The first time he had got to know her was in one of the farewell parties she had hosted. He did not want to be there in the first place – lots of privileged teenagers was what he had expected, and in which he was to find no suitable place for himself. But he was a teenager too, once. When he recalled his days of being a teenager, he remembered being hungry, anguished, and in love – it wasn’t the best of combinations, he had thought. It was not very different now; he was still hungry, anguished, and in love. His love, however, was failing him. The act of wooing could take years. It had been two years but now he was getting a little tired of it all, and it bothered him too: knowing that he was getting tired of it all, after all. With what he had heard, there were numerous delicacies to be served on the plate, and there would be a dog too. So for the sake of food and the dog, he decided to be there.
“Ah, you have put on your finest of clothes, haven’t you?” asked Bipul, his friend and a fellow accomplice to the party. Bipul, who was also of small-town-humble-origins such as him, was one person with him he could enjoy his private jokes on the privileges of people. This was another reason he had decided to go there.
“Well, I picked the ones that were the cleanest and smelt the best,” he said, peaking at the speedometer of the car, realising it went faster than his thoughts for sure – everything went faster than his thoughts. He would, at most of the times, put up a sour face at which people would advise him to not overthink. However, little did anyone know that the problem was not with thinking, but with not thinking at all. He felt more than he thoughts, and his feelings drove his actions most of the times.
Vrishav, the owner of the supposed fine clothes, by saying this, had lied. He knew that he lied, but a little insincerity in the circumstances of life was all right, he thought; not that he considered himself an insincere person; insincerity haunted him – much like the act of self-contradiction, but good heavens – such is human nature of paving its path around contradictions!
The car stopped whenever the traffic light was red and zoomed past when the roads were empty. The taxi driver, too consumed with his driving and listening to the methodical female’s voice navigating him in the British accent, stopped when asked. They got down and Vrishav proposed that they get some cigarettes. Cigarettes were one thing that would comfort him in a social gathering he did not want to be in. They picked up some cigarettes and Vrishav tipped a helpless-looking, handicapped beggar with the change.
A little walk through the lane glowing in the afternoon sun had them at the gate of their destination. What a fine looking house it was, he thought and wondered when was the last time he had entered a fine house such as this – perhaps never. The door was only bolted and they made their way inside through unkept flower pots and a new cruiser bike which parked was alongside. A flight of stairs led them – he and Bipul to the door of the house. What was he to expect when the host would open the door, he wondered. If there was one thing which he had disliked during his recent transition to young adulthood, it was pretentious hugs and hellos which were never meant. The door was opened by an unfamiliar face. There were lots of unfamiliar faces in the house – the visitor’s hall was packed with people – most of them between the age group of eighteen you twenty – young girls and boys dressed in gay colours, dripping of enthusiasm. He dripped with an emotion too – was this what they called anxiety, he wondered. Oh, how he wished he had a cigarette between his lips instead of the mumbling pretentious words that were to come. He often wondered if he could be less pretentious with people, but then he did not know how to do that. He thought kindness won them all and he tried to practice it in all of his interactions with people.
He walked into the visitors’ room and hid his old and dusty shoes under the many others that were piled up outside the well-crafted wooden door. If a man was to judged by the shoes he wore, then Vrishav was to be sentenced to the gallows. He found a place on the cushion between two boys with an amused expression on their faces – perhaps it was the smell of the food which he had found to be amusing as soon as he had entered the house. He had skipped his afternoon meal for this very reason, and with the 100 rupees he had saved, he would put that in to buy tobacco of finer quality which he had seen on display in the market.
The house was one of its kind. It was filled with elements of interior decorations (not overdid) and glass sparkled everywhere – on the chandelier, on the window pane, and on the precious looking lamps. It was not that he was not used to large houses. his home in the countryside was a three-floored bungalow in itself, but only with enough necessities and barely any element of visual astonishment, unlike this place. He had his gaze fixed at the sparkling chandelier when the host appeared. Dressed in a white dree cropped at shoulders and knee, filled with black horizontal-running lines, she looked rather fine, he thought. He had never paid much attention to her before, except for the one time he had met her at a public event, and then he had desperately wanted to unmeet her; exchanging a few formal words, comprised mostly by the good afternoon and good evening they had shared, he had bid farewell and escaped. Now she was there and he could not help but look into her distracted eyes, and the small which she let escape with a certain untamed charmed which made him wonder if his hair looked all right.
“So how’s the big city treating you,? he said after her eyes met his. He only looked at her for a moment, perhaps shorter than the flash of lighting, but long enough for his heart to start beating at a pace which had him filled with anxiety. He raised his brows and waited for her reply.
“Um, wait..I will be back,” she replied, making her way through the crowd to the kitchen, which was in another part of the living room. Vrishav fixed his hair with his hands. A faint jazz music filled the room, overpowered by the conversation of people. If he was the host, he would be impolite enough to ask them all to shut up, just to listen to the music. He felt distracted and played with the buttons of his shirt, which he had ironed in the morning for the party.
The food was served at the table. It was fine rice and thick butter-chicken. The visitors ate well. He ate well himself, taking two full servings, using his hands well, caring little about the people who in all the fine ways, handled the food with the spoon with great care. The ice cream for dessert had him licking the spoon, which he carefully placed in the bathroom sink after he had done. A satisfying meal after a long time, completely worthy of his attendance, Vrishav thought. He looked around, trying to find a familiar face in the crowd. How could someone have so many friends, he wondered. Nida, he thought, could be anything but lonely.
