Fiction

Love, silence and a few words… (8)

“Can you drop me at my place,” Nikhil asked, realizing immediately that it must have sounded well rehearsed.

“Yeah sure,” said Megha, mildly surprised and then led the way to the car. When she was about to start the car, Nikhil said Wait with some command. As she turned to ask why, she found him leaning towards her and then he pulled her towards him. Their mouths were now almost grazing each other as they looked into each other’s eyes, none making a move. Nikhil was trying to think what to do next, without much success. He felt intoxicated by the smell of Megha, or probably it was her perfume. It was strong and spicy reminding him of exotic flowers he hadn’t smelled before, a smell of love maybe. With her heart trying to beat its way out of her body, Megha couldn’t keep herself in check and kissed him with a passion as if this was their last kiss before they parted for good.

“Keep quiet and drive,” interrupted a heavy voice. It went unheeded till Nikhil was knocked back to his seat, too swiftly for him to react. Megha screamed but no sound came out as she was dealt in the same manner and instantly lost her
consciousness. Nikhil could hear the frantic discussion as if happening in a big hall far away and he saw two guys moving Megha to the back and a third taking the wheel. He tried to turn around to look if she was safe but the pain in his neck moved downwards as if piercing the spine fading out his vision.

“Drink” commanded the youngest member of the trio holding a dirty bottle of water. He looked too young for the job, probably just entered his teens. There was however no trace of nervousness on his part. Nikhil touched the back of his neck to check the pain which had subsided and was now a periodic throb. Megha was huddled close to him on one side and a heavily built guy was sitting on the other side. The mobile phones were gone along with their wallets, which were being investigated by the man in a white turban whose was at the wheel.

“Four ATM cards and three credit cards,” he said in a gruff voice startling Nikhil and Megha.

He looked back and continued, “ok so here is what you two will do, we will stop at the relevant ATMs, you go inside and take out the cash as much as the withdrawal limits allow.” He sounded like a man who was used to giving orders, definitely the leader of the pack.

“Any smart moves on your part will be dealt with smarter moves,” he said as if remembering something he had forgotten. Then in a satisfied tone, he added “not that you look smart.”

“Madam looks classy though,” said the schoolboy turned gangster. I looked at Megha who was looking at him wide-eyed as if in wonder, or maybe it was fear.

“Don’t harm us, we will get you the money,” Nikhil managed to keep anxiety out of his tone. The leader brandished a gun with a smug look, one of those locally manufactured ones that had the reputation of misfiring in the hands of the shooter after the first few shots. This one looked new and had a shine, most probably still virgin. Nikhil’s thoughts were interrupted by Megha’s hands as they surreptitiously slid into his.

Megha was scared out of wits, till now she had been reading and fretting over the news of such crimes, which had in the recent times become more frequent and more violent. She felt the need to be brave and to stay composed but as soon as Nikhil had addressed the abductors and she saw the gun, she succumbed to the wave of panic, sinking and in the need of holding on to something she clasped Nikhil’s hands. Nothing happened though, the leader was at the wheel with the boy next to him. No one spoke, especially the third who sat next to Nikhil on the other side. He seemed to have something concealed under the loose end of his white turban that fell below his chest. They were driven to the ATMs followed by the inconspicuous companion, the only thing that betrayed his presence was the feel of something poking at their back, something of metallic hardness.

The leader seemed satisfied with the proceedings but the young man fidgeted and kept whispering into the leader’s ears. A firm and audible No after a few minutes put an end to the whispering and schoolboy now sat sulking, intermittently looking back at them, with malice. The silent guy had an ominous air around him, silence in such situations being more scary than the scariest of the words. He looked disinterested, and looked out of the window on his side into the dark of the night and the deeper dark of the bushes growing wild next to the road that were whizzing past. Megha too kept checking on him with furtive glances, he seemed composed enough to be cold-blooded.

They drove around the outskirts of the city, driven with a precision on the locations of the ATMs, even the guards on duty appeared to give subtle nods when they saw the leader. These locations were however far apart, it took long and made them stop to refuel. They were asked if they needed tea or something to eat. Schoolboy not keen on hearing negatives brought a bottle of water and gave it to Megha with an awkward smile that made him look shy. He quickly went away and didn’t look back.

As the night progressed, Nikhil and Megha started to relax and wished for the ordeal to be over soon. The only doubt that lingered was if they will be left unharmed once all the cards were done. Holding each others hands and sitting close so as to keep as much distance from the silent one, they thought about the kiss. Nikhil felt the urge to kiss her again, it would definitely scandalize these guys. Did he really want to kiss her again, he felt the awkward dissatisfaction creeping in. Now that he was with her and going through this drama, which would only make their bond stronger, he felt disinterested. It was much better when he had no hope, was being scorned. Reciprocated love leaves you with the same taste of success that you get when you achieve something only to realize you could have aimed for more. Megha remembered and regretted being reckless but then maybe it was their last kiss, she didn’t want to think of the kiss, of Nikhil or love, all she wanted was to get out of the situation alive. She remembered the news story of the victim getting hacked to pieces, would people be able to find which piece was her and which Nikhil. It will be a shame to die like this, like poultry. She needs to do something about her life, she thought. If Nikhil brought anything good it was the sense of new beginnings, of possibilities, she had been giving up on things a little too soon.

Once the last card was used they stopped on the service road next to the highway and everyone got out of the car. They were all looking at the leader to say something, but he took his time, probably enjoying the attention. He just stared at Megha and Nikhil.

“I know where you live,” the leader spoke finally ending the suspense, “so don’t attempt to tell anything to the cops, not that it matters because we also know where the cops live.” He winked at his mates, the schoolboy returned the gesture slyly but not a muscle on the silent killer moved. Maybe he was plotting to take over the reigns. He would make a better leader, one who is unreadable, unpredictable.

“We won’t and you have got your money, please let us go,” Nikhil pleaded.

“Can we have the car back,” he added as an afterthought and ended in pain as Megha nudged him hard with her elbow.

The leader laughed and the silent one turned to look at Nikhil. Schoolboy took a step or two but was held back by the leader who said, “Now that you have been treated like one you have started to feel like a hero, is it?”

“No, no, I mean sorry,” Nikhil blabbered, “please don’t kill me, us.”

“Ok, but you need to be taught some manners,” came the harsh, booming voice of the silent one surprising everyone. The leader started laughing heartily and the schoolboy joined in after some hesitation. Nikhil relaxed and started wondering where they were, looking around. Megha’s eyes were however glued to the three and she knew something was going to happen, something bad. She wanted to warn Nikhil but he seemed to be lost in his world gazing at the nothingness around. Just then in a flash, the silent one snatched the gun from the leaders hands and shot at Nikhil. As if in reflex, Megha dived taking Nikhil down with her. She heard the gunshot, a little too loud than how she thought gunshots should sound, and a pain shot up in her knees as she passed out.

There was a hint of sun in the sky beyond the weedy bushes as Megha woke up and saw Nikhil lying next to her holding his head in a hand soaked in blood. He wasn’t moving, she shuddered and passed out yet again.

~

Nikhil woke up on a bed that reeked of hospital disinfectants and found GD and Sameer looking at him with knowing smiles. Shruti stood a little behind in disheveled hair that made her look a bit scary. He spotted a drop of tear running down her face as he smiled back at all. Megha walked in looking more pretty than she, with a smile that radiated love and leaned down to kiss him. Nikhil tried to rise up but was held back by the pain on the left side of the head, he touched instinctively. The left ear was bandaged, gone. He started panicking when the still smiling, angelic Megha leaning over him said in the softest voice he had ever heard that she loves him. He was now sure this was heaven as he got woozy and Megha turned into Shruti, with a pensive yet eager face. He fought the creeping delirium and realized that the faces were not transforming in his mind but he was looking at Shruti and then something snapped, he relapsed into a blissful sleep.

~

Megha woke up with a start at the sound of the alarm. The alarm didn’t last beyond the third beep as it was deftly snoozed. Yet again. Why does he set the alarm on weekends when all he wants to do over the weekend is to go to the mall and watch movies. She wasn’t going anywhere today and she wont relent, with a resolute happiness she went back to sleep.

The mall was crowded for no apparent reason. It seemed the whole city had poured in having found nothing better to do. The little boy was restless being held back by his mom. He wanted to run between the people, it was like a maze and just too tempting. He soon found his moment when mom leaned towards dad to say something. Running into the crowd he looked back with glee, he loved getting chased by his parents. When he finally managed to get hold of the imp, Nikhil was out of his breath, at least none of it to spare in scolding the incorrigible brat.

“You should do something about your ears, I can’t always shout or talk into them,” came an annoyed yet sweet and mellifluous voice.

“You never say much and I give up after a few words whenever we sit down to have a conversation,” she now sounded bitter, and yet the voice felt soothing as ever.

“But Shruti, if I do that I won’t be able to love you every time you say those few words you manage to say.”

They smiled at each other, a private smile that didn’t impress their son. He kept tugging and pulling his hands away from the grip.

*****

Click here if this post didn’t make sense

Previously: Love, silence and a few words…(7)

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Fiction

From a crack in the wall, continued…

The wall looked more beautiful today, maybe it’s the same but in his relief at finding it again, establishing that it was not a figment of his imagination that was making it seem enchanting. Breathing heavily, Tam reached the stream and closed his eyes thinking of cold refreshing water and he was granted enough to soak him to the burning heels. He tried milk, honey, wine and it worked every time.

To test further, he tried ice-cream but nothing happened. It probably works only for liquids, he thought, examining the surface of the wall. It was made of layers of multi-colored rock, formed it seems over thousands of years. He touched a layer that seemed pink and the surface came off like butter kept out over a warm night. It smelled sweet and when he tasted it with the tip of his tongue he couldn’t believe it was strawberry ice-cream. Licking it he felt it was the best strawberry icecream he has ever had, maybe second best. The best was when he had done well in school his father had taken him out for the first time for a treat. He was so happy but when he had looked at his father there was a disappointment, he had potential and could have done better he was told.

Something flickered on the rock above. He stepped back to get a better view and couldn’t believe his eyes, his father’s face was looking down at him more real than how he was imagining it, and it had the same disappointed look. Tam was spellbound and he waved stupidly, the father on the rock surface seemed surprised and waved back smiling. Could he ask just about anything he desired from the wall. He thought of the woman who he fell in love the first time in his life, though she never did. The picture immediately changed to a version of woman as he often dreamt of, with the exact seductive look on her face and the revealing clothes. This made him think of his wife and kid, he felt pity as he was sure she would be tending to their son besides doing all the chores he didn’t do. The image of his wife, frustrated yet working flashed immediately.

Thoroughly intrigued and excited, he decided to get to the bottom of this wall, or the top. Climbing however wasn’t an option due to the steep angle and lack of foothold. He walked into the ferns that flanked the sides, walking parallel to the wall and finally found an opening. As soon as he was on the other side, the scene transformed into a barren expanse, there was sound of machinery coming from the top. The wall on this side looked like a contraption with thousands of chambers dug out into the rock. Each chamber had a miniature Tam working on a piece of machine protruding out of the wall, with a slot from which a retractable appendage seemed to be coming out with instructions. The Tams appeared sad when idle and looked furtively at the glass windows separating the chambers, the slits on the windows were closed. It was as if they were afraid of seeing one another. As soon as the protruding limb came with a command the Tams got busy, with a sense of purpose.

