It usually takes a Wednesday to bring the chaos of the entire world to my doorstep. The rest of the week is just crammed with adhering to emergency protocol from the Damage Control Rule Book.
It was one such Wednesday when I fell asleep on the couch while watching the Abominable Bear-man share unsolicited wisdom along the lines of “Thangachi! Vendaikka saapta improve aagum Kanaku. Sundaikka saapta disprove aagum Vazhakku…” on TV. When a niggling sensation deep in the recesses of my sleep woke me up abruptly, I knew something was wrong. I winced helplessly as a stinging crick froze my neck in an awkward position. Turning my whole body with the dexterity of a one legged Barbie doll, I squinted at the clock.
And it started right from there.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I am going to be so late...so so late. I shouldn’t have slept off like that and I can’t believe no one woke me up either.
I hurriedly applied some kohl to my eyes and stepped back to see the overall effect. The mirror never lies, I agreed, running my eyes up and down over my reflection. All I could see was a puffy-eyed, white-pallored Amazonian woman excluding the resplendent war-gear and a powerful stallion. I narrowed my eyes and turned sideways, attempting to strike a pose. Pouting dramatically, I blew a kiss to the mirror, twirled around and successfully tripped on the complex hemline of my saree. I caught hold of the window lattice just in time, to prevent from falling flat on my face and breaking my already-samosa nose. Taking a deep breath, I steadied myself.
Okay, there’s no time. I have to leave now. I will indulge in the histrionics later.
“Ah, you actually look kinda pretty.” acknowledged Jahnavi, as I walked into the living room.
“Yeah, right. Hey, you’re not dressed yet?”
“Oh, wait a minute. This is a pair of sweatpants,-” she said plucking at her cottons, and pointing to her shirt, she continued seriously, “- and this is my tee. If your question meant, why I haven’t dressed the palms of my hands yet, that’s because I don’t enjoy wearing mittens in Chennai’s heat.”
“Okay, you lost me after ‘sweatpants’. Now, answer my question. Aren’t you coming to Vichitra’s wedding reception?”
“Hmmm, let me see. Okay, I don’t think so. I have got some work.”
“But I thought you were coming with me. Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“Oh, I got reminded of it just now.”
“Yeah, whatever. It’s actually pretty obvious you just don’t want to come with me. Anyway, I’m leaving now. I’ll see you later!”
Tearing down the stairs with whatever flexibility my saree could allow me, I made quite a racket with my clippity-cloppety designer footwear; I really had no time to take the elevator.
I just hope the heels don’t break!
Unlocking the car, I got in behind the wheel and shifted to the first gear.
An hour later, I finally had to admit that I was not particularly good at carrying myself through shortcut routes as an alternative to the main-stream traffic. It was a reluctant acceptance, but quite inevitable from where I stood- bang in the heart of a maze of back streets, trying to comprehend whether to take the left turn or the right.
Five minutes after this self realization, the engine stalled and the car wheezed to a stop.
Complete silence ensued.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The dark sky stretched endlessly beyond the silhouettes of the trees, occasionally lit up by streaks of random lightning. The subdued light from the sodium vapour lamps only served to make the road even more cheerless. A swift gust of wind had my saree flapping like a mad flag on a stormy night. I leaned against the car, the warmth of the bonnet offering little comfort, and wrapped my arms around myself, trying to think of happy thoughts.
I walked about the vehicle, fretting over why Jahnavi had not made an appearance as yet. It had been over an hour since I had called her, tearful and panic-struck. My car had turned ballistic at having to chauffeur me round and round with no sense of direction and had finally broken down.
And so there I stood, on a deserted road, playing the part of the proverbial victim in a Friday horror movie. I half expected a flurry of bats down the road any minute, eventually sealing my fate.
All of a sudden, a beam of light turned into the street from around the corner. It followed the bumps, potholes and the three whopping speed breakers, steadily blinding my dilated pupils as it approached nearer and nearer. When it finally stopped a few yards away, Gautham got off my rickety two-wheeler with as much style as he could muster, most probably borrowed from a 1970s movie star’s Bullet antics. As he walked toward me, with a rugged jauntiness, I could clearly perceive a glittering gold jumpsuit (bell-bottomed, of course), complete with a gold bandanna and a vintage microphone in hand, everything illuminated and enhanced by floating disco lights, mirror balls and the DJ’s screeching interruption of the record. I tipped my head slightly and smiled dreamily as he jangled the microphone in front of me. I wondered what he wanted to sing to me. He rattled the mike again.
And I blinked, mystified at his unexpected, a rather more earthly appearance, a persona clad in a pair of faded jeans, a white tee and an open shirt on top. Gautham jangled the set of keys in front of my nose again and I pulled back, dismayed and embarrassed.
“You!?!” I spat, not entirely thrilled to see his mortal self.
“Yes. Me.” he confirmed sardonically and went on, “Unless you were expecting Karthik here; in that case, I’m sorry to have disappointed you.”
“I was expecting Jahnavi to pick me up. Why’re you here?” I enquired hotly. I really was not in a mood to be grateful and gush about his good will.
