I am too ashamed of myself. Don't even have the guts to speak to you on phone. Why did I do what I had done? How could I be so cruel? Left you alone with your air tickets in hand and a duffel bag packed? Refusing to take you along with me for a holiday that we both were so eagerly looking forward to! No, I would rather holiday without you! That was my arrogance, my anger taking me under its control. My way of punishing you for screaming at me. Depriving you of something you so wanted to be a part of.
A simple parking non issue. Yes, I parked my car wrongly. There were no other spots, you see. But you defended the woman who complained. And shouted at me. But certainly that didn't warrant my verbal violence. That was not enough reason to drive me wild with rage, and then leaving the house in a huff.
At the end what happens? I am the one who suffer.
The suffering starts the moment I enter the gates of Ibnii Coorg, a pristinely wooded coffee estate with lakes and mists, bird songs and early morning dew. It's a jungle out there, literally, a quiet riot of all that's green. I can almost see your eyes twinkle as you take in the first impression. Oh, my heart would have swelled with pride to have brought you here. The weather at 22 degree Celsius is a stark contrast from Delhi's 40 plus heat wave. How much you were cribbing of the oven that Delhi has become. You would have been so relieved.
"Where is the reception?" I ask. "Come, let me guide you," a resort staffer, wearing a green saree in the local Kodava style, says, guiding me across a narrow bridge to a platform high above a gorge, resting on stilts. Far below, a magnificent rectangle - that's a lake embedded in a carpet of forest. Oh god! This is a view you would not be able to tear your eyes off from. I feel no joy, however. Happiness is in sharing, but you are not here, and the sense of your absence stabs at my heart with the force of a knife.
I step into my room, er, a wooden cottage actually. Built on stilts, it's almost like a tree house. A giant bird nest. The luxuries within my pool villa are unparalleled. But the Jacuzzi in the bath room and the private plunge pool right outside fail to lift up my spirits. You could have taught me swimming, you know. We would have stayed the whole day immersed in the water. But what's the point of such opulence now! How I miss you, girl! Your absence, killing me slowly. As if, as if, something is hammering my heart down.
I pull the curtain. And what do I witness! A forest full of tropical trees and shrubs and wild flowers, a stream meandering through, the song birds going berserk belting out a divine background score. But why isn't my heart singing? Why am I not able to appreciate such abundant beauty? Why do I feel no joy? I open the door to the balcony. Just made for two; for two people in love; two love seats cushioned for cosy comfort. Uh, it would have been so romantic - just you and me sitting there, sipping beer. I light up a cigarette, lean on the balcony railing, and stare at the natural extravaganza, only to be reminded of my grand isolation.
Nah, I don't want to think about you. Go away. But there you are again, between drags of the cigarette - you sitting on my lap, looking out into the darkness of the night. What would we have talked about? Or maybe we would simply be quiet. Silence is revered in this dew drenched coffee plantation.
I am feeling really, really low. Let me call a friend. I want to share the extravagance of my circumstance. This low profile resort, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, is a gem of a secret that needs to be told. Shared. I make a WhatsApp video call to Parul and move the phone around to show her the location. "You must come with your family to this place. It's wonderful," I tell her. Parul's beaming face helps, but not for long.
You return to occupy my mindspace the moment I get to know about the eco-friendly concept IBNII is built on. You would have so loved the idea, dear Zinia. Our plastic water bottles are taken away the moment we land - these are replaced by glass bottles. "We follow sustainable practices and responsible living. We do our part to conserve nature, reduce carbon foot print and manage waste efficiently," says the resort manager. Boasting of 125 acres, you need transport here to go from one place to another. Electric vehicles like golf karts and Mahindra Reva ferry you around. Guests are also required to take a mass pledge - that you would follow eco-friendly practises all your life. You, Zinia, would have been the first one to participate. I keep away, these things bore me, but had you been here, you would have forced me to join the ceremony.
