They turned and moved away.
I faintly heard Nainaa asking them,"So, Nisha, where were you stuck?"
they proceeded and I watched her go.
Her silky hair and silver earrings and her petite figure.
I longed for her.
As they went farther, I noticed some unrest.
I could not make out their conversation but assumed it to centre round me and my antics.
Their battalion suddenly stopped and they turned around.
It was not unlike the synchronous about-turn of the jawans on Republic Day.
And 'about-turn' did I, and started walking in the opposite direction, when Sameera called out, "Raj, just a minute."
"Yes", I said, turning around.
They were right in front of me. Four of them.
Right then I heard bhabhi calling out my name.
Her battalion marched towards us.
I had been cornered and how!
I felt like Chhota Rajan or Chhota Shakeel or Chhota ya Bada whatever yaar.
It must be a trying experience for them, the moment of trap.
All those ingenious plots they must have devised, the dangerous plans they must have executed... the joy they must have derived from their success... all must have dissolved and disappeared in a flash, in this moment of truth.
I could sympathise with them.
I drew comfort from the learning that popularity in my case wouldn't be of such impressive magnitude.
The clan that would learn about my exploits was thankfully much
As I saw the battalion approach, I felt as Bin Laden might have felt watching the FBI march towards him.
One felt like wanted gangster.
One needed to act, urgently, things could be controlled even now.
All was not lost. One required tact.
"Sam, let them go and watch the movie. I'll explain every thing to you," I said coolly to Sameera.
"Oh! Don't be afraid, Raj. Let everyone know about your glorious deed." She was boiling.
"I'll take a minute to explain. Let them go. If you want to tell them something, do that later. Don't create a scene here."
"Fine," she said angrily.
I told bhabhi that I'd come in a minute.
She teased me: "Flirting around, Mr. Raj?" I smiled and said, "I am glad you understand, bhabhi."
I gave her the mobile phone and took me ticket.
Vineet whispered to me, "You rascal, mend your ways. I'll kick your butt when you come back."
I returned to the furious four.
"What did you tell Naina?", Palak got ready for the court martial.
"I saw you leaving this place. So I assumed Naina might not be coming for the movie. But when I saw her here, I thought, might as well talk to her a little and then tell her to join you. So…I just told her what she told you that I told her. It was harmless, sis."
"Come to the point, Mr. Raj. What about the phone call?"
"Which phone call? How do I know?"
"Of course, you know. It can't be a coincidence that we are asked to go to the back while you flirt in the front."
"Excuse me. I didn't flirt. Ask Naina. I merely talked to her nicely."
Naina was puzzled. She didn't know what to say. She didn't look at me nicely at all.
Sameera moved away and did something with her mobile phone.
She dialed "Naina's dad's number, I guess. A series of awkward expressions followed. I couldn't hear her but knew all. She came back red as a tomato and shouted"
"That was bhabhi's mobile."
"Which mobile?" I asked innocently.
"from which Naina's dad called."
"But how did Naina's dad get bhabhi's mobile? Do they know each other? Small place, this world, extremely!"
"Stop your nonsense, I mean someone called from her cell acting like Naina's dad!"
"Oh my God, I can't see why bhabhi will do this. Something fishy. And I fail to see you how could mistake her sweet voice as a man's."
"Raj, stop joking. I can't believe you would do that," she said, looking hurt.
"I am sorry, Naina. I didn't know he could do such a shameful thing." My heart winced at hearing 'shameful'.
Some words are like pocket bombs. My sister was hurt.
I should have known.
Sameera does get emotional at such things.
"It is okay, Sam. Don't feel bad. You didn't do anything," said my darling, comforting.
She was not even looking at me. I moved towards my dear sister.
"I am sorry sis. I didn't realize you'd feel so bad. Honestly, I did this just to get even with you. And please ask your friend, I talked properly." Her friend still wasn't looking at me.
"Raj, you have crossed all limits this time…"
"Sam, I did this just because you talked like that on the phone yesterday. I didn't feel good that you were going out with your friends on my birthday. I am sorry. I went too far…" I lied.
