This was during the times I was still in hiding. From myself, mostly.
The minute he parted the crowd, strode over confidently and spoke to me silkily in that deep, throaty baritone, I knew that he was not the one for me. How did I know? The clean-cut, strong jaw, shoulders back, the waft of expensive cologne and the stink of his father’s wealth, they sang to me. They whispered in my ear and the thought of being near him made me want to run away. And that is how I knew. That is how I knew that I wasn’t meant for “normal” things.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a superficial, finicky person who enjoys taking random dislikes to polite strangers. I hate ‘disliking’ someone, and find myself unskilled at passing judgment on people I have known for years. The many friends I have would not hesitate to label me indecisive even. Internally, I tried to defend myself as best as I could for feeling repelled by a tall, fair and handsome chiseled creature who came on to me at a large gathering.
Yes, came on to me. Flirted with me. Expressed his explicit interest in getting to know me intimately in the future. In Orkutiya parlance, tried to ‘Fraand’ me. I should have rejected his request. But I didn’t. It wasn’t easy you see. No one, absolutely no one would understand my reasons for doing so. He hadn’t really done anything thing wrong. He had been polite. He had been charming even. He had managed not to ogle at my breasts, not even from a distance, not even the quick sneak-peek most men unconsciously register. His speech was perfect, clipped English, his teeth gleamed even and white in the mellow lighting. He really was perfect. Except that he was not what I wanted.
He had graciously asked me if I would like something more to eat or some coffee perhaps. How kind of him. I had smiled and said, “Thank you but I think I’m pretty full right now.”
“You’re definitely pretty, though I cannot comment on the ‘full’ bit,” he had replied smoothly, if a little creepily, with that even and white grin, his eyes twinkling with merriment. The smoothness grated on me like no sandpaper ever could, and being called “pretty” by him made me wish I had donned a burqa for my first cousin’s wedding. Ah yes, I forgot to mention, all of this happened at a wedding, one of those occasions when every guy from the groom’s side feels that he has a decent chance with some girl from the bride’s. Or vice versa. But then this particular guy, given the way he looked and sounded, would not need the crutch of occasions like weddings to have a chance with some girl. He was so much better than ‘every-guy’, he knew it and it showed.
I accepted his compliment with a smile and demurred to move out of his way. And I had believed that to be the end of it. How presumptuous of me! Fifteen minutes later, he found me in the crowd again, right next to the paan stall. This time his weapon of choice was a betel-leaf.
“Would you like a paan?” he had proffered in that polished manner of his. As if I couldn’t help myself from the stall next to me. Escape, escape, escape, screamed my gut. And then from the corner of my eye, I spotted my match-making mother eyeing us.
I accepted the paan.
Mr. Smooth oozed smugness at this. He reacted as if I had willed my inheritance to him. He owned me now.
“You’re the most beautiful girl at this wedding tonight,” he said glibly, “barring the bride of course,” he added with that winning smile of his.
What should I have said? For one, I could have said “Once upon a time, there was a handsome young man and a pretty young girl. They met each other at a wedding, much like this one, right next to the paan stall in fact. Not that they were particularly attracted to each other, but then, why the heck not? And so they decided to start seeing each other after that. Days passed into weeks and weeks bled into months. They continued to meet, speak, and they even became friends. Everyone assumed that they were lovers too. So why the heck not? They tried that too. It didn’t turn out too bad, much like the rest of their relationship. And so they went on… until one of them found the love of their life.”
“And then there was hurt where there should have been none. There was pain when it could so easily have been avoided. Finally they parted, as they must, and not as friends. But in the end, they made a promise to themselves – they would always wait for the one, and not employ the ‘first come first serve’ algorithm to their lives. And so they passed each other, not having brought each other much joy but having learnt a valuable lesson nevertheless.”
But then all those words, that Murakami-like story stayed stuck in my throat and I didn’t say anything. Instead I smiled demurely once more and said, “Thank you, but you’re much too kind.”
He liked my bumbling, blushing response. I suppose I disliked him even more for it.
“My name is Saahil. I’m the bride’s first cousin.”
He said ‘first cousin’ and not ‘brother’ as most dashing young Punjabi men were wont to do. All cousins were classified as ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’. I had to give him a few points for that.
“I’m Vidisha. The groom’s first cousin.”
I had said that in earnest but he laughed – a big belly laugh in that throaty baritone. My ears hurt. And then he resumed his gallant manner. I knew the signs. He would certainly look for a way to stay in touch with me. And his first attempt would be to try and find a direct way of connecting.
“Please don’t mind me for asking, but may I have your phone number?” and then added quickly, “I don’t usually do this.”
My gut said I told you so. For a couple of seconds, I considered giving him a fake number. And then I found myself saying, “3463190.”
He wrote it down on a paper napkin. But he looked perturbed. “This is a landline.”
Trust this guy to look a gift horse in the mouth.
I nodded. “It’s my home phone.”
“Great,” he finally smiled, “I’ll call you. Tomorrow?”
And the next day, he called me right after dinner. As luck would have it, my match-making mother picked up the call. She called out to me and when I came, she handed me the phone with a huge smile, as if she were giving me the first prize in a very long drawn and difficult competition. And wonder of wonders, even before I heard his voice, I knew who it was. Such was the intensity of our disconnection.
I wanted to place it back in the cradle the very moment he silkily said “Hello”. But I responded with the burden of good manners, and did not let my better sense guide me. Not just yet.
And then somewhere in the middle of a droning conversation about common friends and weddings he suddenly asked me, “Do you believe in soul-mates?”
I was stunned by the question. It was so completely off-track and yet so completely what I wanted to discuss with him. It was as if a single ray of sunshine had found its mark through a tiny gap in the clouds.
“No,” I said, “I do not.”
I did. I do. But I lied. Just that one time.
He said, “Aha! Finally, a realist,” then added with a chuckle, “neither do I actually.”
Soul-mates. I had known it, but that was the moment I finally decided to believe in what my gut had been telling me all along. That there would be no ‘happily ever after’. Not with a man. That we would never bring each other joy.
Without saying another word, I hung up.
I really was doing him a favor, a big one too.
I cradled the receiver in my hand for a few seconds and gently placed it off the hook. And so it stayed, facing the table, for the next half an hour. Saahil – my memory is hazy but I think that was his name – never called me back.
In hindsight, I guess I no longer feel repulsed by his ilk. After all, he helped me discover myself, if in a somewhat obtuse manner.