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What Love reminds me of by Nikita Biswal

Photo by Danny Lyon

1. Cassette tapes

I know how strange this sounds at first. By now, you’ve probably forgotten what they look like. Cassettes. Little rectangular glass cases, with two small holes in the middle to hold your fingers. They fit perfectly into your palm. A shiny black tape spools inside, and if the case is transparent, you can watch how it folds around the insides of the cassette.

When I was very young, ma used to drive my sister and me to our old neighbourhood. On the journey back, we played songs out of unlabelled cassettes kept in the glove box. Our collection was made up of a few Hindi songs from the 90s, a different one on each side of a cassette.

I no longer remember any of the songs, only the purple of the late evening sky, and how happy the music made me. I remember being very excited the day the cassette player was replaced with a modern stereo. The cassettes were stored in a plastic bag and filed in a cabinet in the sitting room, next to other forgotten things and papers. I no longer know if they’re still there.

2. The wind before rain

I find the rain beautiful. I love the smell of wet mud it leaves behind, like a song you continue to hum after it’s over. Rain falls carelessly and completely, drenching the trees, the houses, the bridges humans made to walk over water.

Sometimes when the rain turns into a storm, there are power-cuts. As the lights go out, everyone in my house slowly comes together. We spread around the uncarpeted living room. I like sitting on the floor, the marble cold under my skin. We go around telling stories, interjecting, laughing, answering questions, listing cities we still haven’t visited. Then the lights come on and everyone finds something to do.

When I think of July, I imagine standing in the balcony as the hot afternoon dissolves into a cool breeze that will bring rain, maybe even a power-cut as we wait for dinner. The chalk-white branches of the eucalyptus trees outside begin to dance. I imagine the first drop of rain falling on my cheek and disappearing. And I think, perhaps, it will rain.

3. Flowers

In Delhi, sometimes when you stop at a traffic light, a small girl with honey coloured eyes would walk up to your car window and knock. She’s selling flowers, would you buy some? Usually red roses, each packed individually in a plastic wrapper marked with white dots or red hearts, a tape circled at the foot of the stem.

Sometimes, she has jasmines. They’ll wither away by tomorrow morning, but they look beautiful and soft now. She crouches near the signal, counting cars, her arms smell like gardens underneath the flowers.

I like to think that as you are driving through the city, the afternoon sun hot outside, you stop at a traffic light. When the girl with the flowers walks over to you, you roll down your window and smile at her. I like to think you almost buy me flowers, and I almost wear them in my hair.

4. Homemade coffee

It’s not that special. There isn’t a clever trick to the recipe, in fact, there is hardly a recipe. It’s just milk and coffee powder, and copious amounts of sugar. But it’s one of the most comforting things you can put in a steel glass, thick foam at its mouth.

I half-remember running around the house as a child, aunty running after me with a glass of milk. I’d hide next to the CPU under the study table, uncomfortably crouched, legs tangled in the computer’s wires. Each time, the familiar sound of a jingling spoon followed me. Aunty would find me, extend a hand and pull me out.

I keep thinking back to the small things. The simple pleasure of a glass of coffee that isn’t entirely a latte, or a cappuccino, or an espresso. Just milk and sugar and coffee. Made lovingly at home by a familiar hand, the glass warm and assuring as I hug it to my chest.

5. Quietude

In the summer, we used to visit my father’s coastal hometown. The first evening, my cousins and I would spend hours sitting on the terrace. Long after the conversations died, we stayed, just sitting there. Lying on my back on the roof, I first learnt to distinguish between twinkling fireflies and stars.

I have found many things in the quiet. The time to listen to a favourite song over and over again. The comfort of a silence you can share in half with a friend. Sometimes I replay old memories in my head and try to remember exactly how I felt at that moment.

Sitting there, still and quiet, I realise how slowly time moves. Yet so much could happen in a second. It could grow darker, I could remember something old and funny, our hands could touch. Maybe somewhere, slowly, a star could flutter, grow yellow wings and begin to move.

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