My first love interest after the Ex was Kehar Singh, my cousin’s best friend who I actually met when I was 9 and he was 16. It was the summer of 1981 and my family was staying with relatives who lived across the lane form Kehar Singh's family. My architect father, before he left India, actually designed Kehar Singh's family's house! And I remember standing on my aunt’s balcony, this loud-mouthed, brash, fearless American girl taunting Kehar Singh and his friends as they walked home from school.
Back in the time before Indira Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards assassinated her, Kehar Singh was a turbaned Sikh. Some fifteen years later when my cousin comes to Minnesota for a visit, Kehar Singh is now an American educated engineer living in the States. And we’re all reunited on a cold and snowy Minnesota night. He towers over 6’-0” and is slim, wearing a button-down tucked in jeans and a blazer. He has shaved his beard and wears his hair long to his shoulders. He looks like an Indian Jesus.
In an instant, electricity sparks and cracks between us. In a flirty, intimate way Kehar Singh and I shoot words and jibes with surgical precision, with enough tact to remain intelligent, and enough wit to avoid the smart of an insult. You'd think Kehar Singh and I were long lost best friends. He has a presence, his attractive face and dark eyes dance with mischief. He told me I had a way with words and my laugh was infectious. Swoon.
From there we end up in a long distance friendship relationship conducted over the phone --- until we are talking five times a week, conferencing in his friends and cousin. Men don't introduce you to their friends if you're just a casual girl. Because my cousin/his best friend had vetted him, I for the first time since the Ex really opened myself to a man and spoke brazenly about my hopes, dreams, fears. I’ve been described as an intense over achiever, so admitting that I had insecurities was a really big lowering of the guard for me.
We shared and trusted for a couple years, in which time he moved from the East to the West Coast. I visited him a few times. And finally, when I thought he HAD to like me as much as I liked him, with reckless abandon,I hedged my heart and confessed my attraction.
It was November 1999, just before I was going to India to celebrate the millennium (which I know is really the following later) and I couldn't believe his response was something to the effect of, “dude, man...I’m flattered but, dude, man...I have to go for a walk. Okay?”
A month later my brother and I leave for India and I have not heard from him. I am wondering where he walked to? Utah? Mexico? Come on man! When are you coming back? I felt a little slighted that he did not wish me bon voyage. I do understand that attraction can be a one way street and if he was not interested, wouldn’t the adult reaction be, to tell me so? Or could he really be that emotionally stunted?
For what should have been the most amazing week in Goa along the coast of the Arabian sea, with my relatives, it wasn’t. I was heart-broken and forced to put on a happy face. I listened to my cousin say, “Kehar Singh just called.” “I just talked to Kehar Singh.” It was like he knew when I was out of earshot and would call, evidently to torture me. Good thing I had the salty air to blame for the daily tears that stung my eyes. Even though he had the audacity to ask my cousin how I was, I never did ask about him. I didn’t want her caught between her best friend and her cousin-sister.
After two weeks in the sun, on New Year’s Day, my brother and I are in Bombay headed to the airport. Bombay taxi drivers decided to celebrate the New Year with a strike, but luckily my relatives are able to commandeer a car and ferry us around the city. Despite the taxi strike, which you would think clears up the streets, we putter along crowded streets ever so slowly. I stare at the billboards atop buildings, broadcasting the latest movies featuring heroines in clothes so tight they could stop breathing from a wardrobe malfunction and shirtless heroes with hairless chests. The air-brushing is amusing as most Indian men are very hairy!
At red lights beggars and thin children scurry to the window pressing their greasy faces against the glass, begging for food, pleading for money. When the light turns green an impatient armada of cars, scooter, buses, lorries, cows, dogs, people, bikes, beggars and fruit vendors honk and bustle their way through the intersection. Everyone rushing to wait and honk at the next traffic light.
Then out of nowhere my name appears. In big letters, tall, larger than life, my name is spelled out on a billboard. I bolt forward and wait to see if I am dreaming or if really, my name is plastered all over Bombay. I realize how juvenile this sounds but I grew up Minnesota with Jennifers, Christines and Anns and the thought of myself as an enigma rather than ubiquitous is exhilarating! I am not used to seeing my name on anything other than bills. When my name goes by AGAIN, I am shrieking. A sari palace is named after me!!! I am wildly pointing at a gorgeous and tall woman (of course she is tall she’s on a billboard!) draped in a deep blue sari that reveals the swell of her breasts and conceals the hollow of her hips. Her long shiny hair cascades down her back and she looks coquette. God in heaven, it’s a dream! Great joy, my name is associated with fashion, beauty and grace! Excited, I spin around so fast and almost give myself whiplash. I am shaking my brother and saying, “Oh my God, where is the camera? My name is on that billboard. I have to capture this. Quick! Quick!"
My brother frowns and the driver seems amused. Must not see too many Americans. “Quick! Camera!” I demand, wondering what part of “quick” and “camera” my brother does not understand! “Damn,” my brother mutters. “What?" I ask and jump around the back of the car like a kid with attention deficit who sat on fire ants. “I have seen eight of those. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice,” he says before giving me the camera.
Can you just imagine this injustice? I am secretly pining for a man who refuses to love me, much less call me. My salvation is to be immortalized in eighteen feet of the satiny silk of a sari and my brother wants to deny my finest hour?
When I get back to the States I am furious and want to call Kehar Singh and wish him a Happy New Year but I know I’ll just end up yelling at him because I am still so hurt with how he dismissed me! A few weeks pass and I am watching and crying through the movie Ghost when my cousin calls me. Under ordinary circumstances, I can lie like a politician caught soliciting sex in a Minneapolis airport bathroom stall. But since I am being ignored like I contracted Ebola, I end up babbling about wanting everlasting love. The kind that transcends time where the ghost of my dead lover runs all over Manhattan, trying to save me.
Immediately my cousin knows something is really wrong and after three months I detail the entire Kehar Singh story and she is horrified. Then she is furious with me for keeping the secret and hangs up. She must immediately call him to rip him a new earlobe because he calls a few days later. Except I am on my way out for the evening and stand in the doorway listening to the message before slamming the door shut.
I wait two weeks before calling him back. In the meantime, Kehar Singh is calling my cousin complaining that I have not called him back after two days. To which my cousin says, “well you took three months, don’t be surprised if she takes three weeks.”
When I finally call Kehar Singh our phone call is the most awkward one we have ever had in our entire friendship. It took time, a lot of time, but eventually Kehar Singh and I got back on familiar ground. We’re friends now, actually really good friends who even joke about how I must have lost my mind to fall for him. On several occasions I have reminded him that he was a total jerk, which he acknowledges and often says, "but aren’t you better off without me in your life like that?"
Yes. But still. Next time walk faster!