Some of the chambers had people in it. Peering hard he could make out his father in one, irritated by the Tam questioning him, when all he seemed to be wanting was to go off to sleep. There was one with the toddler sitting ignored while the Tam looked unhappy with having nothing to do. There was one with the seductive woman who was being made to wear clothes she hated. His wife in another chamber looked forlorn as she worked to fill the vessel with wine, or was it milk. There was a chamber with books on a table and its Tam was reading something and typing into a keyboard.

Tam couldn’t decide on a single emotion or response to the scene, he kept looking at it mesmerized till he spotted a sleeping miniature Tam in one of the chambers towards the top. He was being prodded by the probe which finally managed to wake him up.

Tam woke up and realized he was late for work. He looked at the window with the shades closed and had an urge to think about his life, and what it all meant, but he shuddered at the thought and got up, eager to go to work, there was too much of it piled up already.

This post was written in response to the writing challenge From a Crack in the Wall. I have not conformed to the word limit because try as I may, I am not cut out for flash fiction. When I sit down to write a story, I try to emulate the great and immerse myself in it, most of the time this is forced but I notice the stories eventually manage to get out of my hands and flourish on their own.

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Fiction

Love, silence and a few words…(7)

Megha had come back from the wedding, single, drunk and happy, with an annoyed Ma. Ignoring her, she directed her thoughts to Sameer. He was such a nice guy, the type who can’t help being a gentleman even when they are encouraged to be not so gentle. The way he was pitching hard for his friend in love was cute, more so as he got more drunk and more inarticulate. He might have been naive but he managed to make Megha think about Nikhil seriously. Nikhil, from what he has been apparently confessing to his friends, did seem serious about her. Also, now that she wasn’t his colleague, Megha argued with herself, she might as well meet the guy, if only to understand what he finds so attractive about her. It will be like an adventure, she thought. This attraction could be solely based on the lure of the taboo. Falling in love with an older woman, and one’s boss at that qualifies as taboo, especially in today’s world where people spend more time in the office than outside. Well, if she fell in love with Nikhil it would be equally taboo, not to mention the shock it would cause on the caste crazy Bansals.

Thrilled with these thoughts, she dialed Nikhil’s number.

Nikhil couldn’t believe when he saw Megha calling, he paused for a while and decided to stay calm and not let his excitement put off Megha.

“Hi Megha, how are you.”

“Hi Nikhil, do you still love me?” She giggled.

“Don’t make fun, you know that so well. We are destined to be together, who would have thought Sameer and you will get together in the manner you did.”

“Yeah the Gods want us to be together, the least we could do is to go on a date.”

“Yes. We must, now?”

“Of course not, let’s meet in the evening, and please stop being so desperate.”

“See ya,” he said and disconnected to show he wasn’t desperate, at least for more conversation.

Nikhil couldn’t think of anything to do till evening, he tried rehearsing what to say but didn’t like what he came up with. There was also an uncertainty creeping in, did he really love Megha or was this a passing fancy like the many he had after Shruti. Unlike his past relationships that were based on mutual attraction, this was an initiative taken by him. There were no sparks and the only chemistry was what happened in his heart as he thought of Megha, a love that transported him away from the world as he faced her only to be wrenched back by the resounding voice. Maybe he could ask her to speak softly. At least the flaw was behavioral or probably physiological. With Shruti it was hypersensitivity, of being unreasonably emotional for which he had no solution but to plead or agree with her on things he felt strongly about. Why do women have one flaw that you can’t ignore. Shruti used to answer that by calling him shallow, and she was probably right, delving deep into women was too much effort. Megha was much more mature than the women of his past, it gave him hope, of the type that comes with some vexing uneasiness.

Megha hummed a tune she thought she had forgotten as she debated on the appropriate makeup, she couldn’t remember the song. Mayank was good at guessing the song from her humming, he was bad at singing and she bad at guessing. She thought they were perfect and then the songs faded away in the space each demanded of the other. She wanted to grow professionally while Mayank, who was doing well at work, wanted more time with friends, those that he had been neglecting. This space that Mayank wanted turned out to be filled with whiffs of floral perfume and a silence that kept growing till it pervaded every nook and corner of the house. Sometimes it had felt as if both were helpless in front of this silence and their meek attempts to fill it ended up losing to the inane drone from the TV. She never figured out why Mayank lost interest in her, what did she do or not do to repel him away. He never gave a satisfactory answer frustrating her even more, to the extent that it made her leave him for good. She scoffed at herself, getting ready to meet her young irrational lover, like the Megha of those days would have done if she saw her now. Maybe Mayank had no answer and he just drifted apart without knowing why, maybe there are no explanations, just like she couldn’t explain why against all her instincts, she was going to meet Nikhil. The little voice in her head asking these questions had over time taken a back seat while a valiant resurgence intended to defeat the all the deafening silence around her had grown to significance.

Nikhil reached the venue a little too soon, in a cab as his car was out for service. Finding a cab on the weekends was getting difficult with most people preferring cabs over driving themselves. The place Megha had chosen was a little away from the city, one of the garden restaurants that were filling the suburbs.

“Hi Nikhil”, Megha beamed, reminding him of how she did that every Monday when Nikhil came to her office with the answers to the emails ready for her to send across.

“Hi Megha, you look beautiful,” Nikhil said marvelling at how the color of her skin matched the color of the table top.

“So, you really do love me.”

“How is everything at the office,” she asked cutting off Nikhil who was on the verge of saying something, wondering if it was a question or an acknowledgement.

“I haven’t been to the office after you left, the HR have been trying to contact me and getting frustrated I would guess,” Nikhil said relieved that they were off the topic.

“Oh, you must go, all the projects would have been stalled,” Megha checked herself and smiled, “I know. Fuck the projects!”

They laughed and the conversation moved on to Sameer, the wedding night and Kasol, in which Megha was very interested and asked for details. It was easy talking to her, unlike what he had anticipated.

“It’s amazing how life takes you to new places and people and yet you keep looking backwards at your past that has lost all its novelty,” Megha said thoughtfully after having listened to the details of Nikhil’s trip. She felt happy and Nikhil seemed to be so great at talking, and telling stories, something she would have never guessed. He looked thinner and now that she was evaluating looks and not his work he seemed to be more attractive than intelligent. It was pleasing to know that an attractive guy thought she was pretty. She decided it was enough exhilaration for a first date and called it a day.

To be concluded…

Previously: Love, silence and a few words…(1-6)

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Fiction, Fun

Bildungsroman

All his early life Bildung never felt at home in his hometown. As a consequence, he spent most of these years in finding the reason why he felt so, finding facts and faults with the town. Soon he was the living expert on Glevum, or more formally, Colonia Nervia Glevensium, a fort town of Roman Britain. It became a “colonia” of retired legionnaires in AD 97, much before Bildung was born. He could go on and on about the history, topology and the peculiarities of the place, none of which impressed him.

His father had joined the Roman army when he was young and full of stubble and therefore spurned by his lover in the little village on the banks of Rhine. The girl didn’t mind the stubble but wasn’t impressed because of his lack of education. So when his son was born, the legionary made sure he got ample education and be kept away from his ancestral homeland. The only tie he kept with Rhineland was the name, Bildung.

One of the reasons why Bildung hated the town was that everyone called him Bill and threw dung at him laughing and shouting that Bildung is German. One day laced with dung Bill had come crying to his father, who was scandalized by the aspersion. He started shouting – Bildung’s not German, Bildung’s a Roman, again and again till the neighbors came and asked him to get the name changed. That is how Bildung became Bildung’sRoman. This development threw the dung throwers off their balance and the practice stopped. Bill, however never forgot the ordeal and often had dreams of dung, of various hues, shapes and texture. Most of his girlfriends left the next morning because of the disgust they saw in Bill’s eyes as he sat up at midnight and looked at them, face contorted and nose wrinkled beyond recognition.

His peers didn’t forget the good times either, even though they bitterly conceded that Bildungsroman now, they never treated him as one of their own. He had trouble adjusting to school life, college life, and work life. His complaints however were not heeded to by his father. He would listen patiently to Bill’s whining, look thoughtfully at him and say – when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Bill would complaint he was not in Rome, but to that, his father would say – it’s not where you are that matters, but who you are. Over time, such senile statements started to have a subliminal effect on Bill, and the seeds of emotional and moral undergrowth took shape under the muck filled canopy that occupied his mind.

He grew up to be an emotional and moral grown-up, often making the concluding arguments in debates, fights and break-ups. His fame attracted many friends, Romans and countrymen who lent him more than their ears. The tales of dung were buried under the tales of Bildungsroman.

Centuries later, Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote the story of Bill, his
great-great great grandfather and called it Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. Wildungsroman, or the more popular Bildungsroman is still used to describe the genre of writing that details the moral and emotion growth of the young protagonist.

Written for Genre Writing Challenge

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Fiction

Love, silence and a few words

 

Part 1


Nikhil woke up with a start, something that he has been doing lately instead of his usual waking routine that involved a sequence of transitions from states of blissful oblivion to states of increasing awareness of reality. This reality feels more confounding to him each passing day. Being jolted out of sleep was annoying at the start, but it is slowly evolving into a habit. He has woken up with the same feeling of being incomplete, the same fading memories of wanting to scream but not being able to, the same helplessness he woke up with the previous morning. Today however, it seems that the feeling is more well-formed as compared to last few days. Is he losing his voice, he wonders. He thinks of giving it a try, a scream is a perfectly normal way to meet a new day. Almost on the verge of execution, he sees the futility of the undertaking and retracts.

Possession of a resounding voice that grazes the territory between being firm and being benevolent gets you far. This fact is exemplified by the bosses, or to be precise the singular form of the word as in the case of Nikhil and to be even more precise, Megha. In contrast, Nikhil is soft-spoken and economical with his words. It has its benefits in the corporate world, especially when you are in the lower hierarchies and you have an immediate boss who highlights the drawbacks of being loud and garrulous in every presentation. He has been doing a lot of these presentations with her lately. However in the world beyond offices and presentations, being less endowed with a resolute voice is construed as a lack of confidence. People who know him would contradict on the bit about confidence and may tell you his story from another time and another setting as an argument. For some reasons known only to him, he never talks about his past and forbids others too.

Megha woke up with a start too. The first thing she did, as she did every morning and even the ones when she didn’t wake up with a start, was to look at the time and feel relieved that she got up on time. It’s been five years since she moved out of the flat and life of Mayank. There were many memories of those glorious love-filled days that haunted her and usually managed to ruined her mood, but the morning alarm tops the list. Mayank used to set morning alarms every ten minutes as he deferred getting up. It took her a few months to figure out the reason why she always got up in a foul mood. The morning alarm had to go. As a repercussion of shunning the alarm, she wakes up worried every morning. This waking up with a start and wondering if its too late is better than waking up to thoughts of Mayank. Also, she doesnt mind because it induces a sense of urgency and keeps her going through the rest of the day. What she minds though is the fancy ideas HR has started coming up since last quarter. Today is ethnic theme and she has two emails from HR reminding her to wear a saree and setting up an example for the team and the office in general. Mention of the team reminds her of the latest problem she is facing with her star performer.

