A letter to my unknown lover

It’s now almost 5 degrees here, cold for me, perhaps not for you: except the afternoons, which are usually quite warm with so much sunlight, that it feels like the skin is burning. Sometimes I forget that it is not longing, but the sun that makes my body warmer, sometimes I also forget, my dear, that this city where I live, which is so full and congested seems so because of the same sunlight: everything exists here also in shadows and reflections. During the day, and sometimes on well-lit nights, everything exists in doubles and triples: the woman reading a book by the window is also reading a book by another window. The woman and her book and the little lamp I forgot to mention before seem to exist endlessly, and so it feels like this serene scene has no beginning, that its reflection has no source.

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Last Tuesday, after waiting for a taxi that never arrived, I sat on the burning balcony, with a glass of red wine (because no other colour under the bright sun), and read Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star, and in that haze of wine and heat, I was astonished to see a transparent moving red on each page : it seemed impossible, that such a book existed, but the boundary between the possible and the impossible keeps changing shape, and I prefer keeping an open mind. I thought what a beautiful gift it would be for you, you who must have sat, at dusk, at the entrance of the Mehrangarh fort, reading the poetry of Mir. It couldn’t have been any other poet. And did you stop to listen to the old folk singer, who sits with a kamaicha near the stairs – the stairs that lead up to the dead king’s bedroom, not the one where you end up at the terrace that overlooks all the blues of Jodhpur – singing particularly melancholic songs? The last time I was there, the day after you left for your city, I heard he died the night before. My dear, why didn’t you write to me about the ominous sorrow of his voice that didn’t let you sleep for the next few nights? That even now, on nights when your heart loses its tint, you dream about the alleys and narrow streets of the old city, and the next morning you think you will visit again, and sit besides the staircase listening to the old man sing, that you will never leave this strange scene where, centuries later, there would still be a statue of the famous traveller who never left after coming here just to listen to the singer who, by then, would have been forgotten.

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My dear, just a couple of days ago, I painted my bedroom door : it looked so simple, but it took me a few hours to draw the cut-out shapes with pencil, going over each time with an eraser and a wet cloth, and colouring them with water colour – “as for me, I am watercolour, I wash off” – and I remembered that I’ve never told you how I’d discovered Matisse. I thought of including in the next letter the scene where sitting alone in a tourist bus in Nice, I saw one of the stops marked Musee Matisse, and even though I knew nothing about him, I got off the bus at the end of Cimiez – or was it the beginning? I remember a lavender house with a blooming orange tree in its yard, when I’d realized that in Bangla, there is one word for both blossoming and boiling –where, in the olive orchard that surrounds the building, I’d felt suddenly faint. I thought I would die here in this foreign country, where not a single person knows me, where perhaps no one has even heard the word saudamini, where the blue sapphire from my favourite ring will slip off when the police carry my body.

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I wonder if you would ever know, that a stranger whom you could have met and loved, had died in your country, or maybe another, close by or distant. My dear, everyone talks about the moment of meeting, someday I will write to you about the many moments of not meeting. Send me your address, I want to tell you that don’t sell the blue sapphire you find under the olive tree. Keep it. It is mine.

(This was first published in Kindle Magazine, where I write a monthly column on cities, memory, etc.)

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