Know what, dear Zinia, we have never stayed together in a resort like this. It's really lovely. Let me also tell you that I never felt so lonely on a holiday before. The pain of your missing presence is almost tangible, and intense, stubbornly clinging onto me, gnawing at me like flesh eating piranha. I make myself a cup of tea. I see a jar of coffee powder too. Would it meet your preference? I wonder.
I meet the resort owner and I am like 'Zinia would have loved this 40 something woman'. You would have gelled along with her so well! Just your type of a person - simple, sensitive, smart. This woman - Sherry Sebastian is her name - is a wealthy woman for sure and yet so down to earth. "She is someone I want around," I almost hear you say.
Over a barbecue dinner under a canopy of stars at the open air restaurant Masi-kande, she is telling me about how to deal with autistic kids. "Don't deal with them like an abnormal kid. Don't stare at them. Treat them like normal; leave them alone and they are happy," she says. And that's what she tells her resort staff too. Which, of course, makes Ibnii very autistic friendly. But why is she so focussed on autism? The answer would have upset you. Her 19 year old son is, sadly, autistic.
You would have also got along very well with the two young journos who are part of our group. Chirp, chirp, chirp they go, chatting nonstop like long lost friends. Happy people they are, to use your words. You would have joined them as they chatted away to glory, their topic ranging from coffee, media, travel, Bollywood to relationships. Only that I might have felt a little left out. But never mind.
Yes, I have interesting company, but I would rather be alone. I am there in the group and yet not there. I pretend to listen, but Zinia is on my mind. Had you not been in my life, I would have added my two bits to the chatter. But now I prefer to be quiet, prefer to be with myself, wallowing in self pity. It shows. My face betrays my emotional turmoil. "What's wrong?" the PR guys asks me sensing the emotional turmoil my face betrays. "This isn't the Nishiraj I know." I tell him - I have to tell him. He sighs. Then cheers me up.He insists that I go for the coffee trail in the afternoon. That will keep me well engaged, he says. Indeed, the guide regales us with the enchanting story of how the plant journeys through natural human cycle, human care and grading process before it ends up as sheer joy in your cup.
How you would have loved that! Just the kind of thing that gets you excited. After all, your love for coffee is legendary. It's something you cannot start the day without. And very particular about it: Unadulterated buffalo milk it has to be, brewed in traditional coffee maker, and served in just the right mug! And of course, no compromises on the quality of your coffee powder!
And look, who (of all people) coffee haven Coorg is playing host to? Me! Me with absolutely no interest in the brown gold, sniffing one form of coffee from another, more because I am told to and not because I want to. By the way, have you heard of poop coffee? Coffee beans are fed to Indonesian civet cats which when they poop it out becomes one of the most expensive coffees in the world! Of course, you would know a lot, but this is information coming first hand from a coffee planter himself; you would have definitely learnt something new. I can see your excitement as you go about taking in the aromas. You would have had million questions for the guide. Sure you would have liked the guide too - with moustached good looks, he is passionate about his work. He comes from a coffee planter family but with his mom taking care of their estate, he is free to work at Ibnii.
Then there is the bakery. All cookies and breads are made within the resort. Wouldn't you love that? Haven't we spent hours smelling the aromas of fresh breads in departmental stores? And isn't it just the other day we went all the way to Chandni Chowk to buy special cookies? Yes, this is your territory and as the baker shows me around - the words falling on uninterested ears - I wish you were around. You would have soooo enjoyed the session. You would have picked up recipes from the baker to make cookies at home too.
After smelling the coffee literally, it's time to savour a cuppa. On the tables laid out next to the massive pond, we, four of us, sip in, as the sinking sun makes the woods look darker and deeper, closing in upon us like a shawl. The twilight beauty, however, serves to make me only gloomier. The pain persists like a lingering toothache. I have to make up for this tremendous loss. I will take you to a resort as lovely as this soon, baby. I will make it up. Hell, we can come back here again, I console myself.
