Thursday, August 20, 2015

An Unnecessary Distraction

It was the last thing she wanted to hear. After so many years of friendship that blossomed into love. After so many moments of togetherness and joy. After so many promises, she definitely didn't expect him to say, "You are just an unnecessary distraction in my life. I think you should leave me alone now."

She first thought she'd heard it wrong, till he repeated the words, just like how sometimes, a logger has to strike twice to cut through a strong, old tree. She still wasn't willing to give up. "But what makes you think that way...now, after all this while? Is there something else?"
"No," was his unusually monosyllabic response.
"Sweetheart, I know things are rough now. They'll all be fine soon. Don't worry. I'll let you be now. I'll call you later. You take care, okay?" she said as she got up to hug him. He gently put her arms away and motioned for her to sit down. He ran his fingers through his hair.
"I think you should know the truth. I don't want to lead you on and then disappoint you. I don't think this is going to work out. I have too many things on my head right now. My career hasn't taken off the way I'd planned. I need to research more, learn more. There are a zillion ideas buzzing in my head but not enough opportunity or time. I don't wish to waste a moment more. Then there are my parents. They are of prime importance to me. They aren't getting any younger. I need to be around to take care of them and not disappoint them. They have a lot of hopes pinned on me."
"But then, how..."
"Let me please complete. So, I'm sorry but I don't think I'd have any time to spare for you. I'd only end up feeling guilty. "
"Hey! When did I expect anything out of you? Have I ever pushed you into doing anything?" she tried hard to sound chirpy.
"Leave alone meeting you or talking to you over phone, even thinking of you takes my thoughts away from work. I hate it when that happens. I need to concentrate."
His frown nipped her giggles sharp.
"Whoa! You sound serious. You told me I was your inspiration. How did I suddenly become a distraction? Is there someone else?"
"No."
"Then what is it?" she didn't want to sound pleading.
"What I said is the truth. I have no time for love."
"Fine. I'll wait then."
"That's up to you. I can't promise anything," he shrugged.
Now this was getting annoyingly frightening. She held his hand and looked at him, searching his face for a clue. He just got up to leave.

As they stood at the exit door, "I am sorry," he said. After a long, lingering look at each other, they walked away in opposite directions.

"I hope she believed me," he thought as he turned around the corner, tears brimming his eyes.
"I wish he told me the truth," she thought as she quickly wiped her eyes and hailed a cab.




******

In response to a daily writing prompt from Writers Write. 


http://writers-write-creative-blog.posthaven.com/daily-writing-prompt-rQQFgT
*****

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Road Rage - 2 - 'Break-neck' speed breakers

http://sushant-danekar.blogspot.in/2010/06/vyangchitre-caricatures.html
While roads are being laid, half-laid, re-laid and being prepared for laying, I have a word or two to say about the speed breakers too. After all speed breakers contribute to a great extent in providing the exciting experience of cross-country races well within the city.

You see, there are basically three kinds of speed-breakers.
1. The Prim and Propah: These are of the right height, the right breadth, marked with black and white stripes. So we know what exactly they are, from even a distance 10-15 meters. Therefore, boring.    Of course, there are uncles in their shiny cars (with the plastic covers on the seats still intact). They sometimes block the entire traffic while they carefully deal with the brief uphill moment.

2. Half-baked: Now these are grudgingly erected at random places by the Corporation under pressure from the public. They are therefore half-done and haphazard (but surely more than half a hazard). They are perfectly camouflaged under the tar. The irritated worker forgot to paint lines over them. These challengers rise up at the most unexpected places. Now if there is a bike moving in front of you and you happen to pay attention, you brace yourself for the approaching hurdle. The other day, I happened to be the lone motorist on the road. It was a cool afternoon, I was in a state of bliss, with a song on my lips. I thought it was my state of mind that lifted me up some 10 inches in the air. It was only after the bike came down with a thud and I bit my tongue did I realise that the speed breaker was the actual cause of my levitation. With this rough incident, the last bits of spiritual bliss left my body with precisely two cuss words.

