Posted in fiction

Love Actually…

She looked at the electronic board that said eleven minutes, pleased that the next train would take so long. No one else on this crowded platform would echo that sentiment. They were all wearing that bored commuter expression and, really, which office-goer in their right mind would not have preferred to use their eleven minutes to grab forty extra winks or a second cup of coffee or even an egg on toast? Besides, that nice Mr. E. Sreedharan had promised that there would be no more than twelve minutes between trains. He had always seemed like a man of his word. Eleven was not only cutting it a bit fine but also making a bit of a joke of such commitments, wasn’t it?
Nevertheless, Anu was as pleased as it was possible to be on such a horrible morning. No, she was not crazy to rejoice in a delayed train but eleven minutes was sure going to be useful in testing Srikant’s love for her.
Granted, he was still in his kurta-pyjama when she’d stormed off, half-way through his shave, but, if he decided that she was more important than his shave, toweled off the lather and quickly pulled on some clothes, it wouldn’t take him any more than three minutes to follow her down to the metro station. Why, he didn’t even need to change out of his kurta-pyjama to dash behind her, really, for wasn’t that how it was done in all those movies they watched together, curled up on their sofa? Okay, in Hollywood rom-coms, they sometimes showed the hero taking time to pull on a jacket before running after the heroine but that was only because it was usually winter in Hollywood films and film-scripts demanded all that time-delay and tension stuff anyway. This, however, was not New York or New Hampshire in mid-winter but monsoonal Delhi so the question of shilly-shallying over coats and catching cold by running in the snow etc etc did not arise at all. Coming to think of it, Srikant had not even been wearing one of his usual torn pyjamas but that green cotton set she had got him from Fabindia only a few months ago. So he didn’t even need to change his clothes before running after her.
Anu scanned the crowd, hoping to spot that familiar mop of black hair bobbing across towards her, dramatically parting this sea of people like Moses and the Red Sea in that Charlton Heston film she had seen as a kid. Such a lovely image, really: Srikant running in long loping strides towards her and people stepping back in a choreographed Mexican wave because everyone, young and old, liked nothing better than watching young lovers getting reunited in slow-mo.
Before that, however, it was worth planning, seriously, how she should greet Srikant if/when he did turn up here. The options were many. She could either play it really cool, arching her eyebrows and waiting for him to apologise. Better still, grovel. Which he really, really did need to do, if one was being completely fair about this (I mean, how dare he call her a bloody, stubborn Mallu). The other option would be to cry a little, just a delicate drop or two coursing down one cheek so he would know better than to hurt her so heartlessly next time round. And then, of course, there was that ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ option, which was to graciously meet Srikant halfway on that marathon slow-mo run, throw herself into his arms and, with music breaking out over their heads, allow everyone on the platform to share in their joy a la A. R. Rehman. Not breaking into a dance number necessarily (that uncle over there carrying a briefcase would make a terrible backing dancer, without a doubt, worse even than her dad). But it really would be fab if people made their delight palpable in other, more subtle ways, like smiling and nodding approvingly or hugging each other and wiping away a tear or two of their own.
Anu looked at the metro map in her hand again, squiggles of yellow intersecting with squiggles of red and green. She hoped there would be no confusion in Srikant’s stupid head about which metro station she was headed for because she had discussed the whole thing with him at dinner last night, telling him that ‘Saket’ really should have been called ‘Saidulajab’ and ‘Malviya Nagar’ ‘Saket’, saying at least twice that – despite the name – it was the one named ‘Malviya Nagar’ that would be nearest their Saket flat. So, if he had been listening as he chomped his way through his rotis, he would definitely know in which metro station to find her. If find her was what he wanted to do, that is … Anu was starting to have her doubts as the digital clock ticked down to 7 minutes.
She had even, semi-deliberately, taken longer than usual to get her smartcard topped up, stopping to ask the man behind the counter why they had gone and called the ‘Saket’ station ‘Malviya Nagar’, chatting to him in a more-than-usually friendly way. He had been cute, and had rather cutely admitted that they – whoever ‘they’ was – had got it all wrong. A disarming smile and shrug as he said it, and a dimple in his right cheek … there were plenty such cute guys in the world. Srikant certainly wasn’t the only ‘machli in the sea’, as Vini liked to say whenever they shared their man-moans.
Anu felt distinctly grumpy as the counter now clicked smartly down to 5 minutes – the fastest she had ever seen two minutes flash by – and still no sign of Srikant. How long did it take for a man to wipe some bloody foam off his face, grab the house keys and make a dash for it, huh?