She remembers that fateful day when she had to choose between three candidates that applied for the opening in her ever dwindling group. The attrition was partly her fault with more parts accredited to the changing decisions by upper management making her focus on new technology every six months. She remembers how she went against the consensus of the interviewing team and picked up Nikhil. Even though handsome and looking sharp, the guy carried a graceful calm as he struggled to answer her questions. She saw in him the composed and methodical person she aspired to be. The merit of her decision has been proven in the two years as Nikhil has grown in stature and given more and more responsibilities. The only thing that bothers her is his growing reticence. Never combative, his sagacious contrapuntal views has always helped her develop perspective. With his diminishing vocals, she senses how her voice has acquired a louder tone as if to create the balance. She must have a talk with him soon.

She looks gorgeous in the Saree she is wearing as part of the ethnic dress day, but tall women always did look pretty to him. In her case however, there are additional attributes that make him fall in love. The dark sunken eyes, along with the dark circles around make them look cavernous in which the surreptitious lover within him longs to hide. To add to the charm, she always flaunts pairs of dazzling and dangling earrings, which moved in opposite directions to her hair. Her face and the unpainted lips makes you anticipate that they will break into a smile any moment, except they never do. When amused or in a good mood she ends up laughing, a laugh that he wants to capture in both audio and visuals. There were times when he reprimanded himself of these thoughts, and then there were times when he listened to the reprimands, especially when she started speaking.

The almost grating, stentorian voice makes him wince, makes him wish that mankind never learnt to speak. The villain in his love story is sound of the voice. To fight it he has no choice but to embrace silence. If only he could communicate without talking and make her learn the art too. It is not going to be easy, he thinks as he lies in his bed late nights. The silence of his room reverberates with the muffled yet rebellious urges to scream. The resentment of the silenced keeps gnawing at him, longing to be free of the shackles and join the discordant cacophony of the loved one. He must have a talk with her soon.

Part 2


The office air was filled with rumors of more organizational changes as Nikhil walked in the next day. He was greeted, or rather his path was blocked by an animated group of four; to whom his appearance seemed to have stoked the animation further. With eagerness that none of them showed in their work, they jostled to tell him about the newly acquired knowledge, or the lack of it.

Most of his colleagues steered clear of him, most of the time, and he knows the reasons. He knows because this knowledge was transferred to him by a guy who was done with his knowledge transfer and was ready for the goodbye mail when fate brought him face to face with Nikhil.

Rajiv had joined few months back, he was smart and appeared intelligent. Nikhil couldn’t be sure because during his short tenure, they never interacted outside the discussion rooms except for the parting conversation.

“I have always wanted to tell you this, and to your face!” Rajiv had said with passion which was quite unbecoming of him.

“Can it wait, Megha wants me in her office to discuss a mail she needs to send.” He had almost sounded apologetic.

“No it can’t wait, because today’s my last day in office and you know that, you are such a snob. Everyone knows that, you included. What I want to tell you though is that they know you are the spy for Megha, and that’s why her favorite. They also know why you keep distance and fumble to speak even a single word when accosted.”

“And what exactly is your theory explaining the fumbling,” he had tried his best to make the conversation jovial.

“It’s because you are always listening, nothing escapes you, not a word. The only talking you do is in her office,” a wave of triumph passed over Rajiv’s face.

“Good luck, for future,” Nikhil remembers to have said before walking away.

This conversation plays again and again in his mind. Not because of the ludicrous allegations but because of the insinuation that he might be a favorite. Maybe he should report things about his peers to Megha. If only he listened. The sound of human voice has been on a declining curve of his tolerance. Even the music he enjoys now is void of vocals. He put on his headphones and set about replying to the mails received over last night. With growing responsibilities and stature you get closer; with respect to mails and meetings, to people ignorant about technology but good at writing. The phone buzzed and it was Megha, she wanted help with replying to a few tricky ones. He could understand her plight, she was one of those people who he was just describing about, but the ones she had to reply to were further up the mail ladder.

“Good morning Nikhil, I am fed up with the Israel team.” Megha always spoke as if she had rehearsed before.

She looked her usual self today without the saree, but the tormenting voice had a nasal tone. Maybe it’s the onset of another round of cold and flu, he hoped. Of all the variations in her voice, this one was his favourite, it was the perfect mixture of being husky and cute.

“Yes, I know,” he replied and fidgeted trying to avoid looking at her breasts.

“Is something wrong,” she looked worried.

“No, why do you ask, do you have a cold coming?”

“Dunno, are you being weird for a reason? Is it because of the reorg rumours. I checked and it seems this time it’s mostly about trimming the middle management, every unit does that once in a while and to be honest I wonder why they didn’t do it before.”

“Ok, so the team remains intact, that’s good news.”

“Yes, but what’s wrong with you these days, you have been keeping quiet during discussions and when you speak it always seems to be coming from a Nikhil so distant that you can talk to him but cannot discuss a thing with.”

“I am in love with you,” he blurted out.

“What..” she didn’t complete.

He looked down as if in shame, or probably to hide the jubilation of finally being able to say it. However, the implications immediately dawned upon him making the jubilation short-lived. He had violated the sanctity of professional relationships in general and a great synergy if not a partnership in this particular case.

“Why would you say such a thing, I am your manager, do you realize.”

He looked up to find Megha fuming as she continued.

“Is this a joke?” she waited.

“Say something, you idiot.”

“I find you pretty, especially your eyes,” there was no going back now, he had heard how the heart takes over the brains, but witnessing it for himself was a new experience and he was loving it. The remnants of the defeated brains was imploring him to stop if he didn’t want to be reorged out.

“What the fuck, Nikhil. Stop it. This is so grossly wrong and ridiculous, I don’t even know how to deal with this. You, of all people. Why are you doing this.”

He looked blank, he felt blank, was there more to say. He knew he had to rehearse.

“Come to think of it, I can’t even fire you,” she looked exasperated.

“Maybe I should go, maybe I should resign. Sorry.”

Megha suddenly looked more composed, probably because of the “resign” word, or probably because of the sorry. He would never know. She looked at him but beyond, as if lost.

“This is the same way Mayank proposed. What’s wrong with you men, just say that you love the girl and then leave.” The voice now appeared to be coming out with a hint of sobs. The eyes were misty but managed to hold back the tears.

“Why would you love your senior, both in terms of hierarchy and age, it’s so not like the sensible and composed Nikhil I know of. Why would you even find me pretty, no one does, everyday I wake up I am a little more ugly. Mayank didn’t even give me a call since that day.”

Tears were rolling down profusely now and he had no idea how to deal with it. Not only was he confused whether she likes the fact that he loves her, or whether she is thinking of retention and not reacting to her true potential. One thing was certain though, she is still obsessed with Mayank.

“Don’t cry, I will stay,” he managed to say while he worked out whether he was heartbroken or just relieved.

Megha kept crying and he decided it was cue for him to leave. He walked straight to his cube, packed the laptop and left the office at a brisk pace.

Next day he decided to call in sick. The day after he got a call from Megha which he didn’t take. That followed a message asking him to get his ass back to office along with a wink emoji and a heart, which was so unlike her. She must be desperate. His suspicion was confirmed when after a few hours she sent a sterner message saying he better be done creating the presentation if not replying the mails. The absence of the voice was so heavenly that he couldn’t even sulk properly. He didn’t feel like replying to mails or creating ppts, instead he read the emoji message once again.

Part 3


The phone buzzed yet again. Even in vibrate, it made considerable noise; enough to irritate his sensitive ears. Nikhil knew it was high time for a new one, a new car too, a new house, a new beginning, rather a lot of new beginnings. Was there something like a new love, he wondered. Isn’t it always the same love that extends and encompasses a new lover that you acquire. Is one individual capable of love in more than one way, or is one assigned to experience only a fraction of the big vision of love that exists. For that matter, the millions of people in love all over the world might be in a way experiencing parts of the same universal feeling. If that is the case, then why does our first love feels different, feels special. One plausible answer is that first loves are unsurpassable because they are novel. Why then does he feel devastated at not being loved back, when the novelty is gone and he has fallen in love yet again.

The phone buzzed again. It was GD on his will-keep-calling-you till you take the call spree. He never gets it that the other person might not be interested. Nikhil didn’t want to talk, or rather hear a voice. The last few days have been peaceful, so peaceful in fact that he has doubts about his broken heart. Instead of answering the call he messaged back, “what is it.”

The reply contained more of swear words than of information that was sought for. A second one contained the information, “#@!$, it is my birthday and treat, there would be babes.”

For some reason, this message gave him purpose to get up and go to office. He would have to go for the party in any case.

There was however no explanation on why GD, as he called his friend from school days, college days and for a year, office days, celebrated birthdays like a kid. He would cut a cake, ordered by himself, and would spend a lot entertaining people he hardly knew. He insisted that everyone must drink like crazy while himself not touching the poison. Sameer had a theory explaining this behaviour. GD is a religious fanatic in hiding, he would say with eyebrows slightly raised and his tone slightly modulated, and religious people don’t booze on their birthdays, instead they visit temples in the morning and prayed before retiring to bed. Sameer used to be religious once which makes him the expert on these matters, and he might be right. This theory goes for a toss when you meet GD. There is not a soul in this world more blasphemous than GD and glad about flaunting it.

There was a message from Sameer too, insisting that he come tonight and how it’s been ages since the three of them got together. Sameer is a sensible guy who knows WhatsApp is the choice medium of communication when it came to Nikhil. Shruti did choose Sameer over him for his sensibility. She would be there too and she loved to talk to him, for some reason, or perhaps because of the residual love that always lingers around exes. She was the only person whom he loved to hear, even if she talked about inane stuff, even if it was about Sameer.

Thinking about Shruti made him think about Megha, she hasn’t mailed or messaged since last week. It was also strange that no one bothered to call him regarding the projects he was involved in. Maybe they have already gotten rid of him, Megha must have informed HR about his proposal and how inappropriate and inconvenient it was. It was still a surprise how they managed without him, they must have had help from outside. It was great to work in a team of mediocres but you get frustrated with yourself. It’s the same with people who achieve their dreams only to realise they didn’t aim too high, mediocrity goes both ways.

Nikhil entered the office with mild trepidation. His anxiety was fuelled further by the strangely silent and soothing ambience compared to the rumor-filled and noisy environment he witnessed the last time he was here. His moment of silent solace was brutally destroyed by the high-pitched voice of the woman in HR who never talked to him, and thankfully so, till this day.

“Hi Nikhil” she almost squealed, “can you come with me to the conference room, you have an important meeting scheduled for now.”

It struck him immediately, this is how the HR deals with employees getting laid off. They won’t let them enter the cubicle area. He was now sure of his guess at what might have happened.

“Can I go and check my mails before I join you guys?” he asked to test his theory further.

“No, this is very urgent,” she put on that I can do urgent-and-important face and said, “you are required to go now.”

“But, how did you set up this meeting when you didn’t know if I was coming” It was an earnest question, one that baffled him too.

“Oh, we are taking all members of Megha’s team directly in, as they reach the office since yesterday.”