3. Custom-made: This is the most unique variety. Now these speed breakers mark the high-handedness of the local kingpin/daada/temple owner/rich man/ex-municipal councilor living on that street. These are just roughly laid mounds of concrete and blue-metal stones in varying altitudes. My guess is that they are laid by chefs or gardeners of these VIPs in their free time. The height and breadth of these killers vary depending on the VIP-ness of the aforementioned person. I tell you, these speed-breakers are the real deal. You won't know of their existence till you actually get close to them. But by then you are so close that you can't do anything really. If you are on a two-wheeler, use it to master your control over the machine. If you are in a car and you are a believer, you can just say a silent prayer while the monster speed breaker scratches the innards of your car with its devilish fingernails. And well, if you are non-believer, didn't they say you are already doomed?

Friday, July 31, 2015

Déjà vu - Part 10

Translated By Priya Arun
 from the Original Tamil Novella, Meendum Oru Kaadhal Kadhai by Cable Sankar


pic courtesy: Alan Cleaver/https://www.flickr.com/photos/alancleaver/
“Hello….Shankar?” That voice in a heavy American accent, sent shivers down my spine. Could that be her? Really? After so many years? It must have been at least two or three years now….?

“Yes?”

“Hi! This is Shraddha.” A brief pause. Oh god, it WAS her! Only she could say that name with such elan.

She had vanished without a trace after that terrible day at the office cafeteria. It had been so many years now, and her voice still had a mesmerising effect on me.

“Yes Shraddha. This is Shankar. It’s good to hear your voice after so long.”
“So, you haven’t forgotten me. Great! I need to meet you. Can you come to Hotel Trident?”

I checked the time. I was a little free in the afternoon. It was only the next day that I had a client meeting regarding an ad-film shoot. “Sure Shraddha. What’s the room number?”

“208...I’m waiting...just for you,” she said before hanging up.

It’d been so many years. Yet, she sounded so casual. I wondered if time would have changed her. Did she still look the same? Or all grown-up, perhaps sexier? It had been five long years since we had met. The first couple of months after she left were indeed difficult. I just went numb, unable to comprehend the sudden developments. Life had become a meaningless routine. It took me a few years to completely get over her. I had given her up along with the other opportunities that she had brought along, only to pursue my dreams of the silver-screen. After that, the only opportunity I got was that of an assistant in an advertising agency. With a little effort and struggle, I have now managed to start off my own agency, a small one though. I’ve clinched a few deals for corporate ad films. Well, this is the closest I have been able to get to direction.

As I parked my car and walked towards the elevator, I felt a little nervous. I was almost close to 208. Should I ring the bell? As my hand hovered near the doorbell, there she was, standing by the door.

She beamed at me, flashing her ever attractive smile. “Welcome!” she said, with open arms. As she shut the door behind us, I found her looking at me from head to toe, making me feel a little uncomfortable.

“You don’t seem to have changed much. Maybe you’ve just put on a little weight...otherwise, you look the same. Why don’t you sit down?” she said, pointing at the sofa. She sounded the same—as stylish and as laid back as ever. Her gold loops had given way to tiny trinkets in her ears. The way they shook every time she nodded her head still appeared very cute. Strangely, I was filled with exactly the same feeling as I did, the first time we met. A mixture of awe and self-consciousness.

She sat down very close to me.

“Would you like to have something? Coffee?”

“Nothing at all. Thanks. How have you been Shraddha?”

“Oh me? Been good. I weigh a few pounds extra, that’s about it. You tell me. So, have you been able to fulfill your dreams?”

Whoa! Was it her actually asking about something? Unbelievable. Yet, I cleared my throat and nodded, “Yep, kind of.”

“You should have just come with me.”

“If I’d done that, I wouldn't have been able to achieve even half of what I have Shraddha.”

“I heard you’re making ad films these days...so much for your tall dreams of becoming a movie director. You might have reached halfway to your destination alright. It hurts to say it, but in my opinion, you’ve missed the target.”

“I don’t think so Shraddha. What I’m doing now is just a means towards reaching my goal. I’m really close and I know I will do it. It’s just a matter of time, maybe a few months. Anyway, forget that. You tell me. You wanted to meet me…” as I was saying this, I found her moving closer to me. It was the same heady mint fragrance, all strong and powerful.

“Don’t you like me anymore Shankar? Don’t I mean anything at all to you now? You sound so detached.Yes, we did separate but I’m sure the feeling of love towards each other will never go away. Have you never missed me all these years?”

I smiled at the irony of it all. “I don’t think you should even talk about separation. It’s been a whole five years after that moment you walked out on me. You never felt the need to inquire after me in all these years. If you think there is pain in separation, I guess it’s me who should be talking about it.”

