses to eat.  Then one day, he snaps at the puppy. The family decides to isolate him. He’s chained to a corner of the house. 

Visitors pet the puppy. Rahul growls when strangers go near him. He cannot bear being chained all the time. The food bowl is before him with its contents untouched. Rahul grows frailer by the day. He stops eating altogether. Then stops growling and then he stops moving. He dies.

You continue talking. No one in the family meant for him to die, you say. They loved him in their own way. But they failed to understand it was their treatment of him that had made him behave so differently. Some people are like that, too. They do not know how to communicate with the ones they love. The family only saw that he had turned aggressive, but did not see how or why. They failed him.

‘Hmmm,” I say, unable to comment as I feel a deep sadness billowing inside me.

“Often, we don’t mean to hurt people we actually hurt, no? Sometimes, we think we still love and care for a person but we fail to understand what the person has actually gone through and that festers hurt. And we end up losing that person for good,” you say.

I nod. But you probably don’t notice because my head keeps bobbing as the four-wheeler bounces on the trail.We’re headed north-west. The roads are not roads here and the days are shorter than any we’ve known. The trails are soon covered in darkness and the man driving our jeep, tries hard not to lose focus of the path in the darkness.

“You’re a dog person, so I thought you might like that story, didi. And it’s your turn now.”I’ve been thinking but nothing comes to my mind. So, I begin to add to your conversation about love and abandonment, instead. I talk about how it is easy to lose people we love, to skewed communication. I end up talking about my relationship with my childhood friend, which has been changing over the years and how we’ve both been accusing each other of changing silently, without really telling each other what we think or trying to understand what might have caused the changes.

Why are friendships so complicated sometimes? I wonder out loud. Perhaps it’s the expectations we pin on to the people we call friends. Without expectations, there’s little hurt. And without expectations, there’s also little love. Much as we’ve told some people in our lives that we’ve loved them without expectations, we’ve known they were feeble lies. Because love always came with the expectation of being loved back in a small way, even if only short-lived. It came with the hope of moments of remembrance, if not permanence.  Love came bundled up in possibilities of rejection, betrayal and heartbreak, and often occurred only to leave you charred. But that’s what makes love, love.

Never understood love. Never found love, I say.“How can you say that, didi? I don’t know how someone could know you and not love you,” I hear your voice.

I keep staring at the road ahead of us. We’re trailing along the Rapti now.

“I love following the river,” you say. “Fills me with happiness.”

All the days of our journey have been about the same movement. We’ve followed raw trails that traversed massive rocks, chased mountain rivers, passed through dense forests and trudged uphill. And all the days, I’ve sat in the navigation seat, watching the road ahead of us in awe, while you’ve sat in the back seat, recalling songs and stories, like a happy baby. And it seems to me like all the stories you’d told during your journeys in the last decade, converged in a narrative in the half sentences you were speaking to me in. There are old abandoned parents of martyrs, farmers with calluses in their palms, failed revolutionaries who can no longer wear shoes because their feet still feel dead from torture of so long ago. There are vast expanses of untilled land, then swathes of terraced fields washed out by floods. There are women who died making babies, babies who died trying to learn to breathe. There are fathers who failed everyone they loved. There are dogs, who waited long enough to die waiting. There are bulls and donkeys, that fell down cliffs. There are goats that got killed by leopards. There are so many wounds. And people made up of those wounds.

On the last day of our trip, we’re seated with the rest of the group for our last meal together. And there’s a moment when our gaze meet. We both look at each other for a good while and our eyes well up in tears instantly. Together. I look away because I know the tears will spill if I don’t. You keep looking at me even when I’ve looked away. And that moment feels like a revelation. Later, I say I’ll tell you the story of my life someday— even though I know this is our last trip together.

Published: 30-12-2017 08:30

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