Friday, November 12, 2010

An intelligence long suspected

It was Aniruddha’s birthday and we had been invited as a couple. It had been a few months since the day I had bumped into Sandeep, now twice the size and all but bald, and just as I jokingly asked him whatever happened to that girl he was dating from preschool, she joined us, pushing Aniruddha ahead in a pram. ‘What do you think?’, he gathered and squeezed her to his side, ‘She is the mother of my child now!’
Nidhi had to work late that night and I turned up alone an hour late. They had booked something like a conference room for the party, a large hall, darkened at one end, where a projector spilled their story on a wall –of growing together from school-bus to Anirudhha – as the ladies sat on sofas and chairs, and dutifully clapped now and then. I paused at the steps: the space was packed with suits and dazzling saris with kids racing and lacing between them like bees. I understood now what he meant when he had emphasised twice on the “something formal”.
 ‘I am wearing a shirt, dude’, I half-joked. Over jeans and sneakers. He smiled tightly and with a brisk pat on the back, returned to fawn over a huddle of bosses.
‘He’s very nervous about the promotion’, she smiled apologetically, ‘He should have got it last quarter, you know.’ I nodded.
‘Where’s Aniruddha?’
‘Oh, he was running a mild fever. So I put him to sleep in another room.’
I walked to the front and leant against a pillar to watch. A passing waiter brought me my whiskey. Three fat wives who could only belong to the middle-aged honchos I had seen him sucking up to, were spread in the middle sofa , bedecked and sporting enormous beehives, ignoring and cackling loudly over the slideshow. Some of the younger wives spread around them smiled and chatted between themselves, some sat alone, blankly staring at the screen. All of them wore an inordinate amount of jewellery for a kid’s party, but tasteful – all of them were very pretty. A particularly young woman, who reminded me of a girl I had once known, rocked a sleeping infant across her shoulder.  
Krithika came hurrying, still the harried wife – dabbing at her perspiring face with the end of a sari or a dupatta, scurrying to the kitchen every five minutes, and apologizing about Sandeep’s last minute cancellations – underneath the makeup. I braced myself when she paused one her tracks suddenly, expecting her to turn around, something forgotten, and come rushing into me. But she remained rooted at that spot, by my side, watching the photograph like she had never seen it before. Them together in a school snap, the boys standing and the girls seated.
She blinked and turned and saw me watching her. She laughed embarrassedly and shook her head. ‘Is there anything left to know after twenty years?’, I asked. Anirudhha was born on the very day they had first met: the undiminished magic of their great love.
I don’t know what it was but I felt something change in her then. A slowness entered. She turned to stare at the photograph again. A stillness. ‘Sometimes you can spend a lifetime with a person and still not understand him’, she spoke flatly.
A slide clicked in place, the light on her eyes shifted. I turned to see the very snap Sandeep had kept framed over his desk, curls and lips. ‘I was a hopeless romantic then. I really believed us when we said we were different, that we had learnt from the sad mistakes we had seen our elders live in, that we would never become like them.’ I watched her profile, lit like a Vermeer from the reflection on the wall, and realised how young and beautiful she herself was. A group crossed before us, bustling and laughing, their gaiety hard and coarse like a callus, casting a shadow on her. When they, and it, passed, she was looking at me, for the first time in the eye. Something had changed – between us.
‘When are you two getting married? You are almost a couple already!’ She laughed.
I hesitated and looked away. ‘Not now. We are happy as it is.’ As always, I was pretending that it was me who was tarrying; paraphrasing her.
‘Spoken like a man, Gaurav’, she spoke evenly again, ‘You want to love but not be bound.’
It stung like vinegar. I watched the whirr of another slide click into place and then turned and told her. ‘It’s her. She does not want to.’


ramya sriram said...

i'm reading.

Pankaj said...

wow. i love your short storiesishes. the descriptions, the observations, the thoughts are so vivid. there im left wondering if its fiction or autobiographical.

aparna said...

I'm stumped...again!

Bland Spice said...

thx :)
it's actuall a part of a bigger story. a minor character who becomes more and more central.

pankaj - not autobiographical, but of course, derived somewhere from what i have seen.

Bland Spice said...

@ aparna - kaha tha crease se itna bahar na niklo.

gayatri said...

like like like