On that breezy winter morning, I was sitting outside a local chai cafe, sniffling away alone, trying to hide the tears running down my sun-kissed, dried cheeks. I was devastated after the most recent spat I had with my partner. Spat was too mild a word for what had just happened between us. Our fights had gone from bad to worse in the past year and this one shook me to the core. And I walked out.
Armed with just a bag, I did not know where to go. Just that going back was not an option. To my parents? They had never approved of our living-in anyways. To my friends? Who wants all that drama in their life? To my colleagues? That would be an interesting office gossip. I had to be alone. I had to figure out things for myself. I had always been the strong, independent girl who took her decisions herself. When did I lose myself in a relationship so much that I lost my sense of self? I did it all in the name of love, but was this true love?
I was this head-in-the-clouds girl when I had met my now partner. This naïve girl who believed it was all karma.
It all seemed very cynical this morning, didn’t it?
But did I want to be this cynic? A bitter woman who walked through life thinking we were born to get up, go to work, eat, sleep? Or did I want to believe in the magic of life and stare in wonder when the sun shone through flowers on a beatific morning. I still wanted to feel gleeful like a child when someone handed me a balloon. I still wanted to believe in love and forever ever after. Did I love the person I had become? Did I even like the person? How could someone else love me then?
With these thoughts, I found myself hailing a cab to the airport. With a just purse, a mobile and a debit card, I decided not to return back home, not just yet at least. I informed my parents and a trusted colleague about my whereabouts and requested them not to worry. I disconnected the call before they could get into ifs and buts. Reaching the airport, I booked the first flight out.
As the plane took-off that day, it felt as if I was leaving a part of me behind on the land which had been my home for the past so many years. As the view changed from green trees to tiny houses to endless blue skies speckled with cottony clouds, there was a lump in my throat. Was this the end of my relationship?
Exhausted from the ordeal of the morning, I soon drifted off into fitful sleep on the airplane. My dreams were filled with the initial days of our courtship – the walks under the moonlight, the endless series of romcoms cuddled in blanket, the tender kisses by the beach. We had our differences but then who did not? Opposites attracted and how!
As we both were working in the same city, it just seemed to make sense to move in together. It was the next step in our relationship and I was over the moon! I loved setting up our brand new home. The matching curtains, the bedspreads, the routine of being almost-married. It felt comforting and cosy.
It was only in the passing months that I realised this reassuring blanket of my relationship might be an illusion. Living together brought out our differences out in the open. We were chalk and cheese – sunshine and darkness – mountain and sea. Small altercations became huge fights which would go on for days. But we always made up. Till today.
As the airplane touched down at the new land, the air hostess gently woke me up. I stared outside slightly disoriented with my surroundings. It took me a moment to realise that I was in the land of mosques and magic – Istanbul.
Stepping into the airport, I was gripped by panic. What had I done? With no planning, no people I knew, I just flew to a foreign land. What was I thinking? Where was I supposed to go? What was I to do?
Pretending to be braver than I was feeling, I walked up to the nearest concierge. Asking them about the backpacking inns around, I hailed a cab to the one which sounded the safest. I had to go with my gut here. There was no other way! Checking into an unpretentious but comfortable room which I shared with four other girls, I slumped on to the bed. Evening was setting in and I let myself drift off into a tired torpor again.
I woke up early next morning, only to be greeted by the sight of expanse of water in front of me. I was so exhausted the day before that I had not noticed that the inn was alongside this beautiful water body – Bosphorus. With the sound of water lapping to the shore soothing my senses, I let go of some of blues I was feeling. I had no idea when the other girls had come in last night and three of them were still fast asleep. I tip-toed my way to the eatery downstairs and realised I was famished. I hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday!
A sight of complete Turkish kahvalti (that’s breakfast for you) of cheese, olives, eggs, kaymak, sucuk, pastrima and simit (and similar complicated sounding local names) greeted me. I washed it all down with Turkish tea and it was probably the most satisfying meal I had had in days. There was a sense of liberation I felt today. I wasn’t counting my calories, I wasn’t thinking whether this was going to make me fat or if this had protein or not, and I enjoyed every morsel of the meal. I wasn’t worried that someone wouldn’t want me if I was wee-bit fatter. A little bit of me was coming back already. And I loved it.
