A Free Kick in a Dangerous Positionhttps://indianexpress.com/article/express-sunday-eye/a-free-kick-in-a-dangerous-position-independence-day-football-5889407/

A Free Kick in a Dangerous Position

The end of marriage and a football match.

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Ranjan used my life’s meaninglessness to convince me to watch football with him. (Illustration: Suvajit Dey)

Monday morning. I could not get up from the bed. I tried to, but leaving the bed seemed to require superhuman strength. Ranjan realised what was happening. His way of dealing with it was to hurry up and get ready for work a lot earlier than usual. After he was dressed, he walked up to my side of the bed and ran his fingers through my hair. Two of his fingers got stuck in a knot. He tried to yank through. I shrieked in hurt. He then withdrew the fingers carefully. “I know life appears meaningless right now,” he whispered. “Huh?” I reacted. “Yes,” he replied. He then took the next quarter of an hour to explain to me how life’s meaninglessness was, in fact, a boon. “If life had meaning, if we all had a purpose, there would be nothing else to live for other than that purpose,” he said.

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I tried to tell him that he was being needlessly philosophical, that my inability to get up from the bed was not because I regarded life as meaningless — or, if I did, I hadn’t thought of that in a long while. But Ranjan was in flow and did not really listen to me. “What a nightmare a horde of purpose-driven people would be,” he continued. “And what is the guarantee that our expressly-stated purpose does not collide with another’s? There will be some people, of course, whose purpose would be to fight another person for a higher purpose.

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That introduces a complication, doesn’t it? Is the fighting person’s purpose just to fight, or is it to win or lose the fight? Let’s say the purpose is to lose the fight. But let’s say that the counterparty is also supposed to lose the fight. What do we have then? We have two people trying to fulfill their purpose, both trying to lose a fight. Unresolvable, you see! To get out of that situation, one of them will have to improvise. One of them will have to redefine their momentary purpose as withdrawing from a fight. So, what do we have here? A simple illustration of the fact that things will be complicated even in a life full of meaning. You see! You see? Our expressly-stated purposes will always be impeded by other people’s expressly-stated purposes. It is purposelessness that makes us amiable, then. It is purposelessness that makes us collaborate. It is purposelessness that allows us to constantly redefine ourselves. You see what I’m driving at?”
“No,” I said.
“Well, I’m asking you not to bemoan life’s meaninglessness.”
“I’m not. I’m just depressed.”
“But depression has to be related to life’s meaninglessness. You see?”
“Go to your office, Ranjan.”
“I will, I will. I will go to my office. But think of it, office work is all collaboration, no? At our offices, we are essentially playing out the meaninglessness of life. Even enjoying it. Isn’t it? I’ll leave you with this thought now,” he leaned and kissed me on the forehead.
“Thank you for leaving me with this thought,” I said, picking up my phone to text an excuse to my boss.
He left. I wondered what purpose I would share with him in case our lives suddenly started being meaningful. I played soothing music on my phone and tried to go to sleep.

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Saturday evening. Ranjan used my life’s meaninglessness to convince me to watch football with him. There was a red team and a blue team. I like the colour red, so I told Ranjan that I would support the red team. He tried to inform me why he supported the blue team and why I should support the blue team also, but I invoked my life’s meaninglessness and shut him up.

The red team scored. Then it scored again.

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Ranjan tried to explain to me how the blue team was “staying in a rigid 4-1-5 position” when their goalkeeper had the ball and how it meant that they could not “use the middle of the pitch”. I didn’t understand any of that, of course, so I just said, “The red team is playing better.” “That’s broadly right,” Ranjan replied. The commentator said something about a free kick in a dangerous position. Then something about a missed opportunity. Then something about making the right substitutions at the right time. For some reason, these phrases got seared in my mind.

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Sunday morning. I told Ranjan that I wanted to divorce him. We were inside our Micra, going to the hypermarket. Ranjan was driving. “This isn’t about me,” he said after a minute. “This is all about you. Right?”
I didn’t answer. If life was meaningless, it didn’t really matter if I stayed married to Ranjan or if we separated. But meaning was not the axis on which I tended to weigh my life. I had clear memories of being happy a few years ago. Before marriage. I used to watch rom-coms. I used to read chick-lit. I used to listen to Punjabi songs. I used to have sex with an earlier, less-sure-about-the-world version of Ranjan.

“Right?” Ranjan asked again. We were in the basement parking lot of the hypermarket. “What is the difference between a supermarket and a hypermarket?” I asked him. Ranjan started telling me the difference. What he said was unconvincing. Inside the elevator, another man who had been listening to Ranjan pointed out how his definition of a supermarket was faulty simply because it left for no distinction between a supermarket and a simple grocery store. The man then proceeded to define the three kinds of markets on the parameter of size, giving square-meter ranges for each, which he also tried to convert to square-feet for my benefit. “Size matters,” he said, with a guffaw, while we were all leaving the elevator. Being polite, we had missed our floor and would now have to take the escalator down. For a second, I wished for all the men in the world to be vapourised.

Sunday late evening. As we were on the bed, Ranjan abused the man in the elevator for diverting us from an important conversation. “I feel like taking a free kick in a dangerous position,” I announced. Almost instantly, Ranjan’s hand approached his crotch in defence. I burst into laughter. We burst into laughter. I clarified that I was talking about the divorce. “Yes, it is about you,” Ranjan said.

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For the next few minutes, Ranjan tried to equate my demand for a divorce to the demands of Kashmiri separatists. “The Indian state should use love to reintegrate the Kashmiris,” he said. He then criticised his own analogy, saying that he could in no way be equated with the Indian state because he had no inclination towards using force of any kind. He then segued into talking about a disputed island between two Nordic countries, and how the countries dealt with the dispute through love, with either navy leaving behind Christmas gifts for the other. “We are two Nordic countries needing to build some warmth,” he said. His example then morphed into an attempt to convince me how a resumption of sexual activity would “cure me of my separatist ideas”.
“It’s a missed opportunity,” I replied.
“For?”
“For you. For the Indian state. For the Nordic states.”
I nevertheless moved closer to him and held his hand in mine. I placed his hand on my hip. We had sex. It was not very enjoyable, but it was meaningful. It delivered a different meaning to Ranjan and a different meaning to me. Ranjan talked about how we should do it more frequently. I thought about how we should never do it again.

Monday morning. We left for work together. In the Micra, I told him how in life, like in football, it was important to make the right substitutions at the right time. When my office arrived and I made to leave the car, Ranjan mumbled something about how I would not find anyone who loved me as much as he did.

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This made me wonder if it had ever happened that a football coach took out a player from the field but did not send a substitute in. What a statement that would be: the ultimate testament to how the coach regretted the original mistake and mistrusted the alternatives available. Google did not give me a satisfactory answer. I reached my office, sat at my desk, marked my attendance. Monday consumed me, and I didn’t have a moment to ponder life’s spectacular meaninglessness. Or meaningfulness. By the afternoon, I was depressed again, though in a functional way. Ranjan texted me a review of a web series “that, among other things, delivered essential commentary on the peculiarly demanding lives of single women in big, busy cities.”
“Sounds interesting,” I said.
“Want to watch it tonight?” he asked.
“The idea of a demanding life, I mean.” I said.
A few minutes later, I asked my boss for a weeklong holiday. When the request was approved, I booked a ticket to Srinagar.

Tanuj Solanki is the writer of Diwali in Muzaffarnagar, for which he won the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puruskar