By Ananya N Jun. 10, 2016
Sairat reminds me of my summer romance. We held hands when no one was watching and kissed under a mango tree. And then…
I’ve watched Sairat thrice in the theatre since it released in mid-February. Each time, my mother was my loyal companion to see Nagraj Manjule’s Marathi blockbuster. On the first two occasions, our journey back home was in stoic silence, but the third time was different. I could sense she wanted to say something and was holding back. I assumed it was the grief of having lost Parshya and Archi, the film’s adolescent protagonists, for the third time in a row, so I asked, “Kay ga, kay zhala?” My mother turned to me, holding back tears in her eyes. “Tizha naav Archi nahi, tuzha naav asaayla hava hota na,” she said—I was her Archi.
I am an awkward person at the best of times, but faced with sadness and grief, even shared grief, I have no idea what to do. Do I cry along? Should I offer a hug? Will an inadequate “It’s okay” cut it? It’s even worse when the person I have to console, happens to be my mum. I did what I know best. I laughed and shrugged off her tears in jest by saying, “Mummy, hasu?” And we both moved on with our day, forgetting this momentary lapse into emotion.
I might have laughed it off, but I knew my mother’s unhappiness was no joke – I understood exactly what she meant. In equating me with Archi, my mother saw my separated husband as Parshya. She had witnessed me fight the world for the boy I loved and eventually married. For her, I was the Archi who elopes with Parshya, eschewing all familial ties, coping with a life she wasn’t prepared for.
But here’s where the narrative diverges. There was a Parshya in my life, but he was not my separated husband. Every time I watched the film, my heart went off to another place, another lifetime in which I had a Parshya for whom I fought silent battles with myself; the boy who set my adolescent heart racing for the first time. Let’s name him, Ani. The unforgettable moment in the film, when Parshya jumps off the boat hearing his friend scream Archi’s name, I knew right away that Sairat would be a heart-wrenching experience. I could already see Ani in Parshya.
Ani was distant family, a paternal cousin’s maternal cousin, who was always a part of my summer break in Maharashtra’s Raigad district, but who never really registered in my line of vision. The first time I really noticed him was when I saw his friends giggling, as he attempted to steal a glimpse of me at a wedding in the village.
Once the wedding was over, a common cousin introduced me to Ani, who came running to us with two cigarettes in his hand. A bunch of eight excited teenagers, we puffed and passed the Bristols around for what felt like eternity amid swaying cashewnut trees in the empty village school as the warm summer breeze played the perfect tune to our mindless chatter. We then played lapan-daav (hide-and-seek) until the sun went down and called it a day after a short dip in the serene river across the school. Ani continued to stare at me through the day and each time I returned his gaze, a curve worked its way around his chiselled jawline and he would shyly look away. With a smile that could bring alive a room full of dead people, I basked in the attention he showered on me. I had no inkling then that I would see our budding romance mirrored in Sairat – or that the film’s Parshya would be so similar to Ani.
For the next fortnight, the core of our juvenile universe would centre around cricket, hide-and-seek, kho-kho, hiking to discover a dam, and being chased by various uncles for plucking mangoes from their trees. On these youthful adventures, Ani’s gaze became mine.
Over the next few vacations that we took to the village, Ani was always around. I would watch him racing through the fields as he’d hear our bus from Bombay arrive, and I would pretend not to notice. I’d see him climb mango trees and stash the best ones for me, little secret presents for when no one was around. Once, he crossed a river just to catch a glimpse of me; another time he went to a town 15 kilometres away from the village, just to buy me some Bristols when the village shop ran out of cigarettes.
Just like Parshya and Archi come to recognise their feelings on long walks through sugarcane fields, Ani and I hiked through a jungle, tiring ourselves out. It feels just like yesterday that he told me – in exactly the same way Parshya tells Archi when they meet for the first time alone in the fields – that he couldn’t believe I was standing before him and talking to him. And I, with all the sass that Archi could muster, replied with a deadpan, “What’s not to believe? Here I am, right before you. I am real.”
It took him four years to pour his heart out to me, to tell me, “Mala nahi karmat tujhya shivay,” the same words echoed by Parshya during a scene on a boat.
With each new vacation, we’d spend more and more time together, steeped in a companionate silence, exchanging few words. With each passing year, our silent stares continued – only now I could feel a thousand fireflies light up the darkest forest when Ani looked at me. It was as if the eleven months between our vacations wouldn’t exist at all. He’d smile at me and ask, “Kashi aahe” and I’d smile back, saying, “Masta.” From stealing glimpses at each other, we’d moved to stealing moments when we could hold hands briefly.
We kissed for the first time, under our favourite mango tree, while playing hide-and-seek. We were hiding next to each other, at a safe distance from the others, and before we knew it, our lips met. He coyly removed a bunch of karvanda berries he had neatly wrapped in a leaf and kept in his pocket and handed them to me, saying, “Tujhya saathi.” A million butterflies set off in my stomach as I ate them.
But, that was that. Once I would get back from the village, I’d move on with my life hanging out with my friends at McDonald’s as the memories of the vacation would slowly fade away. Even as a teenager, my convent-bred, English-speaking mind could read the differences in our backgrounds and upbringing. There I was, an autorickshaw driver’s daughter judging a farmer’s son only because I had better privileges and access to the city life. I’d seen my parents, even if school dropouts go to sleep with books in their hands, while Ani’s mother became the village spectacle every other night, trying to bring his father back home from the local bar. I knew Ani and I did not have a future.
It took him four years to pour his heart out to me, to tell me, “Mala nahi karmat tujhya shivay,” the same words echoed by Parshya during a scene on a boat. My heart broke a little to hear Ani say that he could not live without me, but the truth was, I never did look at Ani as anything more than a summer romance.
Just like we never dated, Ani and I never broke up. We just grew up and drifted apart as my trips to the village became less frequent. I eventually fell in love with the man who would become my husband. Until I lost myself hopelessly in love as an adult, I never fully comprehended how heartbroken Ani must have felt. And that’s exactly why I think I saw Sairat repeatedly. To go back to my adolescent days of Maharashtra’s beautiful rice fields, mango trees, tranquil rivers, and innocent love. To a world I wish I’d never had to walk out of. To be reminded of a boy who loved me with all the intensity of a young heart.
And now, Ani will always be the one dancing to “Yad lagla ga” in my imagination; the one whose image I bear in my head when I silently murmur, “Lagla sajni la sajnacha yaad” with a glass of scotch in my hand. I repeatedly hear the Sairat trailer only because Parshya’s voice saying “Mala nahi karmat tujhya shivay” is cathartic to my loneliness.
It didn’t take my relatives or my parents to tell me Ani was no match for me. I knew it myself. But a tiny corner of my heart will always wish that I somehow hadn’t.