Ofcourse, I wanted to flirt with Naina. But I had to lie.
She was seriously hurt.
I may have been instigated into doing this because of Sam's tone but the reason was different.
I took Sam's hands in mine and said sorry again. I meant that, though.
"Now please don't spoil my birthday, sis. Cheer up. The movie is about to start. You haven't missed anything. First fifteen minutes are ads."
She was still cross, I could see.
Nisha and Trishna looked away in disgust.
Naina looked at me, without any anger, I guess.
Then she said to Sameera.
"It is okay na, dear. Honestly, I don't feel bad. So please don't fight with him and cheer up. And yes, his behaviour was fine." She was sweet.
"I am sorry, Naina. Can I talk to you for moment? In private," I dared to ask her.
"Yes," she said. Thank God!
We moved away a little.
Rest of them proceeded towards the hall.
"I am sorry," I said looking into her pretty eyes.
"It is okay. You are quite a prankster though," she commented mockingly.
"Yes. But today it turned out to be horrible. Generally, I like to make people happy."
"Oh?" she had a sarcastic expression.
"Well, I know you won't agree. I am really sorry if I hurt you. But it was really nice meeting you. And I mean that."
"Fine. But honestly I don't like boys who are after girls like this."
An acid comment.
"Please! I am not after you," I said, trying to be polite.
But I was after her.
Now, yes, I was.
"I am sorry if give you any such impression. I just tried to be a little friendly; turns out I already have spoiled so many people's day," I said., trying to gain sympathy.
She did soften.
"It is okay, Raj. Just be a little careful…" We started walking towards the hall.
"And yes, please pep up my sis. I know you will do that. And you can tell her that I was decent with you, that'll help."
"Fine. I will do that."
"You have a nice heart." I meant that.
She had been so considerate and composed during the whole episode.
She was a really nice girl.
Beautiful. Inside, as well as outside.
I was gone for life.
"Thanks. Interesting meeting you anyway," she smiled after a long time.
That brightened me up. It indeed wasn't all that bad now.
In fact, I felt it had turned out brilliantly.
"Bang on, miss! It is always fun… being with me. I feel life should be a little adventurous. Normal is boring. What do you say?"
"Hmm, nice thought but I have a rather weak heart."
"Hmm, maybe you have the privilege of learning this from me too. Living life king size."
"Yes, maybe." She laid stress on that 'maybe'.
We reached the entrance of the theatre. I glanced at my watch.
We were about twenty minutes late. We stopped before going in.
"Don't worry ma'am, you wouldn't have missed much. The movie has just started," I said, putting on a sophisticated charm.
"I am not worrying. I have already seen it. It is you who should worry, sir." And she laughed.
She was not very displeased with the developments, I surprised.
In fact, she seemed pleased. Quite pleased.
"Eeeks," I uttered, laughing, "We better rush in then. A moment more though, ma'am. What happens to the guitar and dance lessons? Are they still on?"
"Hmm, I can't say, right now. I'll have to think about it, sir," she said playing around. That killed me again.
"Do tell me though. I hope to stay in touch. Shall I give my email contact?"
I took that as a yes and gave her mine. I wrote it on a piece of paper I found in my pocket. Thank God, I was carrying a pen.
She gave hers too.
' Not bad at all, Raj !! not bad at all..', I said to myself.
We moved in, finally. I hardly cared about the movie. I was in awe of her.
I didn't know if it was love, but I could have done anything she asked for.
These girls hypnotize you.
"By the way, happy birthday," she said so sweetly.
"Thanks, don't l get a gift?"
"No," she said cutely and just like a girl can.
We parted finally saying bye and smiling.
I knew I had got the gift, though.
The best I could ever get.
It couldn't have been a better birthday.
She had won my heart and I felt that I had made an impression too.
Such was the unique episode, then, my readers, an impeccable work of Mr. Fate, and I remember singing as I marched towards my seat.
Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday, dear R-a-a-j,
H-a-p-p-y B-i-r-t-h-d-a-y, t-o y-o-u-u-u-u-u-u!!!!
As I told you before, there is a song for every occasion!
SEPTEMBER, THE YEAR BEFORE
God! There isn't even one place where we can be alone. Why
do people have to follow us everywhere we got?" I said in
frustration. It was getting on to me. We had searched the entire
hall, but there was someone everywhere.
"I know! I wonder… Everybody seems to be interested in us," she
said, frustrated too.
"I know I am handsome. But that doesn't mean girls and, now,
even boys will hound me!" I boasted jokingly.
"Yes, yes, why not! Everybody is after you, Mr. Shahrukh Khan!" she
"Please! Don't compare him with me. I won't stand such ribaldry.
Anyway, I think we should rent a room in this hotel only. There
we can be absolutely alone. We can talk and do anything," I said
"Wow! We two in one room when all our relatives are down here.
What a brilliant idea! I am not your girlfriend, Raj."
"If only you could be, didi."
"What about those two chairs? Pretty secluded, I guess," she
"I just hope nobody interrupts while I discourse or he'll be
"What if it's a she?"
"Depends, didi, depends," I said, stumped and we both laughed.
"So tell the tale, Mr. Romeo."
"Right away, didi, right away."
And so I began to tell her the dilemmas that had been troubling me lately and who better to discuss them with, than her.
The time to introduce her has come.
Shalini didi, my eldest sister, is the daughter of my youngest tayaji (uncle–father's elder brother).
I have three tayajis and my father is the youngest brother.
She has been my closest friend for years now.
She has been my confidante and agony aunt, the one to whom I turn to in
times of trouble, specifically, troubles concerning the devilish species of girls.
So I turned to her once again for her pearls of wisdom at the moment of distress.
Thank God, I could do it in person this time;for she was luckily here in India.
I have the fortune of seeing her only once a year during her annual summer trip; and now I was glad I did not have resort to the lovely but extremely slow correspondence through letters.
In a world that has moved on from snail-mail to hotmail and what-not-mail we still prefer to compose long loving letters to each other.
For it is joy to find her envelope with the unfamiliar but curious postage stamp nesting in my letter-box, bearing my name crafted in her hand.
And, what joy it is, indeed, to tear open the envelop excitedly but carefully…
taking out the fragrance of fond memories.
She landed a couple of days back. I was there to receive her.
We had hugged each other warmly and I had intimated her of my predicament while she was buying her safe mineral water from the IGI Airport lounge.
"Didi!" I had exclaimed, "Your brother is in a soup."
"Girls?" she had asked and I had nodded meekly.
"Tell me all, sweets," she had remarked and it was only now, in an obscure cousin's wedding, that we had found an opportunity to talk freely, without my dear sisters – Sherry and Sameera – hovering around us.
They had some exams.
"There's a problem, didi. I like a girl."
"I don't see any problem with that unless the girl thinks that you
are a rotten egg."
"No, that's not the case, didi."
"Don't tell me you have finally managed to find a girl foolish
enough to like you."
"So that's the problem. You are not sure the traffic is two way?"
"That is just the tip of the iceberg, didi. Water's deeper, much deeper," I said, repeating like a philosopher.
"So will you fire away at once or continue to stare at the floor, Mr.Manoj Kumar?" I looked up.
"You remember Ritu?"
"Of course, I do, the unfortunate girl of Verma uncle who lost her life in an accident? Extremely sad…"
I must have leapt a foot or two on hearing that. after all, I had met her just week before in the neighbourhood caf.
Didi said it in a manner so offhand that it took its toll on me.
It seemed like a slap in the middle of a sound sleep. I had liked the girl, and she was a rather nice person.
My mind went blank. I hardly noticed that the cutlet I had been chewing so meticulously, deriving joy from every bite, was no longer in my mouth. I had heard a thud, I thought.
"When did that happen?" was all I could utter.