The white mongrel, now tired of showing excitement, stood panting outside the door, gazing fixedly at the movement in the bushed below. The afternoon transcended into dusk and soon darkness engulfed the evening and the brights lights filled the room. He did not know how time had passed. he had successfully played his first party game in which he thought he had faired quite well. Later, he had smoked a joint quite discreetly on the terrace, talking amusingly with the new people he had met. Once high on the prohibited grass which the teenagers had managed to sneak in somehow, he had admired the trees around and thought about the bills he had to pay at the end of the month.
After most of the guests had left, he crept to Nida’s room, carefully inspecting and valuing all the decoratives lying around.
“Hmmm…what are the prospects for a theft to happen here,” he said to himself, and before he could come to an answer, he was already standing in her room. Her room was the most beautiful room he had ever been into. Decorated with fairy lights put up on the wall – the only light in the room. In a corner was a bookshelf filled with new and old books – some classics, some contemporary, some which he did not know anything about. However, he picked up a favourite Calvin and Hobbes comic series and glanced through it, trying to avoid the three people who were already sitting inside the room – Nida, Bipul, and Zara. Zara was Nida’s cousin who must not have been more than twenty. She seemed to be rather reserved in her manners, but her black dress had the approach of a vixen at hunt – ready to pounce at any unaware intruder.
“Look, who’s here,” said Bipul, taking out a bottle of Indian whiskey from under the blanket, “we saved this for the night – now that everyone’s gone, we can open this and have the nights for ourselves.”
Vrishav looked at the unopened bottle with eager eyes. He enjoyed drinking whiskey. The last time his new friends had seen him drinking, he had been called a fish for his capacity. He did not want to embarrass his new friends by being a fish again, but the temptation was too much for a fragile will such as his.
“Ah, the only thing to keep this fragile company of ours warm on this cold night,” he said as he closed the curtains through which the cold air of the silent night outside flowed in, disturbing the stillness of the fairy lights.”
They sat in a circle while Zara played some popular songs on her phone. Vrishav lit a cigarette. The drinks were poured and soon the spirit of the young women and men shone brighter than the fairy lights hung above.
“Can anyone dance? I can,” said Zara. With that, she got up with the grace dandelion, and swang her arms around, pulling off a few popular steps which were to upset the glass of whiskey lying on the floor.
Bipul did not dance. He lay on his bed, gazing at the table filled with original movie DVDs. Vrishav had his arms swinging in the air too. But it was not him that was dancing, it was the whiskey. Nida had gotten up too, now dressed in her shorts and a white-t-shirt, gazing warmly at everyone in the room. The room, by now, had retained the warmth from the breath of the people, and the people themselves were warm will all the whiskey that stirred inside their stomach.
Vrishav, now tired of dancing with Zara, sat still and poured himself another from whatever remained in the bottle. He like his whiskey with lots of water. It did good to him since it diluted the liquor in his belly. He quickly finished his drink, lit a cigarette, and looked at Zara who was still dancing. In their short conversations earlier that evening in the kitchen when he was heating up the chicken curry for the dinner, she had told him many things about her home in Mumbai – her friends, family, studies, ambitions, and even her liking for pets. He had wondered if he could kiss her; it was not that he sincerely wanted to, but he would do anything which would keep him in the moment – occupied at the moment; for now, it was the whiskey.
Past midnight when the dancing was done and Zara had retired to her room, he looked at Nida through the corner of his eyes. Why did not he speak to him before? She was kind and humble, unlike the many millennial girls he had know, who would rest their thoughts on the swing of pride. How beautiful she looked with that smile of hers, and even more beautiful when she would frown. He thought of the sunrise at home – the bright sun emerging from the empty fields at the distant, brightening everything around – sparkling the dew on the leaves of the bushes, which when licked (he liked licking the dew drops) tasted the water straight out of the purifiers – such was her smile – fresh, untouched, and full of warm, glowing radiance.
“Oh, what is this pen, wait.. isn’t it an eyeliner,” he said as he picked up a branded eyeliner from Nida’s table. “When I was a little boy, my mother would have me coated with eyeliners, and I thought I looked perfectly charming,” he added.
“So you do now,” Nida said, now her eyes speaking the language of sleep, shutting every few moments. She sat next to him and said, “Why don’t you keep it then? It will do good to your eyes, and every time you put them on, you shall remember me.”
“Sounds like something.”
The bed was made on the floor and people fell off to their respective places. Vrishav, now at the brink of falling asleep, almost thought he heard Nida wishing him a good night’s sleep. He thought he might be dreaming, but he murmured a gentle good night anyway. He wanted to stress his memory and think of the perfect earrings that would match her pink earlobes. How her face would turn pink when she was drunk. Tonight she was drunk and pink, and he had suddenly found the colour so warm, and he was willing to paint himself pink too with every possible pink colour he could find in the colour shop. It should be the one with the tiny sea-shells, he thought. Yes, that would make the perfect earrings for her. And then he fell asleep.
Early next morning, when the little company left Nida’s home in a pink taxi, Vrishav was sitting in front, letting the cool morning breeze brush through his soft hair. He felt something poking him from inside his pants. He put his hands inside his pocket to find the eyeliner – the only present he had received from anyone since he had turned twenty. He was twenty one now. He smiled, and the car drove along the empty morning roads of Bengaluru, towards their destination.
Art by Joan Stratton
Read the second part here