The house keys! The idiot obviously couldn’t find the keys! Anu had seen Srikant’s set lying above the microwave in the kitchen last night and had meant to put it next to his computer case as was her usual wont. He was always misplacing his things and she was always picking up after him. And yet he didn’t realize her value: how ungrateful men were. Perhaps she ought to call him and tell him where he had left his keys, especially if that was the reason for his failing to show up here. Anu imagined Srikant missing her as he ran around the flat looking for all his lost and misplaced things, and could not help a little hint of schadenfreude before being awash with sympathy for him (ty-pi-cal!). But, calling Srikant to tell him where the keys were would sort of defeat the purpose of having him come dashing after her. It would, as a matter of fact, almost seem like she was dashing after him! No, she wasn’t having that.
Anu tried to distract herself by listening to the weird announcements on the tannoy system. ‘Do not approach unattended baggage’ – okay that made sense. But, ‘Do not talk to unknown persons’?? What problem did they have, huh? Especially if unknown persons looked like that cute guy in the smartcard booth.  Honestly, a clever man like Mr. E. Sreedharan ought to make sure that such nonsensical advice was not dished out willy-nilly to grown adults, ruining everyone’s impressions of this otherwise terrific metro system. Terrific except for cutting it very fine as far as both the Commonwealth Games and other promises like the 11/12 minutes one went.
The counter was now flashing many red zeroes cheerily and the approaching train announced its imminent arrival with a gust of warm air. Anu did not know whether to be relieved or disappointed. On the positive side, she would only be about ten minutes late for her morning meeting but, on the negative side, Srikant had let her down again. How much effort did it take to make one, just ONE grand gesture? Like a small dash down to a metro station. It would only have cost him 8 rupees too, possibly even less on his smartcard, whenever Anu got around to doing the sums.
She joined the throng that was pushing to board the train. The scrum was terrible because eleven minutes had led to a very large crowd gathering on the platform, every single member of whom was now intent on getting onto this very train. Eleven minute breaks between trains is a baaaad idea, Mr. E. Sreedharan, Anu wanted to shout as she felt at least five pairs of hands shove at different parts of her body. What a waste of eleven minutes. Eleven minutes in which they should really have run at least three train services. And eleven minutes in which Srikant could so easily have turned up and transformed the way she was feeling, damn him. Even battling this crowd would be fun (almost) if he had been beside her, grinning that silly grin of his.
A final surge of people lifted Anu bodily off her feet and carried her into the train but she could not breathe the customary sigh of relief quite simply because she could not breathe at all. Not without inhaling a whole variety of BO. The compartment was so full that at first the doors refused to budge. Even the automated voice sounded pleading as it instructed passengers to stand away from the doors. Finally, after everyone had cooperated (because now they were all getting very late) and after everyone had done a bit of sideways shuffling and holding in of stomachs, the doors slid shut and the train started to move. Face pressed against the window, Anu watched the platform slip slowly away, with nary a glimpse of Srikant coming stumbling in, just too late, like in those rom-coms she loved.
They travelled thus down Delhi’s newest metro line, Anu and the biggest crowd of south Delhi-ites she had ever conducted a joint activity with before. Oddly, an air of camaraderie prevailed, passengers seeming to think it best not to ignore someone whose body was pressed right up against one’s own. But Anu wasn’t feeling chatty and tried to blank out the dozen or so people she had been forced to press her breasts against by this strange quirk of circumstance. It would probably take till AIIMS for the crowd to abate a bit and Central Secretariat before any of the stand-uppers stood a chance of sitting down. Not that it would make any difference to Anu, of course, seeing that she had to get off before Central Secretariat anyway.
She could try wresting that place off the man who was so shamelessly seated on a space marked ‘Ladies Only’ but getting to him would involve pressing her breasts against another dozen or so people separating him from her, which was not a palatable idea. It was best to stay put. Anu tried instead to make the boorish man feel really small by glaring at him but, despite all three people seated next to him spotting her manic look, it was a bit wasted as the man himself sort of missed it.
It was at Jor Bagh that Anu noticed a young man standing close up against her. Normally she would have been suspicious of his intentions and tried instantly to inch away by the couple of millimeters or so that she could probably manage but (a) the train was still crowded and everyone was standing up close to at least three other people and (b) it was not hard to see that the fellow had eyes only for the girl who was standing on her left. It was also not hard to see that the girl was deliberately using Anu’s body as a sandwich filling between her and the young man, with whom she was studiously avoiding making eye contact. In fact, so intent was the girl on not making eye contact that she was looking studiously in the opposite direction with the most enormous frown on her face. But the young man was not of a shy disposition, evidently.