Stop thinking, you no-hopper, and start enjoying the breathtaking ambience. But then I spot the tadpoles grouping into a thick black cluster on the pond and I spot a rubbery green frog perched on a stone, and there you are, materialising in my mind, stooping down to look at them closely with the curiosity of a child.
Back in my room after dinner, I feel the void, the vacuum, the non-presence all over again. The interesting details of the room torment me more. Just look at the sweet surprise resting on the bed. It is a coffee leaf and on it is hand written: "It's only through a good night's sleep that you will see the beautiful halo of tomorrow. Good night and sweet dreams." You would have been thrilled! "How thoughtful!" you would have exclaimed. How these small things delight you! Why have I left you behind, Zinia! I must be crazy. I don't deserve you. Or you don't deserve an apology of a man like me.
There are some natural details in the room too. The multi coloured insects, for example! I wonder how you would have reacted. You are scared of cockroaches - it's hilarious when you scream everytime you spot one in your house. The thought stretches my lips into a smile. But these insects that managed to get in my room here are exotic - I have never seen these. Yes, we are told to keep the doors shut at all times, but who can resist the fresh mountain air!
Would you be scared of these bugs? Or would you rather take pictures with your iPhone? And oh, I'm yet to tell you this: I do something that you wouldn't be proud of. I murder a spider. A big one. I had to. And sad for it too. I was trying to chase it away but it hid behind curtains. What if it crawled all over me in the dark when I am asleep! Would you have allowed me to kill it? But wouldn't you be scared too?
Don't feel like calling it a day yet. I switch on the telly. Arnab's diatribe against all anti-nationals keeps me engrossed. For a while. Nah, I want to watch a no-brainer, to keep you as far away from my mind. Let me watch a Kedar Khan-Govinda slapstick comedy. Well, I wouldn't be caught dead watching stuff like these, but it seems to be working. If you were around we would have sat on the bed and watched one of those classics you have on your hard drive. Or maybe the lounge room with its comfortable sofa and TV is where we would have cozied up and watched.
Would have! Would have! Would have!
Despite Kedar Khan's ridiculous antics, fleeting moments of loss and longing continue pricking.
We would have made love after the movie. The large bed with its satin drapes and royal headboard is unapologetically luxe. This is a nest for love-birds and honeymooners, a place that would have you believe in fairy tale romance. That kind of a place that makes you wear laces and frills. Complimenting the body and its curves, revealing more than covering, nudging your seductive sensual self to shine through. We would be touchy feely at all times, hugging, kissing and what not! And before we know we would be on the bed. "Nishiii..."I could hear your lilting call.
The nature walk the resort organises in the early morning gives me more reason to be miserable. This is something you would have absolutely enjoyed - you're a morning person, no. Nope, I'm not going. No fun walking alone! If anything, it would have, reminded me more about my solitary self - a consequence of my egoistic stupidity. But you would have woken up for sure, waking me up too, dragging me along, never mind my protests. That would have been something though - to feel the misty morning as we walk hand in hand, and then sitting in one of the benches wordlessly absorbing in the sylvan panorama, watching the wild come alive, listening to the story of how figs are pollinated and the wasps procreate.
And the ducks on the lake? You would have loved feeding these cute but garrulous lot. They come swimming the moment they see humans. "Sorry buddies, I have nothing," I tell the expectant ducks. You would have laughed.
Let me cancel my appointment at Manja (turmeric powder in local lingo), the spa. I never enjoyed spas anyway. But you would have so loved surrendering your body to the gifted hands of therapists. You enjoyed our last couple therapy in the Govardhan resort, didn't you? A few treatments would have been great for your delicate back, relieving you of all the stress and body aches. You could have done with some pedicure too. Why have I deprived you of all the pampering!
The Yoga deck by a pond, thankfully, isn't ready yet. Else I would have one more reason to regret. For not getting you here.
