The elbow in the ribs really hurt. I turned on the perpetrator with a face that was a mixture of pain and rage; only to find a simple looking spectacled petite woman of middling twenties in a sari. She was struggling with a couple of parcels with elbows out. She had stopped and said “I am sorry, please excuse me” her eyes full of concern. The anger dissipated just as quickly on account of her state and apology but the ache remained. “Oh it’s nothing”, the manners coming to the forefront, “Can I help you with that?” Looking at her shiny face, beaded with sweat, which had a bright red sticker bindi flush in the centre of a wide forehead. The relief on her face was palpable, “Would you really? If it’s not too much out of the way, my car is parked there.” said she nodding towards the end of the by lane.
I eased the larger one of the two, out of her right hand, and gasped, oh boy!!! it was heavy. “What do you have in here stones?" She laughed and her otherwise plain even featured face split into a charming sight. Up close she seemed older than his immediate estimate, more early thirties than twenties. "Will you want this other one, its lighter?" Grudgingly had to refuse and huffed along with her. "Its only rice, the local mall had a sale and it is a Basmati Rice 15kg pack with some sundry sugar and grain all totaling about 20 odd kg’s". “Women and the Sale sign…what is the connection between them?" I wondered and did not realize had muttered it aloud. She laughed hard, "You have to be born one to know the attraction, its fatal" said she. “You must have an army to feed at home to need this. To which she said "Why? no I live by myself. We Bengalis favour rice quite a lot; don’t you South Indians like it too?”
I looked at her again; Though I had suspected, was not sure hence searched for the specific Bengali signs on her. The slightly spread out face was there, The frame though petite had enhanced curves cleverly hidden in a cotton sari the kind Bengali women prefer (Calcutta cotton as they are called at least they had not gone renaming even their sari’s as Kolkata..thank god for that), the mouth was bow shaped and generous with the lower lip a bit fuller, I saw them now, else the signs were not overt. Her speech certainly did not carry a typical Bong accent. “Oh we coastal Maharashtrian’s love it too”, said I “at least the rest of the family back home in Pune do, but I like my roti’s and chapatti’s better”. “I never would have guessed you for a Marathi boy” she frankly said, “figured you out to be a South Indian. Guess I was wrong”.
Smilingly I said a lot others think so too. Am dark of complexion with wavy hair, sported a thick moustache & having lived amongst Tamilians all my life my speech was afflicted with a lot of Tamil residual words in the spoken language. “What da?”Would be the natural expression of choice;let alone the spicier swear words where instinctively instead of “Abbey Saaley or something even stronger” would scream “Mairaa *****”. We had reached her car and she kept the parcel on the bonnet and fished out her key and opened the door. I dropped the parcel inside.
She turned around and holding out her hand said “Thank you, very much, I am Devika Mukhopadhyay”. "Varun Kirloskar"said I taking her hand, “Painfully glad to have met you”, said I rubbing my ribs meaningfully. “Stop it you scamp, you already are making me feel bad about it without having to lay it on so thick. The way you exaggerate you should be in advertising”. I burst out laughing, “You are super, this one is bang on, and I am a content writer on the web in the agency I work with and you?” “I am a banker” and she named the French Bank where she was the Deputy GM. If you are not getting late to wherever can I repay you by offering you a cup of Coffee? Hmmm…A Coffee would be nice, sure. She locked up the car and we started towards the cafe nearby.
It was the festive season approaching and there was a sizable crowd around the market. I was walking behind her when she was jostled. This time being prepared I held up my arms and caught her by the shoulders as she bumped back into me, Her shoulder was square and the muscle beneath my palm was toned and warm, not so the mildly sweat soaked blouse which was cool. Something soft brushed against my front and felt the heat all the way to my ears. It was her well rounded posterior. Dropped my hand like a scalded cat before she realized the effect she had on me, I commented to hide my confusion “Whoa!!! A strong experienced shopper like you who can carry tons of grain and smartly elbow people out of the way is not allowed to stumble you know. She giggled “Varun, are you always like this, teasing anyone? & then again why should I now worry about the crowd when I have such a smart companion to take care of my occasional stumble” she said with a toss of her head.
