My love is black.
A memory left unfinished.
A string of what could have beens.
My love is black.
It continues to burn.
Charcoal underneath a furnace.
It’s there I still hold you.
Sometimes gifts make their own journey. There are two small vials of surma—one is jet black and one is grey, I possess. I carry them always in my pocket — sometimes in my bag. Since I started driving, I have one kept in my car, the other on me.
This week I was traveling from Goa—and a fellow-traveler asked me if she can use mine. We met, as ladies sometimes do, in the washroom. She used it and instantly looked at me for approval. I told her it’s good. I prefer a surma, sometimes for that killing bite it gives seconds after it touches the eyelashes. A friend once said, it cleanses only when you cry. Or you cry, when it cleanses. Both are true.
ALSO READ: ‘Laab’ In The Mountains
I love kohl, and I know many women in my phone directory and WhatsApp windows do too. It’s the colour of my space, my feelings, most of the time. I have one Jai Kajal on my study table, a gift from my mother, who till date uses a closed pin to apply it. On days when I miss my mother terribly—and cannot be with her in Bombay, I touch the radium green box of Jai Kajal.
Back in the washroom,, my fellow-traveler spoke of how she had one vial of surma, and months ago, lost it, and then went looking for it a whole night. She didn’t detail the search, so I imagined it with lot of drama, spilled-over wine, and beautiful locations. I told her, she could have mine. Though, I was hoping she said no. It never reached that stage, thankfully.
But, something magical happened. She went on to speak about her ex-lover, the man who gifted it to her, almost with all the pain of a moist heart and lots of memories. Two other women who wanted to use the loo stopped, too. They didn’t need to eavesdrop, story-telling had become public in that private space. Then she said it was nice to see a surma vial again, though she would have preferred it jet black. I allowed her, her opinion; knowing very well, the vial was still mine. I hadn’t lost mine yet.
The announcer of Indigo flight came as an intermission as my flight was announced. We parted ways, only after she said, “maybe mine is being used somewhere. Hopefully!” I sat in my seat and wondered the number of times I have lost things and also on how gifts make their own stories. The grey I use on days when I feel like letting go, black on days when I already have.
I hope she finds another vial, soon.
Since she seemed happy, I didn’t tell her that mine was given by an ex-lover too. It emptied long ago. I now do refills when I visit Bombay. My vials are a memory too. The surma is mostly mine.
(Views expressed are personal.)
(From the writer’s 2018 Facebook post)
Smita Nair Is a journalist