by Pallavi Jain
I reached home. Being tired, I had a little nap in our lounge while dozing off I remembered the beautiful crisp October afternoon, when I landed at Sydney Airport.
I moved from India to Australia with my partner. I am a physicist. My partner of seven years, Nirvaan is passionate about computer science and AI (Artificial Intelligence). We left good jobs, an urban cosmopolitan life and friends in Bengaluru, India.
Australia had taken our fancy. Great job offers. We were simply lucky. Lucky to arrive in this ‘lucky’ country. The friendliness of the immigration officers was unbelievably amazing. I whispered, ”Nirvaan, is this for real! immigration officers are not sullen and unwelcoming”.
He looked at me with a smile and said, “Ya even I am pleasantly surprised”. We were booked in at a swanky hotel not too far from the iconic Sydney Opera House, before flying to Canberra the next day. Canberra was our final destination. Our new home.
I opened the window curtain in our hotel room, and there was the iconic Sydney Opera House shining. It reminded me of the stunning Bahai Lotus Temple in Delhi. A teardrop rolled down from my eye. I felt mixed emotions. A tear of joy for being in Australia. But a tear of sadness too for the ancient motherland that I had left behind.
First day in Australia, I walked in Circular Quay. The air was fresh, the sky with a hue of pink, and the water in the Harbour perfectly capturing its reflection. My jet-lagged body sensed some kind of rejuvenation in the air. Then a Bollywood movie scene started unfolding. And it took my breath away. The sight of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the unfamiliar sound of tourists in front of the Opera House and seagulls flying in the air captivated my mind. All I wanted to do was to enjoy the moment. Guylian Belgian Chocolate Café’s cappuccino went cold, the chocolate powder on the froth had sunk and the milk on the spoon was dry, I was just awestruck with the sheer beauty of the Opera House.
I had watched the Opera House on our projector in all its splendour in super-hit Hindi movies such as Dil Chahta Hai and Salaam Namaste many times.
Nirvaan the romantic that he is, started softly crooning the super-hit Hindi song “My dil goes hmnn” from the movie Salaam Namaste in my ear.
Embarrassed but charmed, my eyes let him know that I had found what I was looking for. It felt like we were part of a new real-life movie and could have sat at the café the whole day long watching the world go by.
Long were the college days gone when I could sit with Nirvaan the whole day long and passionately discuss STEM and history. Our debating brought us even closer mentally and physically. Days at the globally renowned IISc (Indian Institute of Science) became shorter with him. I was hopelessly in love with Nirvaan.
We would often go to the college canteen to discuss the latest theories in quantum physics, talk about ancient Indian history and science and prepare our arguments for inter-college debates. Unpredictable fun. Our company was all year around. Suddenly, Nirvaan wanted to marry me. I did not realise that one year of dating had gone by. I was unprepared. It took three years to finally agree. Both of us were in relationships before but he convinced me. He had earned my trust. I knew my heart would be safe with him. We were loyal and loving to each other. He also had convinced our family and friends. He was better than the best.
My commitment phobic attitude received a major blow. Cupid struck with a bigger bolt than normal. My rationality went out of the window. I was in love. We were the best choice for each other and for our progressive, liberal and accomplished parents. A match made in heaven.
As we entered the magnificent Ellora caves for our honeymoon holiday, my life was in completely harmony. It felt like the New Zealand symphony Orchestra playing A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The Ellora caves have magnificent Hindu, Jain and Buddhist monuments. However the Kailash Temple dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva is simply out of this world! Literally and figuratively. The largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world with intricate carvings. In what can only be described as architectural magic the temple is vertically extracted.
The caves spoke for themselves, we were awestruck. I told Nirvaan with my eyes popping out that, “this is just unreal”. He was speechless and just shook his head. Mesmerised at the beauty, we promised ourselves that would visit Angkor Wat in Cambodia as our next holiday destination.
The next three years were like a fairytale. We took a plunge and now we were heading to Canberra, where we gave ourselves to each other.
Canberra reminded me of my hometown, Bhopal, in India with its beautiful lakes and slow pace. Settling down was made easy by helpful work colleagues and friends. We found ourselves on the grounds of the old Parliament House for a picnic. My handmade aloo paratha and pickled mango in a picnic basket, with bottles of ginger beer, gave us company. The colour of autumnal maple leaves gave away to the cold grey winter but we still continued our walk along the lakeside near Parliament House.
The serenity of the place gave a new meaning to our married life. I enjoyed brown butter ice-cream encircled by layers of almond praline and frozen lemon in a cold Canberra winter but our love for all things historical took us to the National Gallery of Australia. I can vividly remember attending Cartier: The Exhibition of 300 spectacular items with diamonds, emeralds and other precious stones. My favourite was the colourful ‘Tutti-Frutti Hindu necklace’.