He was now sure of what this was about and it calmed him, he hated it when things were not black or white. There was also a triumphant feeling building up, he is getting fired for love. Even Majnu couldn’t have managed to do better if he was a software professional. But Majnu didn’t do the training on sexual harassment which he was forced to attend last month. There has to be a trial, and questioning before the verdict. So this might be about the details, he couldn’t think of anything to say in his defense except that he is in love.

“Come in,” said Sumukhi, the HR director. She had that fake smile that irked him more than her sing-song voice. He was reminded of his sorry state of life every time he met these people pretending to be happy and doing a good job of it.

“Hi Sumukhi” he said, but it came out like a question.

“Hi Nikhil, you must be aware of what has been going on the last few days, you being one of the people directly involved. We in HR are doing everything so that you don’t have a tough time going forward”

“No, I am not aware of anything. I have been on vacation last week.” he said to test the waters. But he knew from the tone of her voice that the decision has been made. How the fuck would HR help me with getting a new job.

“Ok, it’s good that you are hearing from me before unreliable sources. We don’t want you to be prejudiced by gossip. Let us start at the beginning. How would you describe your relationship with your manager”

“You mean Megha”

“Yes, but let’s use the word manager for the sake of being objective”

“I love her” he intended to say it with utmost objectivity, but it came out like a resounding statement.

“Yes we know you were her favourite, but do you think being favourite affects your performance, and say focus”

He didn’t understand this conversation any more, is Sumukhi trying to defend him? Shouldn’t it be the other way round, is she playing good cop, the bad in waiting.

“I don’t think Megha has favorites, and definitely not me, otherwise I wouldn’t be here, would I?” there was more than a tinge of hurt as he spoke.

“On the contrary, I have talked to all your colleagues and they seem to concur, they all know about your relationship with Megha and they also know what has happened”

“Oh! but how do they know”

“I had to inform them, obviously”

“Why would you inform them, shouldn’t it be discussed in the internal committee as the training showed”

“Internal committee? What are you saying, the decision was made at the top”

“But the top never heard my side of the story, did they?”

“You are making this very difficult for me Nikhil, even I wasn’t consulted. I am equally pained by the decision”

“You are not pained by anything, you didn’t even know me well before today. Can I talk to Megha, this seems so unfair”

“What do you mean talk to Megha, she had been let go as part of the reorg”

Nikhil felt like being hit hard with a tennis ball. He didn’t know how to react.

“We are in the process of restructuring the team, with team-leads taking the verticals. You seem to be capable but you are not popular”

“Where is she now, is she ok”

“What? Who? Oh you mean Megha?” She paused.

“Yes of course, who else”

It was now Sumukhi’s turn to be perplexed.

“She took it well, she understands the politics and the perils of being in mid-management”

“Can I talk to her. Is she in the office”

“No she left yesterday, and we have requested her not to talk to employees. I would advise you not to contact her either, there is no point”

Nikhil had taken out his phone and was already dialling the number. It however said switched off and a wave of panic swept over him.

“Did Megha leave her mail id or do you have her address”

“No, and stop there. Why are you being so dramatic”

“I need to talk to her, are we done here”

“Yes, you will hear more from us in the next few days, till then keep working on the projects you were working on. It doesn’t take long for matters like this to settle down.” Sumukhi seemed relieved to be done with the meeting.

Nikhil had other ideas on the subject of settling down and kept dialing Megha’s number, quite frantically too, as he left the room.

Part 4


The phone battery was now on the verge of dying. Nikhil gave up on Megha and decided to head for GD’s house. As if on cue it started ringing. With a triumphant fumble he took the phone out of his pocket and was in between a sentence to Megha when he saw the caller. It was two years back that he had a phone conversation with Shruti, a call he wasn’t very keen to remember. She had done most of the talking, even answering the questions she had posed to him. Breaking up over the phone had its advantages though, one could feign attention and understanding of the seriousness of the situation by simply keeping quiet. Both of them knew the relationship was doomed after Shruti met Sameer and her benchmark standards for the ideal, or probably an acceptable boyfriend changed from GD to Sameer. Nikhil simply didn’t stand a chance. That phone call was Shruti’s idea of making it official, women tend to put everything in words. There is a reason why they are good at writing poetry, at least Shruti was or must have been, everyone said so. He never understood what she wrote.

“Hi Nikhil,” she sounded unsure this time.

“Hey what a surprise. Did you break up with Sameer?” The words came out as if on reflex. His thoughts immediately went back to Megha, battery was at 3%.

“You going to the party?” She sounded curt but not irritated as she got whenever he mentioned Sameer.

“Yes, GD will kill me otherwise. Sameer is coming too, you?”

“Yes I will be there,” she paused before continuing “yes, see ya.”
She disconnected. It felt strange but he had gotten used to Shruti acting weird. Love makes people act as if they are possessed, which is true, in a way. He thought.

GD was waiting at the door with a grin.
“I got the place to myself for the night, as a birthday gift. Ha! Who’s the genius now!” He smirked complacently.

“You are, always been. Happy birthday!”

“Where is my gift you happy-birthdaying fucker.”

“Turn around!”

GD’s habit of hugging always bordered on embarrassing. He would act all emotional after the hug, and look for its effects.

“I have got some good stuff for the night, will make it memorable for you guys.”

“Shouldn’t it be the other way around.”

“Yes, but you people are useless. You must be thankful that you got a friend like me, and more thankful that tonight’s my birthday.”

“Yeah sure. Do you have a charger.”

By the time Nikhil managed to unearth the charger from the mess on GD’s bed and got his phone charged till 60, he could already hear the music in the hall and sounds of conversations, dominated by the booming voice of GD. Whiffs of barbecued chicken seeped in and made him realize how much he was starving.

Sameer and Shruti arrived late. By then he must have had a few rounds of beer and chicken kebabs, one of the few things that GD was good at. He didn’t remember or recognize most of the people in the crowd but pretended otherwise. With the phone charged, he had made three more attempts to contact the switched-off Megha, mostly as breaks from the loud voices as people tried to talk over the music. Shruti looked pretty and demure as always and Sameer looked bright. There was no denying they made a great couple.

The cake was cut with birthday song, sung most loudly by GD. He was now asking people to dance, a girl with ample breasts and curves joined readily. Sameer was good at dancing and he was pulling Shruti who seemed to be resisting. He gave up a little too quick and joined the dance crowd. As usual, only a few were dancing to the music, GD’s amply endowed girl was good though. She had a pretty next door girl face, someone with whom you could start a conversation without thinking twice. Shruti, who was now walking towards him, always looked stern, forbidding, like the girls with whom you would practice a conversation before venturing into it. She sat next to him and sighed softly.

“Hi Shruti, you are looking pretty.” He said without taking his eyes off the dancing girl.

“Thanks, I see what you see. She is not pretty..” Shruti said slowly and without inflection, also not looking at him.

“But you are,” he said now looking at her.

“You know I like this about you, telling a girl she is pretty with a straight face, clinically, without emotions.”

“Facts don’t go with emotions, and once you state them you don’t linger, with things like emotions. You have no use for facts in the future.”

“Yeah, you never have future plans. Didn’t we break up over future.”

“Yes, you wanted answers and I didn’t even understand your questions. Sameer apparently did.”

“You know, every coin has two sides. Every decision has its pros and cons. You may lack vision, you may be shallow, emotionless,”

“We are not breaking up again, are we?” Nikhil chuckled.

“See? You may lack seriousness, but I loved you. Loving you was satisfying, there were you lost and unloved and I came to your rescue. To love is taking an initiative. Its a conscious effort, a deliberate and therefore fulfilling endeavor, and if there are any shortcomings it is solely your fault. You are the one responsible, for all it’s goodness and all its faults.” She was saying this with her typical earnestness, the pauses making it apparent that she was feeling her every word.

“Shruti, what are you trying to say, you rescued me? From what?”

“To love is to gain,” she continued ignoring my interjection, “you gain the attention at the least. Attention is the most definite confirmation of your existence. Isn’t life all about establishing ones identity. To love is to distinguish yourself, stand apart from the crowd.”

“Did you read a book? Are you going to cry? Wait, are you going to propose?”

“With Sameer the role has reversed.” She continued looking at me, but ignoring my words. Her eyes were red, maybe she was going to cry, or maybe she had one too many beers. He realized how close they were, he could almost see the red veins in her eyes.

“He is the one who loves me, I love him too but I can feel his love, something I never experienced with you. Being loved is comforting, but feeling the love is almost like being forced to accept something involuntarily. Even if you won’t accept, there is no getting away from acknowledging it. Over time it consumes you, sapping your existence little by little. What am I if Sameer stops loving me, I shudder at the thought. Sometimes I feel like running away from all this.”

Thoughts of kissing Shruti, given how close their faces were, went up in the air with the last sentence.

“Are you crazy? Sameer is such a nice guy, you won’t get a better one.”

“I am not saying he is any less, forget it Nikhil, you never understood me.” She kept looking at him and he felt drawn towards her lips.

“One must not spend more than 10 mins at a stretch with your ex,” GD screamed, or it felt like it, startling them both.

“I need to borrow your ex,” he said to a perplexed Shruti and dragged me up.

“Riya wants to go on a road trip. Let’s go to Kasol, our long pending trip.”

“Who is Riya and why should we take her along.”

“Riya is the girl who you been ogling when you were not leching at your ex.”

“Oh, is she your latest girlfriend?”

“Latest yes, girlfriend or not we will figure out together. I don’t want to get into another doomed relationship, it’s my birthday and I am getting old and soft.” They both laughed.

“Well I don’t want to be kebab me haddi between you two,” Nikhil said when the brilliance of the road trip idea struck him. He wanted a break, and lots of malana cream.

“Well, you can bring your manager woman if you want.”

“What?! How do you know?” He was shocked, more with himself than GD. He had completely forgotten about Megha, and immediately checked his phone. Nothing.

“There are no secrets between friends, remember? You told me before passing out last time, both about your manager and that there are no secrets between friends.” GD tried to smirk but ended up laughing.

Sameer joined them looking flushed from the dancing and announced that GD has finally managed to find a decent girl for himself. Riya and Shruti were chatting, one pretty the other sexy.

“You know, let’s make some joints.” GD suggested breaking Nikhil’s line of thought on the girls.

He woke up without a hangover. Instead, he actually felt nice and refreshed, maybe he drank too much water during the night, that did the trick sometimes. He checked his phone for messages, there were none. Call records showed the attempts at calling Megha, and Shruti. He always did that when high. There was a long message he had sent to Megha on WhatsApp which he quickly deleted. Maybe he should write a decent one, and then GD called.

“Pack your bags, we start after lunch.”

“Are you serious, I cannot go.”

“You can, and you are,” he said with unfounded finality and disconnected.

Maybe he told everything to GD after the joints. In any case, Kasol was tempting.

Part 5


Megha woke up with a start and just when she was about to check the time, it dawned upon her that she doesn’t have a job anymore. Partly disappointed and partly relieved she went off to sleep again, but only for a moment before she was shaken awake by Ma.

“Waking up early is a healthy habit,” Ma was saying with a loving face that didn’t go well with the admonishing tone, “also, it gives you a glowing skin.”

Megha tried to remember the last time she was woken up this way, only to stop in her tracks. Why is it that when relationships die, their memories get a new life. Ma was looking with concern, the look which always made everything alright.