Fear gave way to freedom as I walked out by the afternoon ready to explore the city. Walking along side Bosphorus strait, smell of freshly brewed Turkish coffee drifted from the quaint cafes. I saw lovers walking arm in arm at Rumeli Fortress. I was calm on the surface, but deep within pined for my love. Learning to live with this dichotomy of feelings was something I would have to get used to in the coming days. Somehow today, I had to accept that I will always love but I had to let the pain go. If it was meant to be, it would be mine again.
As the sun set creating reddish orange hues across the azure blue skies, I reached the Blue Mosque. Somewhere between marvelling at the magnificent architecture and trying to decipher Quranic versus engraved on the Minarets, I forgot how empty my life had seemed the day before. I felt as if I had been here before – a very long time back. There was a strange sense of déjà vu. Sitting in the courtyard outside, I was learning to appreciate nothingness. Living the life in a bustling city, I had never taken the time out to introspect where my life was going. I realised that sometimes, we need to press the pause button to comprehend what we are doing and if this falls within the grand scheme of our dreams. For once it felt as if maybe everything in my life till now was to lead me to this moment?
Walking back to the motel, I was in my own world when a car whizzed by. Shaken out of my reverie, I was suddenly aware of my surroundings and noticed a tiny pretty looking shop. Inadvertently, I entered inside. A blank canvas and a set of paint brushes seemed to be calling out to me – painting was an old forgotten love. The owner of the shop seemed be a wise old lady with a glint in her eye. She called me near her in Turkish. Not understanding a word of what she said but trying to read her hand gestures, I went closer. She observed my face closely and made some incredulous gestures. A man in the shop smiled and told me, ‘She says you have a very bright future! She can read it in your face!’ Serendipitous? Maybe. But it sure brought a smile on my face and a spring in my step as I returned back to my room with a canvas, some paints and brushes tucked in tow.
Next morning, I made way to Hagia Sophia. As the sun rays touched the minarets of the mosque, my brush touched the canvas and it was as if by magic the strokes came to life. Time passed in a haze as I lost myself in the portrait of the beautiful monument which stood in front of me. Sun was directly above and sweat beads rolled down my head when I realised my stomach was rumbling. Time to get something to eat, I smiled to myself. I almost couldn’t believe it. I had nearly completed my painting! I was feeling…. Happy? Satisfied with myself, I decided to treat myself to baklava. Smelling of fresh paint and sugar high – the day seemed just perfect.
I slept like a baby that night. There were people to get back to, office tasks to take care of, and savings which were running out. But for now, just for today, I was happy. Possibly this is what living in the moment felt like?
Over the next few days, I visited Topkapi Palace, Sultan Ahmet Camii, Basilica Cistern and Dolmabahce Palace. With each painting I created, my pain seemed to dissolve little by little. I relished the exotic foods and sights around me. The more I explored the country, the more it seemed to whisper mystic things to me. Evenings were spent sitting on banks of Bosphorus soaking in the sounds of waves splashing near the shore. I would drift into a meditative stance slowly. Breath became deeper and the world became slower. Peaceful energy flowed around me, into me and through me. Bit by bit, I began to heal.
Sitting near the shore on one such day, an old gentleman walked up to me. ‘Are these paintings for sale?’ he asked. ‘You think they are worth buying, Sir?’ I replied chuckling a bit. ‘I most certainly do, young lady’ he replied smiling, as if in on the joke. He turned out to be a major art connoisseur of Europe and few of my paintings fetched far more than I had imagined. Going back home to the four walls of my cubicle just didn’t seem crucial enough now. I decided to stay on in Turkey. The distance was helping heal my hurt heart too.
It was an unusually sunny Sunday morning when I woke up later than usual. I had dreamt of my love again last night. Shaking off the melancholy, I went to wash my face. Today I had planned to go the Grand Bazaar or Kapali Carsi as the locals called in. Entering through one of the eleven gates, I soon settled myself in a quiet spot under the multi-coloured lanterns. I started painting and as usual, lost track of time. I was startled when someone said ‘How much for that one?’
And there in the middle of the busy bazaar, among Turkish teacups, pashmina shawls and silver rings, stood Amaira – in her simple black salwar kameez. Just like that, I was the same naïve girl who had gone weak in her knees when I had seen her the very first time. The world stood still as I looked deeply into her pained copper-brown eyes. This time away had given me a chance to contemplate about what was important for me, what made me happy, and had been a journey of self-discovery. It also made me realise how much I loved her despite our differences. Our path would surely not be easy as being ‘different’ was always frowned upon. The country’s laws had legalised our love but people still looked at us as freaks.
Tears streamed down our faces but we couldn’t stop smiling. Polychrome love had found finally its way.