When we came home, I said to Nirvaan, “You are my Tutti-Frutti Hindu necklace.”
He laughed and said, “Will always be.”
We were planning to start a family as well. Life was nothing short of perfect. My partner would tell me, “you are an incredible woman, I am lucky to have you in my life.” These words were pure bliss to my ears. I was walking on clouds.
Suddenly, those clouds were engulfed by a thundering storm. Our perfect life was shattered. My pampered life ended abruptly. Our life was struck by major trauma without warning. I was swimming the waves of a tsunami on a clear day. I was devastated. It was almost as if I had woken up from a dream to find myself in a nightmare. I tried to reason through my emotional turmoil.
As traumatised and emotionally destroyed as I was, my rational outlook on life perhaps helped me through this lonely time. I finally cut the umbilical cord to Canberra and moved to Sydney. The umbilical cord that was made up of so many wonderful memories was hard to detach. The pain was crippling. Our near and dear ones were as much in shock as I was. No one could understand what happened but there seemed to be nothing anyone could do. I left Canberra with a tearful goodbye.
Sydney became my new home. I moved there with a broken heart. My shattered dreams challenged my independent status and free spirit. No matter how busy Sydney was, there was nothing quite like what I was feeling. I didn’t know anyone in Sydney. I am a workaholic and almost six months had passed since I moved but I was still in a dark abyss with my work being the only silver lining. It was difficult for me to cope.
I was living alone in Sydney but got moral support from my closest. I remembered my father saying, “one must never lose two things in life no matter what the circumstances, hope and confidence”. His advice got me back on my feet. I started living again. Work became my saviour and colleagues at the Sydney office became my support. My world was frozen in Sydney summer.
For the one and a half years since my traumatic past, I kept myself busy with my Sydney job. I had completely forgotten that a new team member was going to join our office from Melbourne. He came up to me at my desk and introduced himself as Johann. It was his eyes that caught my attention.
Johann was, like me, a fellow physicist and a first generation immigrant. He had migrated from Germany. He had a passion for the quantum world and was surprisingly well versed in ancient Indian sciences. It was good to have him on our team, someone with whom I could discuss leptons and quarks and the significance of the Nataraj as a symbol of cosmic forces. Johann knew that Nataraj is the Hindu God Shiva as the divine dancer. “Isn’t it mind-blowing that the magnificent Nataraj symbolises the cosmic dance of creation and destruction? Ancient Hindu sages seem to have comprehended stuff that modern physicists have only just begun to discover over the past century. And I could listen to him for the whole day.”
Johann said, “I had first come across The Nataraj at The European Organisation for Nuclear Research or CERN”.
I replied, “one day I want to go there.”
Joahan promised to take me there. “It was spellbinding and metaphysical, the ancient and the modern quest for reality coming together, you have to see it.”
A few months later, we went for coffee after work. I hesitated but then agreed. One coffee couldn’t hurt! It was a Friday evening. That coffee date lasted for more than fourteen hours.
While I hardly knew him, I felt comfortable sharing the most painful feelings I had in my heart. He seemed to understand my pain. He had experienced the same pain, a pain I had seen in his eyes when I had first met him. It is easier to understand a trauma when you have gone through it.
Within a month of that coffee date in Newtown we were officially dating.
Sydney summer became warmer and we both went to Redleaf beach in Woollahra on the weekend. Enjoying fish and chips from a local café on the beach, we sat on the green grass under the big eucalyptus tree on the far left. With Sydneysiders flooding the beach with their hats, sunglasses and towels, we kept observing the Aussie beach life. We sat closer and shared our fish and chips while planning a trip to India, as he was very keen to visit. It seemed like a perfect Indian summer in the Land Down Under. It was at that moment a gentle breeze brought some relief from the scorching sun and Johann made a life-changing decision. He decided to spend the rest of his life with me. For me it was one day at a time. As they say, “once bitten twice shy”.
Over time though, he convinced me that I should not let my past experiences dictate my future. It was difficult for me initially to trust him but eventually I did. One year later I was married to him and was blessed with a daughter. We named her Shanti which means peace in Sanskrit.
Life in Sydney as a new mother was hectic between work, home and looking after a newborn. But Johann was a hands on father. He made my life as easy and comfortable as possible. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner.
One day, I got a phone call from my ex Nirvaan. He sounded distressed and dejected. He wanted to meet me. I was confused. He was going to come to Sydney over the weekend. I finally decided to meet. The night before, I mentioned to Johann and he was thankfully ok with it. He said, “I would have done the same. Even though, I have also not been in touch with my ex for a long time.”
It calmed me down.