“C’mon you lazy bum, get up and do something to your face.” This came as a surprise, different from her usual doting talk. Maybe Ma was getting tired of her hanging around, she too was getting tired of doing nothing. The least she could do was to switch on her phone, she thought, but for what, she wasn’t looking forward to anything at all.

“All you do here is sleep, maybe you are good for nothing besides the working for an MNC. It’s a relief though that you got fired right at the time for Pooja’s wedding. I hate going alone and listening to your aunts pestering about you. By the way, Pooja is two years younger. That’s all I can do to help you prepare for the onslaught. This time I am going to enjoy a wedding..” She seemed to have second thoughts on whether to end her sentence there or go on.

Megha knew what was coming next and got up to end the impending tirade. Of the numerous cousins from the various branches of the family tree, Pooja was the one who adored her. She had the next-door girl looks but was always dreamy. Her conversations with Megha invariably started with so many things that she planned to do and ended up admitted how she looked up to Megha for finding an ambition in life. She had been so excited to meet Mayank and even more so when she discovered there were living together. Late that night, she had messaged Megha on how lucky she was, and how brave, unlike herself, who had nothing to aim for in life. Maybe her life was really not worth it. Pooja, with the dreamy eyes and depressive talk was getting married, while Megha, the brave and the one with luck was without a job, without love and getting ugly every other day.

The drive to the wedding turned out to be longer due to the extra traffic that is characteristic of the wedding season. Out of ideas to pass the time, Megha switched on her phone and the notifications popped up. Her heart skipped a beat seeing a mail from Mayank. It was formal, after saying how sorry he was, it went on to enquire whether she would be interested to join his firm. Mayank had offered her a job after they broke up and she had naturally ignored him. Even now she was pissed off, not because of the offer but because of the impersonal tone in the mail. To make it worse there were messages from Nikhil changing from formal to very personal as she read one after the other. He wrote as if they were in a relationship, and had a fight for which he had to apologize to make it up to her. What’s wrong with this guy, she wondered, he is brilliant, handsome and younger to her. She must be the worst choice he could have made. She thought of writing something to him when the phone rang with a call from Nikhil.

“Megha, where are you. I have been trying your number since ages. You can’t just go off the radar without telling me. Are you ok?”

Megha couldn’t believe the audacity in his voice and the way he was talking, as if they were a couple for years. Even Mayank had this hesitation when he talked to her after a break of few days.

“Nikhil, what’s wrong with you. I have left the job, well, got fired, but then it doesn’t change anything between us. Actually, now that we are professionally not connected, there is no reason why you should be calling me up.” She did her best to sound calm and stern.

“Please don’t shout,” Nikhil implored, “you maybe gone from office, but I am still in love with you, I cannot stop thinking about you, even when high, which is what I am now.”

“Nikhil, stop calling me, ok? I already have too many problems in my life and don’t want to take up your case,” she managed to get the desired finality in her voice, “and I am not shouting.”

“What problems, I could” he was saying when Megha disconnected.

She couldn’t believe how a person could be so oblivious of reality, especially when reality is having a voice and not a feeble one either, telling him where he stands and facing what. Is he really in love with her. She had never been like this or knew anyone who had behaved so in the matter of love. Maybe one needs to go beyond the psychological norms to be truly in love, there has never been a logical explanation of why one falls in love with a particular person out of millions, maybe you need to be a little psycho to be in love. How she wished Mayank was one instead of this Nikhil.

Shaking her head vigorously as if to shake the creeping idea of her falling in love with Nikhil out she looked sideways at Ma who turned to look at her.

“Stop doing that, you will ruin your hair. Also, stop snubbing off every guy who shows interest, you are running out of age and options.”

“Ma, stop it. Why have you become so desperate for me. I will find a guy and get married, don’t worry. There are weird guys falling for me without reason or tact. What I really want is a break.”

“No, what you want is a nice, decent guy who you meet in this wedding and who you can present as an answer to the questions that you will be showered with.” Ma seemed to be enjoying the scene already.

The wedding, like most weddings was full of color, noise and lights, and people. Pooja was excited to see Megha, an unexpected guest that she was. The groom looked handsome and did his best to smile charmingly at Megha. Wondering why is it that all couples look perfect for each other at their wedding, Megha told Pooja and her groom what a perfect couple they make.

Pooja seemed really happy talking to Megha, but that didn’t last long because stage time was rationed by the event management people with the cameras and drones. Watching Pooja’s reaction they got interested in Megha and were asking her for an interview to which she said no even after being promised that her interview will definitely make it to the final video. Looking at Pooja from a distance though, made her realize that she didn’t look like a girl in love, as she imagined true love to look like. Maybe her expectations were high considering the marriage was not an arranged one. This was the biggest achievement in Pooja’s life, the first love marriage in the Bansal family.

“Doesn’t she look like a princess, and so happy,” said a voice disturbing her thoughts and now holding her firm as if to stop her from running away.

Thus trapped, Megha faced the first of the aunts of interrogation. Even though Ma had prepared her for this, the unrelenting aunts did manage to make her realize what a failure she has been. With the victim floundering to their satisfaction, they collectively moved on to solving Megha’s problems. This was worse than the questioning because now she was clueless and was not expected to take part in the discussion about the merits and faults of each solution.

Zoned out, she managed to eat her lifelong quota of paneer tikkas that the guy in red turban and a mischievous smile kept bringing and would have gone on and on if Ma didn’t come to rescue. Thus saved from aunts and paneer, she didn’t look back and kept walking till she was blocked by a guy looking at her amused.

“Sorry, let me not stop the lady on her march” he said, sliding sideways.

She laughed. “You were watching me run away from the aunts?”

“Aunts, ah, the reason why we humans, after having reached the pinnacle of evolution are still evolving.”

“Very funny, do I know you,” Megha said scanning the family tree in her mind.

“I am a friend of the groom, which side are you from?”

“Cousin of the pretty bride, I am Megha,” she said extending her hand and midway not sure on whether to go on or retract.

“Sameer,” he said taking her hand and as an after thought added, “you are pretty too.”

“Thanks, but I am not in mood to flirt. Also you seem to be the type who has had much success in the field.”

“Not really, and I am bad at the lost art of flirting, my girlfriend says so,” he said winking.

“Ah, good for you. Maybe like all girlfriends she has gone past that stage. Why do you say it’s a lost art.”

“Well, the pretty ladies are never in the mood for it,” he winked, “do you want to have a drink, they are serving veggie drinks like fruit juice and jal-jeera here, and I have a bottle of whiskey in my car.”

“Sure, but are you safe. Show me the picture of your girlfriend” she said, meaning exactly that.

“Yes, of course. Background checks are now done on insta, here you go”. He handed his phone to her and watched with renewed amusement as she scrolled more than she should have.

Satisfied, she said, “she is pretty”, and then “wait”, wtf how do you know Nikhil.”

“Wait, oh my god, are you the famous Megha, the manager with loud voice, I mean the sexy one,” he said checking her out for the first time.

“Stop doing that, and yes I am Megha. What else did Nikhil tell about me.” She couldn’t decide whether she was shocked, irritated or simply interested in knowing more.

“Not here, let’s celebrate serendipity with signature, whiskey!” and they left the wedding behind.

Part 6


The drive to Kasol was as uneventful as any drive is, Nikhil never understood the writers who claimed the journey being more enjoyable than the destination. Shruti subscribed to that philosophy and he had to agree against his wishes just to get over the journey without arguments to make it worse. Poets are easy to impress, they tend to see things in you that make you proud of yourself. GD and Riya sat in the front taking turns at driving while Nikhil had the whole backseat to himself. He would however be glad to share the seat for a conversation. Megha’s phone was still switched off, and he felt utterly hopeless. Riya was one of those women who had no scruples in PDA, of which there was plenty. GD seemed to be in his seventh heaven, finally to have found someone who didn’t overthink.”Can you guys focus on the road,” Nikhil interjected, startling them both.

“Of course we are, we run the same risks as you do, stop being a voyeur,” GD said with a grin.

“Nikhil, do you think we make a good couple?” Riya asked looking back with all earnestness.

“Not for long, if you don’t look ahead when you drive,” Nikhil tried to keep panic out of his voice.

“I think I have found my soul mate.” GD announced.

Nikhil waited for the laugh that should have followed. GD however looked serious, dazed, but serious. Riya was looking at the road with acute concentration, as if in anticipation of something. Were they expecting him to say something, maybe they have had this conversation before and now testing the theory on a third-party. Who would have thought GD to be saying a sentence with soul mate in it. It was inconceivable, one needs to have a soul to be able to find a mate for it. Soul and such subtle concepts went with GD as olive oil on parathas.
Given the line of thought possessing him and realisation of hunger, Nikhil concluded that the best response would be to keep quiet.

“I am not so sure,” said Riya deciding to break the silence, still looking straight at the road. “I don’t buy into the concept of soul mates. My motto is to do the best you can do given any situation, and I think you and me don’t have to make an effort to do our best when together.”

“Now that’s more like it,” GD said and they kissed.

Maybe he has finally found what he has been looking for, Nikhil thought. At that moment as he watched the public display, Riya seemed like the female version of GD, and being of the other sex she was more articulate. Riya may indeed be this soul mate. With these thoughts Nikhil fell asleep.

Kasol looked beautiful with its greenery dazzling the eyes, the river doing more, mountains and unpolluted air of Himalayas that would give a high to anyone. Why then do people come here to get high, he wondered. Instead, it would be exhilarating to go on a trek. Hopefully, with half of the honeymoon over in the car, the lovebirds will be game for a trek.

“What, trek to which place and why. We have done our share of traveling while you slept like a king. I am just gonna get high and love,” GD said with a wink.

“Ok, suit yourself. I might go on a trek. Don’t leave before I am back.”

“Good luck and don’t die. May the Malana cream guide you on the right path.”

“Amen” chimed in a fresher and a smiling version of Riya.

Finding people who were interested in going for a trek was easy. Everyone seemed friendly. Most of the tourists were wearing tee shirts with images of Shiva printed in psychedelic colors. The makes and the designs of bongs in the shops would amaze the most creative. Almost all of these shops were selling bandage rolls, which later he found out was for the use in chillum, the primeval bong. He met two guys from Israel while wandering around the banks of the river in the late afternoon sun. They offered a smoke and they were friends. It reminded him of the childhood days when strangers became friends as soon as they were offered a chance to bat in the match. These guys were travelling together after their mandatory military service, and were eager to talk while Nikhil was more than willing to listen. A vacation in Kasol is a must do for most Israelis, they said, it beats any other destination on earth. Nikhil couldn’t agree more, the sound of the river, the cream taming his nerves and the stories of a foreign land made the trance get the better of itself.

GD and Riya were not in their rooms when he returned, nor were they among the people gathered around the bonfire. As soon as he took his seat someone passed a hot chillum and he dragged hard. It was by no means the most efficient way to smoke a chillum, he was told few hours later. You are supposed to suck as if you were drinking the smoke rather than breathing it. Thoroughly blown out, he checked his phone to see his messages being changed to already read status by Megha. He jumped up from his perch and dialed her number, there was so much he wanted to tell. Her voice sounded louder than the usual or maybe his senses were perked up. In any case he was so happy that he forgot to check when the call got disconnected. After trying many times with no luck he gave up and joined the bonfire happiness.