“Fine! I agree. But you know, after so much struggle to get dad’s consent, having arranged everything...do you know how I hurt I felt? Such opportunities are so hard to come by. You chose your principles, your dreams over me. Such a foolish thing to do. I was so mad at you, could have torn you to pieces. But I didn’t want to express my anger that way. So, I moved away...far, far away from you. I felt separation was the only way to make you realise my importance.”

“It was your decision.”

“But it was for us...the separation happened because you didn’t see the ‘us’ in this relationship. I am ready for you now. I still love you. Let’s leave to America immediately. Let’s first settle down there. And then you are free to do what you wish to. All my money is yours after all. You don’t have to sweat it out here doing films for silly, insignificant products. You deserve happiness. Only I can give it you. Just come away with me. Let’s live in the best of comfort and luxury. I’ll make life beautiful for you Shankar. Just come away with me.”

I was dumbfounded at what she said. This woman hadn’t changed one bit! After all these years, she still insisted on taking decisions on my behalf and was even thrusting them upon me. What’s more, she even wanted me to accept the decisions wholeheartedly.

“I can’t do it Shraddha. No.”

“What do you mean? Is it that you can’t come or don’t want to come with me?”

“I can’t say anything if you corner me this way. Since you’re insisting, let me tell you. I was as upset with you as you were with me. Still, I feel being in love is not everything. An unsatisfactory marriage and career can completely crush a person’s spirit. I strongly believe that a man and a woman should work together as a team and help each other in achieving their dreams and aspirations. That’s the only key to a happy marriage. If we decide to overlook that, I guess a bitter break-up is all that will remain.”

“Fantastic! So you don’t want me anymore, right? You say I can’t be a good wife to you, isn’t it? Bloody hell, what a bloated ego! You’re are rejecting me. Shraddha Reddy is being rejected? Wow! Great, okay,” she nodded her head vigorously and shrugged, her eyes welling up. She began to sob. I’d never seen her cry. I was quite surprised. I actually felt sorry for her. I pulled her close to me and wiped her tears away. We were now sitting really close to each other, just short of an embrace. All of a sudden, she held me really tight.

She started showering me with kisses. She was soon on top of me. With the warmth of her entire body over me, I felt losing all control of myself. My mind was in a muddle and I just didn’t know what to do with her or even myself. I grabbed her hard by her shoulders and pushed her away. She fell towards the floor in the impact. She was shocked. She didn’t move but kept glaring at me. I honestly didn’t intend to do this. As I got up and set my clothes right, I held my hand out to her. She refused to take it and got to her feet on her own. She whispered accusingly, “Aha! Your time for revenge hunh?”

“No Shraddha. That’s not my intention. This is not just about sex. If that’s all you want, I can give it to you even now. As far as I go, my emotional needs are way above my physical needs. You know, the feeling of love must be mutual. And I’m sorry but I really don’t have such feelings towards you anymore. My heart lies elsewhere Shraddha. This woman knows every bit of me—my weaknesses, bad habits, tantrums, my dreams and wishes—everything. The same goes with me too. Of course she’s had to adjust and accept a lot more than I had to. I cannot betray the woman who has been the pillar of my strength ever since the day you left me. All of us do fall in love at some point in life but somehow don’t always end up with the same person. I think you should start looking at it that way. Oops! I can’t change your point of view. Can I? Look, I’d better get going. I don’t want to make things difficult for you and embarrass you further.”

“Great! The person who you say has dedicated her life to you...may I know who that angel is?”

I turned around to look at her, my hand gripping on to the door knob. Her eyes were a flaming red. She stood with her hands on her hips...seething with anger. I responded, squarely looking at her in the eye, “Meera.”

With that I left the place to go back to the woman who had firmly planted back my faith and hope in love.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Road Rage - 1

Happy to see a lot of roads being laid/re-laid in Madras. Also happy that the process has trained me in a few circus acts.


Act 1. Sentiment or superstition, I'm not sure but they lay only the right half of the roads. The right half is at least 3-4 inches higher than the left, which leaves small 2-wheelers being nudged roughly into the yet-unlaid part of the road by the mighty Scorpios and Endeavours. To either accept to your lowly existence or stake your claim on the higher planes is up to how courageous you are.


Act 2: The best act. Again for some reason, the roads are sprinkled with tiny, loose, blue-metal stones for a week before the tar is laid. Riding bikes over scattered marbles is something I've seen only in the movies. I feel very proud to have mastered that act.