There is no room service at the resort; but I know you would not have complained. The restaurant is about a mile away from my cottage, but you would have avoided the golf kart. "Let's walk, na," you would have said. Indeed, the walk through the forest would have been fantastic, my hand around your waist. In the light-and-shadow ambience, I would have stopped to kiss you on your mouth. Would you have let me though? Turning your face so that the kiss lands on your cheek? "There are people around," you would have hissed. But then in this wild nowhere, it feels as if you are the only woman and I am the only man in this planet. We would have talked as we walked. Or would we? Talking seems criminal in this whispery world. Alongside the pathway illuminated by solar lights, frogs croak and fire flies glow. You would have stopped and stared, wide eyed, amazed. But with a niggling pain deep within me, I fail to appreciate the nocturnal sights and the sounds.
I also fail to appreciate the tastes. The food at the restaurants - The Fig (non-veg) and Baalelle (for veggies) - takes you on a regional culinary journey. From their own pestle and mortar, comes the exotic spices and masalas the chefs use in the cooking. The jams and pickles are also made inhouse. I go for my usual favourites: Poori bhazi for breakfast; rice and mutton rogan josh for lunch. But when I see the prawns, I feel wretched again. How much you love prawns! You would have also been thrilled by the varieties of upma, the dosas, the idlis and fresh fruit juices. You would have gorged on the home made cheese. I can imagine you delicately sampling them, closing your eyes as you do, luxuriating in their bustling flavours. Why have I deprived you of such indulgences! I lose my appetite.
I am feeling like WhatsApping you. Should I? But what do I say? That I miss you like crazy!? That I am in such a fucking fantastic place! Nah, I don't have the guts. Hell, how do I face you when I am back!
And those elephants. You would have loved them. We drive to Dubare Elephant camp, half hour away from the resort, where the gentle giants allow themselves to be touched and bathed. Crowded by tourists, one has to walk over rocks on a stream to reach the other side. The baby elephants are really cute. Naughty too. But then you would have also felt sorry for them. You would have been angry too: The animals are tied with heavy iron chains, you see.
At the Madikiri market where we go after our tryst with the jumbos , there are no "Upto 70 per cent off" boards in shopping windows. That magic board in shopping malls never fails to excite you. "Nishiii, let's check that store, na!" you would stop me. I find myself smiling. But here you wouldn't have been disappointed. These cute and quaint shops in this market, 20 minutes from the resort, sell local products - mostly organic and handcrafted - at very reasonable rates. You would have spent hours browsing through the shelves. I look through your eyes and pick up stuff you would have probably picked up: Pork pickle, tiny rice-grain-sized chillies, homemade Coco chocolates, herbal soaps, loofahs made of plant fibre, and so on. I can picture you sniffing around the aromas of various local spices (cardamom, black pepper) and coffee. Like a kid in a candy store, you would have wanted to buy them all.
Should I buy the coffee? I hesitate. There are simply too many varieties. With you so particular about your coffee, what if I end up buying the one that you don't like! You will only get angry, wouldn't you?
What else do I buy? Bamboo pickle, honey and a Coorg necklace for you. You would have gone crazy over the avocados and the mangoes selling for a fraction of Delhi price. I can almost see your face light up as you spot something new, something novel or something you love.
You would also have badgered the shopkeepers with million questions. How is it made? Where does it come from? etc, etc. I smile again at the thought. Everything I buy, I buy with you in mind. For myself I buy a knife, the weapon of the Kodavas.
Back at the resort, its remorse again. I don't think you have been to a resort like this: Ibnii is expansive, elaborate and extravagant. In fact, it is one of the finest resorts I have been to worldwide. It would have been such a privilege to be have made you experience the finest life has to offer. Why have I kept you away! You would have been so so happy.
Tonight is the third night at the resort. My flight back to Delhi is tomorrow. I am so looking forward to it. I can't wait for this ordeal of a holiday to be over. It has been tormenting, torturous, those 96 hours.
I will run to you straight from the airport. I will say sorry. I will hug you and on your shoulder cry you a river.
I can never forgive myself.
But forgive me, will you?