Next morning he was woken up early and went off on the trek after breakfast, unaware of how his and Megha’s had gotten together the night before. The rest of the trip is a blur, from exhaustion, excitement and exhilaration. Back in his den, he tried calling up Megha to no avail. The HR people were being desperate, and he started thinking about going back to work. Maybe they will give him a promotion in their desperation. The office however will remind him of Megha, he needs a closure for his life to go on. For no reason, whatsoever, it made her think of Shruti, the only woman who he could talk to without caring what he said. She was experienced enough to be a loveguru, Nikhil had always found the concept of male lovegurus ridiculous and he has sufficient proof from FM radio.

Shruti seemed surprised when he called and said he needed advice, she gladly agreed to be of help. Nikhil saw a call from Sameer that he missed when he was talking to Shruti, but Sameer was low in priority for now.

Shruti, in her red top and pair of ripped jeans looked different and somewhat defiant.
“Hello bachhe, tell me what advice do you seek from your guru,” she said stifling a grin and looking very happy.

Nikhil might have been looking otherwise because her face took a turn for the serious.

“Hi guru, I am troubled in the matters related to the heart, and the mind,” he said trying to be cheerful.

He went on to describe how he proposed to Megha and her reaction, how she was still recovering from her break-up, and how she is snubbing him off.

Shruti listened patiently like a true guru and said, “She is definitely the wrong person for you to fall in love with. With your nature and stunts, who would declare his love to his manager in her own office, you need someone younger and more gullible for such antics.”

“It wasn’t a stunt, the words just came out involuntarily,” Nikhil said a bit meekly, but she waved him to keep quiet and went on, “I am not done yet.”

“From what you say about her looks and break-up, she seems to have had her share of guys with words spilling over their adrenaline filled hearts, of course it didn’t impress her. You need a woman who still has her delusions intact, like I was when you did the same to me.” She said looking a little stern.

“I know she is not the perfect match,” Nikhil said with exasperation, “I don’t this kind of advice, tell me how to pursue this unlikely match.”

“I don’t think it would lead to anything good, Megha already seems to have sorted this out herself.”

“Shruti, never mind advice, I will sort out my affairs myself. I know it was wrong to fall in love with Megha, but it simply happened, every great love story seems to the other people to be in some measure a mistake on the part of the lovers.”

It was Shruti’s turn to be exasperated but before she could say something, the phone buzzed with a call from Sameer.

“Don’t tell him I am with you,” she said with a lot of urgency.

“Hi Nikhil, guess what, I made friends with your lady-love and I agree with you, she is pretty and so much fun. I told her all about your confessions, you remember that night?” He said laughing heartily.

“What, when and how? You met Megha and you two are friends now? I don’t have words, what did she say. Where are you, I am coming over.” He said looking at Shruti who was shaking her head vigorously to say no.

“I can come over, let’s talk over beer,” Sameer sounded excited too.

“Did you tell Shruti that you met Megha?” Nikhil asked looking at Shruti.

“No, and don’t tell her, she is acting weird these days, let’s meet at hangover,” he said and disconnected.

“Are you acting weird with Nikhil? Is everything alright?”

“None of your business,” she said smiling weakly, “you want advice, I don’t. Just don’t tell Sameer I was here, I wonder why he didn’t tell me about his meeting with Megha.”

“Fine, suit yourself. Sameer is a nice guy, don’t screw it up,” Nikhil advised without thinking.

“Yeah, I know. Good luck with Megha,” she said getting up to leave.

Sameer was already with a beer and looked in high spirits when he saw Nikhil.

“Man! I couldn’t believe she was Megha and you owe me a treat, not this one though. This is for narrating the events of that fateful wedding night. We finished a bottle of whiskey, your girlfriend is a guzzler,” he said with a wink and proceeded to narrate the conversation and how he made Nikhil look more mature than he was and how he had found true love in her.

Part 7

Click here for Part 7

Standard
Fiction, Fun

Did you check the date before you used it?

Story starter challenge from The Haunted Wordsmith tweaked.

The keeper of dates pushed the date into the machine just in time and the sun rose in the east lighting up the sand with a shade of orange that would have melted many hearts. The whole scene was wasted on him though, the keeper of dates, like his father, was a grave person.

Some said it came from his mother’s side of the family, while some blamed the presence of the communal grave that his family has been using for centuries. Not because it was communal, but because how it was placed in the centre courtyard of the house. On it grew the tree that sustained life, providing dates since the day the settlement came to existence.

Most people assumed his job to be the most trivial of all the jobs that could be carried out in the circumstances. No one was aware of his loneliness, but that was least of his worries.

With the dates getting scarce every other day, he had to subscribe to the local advertising agency inviting much criticism from the elders. The dates the agency provided were not exceptional but they did ensure time ticked on. The festival of fasting was approaching too, adding to his worries. Fasting men wanted dates as if it their lives depended on it. There were rumors of camels getting restless at night and not due to flatulence which would have made sense. The reason was attributed to the shortness of the days and nights, they simply didn’t get enough exercise.

The quality of dates was in decline and he had to be lenient in sieving out the bad ones. Sometimes the nights ended before his dreams did.

Today however, he woke up feeling good. Taking the first date that came in his hand from the sack he inserted into the machine. The machine creaked and coughed and time stopped. The keeper of dates was puzzled and hit the machine on all sides to make it work again, instead he heard the sound of a dot matrix printer and a slip of paper appeared in the rear end of the machine.

It was smeared with the remnants of the date gone stale and read – “did you check the date before you used it?”

Standard
Fiction

The girl with a round face

1

She smiled perfectly as she extended her hands for a shake, most likely deciding against the hug.
“Hi Amit, so we are finally on a date. I see you don’t find me attractive.” The perfected smile that would have disarmed the Stoics, made me think if she had been practicing.

“Oh, what makes you say so, I feel you have the perfect smile,” I grinned back, wondering if it looked hideous as usual.

“I see that in your eyes, so why did you ask me to meet,” she asked with more than a hint of mock. “Didnt we decide we hate each other.”

“Yes, but then I thought of you debating as if you wanted to win wars, and all that you said compelled me to prove you were wrong,” I blurted out, which to an extent was the truth. I never like to concede defeat in an argument, no one does.

“Ah that sounds typical, but you should have done that when I was in a mood to argue,” she said with a more natural smile.

“Well..” I paused to find the right words.

“But,” she continued, “you were drunk, all you wanted to do then was kiss me rather than prove me wrong, so not just the rights to kiss but you lost your chance to refute, forever!”.

“Ah, so you remember me trying to kiss and don’t remember us kissing.” I winked, or I think I did as I strained to remember what had really happened.

“Nice try,” she laughed, “I never drink beyond the flirty pegs, but wait, you think I forgot your kiss. Are you that bad?” she said stifling a giggle.

I didn’t actually remember what happened that night, except that I wasn’t really drunk when the discussion and the alleged attempt to kiss ensued. Maybe she looked more attractive than now, but once the girls and their not so girly escorts were gone and so was the booze, we went hunting for more. What follows usually is waking up in a place that’s usually not my bed and with no memory of how I got there.

I realized I was looking up at the poetically azure sky filled with some errant clouds only to find her expecting eyes staring at me.

“Fine, it was lame and I m convinced we didn’t, but I have been honing my skills in that area lately. Why do I feel like you are flirting with me more than I think I must be doing here.” She looked for a second as if to think, and burst out in a hearty laugh.

Just then the phone rang as if coming to rescue her from the conversation. A wave of concern enveloped her comely face, which only rose as the call went on. I sipped my coffee and checked out the people on other tables, the usual ensemble of girls with a guy sprinkled here and there.

“I have to go,” she said snapping me out of my scan, got up and rushed out in a blur.


2

Besides this conversation and her hearty laugh, now that I am trying to recall what I felt when I saw her for the first time, in sober state, it feels like an event in the haze, one that clouds the northern plains she belonged to. It is the haze in the winter days just after the sun wins over the fog. Her face was like the same sun breaking through the mist that had built up from years of me becoming a virtual recluse, I think it was two years since Kavya broke up to marry a guy from her school days. The painful part of it was that she was not in love with this guy, but she always wanted an arranged marriage for some twisted reason. Whenever I enquired, I got the same answer – “it’s the same twisted reason why I choose to live with you”. But that’s me paraphrasing her answer, hers were more prolific with words, ones that didn’t include the word twisted.

No one could argue with that, and I felt it wise not to engage in an argument with someone you shared the room with. Aditi, the girl I am talking about, was good to argue with, I think she was wearing some nondescript colored clothes, she was neither pretty nor sexy, neither fair-skinned nor dusky, to sum it up there was nothing remarkable about her appearance, except the round face. Her face was a perfect circle, and it was not easy on my part to control the urge to verify this theory. The thing I vividly remember of her appearance was the expression that went over her face as she saw me smiling, or rather as I grinned out of my failure to smile. This expression which made appearance more than once during our talk didn’t last a second, but it’s engraved in my memory. I have tried giving words to the expression, and the best I could come up with is how one feels seeing a piece of cheesecake after one had many rounds of jalebi dipped in thick rabri.

Almost a year later, I was with friends and having jalebi at Haldirams when I saw her, and this time she looked stunning. Maybe she did something about her looks, her dress or it was just me happy to see the familiar round face, the end result was stunning. I started walking towards her with my grin, which is less hideous when I m not on a date, and was just a few steps away when the expression on her face changed from prettiness to a shade of sourly disgust. It then dawned upon me that she was part of a crowd which seemed to be well connected, a connection now enhanced by their common interest at that moment, me. I resumed my approach after a moment of hesitation and asked how she was.

Instead of answering me, she looked around and answered the gathering in general, announcing that I’m an old friend. This made my grin extend a few millimeters because I liked being an old friend of pretty girls. The happiness was short-lived though, like most happy moments, as a taller and good-looking guy came forward with resounding confidence. He grabbed my hand and asked me to join them, an invitation I refused with a blank expression and looked questioningly at Aditi. She appeared to have gone into a standing coma with a weird expression that didn’t suit her face making me realize that it was a cue for me to withdraw.


3

Next day she called up and asked me to come to the same place we met for our first date, or was it a date I still wonder. In any case I was happy like a bumblebee since it had been a while since I went on a date, I would have said yes to anything. In my excitement and lack of any reasonable purpose in life, I reached the venue much earlier than the appointed time. The crowd looked the usual, girls in pairs or bigger groups, or a guy on date with a talking girl. The only change I noticed was the girls looked fatter and more chirpy. What is it that they talk about incessantly, I was wondering when something hit me on the head. I looked up at the sky in reflex, which looked back at me tranquil if not depressive as it basked in the orange glow of the setting sun.

“Lost in yourself, as always,” she almost screamed in my ears and laughed.

“Are you like this with everyone or do I get the credits of bringing out these brilliant acts,” I said recovering from the auditory assault.

“Don’t be grumpy, no girl would date you besides me. Ruby told me about your breakup and the sad status, but wasn’t that years back?” she winked.

“Yes, women run the society, I know, while we men think we are the superior kind.”