One good thing about this road-laying business and it made me laugh. I was pleasantly surprised to realise that my 7-year old still says " Mamma, Load-lollel" looking at all the equipment lined on the road. (while secretly praying she wasn't referring to me).

Friday, July 24, 2015

Déjà vu - Part 9

Translated By Priya Arun
 from the Original Tamil Novella, Meendum Oru Kaadhal Kadhai by Cable Sankar


pic courtesy: Alan Cleaver/https://www.flickr.com/photos/alancleaver/

“Hey why do you look so puzzled? You can’t believe things can happen so fast, can you? That’s my dad. He’s the best! I’m so thrilled, I can’t even explain. I’ll get to office early tomorrow. Why don’t you come there? I’ve got loads and loads of stuff to tell you.  And don’t forget to get that passport done. Dad will be here next week. He plans to meet your family then.”
She spoke with the excitement of a chirpy child. I could see that she was completely ecstatic. But somehow, I didn’t share the same enthusiasm. She did notice that I was calm, but she didn’t delve into it. “Hey! You’re looking off colour. Aha! I know! Upset that you are going to get hitched? Too bad honey, it’s just destined that way,” and she broke into peals of laughter.

“Okay! Got to go. Lots more to discuss with dad. I need to talk to him about your job. My sweetest cupcake. Buh-bye. Goodnight...oops...good morning,” she said, kissing me so hard that my lips hurt. She turned around and ran into her apartment.

I stood there, watching her as she disappeared into her apartment. This appeared to be a happy-ending but I wasn’t really happy. How could I go and live in the United States? Would I have to live with her dad? What about my dreams then? To marry someone who lives in the States, to live off her dad’s money, to have kids, to raise them there and fade into oblivion in a foreign land...this idea sounded bizarre. I couldn't imagine leading such a life. But how could I tell her this? Even if I did muster the courage to say it, her reaction was what seemed really scary.

My thoughts left me listless. Unable to wait any longer, I took off to Shraddha’s office earlier than planned. I was anxious and nervous. I killed my time with a cigarette while I waited. Contradictory thoughts clouded my head just like the smoke from my cigarette. “A lovely girl that you love so much and a cushy life in a country like America...would you forego all of that for just a dream?” said a voice from a corner of my mind. “Accepting this new life will only mean losing my identity in the process,” another, rather, meek voice responded, from a distant corner of my mind.

Shraddha and Meera walked in, with their faces beaming with pride and excitement. Meera shook my hand with gusto and congratulated me. I couldn’t even feel half the excitement that she expressed through that handshake. Shraddha snuggled close to me, her eyes sparkling.

“Shankar, I’ve spoken to dad. There’s a job waiting for you in America. Well, not just the job, everything is all set and ready, waiting for you and that includes me!” she said, batting her eyelids.

“Shraddha, I don’t think I can come to America with you,” I found my voice annoyingly feeble as I said this. I saw her face change colour. She was losing her temper.

“But why? What the hell are you going achieve here? You’re going to have the girl of your choice, truckloads of wealth, a cool life in America...what else do you need? Well, sharing the roof with your father-in-law... is that what you’re worried about? Rubbish! This just shows your chauvinistic and middle-class mentality. Do you even have an idea how much convincing I had to do to get a ‘yes’ from Dad?”

“Hey Shraddha, please don’t be mad at me? I’m sure you know me and my dreams very well by now. My dream is to direct films. I am only holding on to my job because I want to save up and get a strong footing. How do I drop all of that? Marriage...a new life in America...it’s all so sudden. You know what? Let’s get married and live here for another five years. I am sure to make a name for myself by then. Actually I’d love to visit America...yes, as a tourist but I don’t think I’d ever want to live there Shraddha,” I took her hand in mine.

She yanked her hand away.

“I knew it. You never were really in love with me. All you wanted is to have is a good time with me. Given an opportunity, you’d have used and just dropped me. You’ve just gone ahead and proved it all over again. Seriously. Would you say such things if your feelings for me were true?”

“Listen Shraddha. I think career is as important as relationships. It is true that I love you but love is not everything in life.”