“Jahnavi had some work. That’s why she sent me. So, let’s go.” he finished with mock patience.
“I am not coming with you. I’d rather die in this street all alone than ride on the bike with you!”
“In another circumstance, I’d have left you here to die all alone, as you put it. But I had promised Jahnavi that I’d bring you back home, safe and sound. You have no choice.”
“I am not sitting on that bike with you.” I huffed vehemently.
“Oh, yes, you are.” he stated as a matter of fact.
I took my bag out of the car and announced as casually as I could, “I am walking home.”
Suddenly, fuelled by an impulsive spark of temper, he leaned forward, roughly banged the car door shut for effect and continued with nonchalant indifference, “You’re not walking home.”
“What have you done, you idiot! The keys were still in the car.” I yelled plaintively.
At that moment, the heavens parted as if on cue and a shower of water poured down without any mercy or concern for the tiny crumb of my dignity.
“OMG!” I wheezed in shock and looked down at my ex-beautiful saree. It seemed as if an ancient washing machine had wrecked its spirit and wrung its life out. “Damn you Gautham, it’s entirely your fault! You have ruined everything!!” I screamed tearfully and stamped my foot in the rapidly gathering puddle of water.
“What’s my fault? Geez, grow up kid!” Gautham retorted, clearly annoyed by my tantrum. And that really served to rile me up even more.
“Everything’s your fault! Everything! You, your superior-than-thou attitude, your amateur psychology sessions regarding Karthik! Everything!!” I burst out, regardless of the pitch of my voice or the location of my paroxysm.
“Aha! I knew it. It’s about Karthik, isn’t it? Seriously, how many times should I tell you to stay away from him?” he swooped in.
“Why the hell should I stay away from him? Who are you to tell me about what to do and what not to do? We are not even friends anymore!!”
“Yes, we are not friends anymore. But there are certain things that I am required to do, for greater good.” Gautham completed smugly.
“Who died and made you King? What I do with my life is no one’s business but my own.” I shouted over the heavy roar of the downpour.
“Karthik is a decent guy. He is better off without you adding complexity to his life. It’d help you a lot when you realise you’re not in love with him any more than you’re in love with me!” he snarled menacingly.
“Love? You are talking about love? You don’t even know what happened, you egocentric brute!”
There was a moment’s silence, as I tried to catch my breath. He stared at me.
“What happened?” he enquired, torn between curiosity and an acute urge to hit me; I could see.
An Hour Earlier…
I sat in the car, trying to restart it again and again. It neighed pathetically in response and burred to a silence. Every time.
My phone rang then, taking me by surprise. It was Karthik.
“Karthik!” I gasped in relief, rushing on to say, “Thank God, you called..-”
“Anu, I have got to tell you something very important. There’s no time to wait anymore.” he interrupted quickly.
“What happened? Are you okay?”
“Where are you now?”
“I am on my way to the convention centre. I will be there soon. Don’t worry.” I said, concerned and confused.
“There’s no need for you to come over. I am sorry I couldn’t call you before and let you know.”
“Is everything alright?”
“The wedding’s been called off!” shouted Karthik, almost maniacal in his euphoria.
“Oh my God! What the hell happened? How’s Vichitra? Why was the wedding called off?”
For a moment, I imagined Vichitra, a red cloth tied around her head in a Phoolan Devi style, stalwartly refusing the unreasonable demands made by the groom’s family. I envisioned her holding the tip of a huge musket at the groom’s throat, ordering him to keep quiet, the noncompliance of which would provoke definite likelihood of being coerced into watching all the movies listed under the Vettaikaaran’s exclusive almanac. Alone. And with a loop count of a hundred and thirty three.
“She’s fine. Okay, now listen. You are the first person I am telling this to. I mean, apart from her.” he said, bringing me back to the present.
“Right. Go on. I am listening.”
“I am in love with Vichitra.”
“What are you saying?”
“It was that question. You’d asked me when I was going to marry Vichitra. I never had any idea till then. Well, and that question triggered everything.”
Oh, that question certainly triggered a lot of other things as well…
“I realized how much I was in love with her and that it was too late. She was engaged to be married to someone else.”
“Wow...” What a turn-around!
“So, I confessed about my feelings today afternoon. Apparently, she feels the same way about me, but didn’t know how to tell me. It would have been so awkward if either one of us didn’t feel the same way.”
“Awesome! This is such a nice surprise. I am so glad that you guys have got together. Congratulations!” I said, extremely happy to hear him sound like a normal person at last.
A lot of things started to come into place in my mind then. Now I knew why he had been roaming around like a bear with a very bad toothache all the while.
What a climax! I never even imagined it could take a twist like this.
“Okay, Anu, I have got to go now. There’s stuff like press conference; routine things. I’ll finish off with all that and we’ll all meet up tomorrow.” he promised fervently.
“Hey, take your time. This is a big moment. Call me when you are free; no problem.”
Disconnecting the call, I sat in the silence, smiling in the dark. I could not believe what had happened. That was by far the best news I had ever heard and I was enormously pleased about it.
Phew, history, actually, has a very uncanny habit of repeating itself. And I’m so glad that it does…