Vasant 2019, Short Stories -Chinthu Udayarajan


About my Love

By Chinthu Udayarajan


Today we had a memorial service for Aayansh – My friend who started the ecosystem to foster STEM movement among Dalit students, my friend who was the founder of Adya labs, my friend who was the rocket launcher for kids, my friend who was loved by many.

I was asked to speak at the service. Unprepared and full of emotions I could only jabber a few unconnected sentences. One thing the audience got out of me was the meaning of his first name Aayansh which meant “First Ray of Light”.

I first got acquainted with the essence of Aayansh in a crowded auditorium housed in the Red Gym building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US. It was a hot summer evening. Fifty or more grad students were gathered in the room. We watched an experimental short film and answered several questions given on a review form. I cannot recall anything about the movie or about the questions. But as I read the thank you note signed by Aayansh, the name struck a note in me. And that was it. I handed over the review sheet and went over to the nearby Memorial Union terrace to have a beer and watch the sunset on lake Mendota.

Summer sprung away. Beautiful fall swooned by. As soon as the winter struck, I decided to go home to India for a month. I was bundled up and at the bus stop, waiting for the bus to take me to Chicago O’Hare airport to board an Etihad flight. I saw a tall boy dressed in a hooded black jacket walk towards me. There are a few things I remember about that first in-person meeting with Aayansh. We shook hands and looked clearly into each other’s eyes for a little longer than usual as though mesmerized by what each saw in the other. I remember he had the longest of the eyelashes which was constantly fluttering. There was a constant lit cigarette with him.

With Aayansh by my side the bus ride to O’Hare was the shortest. He regaled me with stories about him growing up in Mumbai, about his parents’ social activism and general comedy about friends whom he frequented or lived with. Me being an introvert was mostly a listener but did share a few from my rucksack of stories. I described to him about my mom’s rose garden and how I had, as a child, painted political banners for my dad.

We boarded the same flight which would take us to Dubai where we would split our way; me to Trivandrum and him to Mumbai. We got seats in the same row next to each. Now, the flight had a policy of not serving alcohol on board. This snag did not stop us from celebrating. We opened a bottle of blackberry vodka (a gift from my Ukrainian friend), mixed with Sprite in plastic cups. We said cheers to us. We sealed our newfound friendship with a kiss.

After the vacation at home, coming back to cold Madison was a hard deal. Once back I was immersed in research activities. I did wonder now and then about my new friend on flight. We had not exchanged numbers, forgotten in the vodka induced kicks. I knew I could easily email him, but in some way, I wanted Aayansh to reach out to me. After a few weeks I got an email from Aayansh asking me out on a date. He also mentioned he had a gift, a book for me.

I met with Aayansh at the Memorial Union, that Saturday. He didn’t have the book with him and almost missed the date because he was hungover and over-slept because of the previous evening’s revelries. We made our way to Stillwaters, a bar, favorite with the students. I remember the drinks were mild at first, and then I teased the bartender for them being so. That was a bad decision on my part. Drinks got stronger and I got smashed to the point that Aayansh had to literally drag-carry me to his two-bedroom Lakeshore apartment which he shared with a friend.


After this I retched all over him and he had to strip me and put me in shower to restore my sanity. I was delirious all night long, by his side in the narrow bed. Come morning I was mostly okay and both of us laughed so much watching the movie “A Fish Called Wanda”, over a breakfast of fried eggs. It was only a week later Aayansh gave me the book which was Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre. That was the beginning of our love story. We rented a one bed room apartment facing the lake Mendota and started living together.

Life with Aayansh was one of endless parties. Every evening a blend of grad students and local friends or rather in his own words a mixture of friends and enemies would drop by with the choice of beer. My favorite was a local ale called Spotted Cow, which Aayansh would stock up. Either Aayansh or I would be acting chef. We would ladle out generous portions of chicken curry or fish fry. If it was a vegetarian fare, Aayansh would make his famous bhindi fry. Evening would be filled with countless laughs, and discussions centering around science, ideologies, music and love. Aayansh would be as animated as ever being the center of the party. American friends would ask for an equivalent of “Cheers” in an Indian language. Aayansh coined the phrase “Bada Maza” which he described as meaning “Big Fun”.

When Aayansh and me were on our own, we would lapse into a heavenly contented state, either dancing, him making chai for me, or both of us listening to the Wisconsin Public Radio, or either of us working on the respective programs - him in New Media and me on Food Science. I learned the love for the herb from him and he opened The Doors, The Who, Cream, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin to me. We discussed about various writers, their personalities, achievements and facets of books authored. Conversations with Aayansh revealed his deep convictions about activism through education among Dalits. It is not to say there were downsides, for one he was constantly smoking and other with Aayansh being so popular, his ex-girlfriends would always call up which made me speechlessly jealous.