She rolled her eyes and whined. “Oh man...What’s the point? You will first get an opening, get noticed, and then become a famous director and then? Will you be able to make any money at all? You can’t be sure of anything. You’re just taking a chance. On the other hand, just think. You can’t even dream of the kind of money, luxury and comfort that is waiting for you, if not for Shraddha Reddy’s love for you! Rejecting this kind of a life is as good as rejecting Shraddha herself.”

“Don’t be silly. We fell in love with each other because we really liked each other. In any case, how do you think I can snuff out my dreams and be happy?”

“Come on! Don’t tell me everyone does only the jobs they like doing! And they eventually find their peace, don’t they?”

“They might appear happy but I think only they know the kind of pain they go through. I don’t think I can ever put up such pretense.”

“Okay, let’s assume you don’t achieve your dreams. Then what?”

“I don’t want to give up even before I try. You know...at the end of the day, it won’t matter if I win or lose. What will make me happy is the knowledge that I would have really tried.”

“You’re just being difficult.”
“No, I’m just trying to make sense. Meera, you know me and my dreams well. Why don’t you tell her?” Until then, Meera was looking at both of us, not quite knowing what to say.

“True Shraddha. He has been weaving his dreams only around films. You know what? Here’s what I think. Both of you are still young. And marriage can wait. Why don’t you give it another five years? If he is able to achieve his dreams by then, that’ll be great. And for some reason, he isn’t able to, then, I think he should come and live with you in America. What say?”

“Total crap, those pipe dreams of his. Why would I want to marry a loser after waiting five long years? I don’t think even my dad would accept him then.”

“Why don’t you look at the positive outcome of it?”

“Just shut up, Meera. I think this is my life and my decisions are best left to me.” Ignoring Meera, she turned to me. “Now tell me your final decision Shankar.” She looked me in the eye and spoke slowly, “Will you or will you not settle down with me in America? Is it a yes or a no?”

I’d never met anybody like this before. How could she only think of herself all the time? How could she take decisions on my behalf even on such serious issues? Didn’t she realise life wasn’t that simple? I had a life too...I had my dreams, aspirations...Was money all that she could think of? It was going be difficult to live with such a person even in India, forget the USA. My thoughts were disturbed by own voice.

“NO,” I heard myself say.

“Fine then. That’s the end of our love story. We part as strangers. Goodbye.” Meera and I could just sit there, staring in disbelief as she left.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Déjà vu - Part 8

Translated By Priya Arun
 from the Original Tamil Novella, Meendum Oru Kaadhal Kadhai by Cable Sankar
pic courtesy: Alan Cleaver/https://www.flickr.com/photos/alancleaver/

Shraddha’s brother came to know about us during a trip to India. He had asked me to meet him. He spoke Tamil with a NRI twang. He looked at me a like I was a worm. He interrogated me thoroughly. It appeared as if wondered how his sister fell in love with a vagrant like me. I guessed his displeasure right away. Quite obvious. Has there been a brother that approved of his sister’s lover instantly?

The next two days after that, Shraddha didn’t call me. Neither did she pick up my calls. I heard she hadn’t turned up at work too. Meera informed me that Shraddha’s brother had been creating a lot of trouble for her and also that Shraddha would call me later that night. I grew restless. I was itching to rush to her apartment and meet her. But I restrained myself. I didn’t want her to get into further trouble. She finally called me around 10 that night.

She whispered, “Shankar...I don’t know what to say. Things have gone pretty rough here. My brother doesn’t like you. I tried explaining things. He didn't listen. I keep trying to convince him but he gets violent... err...he hits me...You know something, no one’s ever hit me. Not once in my life.”

I was furious. “Really? That guy hit you? Shraddha, you’re not a kid. If it’s okay with you, I will marry you right away. Don’t worry. I can handle a dozen people like your brother.” I said the words alright but was a little anxious deep inside, even as I said it. Though some of my friends knew about it, I hadn’t yet told my family about Shraddha. I knew they wouldn’t disapprove of either Shraddha or my actions. Yet, I felt I shouldn’t do anything before I discussed it with them. But at that point, I didn’t have a choice. All I wanted was Shraddha and nothing else.

“I’ll tell you what Shankar. The more he opposes me, the more resilient I get. It makes me want you, no matter what... Listen. I’ve decided to speak to Dad. I can explain everything. And I’m sure he will understand. I know he will agree. And once that’s done, it’s just a cakewalk. Everything’s going to be just fine. Don’t you worry! Alright, got to go. Will talk to you tomorrow,” she hung up in a hurry.