"Why, you only told me last month?" she answered puzzled.
"I did?" Yes, when we talked on phone."
"Oh! Then it dawned on me. It was a monumental communication
error. "My God! I said Ritu's dog lost life!" I said with relief.
And disbelief. A word out of place can cause havoc.
"Oh! The phone lines weren't clear. I am sorry. A gross mistake."
I let out a breath. Thank God, she was alive.
There was didi, munching cutlets coolly, as if nothing at all had happened.
As I regained my sense, now that the gentle soul was alive, I discovered my lost cutlet.
There it was, perched comfortably at the bottom of my coke glass emitting bubbles.
So that what the thud was about.
I told her to be a little more considerate before uttering such shockers.
She said she would be and told me, "But really, your voice wasn't clear and besides, you sounded pretty cool and happy that day. I myself was astounded by your attitude. Hence my casualness in mentioning the casualty."
"Oh, happy I was! Happy to be free after all, because that Rahul
of hers had bitten my butt a hundred times and, in a benevolent
mood, had liked my face like a mop on the floor."
"Yes, Rahul, the same grotesque dog."
"She named that dog Rahul!" she said, wondering at the ways of
the world. Strange indeed, I agree.
"Yes, she did. Apparently Rahul had been Ritu's crush since
LKG who left the school one fine day."
"extremely sad! Hence the name Rahul. In memory of the
"Change your name, Raj!"
"She will be al yours!" she said and we laughed heartily.
"So, what about Ritu?" she inquired.
"You know she is pretty, didi. She was shaken after the loss and found comfort in me…"
"Hmm, so you exploited the age old Rule One of the how-to-win-agirl
"Absolutely, hit the iron when it's hot. Whip the girl's tears and
she is all yours."
"Wow, brother! You too! All boys are the same!"
"No, didi, you know what that I won't play with anyone's heart.
Precisely the reason why I chat with you."
"Fine, go on."
"So… she has started liking me a lot and I am sure about it."
"Just a moment back you were not sure about it."
"Oh! That was not for her, didi. That's the whole problem. Where
it gets a trifle too intricate for a nut like me."
She raised her eyebrows and said, "Why don't you say everything
clearly, then? You tell it all with an unnecessary air of suspense.
Now clear the muddle for me."
"I am trying, didi. But it is so damn heavy, too many details."
"I think you are compounding the situation yourself. As far as I remember you were nuts about this girl and when you have got the breakthrough… through a chance of, pardon me, funny misfortune, you behave queerly. And now if you are thinking about another girl, as I gather you are, you are just being stupid. The more you'll look, the prettier others girls will seem. Stop behaving like a child. You like her and she likes you. The case is
dismissed. You guys are never satisfied," she thundered.
In wake of this attack, I lost completely what I had to tell didi.
I began to appreciate the truth in her words and wondered why I was having this conference at all, when I realized that I had not yet completed the story. And suddenly it came back to me.
"No, the case has only just begun, didi; please show some patience. You draw conclusions so hastily," I thundered back, "What a while."
"Fine, sir," she surrendered.
"So where was I? Ye, true, that I used to like Ritu, but I am
not sure about her. The problem is that I really like another girl,"
I said in one breath.
"So what's the problem?"
"She is some two thousand kilometers away."
"What! How do you manage all this, Raj? You can't do a normal
thing in the world but pull off such unfathomable… you sure are
amazing. Now who is she?"
"Wow, what a way to tell," she laughed. "Won't you add her dad's name too? I am not asking you for the name of the seventeenth president of Mozambique, idiot. Just say Naina, dumbo," she continued to laugh. These sisters really pull your leg well.
"Yes, so Naina she is."
"Who is she? Some achool-mate?"
"No, Sam's friend." She was stunned.
"Way to go! That's something! Now eyeing your sister's friends…Not bad," she added teasingly.
"She is really great, didi."
"Now don't blush brother," she taunted and then suddenly as if stung by a bee added, "Wait a minute. How is she, then, two and a whatever kilometers away? How did you meet her?"