The weekend came. I didn’t know how I would react when I met Nirvaan. It had been an abrupt end to our relationship. We had not spoken for four years. We were surprised that we met with the same ease as we did at our IISc college canteen. Unknown to myself, I had forgiven him. Perhaps because my life was now filled with family bliss. Nirvaan on the other hand looked really worn down with the harshness of life. He was aged beyond his years. We were at the Guylian Belgian Chocolate Café near the Sydney Opera House. Seeing him in his regular white shirt made me tearful. The café reminded us that it was the same café which we had first visited after landing in Australia.
I said, “I am married with a kid and our trip to the same spot seems like a different lifetime.”
He replied, “Yes.”
I asked, “why did you want to meet me after so many years?”
He said, “I have a confession to make. I am sorry for what I have done. Please forgive me.”
Over the course of the next two hours, I learned that during the last eight months of our marriage, he was feeling a bit distant to me. But instead of talking to me about his issues, he started talking to his colleague Caroline about them. Before he knew, he was physically involved and mentally under pressure to end our marriage. Caroline pressured him to distance himself from me.
After some time, things started falling apart for him and his relationship with Caroline ended two years later. Nirvaan also confessed that he wanted to get back with me but was not courageous. All he wanted now was to be my friend.
My head was reeling with all this information but I did agree to be friends with him. After all, he had been my best friend for nine long years. Soon, I started bringing Nirvaan up to date about the ins and outs of my life since then.
Midway through the conversation Nirvaan froze. “Can you repeat your partner’s name?” he asked.
There was a disbelief on his face. He was shocked and said, “You married Johann, my ex-partner’s ex!”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It must be a mistake.
Nirvaan asked, “Did your partner move from Melbourne? Is he also a physicist?”
From my description, he was convinced that I had married Caroline’s ex. I found it hard to believe. I ordered one more cup of strong mocha with no sugar to improve my brain function.
Then the monumental truth struck me! I realised that we were talking about the same Caroline whose abbreviated name was Carrie. Johann had mentioned ‘Carrie’ in a few conversations while sharing the pain of his past but the circle of our fate was simply unfathomable. Sometimes the truth indeed is stranger than fiction.
I sat there stunned!
Many moments of silence passed. We ended our meeting after that. Both of us trying to absorb the bizarreness of it all. Nirvaan and I decided to keep in touch and remain friends.
I caught the train from Circular Quay station to Lindfield to pick up my daughter from childcare. My mind was still reeling with the story. I did not know how I was going to break the news to Johann. What was his reaction going to be?
I reached home and was having a little nap in our lounge when I suddenly felt a kiss on my cheek and woke up with a start! On this cold Canberra morning, Nirvaan had woken me up as usual with a kiss on my cheek. It was a daily ritual.
Nirvaan asked, “Are you ok? You look completely startled.” It took me a few seconds to realise that the trauma that I had experienced was a dream!
When I told Nirvaan about it he hugged me tight and said, “I am not going anywhere without you. So, do you want to go to the Tulip festival in Bowral?”
It took me a few minutes to come to my senses but I felt a wave of relief. I could not believe how real the dream seemed but I was happy to wake up in the arms of the man who was my best friend. We got ready and drove to Bowral and our Instagram was flooded with red, white and yellow tulips from the festival.
Next day, it was the manic Monday. As soon as I reached work I had an important meeting to attend. I collected all my files. Our team had invented a new kind of nano-material which could have path-breaking implications for the healthcare industry through drug delivery. We were meeting a team of bio-technologists to discuss the possibility of a potential mechanism for the future. The idea could be implemented successfully to revolutionise patient care.
I arrived at the conference room on the third floor of our office building. I was half-way into my cappuccino when the bio-technologists arrived. And there was the lead scientist who was the same man I had re-married in my dream!
Pallavi Jain is a senior journalist and commentator and is a known name in the Indian-Australian community for her outstanding work. She is a bilingual journalist who has worked in TV, Radio and Digital platforms across two continents and covered a wide range of issues in her career including Politics, International Relations, Economics, Science, Social issues and Culture. Pallavi Jain has worked with the TV Today group and the BBC World Service in India and with SBS Hindi in Australia. She has written opinion pieces in print and online for prestigious media organisations like The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times and ABC News. She has also been a finalist in The New York Festivals – Radio awards, Amnesty International Australia media awards and NSW Premier’s Multicultural media awards for her outstanding investigative journalism. Pallavi has a Masters Degree in International Relations from The University of Nottingham, UK and is an exponent of Hindi in Australia. She has been a finalist for the India-Australia Business and Community awards (IABCA) and has widely covered the Indian community in Australia. She is also a bilingual poet and her Hindi poems were published last year in an anthology of Indian-Australian poets.