While I was amazed at her courage during these difficult times, I also felt a little jittery. She was saying things that I should have told her. How was I going to spend the rest of my life  with such a person, I wondered.

Meera would act as our messenger for the next two days. She would give me hourly updates over phone and I would meet her at her office in the evenings. “I really pity you buddy,” she would say.

All this felt new. I had often made fun of my friends stuck in similar situations. I had even told them to “just ditch the girl and move on, ‘coz its just not worth all the effort.” But now, I understood what they might have gone through.

I finally confessed the entire story to Amma one night. As always, she heard me through patiently. She then told me, “If you’re sure you can take good care of the girl, I don’t see why there should be a problem. I can talk to Appa.  But there’s just one thing. You’ve been dreaming of doing films since ages. If you get married now, you will have to take on responsibilities. And that might mean putting your dreams in the back-burner. Are you sure you want to do that?”

Hmm...what she said, did make sense. Mine was quite a liberal-minded family. They never had any problems with either falling in love or choosing your own partner in marriage. But these were the people who dreamed my dreams along with me. They only knew my aspirations too well.

Day two. My phone rang in the middle of the night. It was Shraddha. I shook myself out of my deep sleep and answered it. I was greeted with a loud, “Yippeeeeeeeeee!” I could sense she was extremely excited about something but wasn’t sure what it was. I just waited for her to collect herself.

“I told you! I told you he would say yes. Didn’t I? My dad will always let me have what I wanted. He will never say no to me! You know what...I want to see you right now, this very minute. I want to give you a tight hug and a big kiss. Come home right now. As soon as you reach, just honk and I will run down to meet you. Okay?”

I checked the time. It was 3 in the morning. Was I sleeping? Could I ride my bike at such an unearthly hour? Was it okay by me? None of these questions seemed to cross her mind when she ordered me to come over. Though I was a little put off, the urge to meet her right then overpowered everything else at that moment.

I sneaked out of the the house, hopped on my bike and started off. It actually felt good. As I sped, the fresh, misty, clean breeze was all over my face just like Shraddha’s passionate kisses, knocking me breathless with happiness.

I reached her apartment and honked gently. She ran down in flash, clambered over me and held on to me like a baby. She showered me with kisses like there would be no tomorrow.

“I knew Daddy would not say ‘no’. All he asked me was, ‘Tutu...’—that’s how he calls me—‘do you really want him?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I do!’. That’s it! Job done! My darling daddy, the best! There was nothing my brother could do. Poor thing,” she giggled.

I couldn’t believe what was happening. Did love stories meet their happy endings so quickly? Was it really that easy? Was it all true? Well, her tight hugs, her giggles and her excitement did make it all seem true.
I was stumped. I kept looking at her, not knowing what to say.  Yet again, I couldn’t stop her from taking decisions on my behalf.

“Have you told your Dad everything about me?”

“Yes! Everything—even about your family.”

“Great! So, what next Shraddha? Maybe our families should meet now?”

“Yes, but first things first. Most important. Do you have a passport?”

“A passport? Well...must apply for one. But why?”

“Why? Because you need a passport to travel to the States, silly. Why else?” she asked me, looking surprised.

“And why would I travel to America now?”

“Obviously! You and I are going to move to America once we get married.”

Friday, July 10, 2015

Déjà vu - Part 7

Translated By Priya Arun
 from the Original Tamil Novella, Meendum Oru Kaadhal Kadhai by Cable Sankar
pic courtesy: Alan Cleaver/https://www.flickr.com/photos/alancleaver/
It had been raining incessantly all day. It was Meera’s birthday. We had already made plans for a movie and dinner. It was midnight and it was pouring. By the time I dropped Shraddha at her apartment, we were soaked to the bones. That was the first time she’d ever asked me to come home.

It was a tastefully done up two-bedroomed apartment. She quickly changed into pyjamas and a casual T-shirt. The few droplets of water that still remained in her hair gleamed as they caught the lights in the room. She disappeared into one of the rooms and came back with a towel and some clothes. “Go, change. They are my brother’s clothes. He stays here when he comes to India.” I kept looking at her without moving. As if to stop me from saying anything more, she pressed the clothes into my hands and nudged me into a room nearby, “C’mon, go,” she said. By the time I changed and got back, the living-room was filled with the most pleasant aroma of coffee. The coffee was comforting in the heavy rain, which just didn’t seem to stop.