Well, it wouldn't be of use to add most of our subsequent conversation. I have already told you all that and in detail.
Our first meeting. I told her everything gleefully and that solved some
of her doubts.
It would be convenient if you join the conference her. Right here.
"What guts, Raj!" she said, shaking her head in disbelief.
She had been fed a tad too much and I could see it was getting heavy
for her. I allowed her a breath.
"Anyways, good move to obtain her mailing address. So did you
"Obviously. We started mailing each other once a week or so.
Normal, friendly, harmless mails. Discussing the usual: movie,
music, books… just the extension of our conversation that day. It
took us no time to discover that we had similar tastes. Very
"Cool! Go on."
"Yes, so… gradually the frequency of mails increased and so did
the number of similarities. I mean, I was myself amazed. This is
what drew me most towards her."
"Will you tell me some of them? Don't tell me something like…
both of you realized that you had two ears, two eyes…" We both
laughed again and I added:
"Of course, not. In fact, our anatomies are very different face
down. Like I don't have…"
"Shut up," she intervened in time. Laughter, again. "Tell me
something substantial," she asked, like the expert must.
"So yes, like… we both like similar kind of movies and music. Both
not-partying types. Both love simple things; hate anything loud
and cheap. And then, yes, she is pretty close to her family like
me… a homely girl."
"Wow, my homely boy!" I blushed.
"Stop making fun, so yes… our outlook on most subjects is quite
similar. Pretty conservative and sentimental."
"Don't tell me you discussed moral issues."
"We did, didi. She was impressed. "You'll say we are crazy if I tell
you we discussed things like empowerment of women, role of
women in our society, neglect of parents and the elderly, illiteracy
and population, rapidly eroding traditional values, proliferation of
drugs, confused, materialistic youth. We even planned to open a
school for poor…"
"Enough. Fine, I get it," she hastily interrupted unable to tolerate
anymore. "Seems preety interesting. So the girl knows you are
crazy and still bears you."
"Yes! And she is so nice. It is fascinating to discuss all this with
someone. I mean… I have this habit of lecturing, you know, but
nobody is ever interested, and here is a girl who is not just
listening but complementing me so well. Of course, we have other
trivial similarities like enjoying the same sort of movies –
romantic and arty, ice creams – chocolate and strawberry,
chocolates – without nuts, pastries, popcorns, bhutta… But the
thing that bowled me over was our similar emotional quotient.
She is a very nice girl, the kind you rarely find nowadays. Simple.
Not one who'll colour her hair or get funny piercings or get a
tattoo or flaunt her legs or smoke or party… She is so different… I
had to fall for her," I astounded myself by going on and on, "I
was already smitten by her beauty and that she was so much like
how I wanted my girl to be just finished me. She is like Sneha and
Palak. Who'd be just the right blend of modern and traditional –
who'd be dressed so gracefully and not follow the fashion trends
blindly – who'd like to dance and all but prefer dinners by the
candlelight – who'd like to dance and all but prefer dinners by the
candlelight – who'd be progressive, but would not hesitate to lend
her mother a hand in the kitchen."
"Raj, you are gone," didi interrupted again.
I knew I was gone. I couldn't believe that a girl could have
that kind of effect. She was all I had thought for over a month
now. I didn't know if it really was love or not but one thing was
sure, I liked her, a lot. And I had never been so close to any girl,
except, of course, my sisters.
My didi lovingly stroked my hair, and looked into my eyes and
said, "So you are in love."
"So it seems."
"What puzzle is being solved? Let me see too," said a heavy voice
from behind. Dad was standing right there.
"So let's move home, did you have food?"
We replied in positive although didi had just one cutlet and I couldn't even manage that. to hell with food. I thought.
We'd go home and eat Maggi noodles at night. Lovely it is to stay up all
night and talk, and visit the kitchen to cook Maggi together. We
"Raj, what's that cutlet doing in your Coke?"
"Nothing, dad… was just experimenting with new recipes."