“Ok stop there, I know you will get on one of those philosophical trips of yours, I still remember the night you tried to kiss when you fell short of arguments,” she giggled.

“I am getting married to Akash, remember the guy you shook your syrupy hands with.” She said faster than her usual pace and looked seriously at me, as if expecting a response that she had already accounted for.

I, on my part was disappointed with the news, or maybe at her, or myself. Disappointment though doesn’t care about the people, it is usually more arrogant than failure. She looked the same, unremarkable, like a girl you would skip checking out even when there is not another in sight. At the same time she was one of the few girls with whom I felt a sense of freedom, and for some reason there was always an air of intrigue around her.

“Congrats, the guy is handsome, you deserve better though,” I said after a while, which must have been too long because she looked impatient.

“What do you mean better, and he has asked me to invite you to the wedding,” she still had the foreboding, impatient look.

“Ok, I m good at attending weddings, everyone seems to be getting hitched these days. So, when is it happening?” I tried to look interested.

“Not sure, they are doing the astrology stuff to decide on the dates. I am in no hurry anyways.”

“Ah does that mean I get to meet the prospective bride again?” I attempted a wink, which must have failed miserably because she looked offended.

She kept staring at my face with the straw in her mouth. I stared back to locate a red spot in her eye, a mole on her neck and her not so impressive breasts.

“Stop checking me out!” she was saying.

I grinned, “you didn’t answer.”

“Yes, we can meet but let me tell you about Akash who you clearly seem to be very interested in,” she said looking all serious, and that she did. Girls are taught from birth not to give options to others, there is just one and you have to take it, a theory I have formed based on statistics. She went on and on about his job, how he worked out every day, his family, even the latest movies he liked, and more. I listened and interjected when she was dragging on a point, sometimes its fun to detect run on sentences.

The phone rang, this time mine to save me from the Akash onslaught. I made it look more urgent than what it really was about and left. On the way I realized my knowledge of Akash now surpassed my knowledge of Aditi.

Unlike what we had decided, I didn’t meet her for a few months after that. Then one day coming out of a liquor shop I met Akash. I waved but he just looked through me. I was not to be deterred and went up to him and started introducing myself. He on his part interrupted and said Aditi and he broke up, the marriage never happened. He walked away, deciding against the planned trip to the shop. I called her immediately and heard the familiar high-pitched voice. She didn’t sound gloomy like Akash, and almost ordered me to meet at our familiar date place.

Part 2

4

Almost every Saturday afternoon during winter, Nikhil and I would sit in our balcony of the second floor flat we rented and watch the girl with abnormally long hair massacre them. This hair combing ritual had an effect on Nikhil that I am sure he too never figured out, he would sit still with an unblinking eye as if in a trance, not a single muscle of his body moving. He was always treading the line between being crazy and being weird, which made it easy for him to dismiss my questions on the subject with a half-hearted wave of hand. I, on the other hand, was born with a scientific predisposition that made me struggle to find something reasonable about his behavior. To add to my confusion he showed no interest in her if she was found in any other state, which was quite often because we lived next door. I remember talking to the girl, which in my case meant going beyond the smiles and the hellos. I also remember suppressing my urge to ask her if she noticed us watching her comb. I liked this afternoon activity because besides the occasional glimpse of her ample cleavage there was an inherent sensuousness to the scene. As in most cases of sensuous phenomena I could never find the exact reasoning, maybe it was rooted in the length and darkness of hair, the pretty facial features, hair covering part of her face or maybe because of the voyeurism in the act. The nature of sensuousness is that it makes you more aware of yourself, which contradicted with Nikhil’s lost in the scene attitude.

I was thus lost in contemplation and trying to define the differences between sensuousness and eroticism when my phone rang and both of us were wrenched out of our reverie and back to acting like guys who don’t have the appetite to do anything worthwhile after a Saturday lunch. It was Aditi on the phone, which came as a surprise because she never called to just talk. It was always the authoritative tone asking me to meet her at a predestined place at a predetermined time. The surprise factor today was that it was a Saturday and she never went out on weekends, the reason why she wouldn’t go out on weekends was a mystery that I had learnt to live with along with many such peculiarities which I assumed had something to do with being a female of the species.

I took the call after this briefest of pauses and found her in the middle of a sentence, “…you must be with Nikhil watching the hairy one comb,” she sounded irritated as she continued, “get a life, and on that subject meet me tonight at 7 for dinner.”

“Great!” I cut her off, my curiosity taking over the prospects of a Saturday night date, which throughout the history of mankind has always led to progression in intimacy. In our case the next step was a kiss, which evidently never happened in the booze party with which this tale started, or in any of the consecutive dates.

“How come you are asking me out on a Saturday, you must be getting desperate for the kiss. You know the one that lingers in the air, lately, when we are together.” A very smart thing to say I figured to set the mood, and in my little triumph I winked at Nikhil who was staring past me or most likely listening closely. The cigarette in his mouth didn’t seem to be lighted either.

“Cut the small talk and save your kissing bravado for the girls who might fall for such humor,” she said in a flat voice that made the whole kiss joke seem lame. She then proceeded to tell the name of the restaurant and asked me not to worry if I checked out the details of the place since it was her treat.

Before I could ask the occasion she disconnected. It was a mutual agreement, as were all agreements she came up with that I was never to call her up. Unlike the other mutually agreed rules of engagement, this suited me well because I wasn’t obliged to call if she didn’t for days. I never mastered the art of talking on phone, not that I ever tried. Also, the etiquettes of phone calls when you are dating a girl are complex and I had seen Nikhil struggling to figure that out even after a year into a much stable and intimately successful relationship.

“She is using you man!” Nikhil said in the muffled voice he produced with a cigarette in mouth. “You just need to learn to say no,” he continued, “or learn to make her say yes. Learning is important in all aspects of life, but its most essential in a relationship. Otherwise the relationship floats without purpose like a boat in a placid lake.”

“What the fuck, what boat in lake, are you smoking weed?”

“Never mind the boat and lake, you call her up and say you can’t do it tonight,” he said with a finality that was unlike him. He was born a chronic quitter, exemplified by the way he just gave up on his boat in the placid lake.

“No, I am not doing anything of that sort,” I declared, still looking at him with suspicion. “Tonight is the night we are going to kiss, and with the beer or probably wine, she hinted it was an expensive restaurant. So yeah, you never know what will ensue after she experiences my kissing skills.”

“That’s never gonna happen because she is using you. I don’t understand why you can’t see such an obvious thing, you are just a filler till she finds another worthy guy to get married to.” He looked at me for acknowledgement and finding none went on, “Ok don’t say anything to her but don’t go, let her have a taste of what it is like to wait. You are going with me tonight.”

Again, the finality in voice made me realize for the first time since I met Nikhil that he might actually have some ambition in life, unlike me.

“Ok, and what mission have you signed me into,” I asked with my best sarcastic face.

“I am going to dump Priya, and need one more person because I won’t know what I will do if she starts crying, loudly. I have seen her bawl, man! it’s embarrassing.” The cigarette was still not lighted, which now I had figured out was because Nikhil was nervous.

“Oh.. and what the fuck will I do if she starts crying, I am sure you will flee leaving me with her if that happens. But more importantly, why are you dumping her, you guys were like the perfect couple?”

“No couple is perfect, it’s just a facade to keep you from falling in love with more people than you could manage. I realized over time that she is not my type, also I suspect she might be faking it, which makes her a liar.”

“It’s ok, I never judge, but are you sure about this?”

“Never been more sure and thanks for coming,” he concluded the conversation by lighting up the smoke.

I thought over and realized I had never witnessed a guy dumping a girl, my case was in the reverse order. Brilliant that I always have been, I solved both problems and convinced Nikhil to do it in the same restaurant. Aditi would be paying, also he will have a girl to handle his potentially bawling and broken up girlfriend. We could both flee the scene. I marveled at my skills in problem solving after Nikhil agreed to the plan and called up Priya to tell the place and time for dump. For a guy going to dump his girlfriend, he looked calm and composed and sounded the same.


5

We were getting in the car when Nikhil’s phone buzzed. He looked at the phone for a moment which lasted more than a moment. The call was brief, and as we started Nikhil told that Priya is bringing her friend too and he couldn’t say no, it just had to happen tonight. This made me nervous because now Aditi will have to pay for more people, or maybe she won’t which would only make it worse. Nikhil was mostly silent during the drive and I kept quiet to give him space to practice the dumping routine. For once I was more interested in this event than meeting Aditi on Saturday night, a first of its kind date with her.

I was still parking the car when he shot out of the car and was gone in a blur. As I got out, I saw him with a bunch of people standing at the parking gate. At closer proximity, the bunch turned out to be two girls and a guy. Nikhil seem to be engaged in a heated debate with Priya while the strangers held hands and it looked as if they were squinting into each other’s eyes. Since I didn’t know if Nikhil was already doing it, without wasting a second I walked up to them and said hello. Priya looked jolly, which allayed my fear of losing out on the scene, and introduced her friend and friend’s fiancé, Aditya.

“Sorry for the late intimation, but my dad won’t allow me to go out alone at nights. I could convince him by dragging Aditya along, he is good company.” Priya’s friend answered with a dash of pride to my bewildered look at Aditya, Nikhil and back.

With the introductory issues settled, the five of us entered the restaurant. It looked dark and a woman wearing even more dark popped up from the dark air asking if we had a reservation. When I told we are with Aditi and she made the reservation, our dark dressed woman looked at us with the typical doubt ridden femme eyes and probably approved, because she directed another dark attired but younger woman to escort us to a table. There was music coming from the roof, more beats than music but one can tell bad music from the faintest of the sounds. We were settling in the cozy chairs when Aditi arrived, looked at the crew and looked at me with questioning eyes. I decided against explaining the circumstances that made the two people treat now a six people one and grinned instead. Priya got up and hugged Aditi, which brought back the pleasant smile that always went well with her round face.

Priya went on to explain the presence of her friend in conspiring tone, and the presence of Aditya in louder, announcing tone. I could see Aditi’s eyes light up at the news of the two getting married and she was immediately friends with the duo asking them questions that mostly made more sense than the answers that were offered. I looked at the silently fidgeting Nikhil who caught up with me and directed my attention to Aditi, still engrossed in wedding conversation. Nikhil was bad at doing the “I told you so” look but I got the gist. As a fitting reply I interrupted the talks and announced, “Nikhil has something to say,” I paused for effect, “something to say to Priya.”

Nikhil glared at me and turned to Priya in an extremely slow motion who looked at him confused. In a hushed tone that he wasn’t capable of, he embarked on the speech.

“You have been the best girlfriend any guy could get, you are smart, sexy, intelligent..”

“Wait, are you breaking up with me,” Priya cut him off and looked at him as if he just committed a grave crime.

“Well,” Nikhil fumbled for the right words and said “yes, I was. Stop interrupting me.”

“Oh I see, and you got your friend so he could witness your brave act.”

“No he was invited by Aditi, I thought it a better idea to do it in an expensive place.” Nikhil grinned.

“Ok, but I got my friend along because I wasn’t sure how you would react once I broke up with you tonight. This relationship needs to be aborted right now, stop grinning like an idiot.”

