Great stories come with great beginnings.
They are full of intrigue and mystery — and like any long forgotten Agatha Christie novel, they are spiked with addictive words that reel you right in and leave you at the edge of your seat, just like the end of every episode of Stranger Things would.
Not Kartik’s story though.
It starts with heartbreak, and ends with one too — it’s no classic Shakespearean tragedy — and even though it might seem like it has been more than a week since he told me his tale of anguish, it’s only been twenty minutes.
Kartik always assumed that when someone broke his heart, like in the movies, he’d cry for months and write long-winded emails begging for them to take him back. But it didn’t happen. In real life, he cried for a week and switched off his phone. A week after the dreaded text message from Lakshman, it wasn’t sadness that he felt, it was an emptiness that stayed — the emptiness of knowing who he was without Lakshman. It stayed for months — sharing cups of tea, going for morning runs, and watching the occasional late night movie — till it faded away into nothingness. It took a part of him with it, as if it were a goodbye gift.
He eventually got his heart broken multiple times over the years to come — a string of boys, with a string of red flags to their name. Harsh, a performance artist from the Gulf (turned out to be bisexual.) Anirudh, a high-flying arbitrator from town (left him for his best friend.) Rajesh, a struggling actor who stayed two states away (broke up with him while on vacation). Carl, the fashion manager from across the street (already had a boyfriend). Vaibhav, a yoga entrepreneur from New York (ghosted him after three spectacular dates). Saurabh, a litigation lawyer from Delhi (wanted to remain discreet). Raghav, a sales associate from across the hills (spent the night and never called back). Puneet, a wry assistant director from the suburbs (friend-zoned him after a hookup). His trail of heartbreak runs longer than Leonardo Di Caprio’s Oscar acceptance speech.
But unless he decides to make an equally riveting speech about global warming and climate change, how does having a broken heart help?
He might not know what he wants from a relationship any more, but he knows what he doesn’t — and he has a string of Lakshmans, Anirudhs, Harshs, Carls, Vaibhavs, Raghavs and Puneets to thank for that.
It’s easy; at some point he fell out of love with each of them. It took him days for some, weeks for others, and even years, for a couple. But the feelings gradually faded away, like wine stains on a white shirt. One minute they were there, and then they were gone. Each mistake became a memory. They all took souvenirs from his deteriorating heart, nonetheless. Someone needed closure. Someone wanted to show it to a friend. Someone wanted a bit of him to remember him by. Someone thought it was a nice shade of crimson.
I feel so bad; I offer him my almond biscuit. He’s no hermit though, he says, he’s collected his fair share of souvenirs too. I take back my almond biscuit. We are kindred spirits, the two of us — so I won’t complain.
As gay men, do we finally just collect broken hearts? Trading one for another, till you find that kitschy one at a garage sale, that you haggle over and ultimately buy for half price, to take back home forever. It looks great by your computer — a patchwork of fuckboys, cowards and ghosts who disappeared in the dark, doesn’t it?
Should we just settle for a hamster cycle of heartbreak then? One broken heart leads to another, till all that we are left with are emotionally damaged men who exchange pictures first, names and numbers later. Not Kartik though.
People have different ways of coping with having their hearts splattered all over the floor. They join the gym. Start eating healthy. Write love ballads. Work on their button poetry. Grow an herb garden. Get a fabulous haircut. Take up jazz lessons. Learn Spanish. Practise the flute. Paint an Impressionist painting. Adopt a kitten (or two). Win a Grammy (or six).
Or just become Taylor Swift.
Kartik just falls in love again.
But then again, he’s not the same Kartik from 2012. He feels he’s hardened now — it helps him with the failed dates and the ‘string of above-average men’ that has been his life for the past few years — it’s his superglue of surety — the same one that lets him know that everything’s going to be just fine. He knows he’ll eventually find his way.
How does it help?
Because he’s found a bit of himself every time he’s lost some. Every single time, he rediscovered what he had lost to some other person. Lakshman’s farewell taught him that he despised cigarettes. Anirudh’s made him a conversationalist. Harsh’s made him a believer. Rajesh’s got him to join a gym. Carl’s made him a better friend. Vaibhav’s drove him towards escapism. Saurabh’s led to his love for gin. Raghav’s pushed him towards better grooming. Puneet’s wound him towards stand-up comedy. They all made him, as they broke him down.
But what happened to Purab? His absence unnerves me, but it seems to have no effect on Kartik. Has he been lost in the sea of cynical men and lost souls — with all the other above-average men that Kartik’s been complaining about?
Kartik smiles again, just like he did an hour (and a column) ago. His dimples need no GPS; they know their way.
He eventually did run into Purab at a bar, two months later. He was with someone else — a handsome man in his thirties, with curly hair and a curlier smile, a banker. They even bought Kartik a drink. The French teacher was in a better place, with a better man.
Although he never saw them after, Kartik couldn’t have been happier. Purab had found his ice cream.
And somewhere then, he found it too.
Illustration by Siddha Kannur/Studio Klew
Read part one of this column here.