“Alright. I’ll get going then,” I announced.

“Now? In this pouring rain?”

“What do I do? Doesn’t look like it has any intentions of stopping.”

“Why don’t you stay over?”
There was a burst of excitement at the suggestion but I acted cool, “That’s okay. I wouldn’t want to trouble you.”

“Not a problem at all. You can sleep here in the living room. And me inside. You can watch some TV if you like.” And she got up to leave. I suggested we watch TV together for a while. She sat down next to me and turned the TV on. She impatiently flipped the channels, not even pausing to see what was actually playing. “Damn, so many channels and not one good show to watch,” she cursed under her breath. I told her to try some channel that might be playing good Tamil film music at this hour. She grunted and settled down with a movie on HBO—just as she was wont to do!

The way we sat close to each other sent my senses reeling. I’m sure she felt that way too. The TV was on but neither of us watched it. We were busy looking into each other’s eyes. She took my arm and put it snugly around her shoulder. We shifted closer together. Surprisingly, I realised, her mint fragrance which I should have got accustomed to by then, continued to tease me mercilessly.

While I was contemplating if I should make the first move, she came really close and gently bit my lower lip. Though a little shocked initially, I felt my body flush with warmth all of a sudden. We had kissed before but this felt completely new. The pouring rain, our being locked up so close to each other in this room must have encouraged Shraddha, who as such a bold person, to make this move.

With her taking this wonderful first step, I couldn’t control myself anymore. I pulled her really close to me and started kissing her passionately. I don’t remember everything clearly but I do remember nibbling her ear...her neck...And when I was trying to tug her T-shirt off in a hurry, like a bolt from the blue, she pushed me, no...kicked me away like a raging bull. In a flash, I found myself stupidly on the floor.

In what felt like a blur, I heard myself asking, “Hey! What’s with you?”

“Nothing. Please leave.”

“But darling, it’s pouring outside!”

“That’s alright.”

“I’ll fall sick if I go out now.” Assuming she was playing on, I pouted, "Why don’t you come here and see for yourself? Looks like I’m already running a temperature.”

“Listen. This temperature is different. It might be contagious. So Shankar, please leave.” She firmly pointed her head towards the door.

I was fuming inside! This was so unfair. Does she have to decide every damn thing right from the TV channel to this, especially having made the first move herself? What did she think? Start and stop as she pleased?

While I was grappling with my bruised ego, she quickly stood up, straightened her clothes and looked at me as if she was waiting for me to leave. This made me more furious.

“Hey! It was you who started it all and now...alright, I can sleep in the other room, if it makes you feel better,” I offered.

“Can you please leave?” she repeated, now glaring at me.

“Babes, do you realise how unfair this is? Fine, you don’t want to do anything now, its okay. But do you really have to suddenly act all coy and ask me to go out in this lashing rain?”

I had barely said this and she gushed out her fieriest temper that I’d ever seen. “Oh my God! What a jerk you are! What did you just say? ‘...acting coy’? So, what really have you been thinking of me? Just because I grew up in the West, you thought I’d be easy to get?”

“Hey Shraddha! Relax okay? Don’t take it to heart.”

“Ha! How can I not? Do you even realise what you just said? Don’t I have any self-respect? I’ve been in love with you. That’s the only reason I kissed you. It just felt good sitting in this room, just the two of us...and that made me kiss you. I did it just out of love and I had nothing else in mind. I didn’t think you’d get so perverse. I guess you were just waiting for the ‘opportunity’. Now that it hasn’t happened, your frustration has brought out your true self. Just get lost okay? I don’t want to have anything to do with you ever again,” she screamed.

I was dumbstruck. Did the word ‘coy’ connote so much? I never expected her to get so offended. Having been led-on this way and to be kicked out high and dry...how’s one supposed to react? If she kissed me out of love, what about me? My reason was love too. Isn’t lust the progressively logical thing to feel? How unpredictable women can get! They kiss, it’s out of love. We kiss, and it’s lust. What the hell?

With nothing to say, I left immediately. Within no time, I was soaked again in the rain. I started my bike. From the corner of my eye, I could see her watching me from her window. I moved a couple of blocks away and lit myself a cigarette. I blew out a huge puff of smoke with all my might. Doing something that she disliked, gave me immense pleasure at that moment.