They kept staring at each other for some time, for me it was like a tennis match. The grin on Nikhil’s face was gone and replaced by the straight face mirroring the same look on Priya.

“So, you want to break up too? You could have told me on phone and saved me all the trouble.” It was now Nikhil’s turn to acquire the accusative tone, and he continued, “but wait, what did you think I would do, cry like you?”

Priya laughed, “you never know. Have you ever been dumped?”

“See? This is the problem with you, you are never serious.”

“As if you are,” Priya looked at us and realized there were more people around, and still looking at us said, “we should continue this discussion when there are fewer people.” To which Nikhil gladly agreed. He was still looking at Priya, and I suspect it was with awe.

With the break-up broken up before it matured, my attention found its way back to Aditi who looked happy.

“What’s the occasion, how did you manage saturday night, why such expensive place,” I had many more questions.

“Occasion is I resigned and starting something on my own, will give you details later. It’s such a brilliant idea you will blow out of your mind. Wait, I am upset with you inviting this medley of jokers.”

“I wanted your treat to get bigger, and see it’s a party now,” I grinned, “You are still paying, right?”

Just then the waiter came and we ordered drinks, being last order of happy hours Nikhil and Priya overdid their orders. Priya’s friend and Aditya were discussing the menu still. I went for the same non-alchoholic drink that Aditi ordered. She had quit alcohol. After her wedding was called off and we moved on from coffee joints to pubs, she used to drink like a drunk fish. But then, for no apparent reason one fine day she quit. The reason for my sacrifice of beer was that I still had the kissing thing in mind and didn’t want to risk the smell of beer as a deterrent.

The drinks order was followed by discussion on the music that was playing upstairs, we didn’t see anyone going up the stairs though. So the conclusion was – if there was a party in progress it must have had started much before.

“How’s work, why do you stick to a job you don’t enjoy,” Aditi asked. She was in the mood typical of people who have recently quit their jobs. They tend to question others of their choices, life, universe and almost everything you don’t want to discuss.

“I know it’s pointless, but I don’t care, sometimes it’s nice to go with the flow. But you know that about me.”

“Are you insinuating at our relationship?” Aditi asked with the most solemn face she and continued, “because if you are it’s just too good and precious to me. I don’t want to ruin it by a kiss that supposedly lingers in the air. Also, I know why you are not taking beer.”

More than heartbroken I was curious at the theory. “Why would a kiss ruin our relationship, especially when there isn’t one in the first place to ruin. Most relationships on the contrary are conceived by a kiss.”

“I meant,” Aditi said with the same serious voice, “let’s not ruin such a friendship over a kiss.”

“A friendship! Ah, Nikhil was saying that you use me as a filler while you wait for a groom charming, is this true?” I never believed in keeping things in the closet, especially when I was desperate.

Aditi looked at Nikhil with cold scrutinizing eyes. “You believe Nikhil, a guy who brings a friend for support to dump his girl. Look at him now, one moment he is doing a shoddy job at breaking up and the next he is serenading to her.”

“It’s not that I am judging your friend, and I never said I wasn’t interested in ruining our friendship, it’s just that I feel I might end up in love.” She said in such a matter of fact tone that I missed the import of the statement.

As the implication dawned upon me it was too late and she was looking at Nikhil and Priya who were engaged in a hushed up conversation and were sitting more close to each other than what the chairs would have allowed. Her friend and Aditya were still discussing menu, most likely the food. I didn’t notice anything romantic about this couple except that they never argued, and arguing I always felt was one of the most romantic things to do.

My thoughts on the nature of romanticism and future prospects with Aditi were interrupted by a police siren and the restaurant being flooded with cops in a flash. We all looked at each other clueless, yet excited, at least I was.

Part 3

6

The cops moved around like a swarm of bees around a disturbed hive. Some went upstairs, a few were crowding the dark dressed lady who looked as calm as she was when we walked into the restaurant. Every table was manned by a cop now and the one who was given the charge of ours seemed to be disappointed in us. He looked around but never said a word. Nikhil however ventured to ask him about the state of affairs, a relevant question in the circumstances but which drew an unabashed and an almost glorious yawn from the guy. I decided to do a better job, driven more by the yawning attitude of the cop than any intention of demystifying the development. I was just opening my mouth to speak when there was a sudden outbreak of commotion upstairs and a barrage of footsteps. The sound of stampede mixed with feminine screaming made it seem more ominous than what we would have wanted to believe.

We were all glued to our seats watching the stairs which now came to hurried life, chased by angry lawmen. The cops standing at the tables, with bellies that would shame even the most conceited pots, now ran to the door in a sprint I never thought they were capable of. Some of the party animals though, wearing clothes that covered the whole spectrum of colors managed to escape. The unlucky ones were held while women from upstairs were as clueless on what action to embark on as were the cops who were all men. So the most reasonable thing the women decided to do was to run randomly among the tables and occasionally scream.

The whole scene, though bizarre, entered a rut and my interest was gradually transitioning from dumbstruck to a stuck-with-the-dumb state. This deadlock was momentarily broken by the arrival of sniffer dogs who instead of being let to sniff were shown the way upstairs by the leash holders. The advent of dogs distracted everyone and the guy held by his collar by our yawning cop shed his collar like a lizard would shed its tail sensing a way out of danger. This brilliant idea of lizard analogy was inspired by the way his eyes bulged from the rest of the face. Bulging, bloodshot but overtly alert, the eyes scanned around for signs of prey only to settle on me. I was midway with my flinching, when the guy moved with alarming speed and grabbed the table knife in his left hand and Aditi in his right.

The knife was pinned to Aditi’s neck making her sit still and like all the others on our table my eyes were switching at a breakneck speed between lizard-eyes, the knife and Aditi. The next best thing to look at in that moment I figured was our cop, who I found holding the shed collar and looking at lizard-eyes with a queer amusement and no inclination in any kind of movement on his part. It was thus my turn to act the hero and save my girl, I could already imagine all the eyes on me. I was the gladiator in the ring, except here it was a table and I was no valiant warrior in disguise. Everyone looked at me as I got up slowly, everyone except Aditi who was trying to look at the knife pressed against her throat. I did the get-up-slowly sequence intending to bring some flair and more importantly because I lacked any plan of action. Help immediately came in the shape of when-in-doubt-punch-the-face strategy and without taking my eyes off lizard-eyes I aimed one on his face with all the force I could muster. The punch would have been an unforgettable achievement in my life if had been successful in finding the intended face. It was lost in thin air though, because at the last moment our villain decided to pass out, the soft sound of his fall was contrasted by the sound of the laughter that escaped Priya. Aditi, who looked flustered and irresolute stood up, looked at Priya with disgust and hugged me. This event propelled Nikhil to burst out laughing, but unlike Priya who was giggling now, he managed to say something, the gist of which was we two are equally hopeless and that lizard-eyes should have gone for the fork instead.

Our yawning cop came to life and asked Aditi if she was ok. He then went on and told the air above us that we were part of a busted rave party. There is nothing to fear from the party people because they are high with chemicals that even the sniffer dogs won’t smell. Even before he ended the denouement, a black canine was sniffing Nikhil’s balls who now had the looks similar to that of a ghost realizing for the first time he is dead. The sniffer dog’s cop then asked Nikhil to empty his pockets bringing relief to Nikhil’s face since he realized the dog wasn’t interested in his nuts. But to our surprise and dismay, out came five joints in perfect condition even after being in his pockets for hours. Nikhil always impressed me with these tricks which I am sure only a few could accomplish.

The ensuing consultation between our benevolent yawning cop and canine wielding cop concluded with exchanges of high-handed smirking. We were informed that we would be accompanying the party people to the police station for further proceeding. Before most of us could comprehend this new development and react, Priya’s friend burst out crying. A cry that was so feral and shrill that I thought it would wake up the still flattened out lizard-eyes on the floor. We all turned in that direction only to find Aditya consoling her, himself in teary eyes. Nikhil though, ignoring the cries started arguing with cops on legality of carrying marijuana when Aditi declared she is calling her dad to sort out the affair.

After a hushed up and a surprisingly quick call she assured us that we are not going to any police station. I had experienced this – being in control, being on top of situation voice of Aditi before, but others on the table looked at her with disbelieving eyes. Nikhil, taking advantage of this confusion, carefully and without attracting attention pocketed back the joints. He looked at me with a mischievous grin and explained the post break up celebratory purpose of the same. Aditi wouldn’t reveal details about her superdad and his plans in rescuing us innocent victims. My question regarding Aditi’s dad were different though, as I wondered if and when we would be able to kiss tonight. Will her dad take her with him or will she go in her own car. These questions remained questions in my head as we heard more sirens outside.

The white kurta clad man who entered looked important, there was an air of confidence mixed with disinterest in that confidence hovering above him. He nodded at Aditi and talked to a cop, one who suddenly started behaving like the leader of the gang. I always marveled at how these seemingly important people spotted their peers instantaneously. After a few minutes of discussion, Aditi’s dad came to our table and asked her about the friend. An awkwardly smiling Aditi pointed at me which he acknowledged with a conspiratorial nod. I was offered an enveloping hand to shake and asked if I would mind leaving the company of my friends for a while. Clueless, I looked around for support but was offered blank faces and the remnants of Aditi’s smile. Having no excuse that would rescue me, I joined kurta-dad on the way out of the restaurant.

“Beta, kyu karte ho ye sab?” he started as soon as we were out of the door. I realized this guy valued time and had none to spare.

“But what did I do,” I uttered confused, only to add a little too late, “sir?”

“Aditi has been telling all good things about you but first time we meet, you are caught with drugs and getting my little girl in trouble.”

“Oh, we were not doing drugs, there was a party upstairs. We were here for dinner.”

“Well that’s not what I was informed by the inspector, who by the way is a very honest cop. If he listens to me, which might happen tonight, it’s because I am an honest man myself.”

“I was not carrying any drugs,” I insisted, not listening to the disclaimers on honesty, “nor did I do drugs, ever. You may ask Aditi.”

“Of course she will support your claim,” he said, the tone now getting edgy. “That is exactly what we need to discuss here, all this boyfriend and dating stuff doesn’t suit a girl from our family. It needs to stop, also she needs to marry Akash.”

“I don’t think she wants to marry Akash, or for that matter anyone as of now,” the mention of Akash brought back the hero again. “Also, we are simply friends, I am not Aditi’s boyfriend.”

“Well that’s great then, let’s cut to the chase. She has been behaving weird since she broke up the marriage, exactly around the time you two started being simply friends. She has quit her job and wants to do something that none in my party understand. So I offer you this deal, the one you must not refuse.”

He looked at me with assessing eyes, and I did spot a wave of doubt pass over his face as he stated the terms of the deal.

“You stop being simply friends with my girl and none of you will be indicted tonight. Alternatively, you may continue messing with my girl’s mind, but only when you are acquitted of the charges for supplying drugs to rave parties.”

I looked at his face for a laugh, or even hints of a mocking smile but he remained as emotionless as a boiled egg.

“It has the sounds of an offer no sane person can refuse,” I said still looking into his eyes, still hopeful. But nothing changed in the firm face, and I gave up.

We shook hands, while his men fetched Aditi who left with a faint wave at me and an apologetic smile that every time I think of, still manages to make me fall in love with her, the girl with the round face.

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