My Ex-Box Dilemma: What Should We Do with Gifts from Girlfriends Past?

Love and Sex

My Ex-Box Dilemma: What Should We Do with Gifts from Girlfriends Past?

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

We are perhaps the only generation who could be graphically represented by an ostrich with fake feathers whose head is firmly up its own arse. We document everything in our jhaant barabar lives and have moved from slam books to Snapchat in the blink of an eye. Now we’re at the cusp of falling into the “Tum aa gaye ho, Noor aa gaya, chalo threesome ho jaye?” abyss of modern relationships.

Which is why, the whole Priya Varrier fiasco came as a huge surprise to me. News channels were referring to her as the “national crush”. Really? The last few years had convinced me that only cows were allowed to be our national crush and anybody who thought otherwise would be crushed into believing so. How could a people who failed to agree on anything except “Pakistan Chor Hai” and “Acche din are just around the corner” forget their differences for once and be united in their puppy-love appreciation of Miss Varrier?

Could it be that high-school romances were in vogue again?

The Priya: Varrier Princess drama got me thinking about my own “Pehla Nasha” days. The high-school romance has a distinct whiff of its own: an immediate throwback to the smell of damp staircases, John Mayer CDs, and catching the smell of her “L’oreal enriched” luscious locks for the first time. Sometimes what seemed like a lifetime ago is at an arm’s length if you trust your olfactory power and Kumar Sanu’s melancholy blues.

I found what I had labelled the “break-up box”, a painfully decorated dabba speckled with faded glitter, which lost its shine as soon as our relationship did. This box of “what ifs” was chucked at me by my ex as she made a dash out of my life. Not only did it have the remnants of our relationship, it was also a comprehensive timeline of the time we’d spent together.

All grown up today, I think there certainly are better ways of displaying affection than borrowing a few strands of hair and potential dandruff.

Back in school, the affirmation of a relationship often came with people showing off that they’d been on expensive dates – but that was exclusive to conspicuous-consuming South Dilli laundas. Us chhichora Jamna Paar types could only do what we saw in films on Zee Cinema. We were the type who’d peep into each other’s classrooms between lectures, meet in science labs during lunch breaks, and on the luckiest day of our lives, maybe get the opportunity to walk the whole corridor with her, hand in hand, even as our friends kept track of teachers. The backbenchers would sing, “Tera mujhse hai pehle ka naata koi” and the whole corridor would erupt with raucous laughter. Back in class, the girls would show off oversize metal-rimmed watches they’d borrowed from their boyfriends as trinkets of the “bhao” they’d shed on poor sods like us.

The memory box was filled with a bunch of scrunchies. Being the Kumar Gaurav sort of lover boy, I’d take a hairband from her hair every day, as we got into separate buses after school. All grown up today, I think there certainly are better ways of displaying affection than borrowing a few strands of hair and potential dandruff.

Peeping out of a sea of scrunchies was an empty bottle of Dettol. I remember rushing to her house at 2 am fearing that she might die from the torturous pain of a paper cut. This antiseptic bottle is a reminder of how we’ve wiped our slates clean of any of these inconsequential deeds today and allowed ourselves to marinate in the dullness of adult life.

I can track the trajectory of our failed relationship through a neatly stapled but faded collection of movie tickets – as if Ameen Sayani were whispering out my memories as I flipped through the stubs of Bodyguard and The Planet of the Apes. I remember trying to chew each other’s faces off like lovestruck apes as Piggy Chops and Harman Baweja danced to What’s Your Rashee. With love comes pain, and pain triggers filminess. During troubled times, I watched Rockstar when both of us wished the other person would die so that our love could become “muqammal” and we wouldn’t have to go through another fucking break-up. But neither of us passed, so we kept “working at the relationship” and watched Salman flicks one after the other secretly wishing we could be virgins like Bhai again.

A photo frame from one of our birthdays has two perfectly opposing interpretations. One, a reminder of Old Monk-induced “puppy love”, but look at it closely and you can find the two of us barely managing a smile at a fuck-all party, only so that people on our timelines know that we are still keepin’ it cute. Long before the origin of Buzzfeed, we’d penned “100 reasons why I love you” in our handwritten cards, a testament to the adage, “An idle mind is the lover boy’s soppy workshop”. One of the reasons on the list, “because eskimo kisses are the best”, made me want to chop off my nose and hand it to the Karni Sena for some petty cash.

The last of our relationship horcruxes was an old record of a Dire Straits album with the track “Romeo and Juliet” encircled in red. I laughed; “gali ka ishq” and “school ka ishq” might not materialise into something epic but it will still be a story we tell our grandchildren.

Young love is naïve. I look back and realise that, as teenagers, maybe even now, we are more obsessed with the idea of love than love itself. Of course it was doomed. But what about the gifts and tokens of love that we forget as time passes and heals our broken heart? Do we still keep them around? Or try to send them off on their way, “Mera kuch saaman” style?   

Recently, an ex who was moving in with her “new cutie”, sent me a picture of the five-year-old me, the time when I was kaatilana cute. I was a bit baffled. Should I ask her to return my photograph and anything else that belonged to me? I had done the same. Did she not want to shut that chapter and move on?

Then again, maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe the photograph should stay with her, where it once belonged. Years later, maybe her kids would find the picture in a hidden folder. They’d know… That our relationship might have changed, but we still had a story.