We didn’t speak to each other for the next two days.  I don’t know how she managed to keep away but I found it extremely difficult. Initially I thought she should call me first. But I couldn’t hold back my resolve for too long. I started missing her. At the same time, I couldn’t gather the courage to talk to her in person or even over phone. The tug-of-war in my head tore me apart. When I thought of that night from her point of view, it all made sense to me. Any girl would have done that to protect herself. I convinced myself that she wouldn’t have wanted to complicate things. Perhaps I was wrong in reacting the way I did.
Or was I over-thinking all of this? Did she think of me at all? Unable to hold the reins to my racing thoughts, I called Meera.

Meera sounded as chirpy as ever. I asked her about Shraddha. She said Shraddha was in a meeting and that she would pass on my message. Not one to lose a chance to rag me, Meera asked me mischievously, “Hey! Looks like you guys had the most romantic time the other day! Shraddha has been glowing...looking gorgeous!”

“What? Glowing?” I thought to myself. “That woman!” I immediately checked myself in the rear-view mirror of my bike. I looked like the original prototype of a dumb idiot. I quickly finished my conversation with Meera.

I realised in those two days that though I didn’t actually think of her, I had started associating a lot of things with her. Everything I saw reminded me of Shraddha. The clothes that girls wore, huge earrings, curly hair...such small everyday insignificants caused a new kind of pain. Should I just pick up the phone and talk to her? I had used up two full packs of cigarettes...a rarity these days. If this continued for another two days, would I have become the famed Devdas with a bottle and a faithful dog for company? I couldn’t take it anymore. I resolved that I would talk to her, no matter what. I was prepared for anything. Just as I was getting ready to go to her office, my phone rang. It was Meera.

“Hey! Shraddha wants to talk to you.” Shraddha! What would I tell her? What was she going to tell me? My thoughts were interrupted by her voice, “Dude! What’s up? Long time. Too busy to even phone me? Yeah...I guess you’d have more important things to do.”  She spoke on, as if everything was normal between us. Her tone melted me. I felt a lot lighter. Wasn’t she upset with me anymore? As simple as that? Wow! So, it was me who blew it all up in my head!

“Hey! Are you there?”

“Uh...Yep, I’m right here Shraddha. Go on.”

“Err...can you come over...to my office...if you have the time?” she requested with such sweetness, that no one could say ‘no’.

I was there in a jiffy. I hadn’t seen her for two full days. She looked prettier than ever. Her lovely curls cascaded with a force from the grip of her hairclip. The baby-pink shade of her lipstick floored me completely. Her lips reminded me of the other night. She flashed the broadest smile, waved Meera goodbye and hurried me up. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” We rode very quietly for a while. I sat a little farther than usual.

“My chest isn’t your backrest. Move it, Mister! You’re going to throw me off the bike.” she would often chide me.

I felt her move closer to me. She slowly put her arms around my waist. It felt good. But I pretended to be unaffected. She tried to tickle my ear with her tongue. I shook my head as if to shoo her off. Damn! She knew my weakness.

“Hey! You’re cross with me?”

“No darling, why would I be? I’m only too happy to be at your beck and call. I will be present when you need me. I will kiss you when you feel like it. And will disappear when you don’t. At your service Your Highness. No questions asked.”

“I’m really sorry Shankar. I was getting quite out of control the other day. If you’d stayed on another two minutes more, I really don’t know what would have happened. Yes, I do understand what you felt then. But somehow, I felt the moment wasn’t right. You know...that gut feeling one gets? It was me who provoked you...led you on and then forced you to go out in that terrible rain. I’m really, really sorry...” she trailed off.

I sensed a tremble in her voice. Was she crying? I peeked into the rear-view mirror but couldn’t see much. We had reached her apartment. Neither did she speak nor did she get off the bike. I turned back and looked at her in askance. She quickly hopped off the bike and ran into her flat without saying a word.

I hung around for a few minutes more. She beckoned me from her balcony. As I entered the flat, she slammed the door shut. She quietly came to me, pressed me to the door, looked at me and said, “I’m all yours darling.”

There wasn’t an inch of space between us as she held me close. She looked up at me, pouting her lovely lips. I bent down and very gently kissed her. I released myself from her grip and confessed, “That’s all I need Shraddha.” I opened the door and ran down the stairs. As I started my bike, I could sense that she was looking at me from her at her balcony, a new habit.

The days that followed were sheer bliss, until her brother had come to India and seen us.