‘Why are you not talking to me today?’ he asked the girl in Malayalam. He had obviously thought it safe to bare his heart thus because nobody would understand him in Malayalam. Little was he to know that it happened to be Anu’s mother-tongue too.
The girl for whom the question was intended did not reply but tossed her curls slightly and looked away. It was possible she was not a Malayalam speaker and had not understood him but Anu doubted that the young man would minimize his chance of making progress with the girl by using a language she did not know.
‘Please,’ he persisted, now looking very sadly in the girl’s direction with big, brown, hurt eyes, ‘Please, why will you not speak to me today?’
Silence and another toss of angry and quivering curls.
‘Have I done something to upset you?’ he asked.
More silence from her, and a long gaze out of the window where there was nothing but rushing darkness.
‘If I have done something to upset you, I am so sorry,’ he said with utmost and impressive humility. Anu wanted to turn around and commend the man for not giving up in the face of such Himalayan iciness. In fact, she wished she could march him off the train and take him back to Saket to offer Srikant a master-class in knowing-how-to-humbly-apologise. But the silly curly-haired girl, rather than leaping into her man’s arms, thereby making everyone on board this blessed train a little happier than they were when they set off, was still turning her face away and giving him the cold shoulder. Some people simply did not know a good thing when it was staring them in the face. Like an apology. Women generally did not get them from men, Anu wanted to say, because men usually had planet-sized egos that got curiously dented by uttering the word ‘sorry’. Not this man, though, this angel descended from somewhere that most men had never been.
Anu couldn’t bear it any more. She tapped the young woman on her shoulder and asked, also in Malayalam: ‘Why, my dear girl, are you not speaking to this poor young man?’
Open-mouthed the pair looked at Anu, the young man from her left and the young woman from her right. But Anu was not one to give up easily. ‘Why?’ she demanded again.
Perhaps it was the expression of annoyance on her face, or the fact that someone (who most would assume was just another Delhi girl) was suddenly spouting Malayalam but, after their astonishment had abated, the pair suddenly burst out laughing. They laughed and laughed and Anu could not help smiling a bit herself at the merriment she had so inadvertently set off.
But the train was now at Udyog Bhavan, her stop. If she didn’t get off, she would be horribly late for her meeting at the Ministry. And, even though she would have loved to know why the young woman had not been speaking to her young man, Anu had to disembark. ‘Disembark’, of course, being a euphemism for the manner in which she was ejected off the train on the crest of yet another crowd swell. However, she turned as the doors started to close and saw that the young man and woman were waving at her through the window. They were mouthing something that seemed to be a thank you and the man now had his non-waving arm placed proprietorally around the woman’s shoulders. Well, at least they had made up.
Anu sighed as she made her way towards her exit. She should take joy in the idea that she had helped another couple make up today. So what if her own relationship was still languishing in the pits. Just for want of a simple apology. She stepped onto the up escalator, thinking about Srikant and thinking about the sad state of their relationship. All it would take was for one of them to reach out over the miles to the other. Like that lovely young man, so apologetic and so … so loving. Not that Anu was even demanding a verbal apology from Srikant. A gesture would have done: like being late for work because you had to chase after your girl and catch her before she boarded the metro. Or the suggestion that they both skip work to spend the day curled up on their sofa, munching popcorn and watching ‘When Harry Met Sally’ for the hundredth time … when had they last done that?
Anu thought about the boring meeting that awaited her at the Ministry, she thought of Srikant and his face as she had yelled at him before stomping off this morning. Just as she reached the top of the escalator, she made up her mind. Taking a sharp turn, she stepped onto the escalator that was going back down underground to the trains. Luckily one didn’t lose mobile signals on this fabulous metro system (so much better than the New York and London ones you saw in the movies) and so she would be able to call Srikant to say she was coming home. Perhaps he would even come out and meet her at Saket station. That’s if he didn’t get the names of the two stations mixed up and ended up at Malviya Nagar instead …

Advertisements

Author:

There is a deep and cosmological connection between my birth, my parent's decision to name me what they did, my profession and my education. This brings me to the conclusion that fate is predetermined and like in Hindu mythology, is written by Brahma when someone is born. Example: My name is unique. I did my grads in Psychology. I then did my masters in HR (offshoot of following all the psychos). I then did the ultimate decision of joining an MNC in ............. beat it, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT. So, I have the concept 'MAD' in my name, my education, my choice of career and all the milestone decisions of my life. Now, is it predetermined or what ? :-D

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s