A year in to our relationship, we informed both sets of parents that we would like to get married. Three years in, we were thinking of experimenting, we decided to make it an open relationship. We were to stay together as a unit but start dating others as to give a new savour to our life. Little did we think that it would be a hell of a thing to do.

That winter I went to India, Aayansh stayed back in Madison. He dated Sharlene, his American friend from Journalism school.

I came back to the coldest winter in my life. Aayansh told me all about this rendezvous. I was okay with it for like five minutes. I burst out crying. Aayansh tried to console me. He explained that Sharlene and him were done with each other and will not be doing this open dating scene again. But somehow something was broken inside me. Even though it was our mutual decision to open the relationship to new adventures, once it actually materialized, I was scared shit out of my wits. I would say this portended the beginning of an end.

We stayed together for few more months, which took me to graduate with a doctorate in food science. I moved to Minneapolis to start working in the research department for a well-known firm. Aayansh would take a bus from Madison to see me every weekend. We struggled with the remains of our relationship. It was strewn around us in a pattern of lovely radiant patches and dark weepy wells. After a few months of working through, we called quits. Aayansh stopped his Friday trips to Minneapolis.

Around this time, I cropped my waist length hair very short and started seriously dabbling in arts. I treated the painful breakup as a new birth. I had the chance to meet a famous midwestern artist who was known as the Andy Warhol of the Midwest. Him and his posse fuelled my passions for art and artists alike. I started dating again but none of the relationships had the glitter or depth of what I had with Aayansh.

Aayansh, from the few phone calls that I made, was in depths of despair. But that did not stop him from being actively involved in the student protests of Madison in 2011. He was part of the Teaching Assistants Association that distributed "We ♥ UW: Don't Break My ♥" Valentine cards to the governor, as a way of protesting the Wisconsin Act 10’s adverse impacts on working environments at the university.

I was missing him. It was just too much. I asked Aayansh if he would come to Minneapolis to live with me. He promptly packed his bags and said good bye to Madison. When I saw Aayansh after all those years, I was aghast. He was clearly in deep pain washed over by great love. He looked tired and worn out by life. His moustache, hair, and clothes - unkempt.

It took us a few weeks to get him back to the luminous self that he used to be. But he was certainly back. Not just that, he started making new friends in Minneapolis. This time again was one of the happiest for us. We had clearly become great friends, but were no more lovers.

By this time, we had been feeling like being in India, leaving the US for good. Aayansh and I left US for our respective homes.

As Aayansh got home, he relinked with his old friends and was able to land a job teaching in a well-known school-of-arts in Bangalore. In the process he also reconnected with one of his girlfriends who was very dear to him and they started a new life together.

As I landed in Trivandrum, the built-up stress in me expressed itself as a mental health disorder. I was diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia of the worst kind. My mom and dad were my strength. Still those were the dark days for me when I would call Aayansh every day to keep my inner flame alive. He would keep my spirits up by telling me stories, asking me to read and seek good psychiatric counsel. With medication and counselling I was able to reach stability and actually start working.

During this time Aayansh and his girlfriend visited me and took me to the beaches of Kochi and I experienced shopping therapy. After working for a few years, I resigned from my job owing to gender-based discrimination. I decided to live with my parents. All throughout, Aayansh remained a pillar of support for me through phone conversations.

Last time I saw him was a year ago. He was with his friend Rajesh. Both had come down to Trivandrum to inaugurate a free educational institution for Dalit children. Aayansh’s network had grown wide enough to raise funding to go strongly after his one goal in life - create a movement - create safe and free spaces all over India for Dalit children to learn and excel in Art and Science. He told me he was taking a year off from his work to create Adya labs which would be first of its kind, a free learning space for children that intersects art, science and technology. He treated me to a sumptuous lunch at Villa-Maya restaurant and was so buoyant about the bright future that he saw; inviting me to be an artist-in-residence at his institute.

The last conversation I had with him was stilted. He told me he was going to get married. I wished him all the best.

For some strange reason he mentioned he needed health insurance. We decided not to be in touch anymore through phone or otherwise.

I was heartbroken. I was sad that I would not touch base with Aayansh again.

Exactly four days after the awkward conversation I received the fateful text message at midnight – “Aayansh left.”

Aayansh had a massive heart attack. He died before help could reach him. He had stated several times that he wanted to be gone with a bang. And that’s just what happened.

Aayansh was cremated in Nagpur. He was bid farewell by hundreds of people - his family, friends and students. I could not bring myself to go.

To me Aayansh is alive, someplace in the cosmos cheering me on with his “Bada Maza”.



Chinthu Udayarajan from India has a doctorate in Food Science from University of Wisconsin-Madison, US. She has authored a novel, a couple short stories and several poems.


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