I looked at her “Was she flirting with me?” Nahh, I was imagining things and let it slide as we came to the Coffee shop and slipped inside into the air conditioned section as the open air one was packed. We did make a curious pair, unmatched as we were in age, attire & even approach but we had an easy conversation flowing between us now as we continued fishing about each other. College kids were sitting about us sprinkled with a few mature faces. She was direct in her communication and straight away asked me how old are you Varun, 26 said I and the “foot in the mouth disease” that afflicts me didn’t even bother thinking “and you?” She just raised an eyebrow as I sheepishly realized my gaffe and waved my hand ‘delete the question” “39 running I shall be 40 next month” said she. “Wow” you certainly don’t look it, she smiled, and how old did you think I was? “I leaned forward and conspiratorially started as she too leaned forward across the small round plastic table; her starched sari had slipped giving the glimpse of a full cleavage. My pulse was racing, I thought you would be just about 53 years, 7 months and 21 days as i held back my smile. Her eyes flashed with temper when she realized that she had fallen for it. But it was gone in a second and pinching my nose hard she said ‘Idiot’. The waiter came across and we ordered a Huge Hot Java for her and a tall glass of Long Island Iced Tea for me.
It was a Friday evening and around seven or thereabouts. The café was filling up and the kids were raising a hullabaloo as only college kids can in large groups. Smilingly we looked at them, “oh for those carefree college days” said she and I nodded. You mustn’t be too far out of one though, said she. Had finished by BA Eng Litt major and had stopped as becoming a lecturer was not what I aimed for, I told her. The internet was where the action was, the demand for writers was there and with nothing better on hand, I tried my luck and became good at it. It has been a good 5 years now and am considered a veteran in my field. So what next then, Marriage? she probed. No re, not a chance, I like my independence too much right now to tamper with it. An apartment had been top on my agenda, which had just been acquired through a bank loan. A vehicle was the next milestone. Good, thats sensible, said she and i saw the banker in her nodding.
And why are you single yet? Before she could answer our order came to the table and she quietly looked at me and then she suddenly smiled. I aimed to be a career woman, got all my education in place and worked hard and never stopped running. Parents kept asking but the next promotion or project was always around the corner and before I realized it am a single old maid. Who would marry me now? “Bullshit” said I, what age-fage you talking…You are an attractive smart achiever and had I been in the market would have snapped you up like this , actioning the words with the fingers, provided of course you would have me. The women do have the right to veto, I said with a wink. She spluttered with laughter in her coffee cup. Then dabbing her lips with a tissue wiping off the coffee moustache she gave me a mock once over. Hmmm lets see, you may just make the mark and laughingly we settled back in our chairs looking at each other. Sparks were flying between us definitely as I felt the atmosphere carrying the peculiar zing when mating animals circle each other sniffing the air. I smiled to myself at the thought of me sniffing around her backside like a canine and she started speaking.
"Actually you know, men are scared of women achievers and on top of it when they don’t want the traditional things even their immediate family networks look at them suspiciously rather than support". I agreed with her and told her it is foolish but true. "I have a lady boss and an extremely capable one at that and she is my editor. At work we have no problems but some of my peers don’t like reporting to her simply on account of her gender and that in my opinion is abject silly. They are missing out on her experience and the learning she brings to the table. I am a better professional today on account of her", said I. "She is a professional for crissakes, when she doesn’t bring her home to office why should someone else?" This came out rather passionately because somewhere always lived by this credo. She said that’s good but unusual, the more normal scenario is seen in the matrimonial advertisements. Observe those and you shall get the drift, she should be qualified, smart, working but not earning more than the man and be returning home in time to make dinner. Subjugate her life and identity to the man and his family, become a child producing factory such that she is kept busy with his lineage. Is that all there is?
And I nodded as she had given voice to the same misgivings I had on typical expectations. "With very few men I would even be able to share this and even they would not agree. Possibly that’s why I am single yet", she said with a rueful smile. I quipped "maybe you were just waiting for me to be born. Till then you had to be by yourself and your parcels in this market elbowing people to check which of them was me all these years..huh? "Wah wah" said she and we kept the conversation going with laughter and I was wishing the evening to stretch endlessly.
"Devika you are a find for me" spontaneously had taken up her right hand in mine lifted it and tapping her elbow, "whoever thought that this would put me in touch with a rare friend". She actually blushed but kept her hand in mine and asked "What are you doing later now, any engagement for dinner or do you have to go home to family?" "Hey its an empty apartment that awaits and nope if you are cooking, I am pretty handy in the kitchen". "Come on then" she said calling for the bill "And don’t go all macho on me now and offer to pay, it was my invite".
We got up and started walking back and when the crowded streets pushed us onto each other my hand had crept companionably around her shoulder. As we reached the car her elbow was digging into my ribs yet again, this time though the sensation was quite different.