Wednesday, February 29, 2012


My new neighbor moved in six months back. The new should actually be pronounced as ‘new’ (with quotes) – everyone and everything gets outdated pretty fast these days. The old ones stayed for less than eight months.
There is just a low wall that separates our houses but we have not had a chance to meet or see each other. It is partly because our hours and choice of space do not match. Nocturnal and diurnal office or personal hours, left wing of the house on the left and the antipodal right wing on the other side – it is easy to miss.
 There is an area where we could meet. Our balconies at the back face each other and that’s where we have our clotheslines. From the clothes there, I have deduced that there is only one person and that it is a young woman (utmost, mid-thirties). I am even quite familiar with her routine and it is not difficult to figure out her personal or professional life from what’s on her clothesline. Weekends – informal casuals, pyjamas and nightdresses; Monday and Thursday – formal Indian wear, most often churidaar and occasionally sari; Tuesday and Friday – formal Western wear; and, Wednesday – casual Western office wear. I have never seen her innerwear on that clothesline. I don’t hang mine outside either.
If I am really interested, I could know more about her through my maid. My maid and the neighbor’s maid seem to be comrades-in-arms. But, my mode of communication with my maid tends to be a monologue and rarely goes beyond her curt statements, ‘She (neighbor’s maid) is getting Rs 200 more than me’, ‘She got a bonus this week’, ‘She is on leave’, ‘She does not have to clean all the bathrooms everyday’ and so on. So far, I have managed to express with silence and a nod or a shake of my head my agreement or disagreement with her implicit demands. I could ask her for details about the neighbor. Her comrade must have shared that with her long back. (At times, their world seems like a shadow world that seems to know everything about our world, as if we were just actors for that close audience to observe and discuss.) It might shock my maid if I depart from our normal mode of interaction. Maybe, the neighbor shares a more vocal relationship with her maid and she has asked about me.
I am quite liberal as far as maids are concerned. I do treat them the way I treat my junior colleagues in office, professional with minimal but sufficient interaction. In fact, I believe I am more than liberal as far as pay and leave are concerned. I have remained rather old-fashioned only with regard to cooking and clothes – I do not involve my maid there, not even in picking up the dry clothes from the clothesline. I remember visiting an old friend at her place. We were having a good time together talking about old times. Then, she asked me if I would like tea and I said yes. When she called out to a man-servant ‘Bhaiyya, do chai’, the visit went for a toss. I did sip the tea but piss would have tasted better. It does not really make sense but that’s the way it is. In my house, it has to be my cooking. In another’s place, it should be that of the host. I have been to my maid’s house when she invited me for some festival and enjoyed a feast there. (Was it for Ugadi? Well, that’s when I got to know that my maid’s husband is in an asylum, her son in high-school is protective of his mother and studying well, and her daughter is a clerk in some government office.) I should change with the times but somehow, I can’t.
Today, I had to talk to my maid about the neighbor. Since Saturday, for nearly four days, I saw the same clothes on the neighbor’s clothesline. With each passing day, my curiosity and anxiety increased. I thought of climbing over that short wall, ringing the door-bell and enquiring if all is fine. At night, I could see lights go on and off in that house and so, I knew that she or someone was there. By Tuesday, I was quite sure that she must be sick. Tuesday night, I hardly slept.
Yesterday, on Wednesday, I nearly spoke to my maid. But she went about her speedy ways pretending not to hear or assuming that I must be talking to myself. Last night was another sleepless night.
Today, I repeated the question to my maid, loud and clear, ‘Do you know if the lady next door is fine?’
‘How should I know?’ she replied insolently.
‘Your comrade, I mean, your friend there…’
‘She has been on leave since Sunday. She came back only today.’ She followed that news about her comrade’s generous leave from work with an accusing or complaining look. I ignored it.
I went to the back and looked at the neighbor’s clothesline. The old set had been removed (finally…I nearly let out a sigh of relief), and I could make out at least three days’ washing on that clothesline.
I confronted my maid on my way back to the front. I could see that I was making her uncomfortable with my new voluble nature.
 ‘She has washed lots of clothes…worked lots today and for long, it seems…’ I gave that pointed jab to my maid. She ignored it.
My ‘new’ neighbor and her clothesline will not interest me again.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Love in the Time of Ayurvedic Viagra

I don’t usually get caught in the act.
If I had been in a better state of mind, I would have protested to my wife, ‘Can’t you knock before entering my room?’
That is not true. First, in a better frame of mind, I would have locked the door. Second, it is not my room. At best, it is our room. Third, and most importantly, I would rather be a protestor in some Arab nation rather than protest to my wife, especially when she is in the right and particularly so when she has two friends with her, peeping over her shoulder and making a fickle account of it like paparazzi.
And…from the look she gave me, she did not seem in the mood for squabbling over any issue, territorial or any other. That was quite unfair actually because every such affair has shades of grey and is rarely black and white.
Popular journals of this age talk about the modern emancipated woman being of fairer material. If it had been a woman of my mother’s generation, I could understand that such an indiscretion would have provided sufficient grounds for a divorce or a quick painful murder of the errant husband or if the matrimony had to survive for pecuniary interests, it would be precariously perched on a crumbling precipice under the ever-darkening gloom of doubt. Alas, women change with time only as often as the spots on a leopard, so true is that adage. Even now, in the new millennium, a woman treats a crying husband as badly as they were treated in the dark ages. The modern woman claims that she does not mind seeing a husband cry, but that is only true as long as the husband in question is not hers. In fact, a recent survey showed that 62% of women connected ‘in flagrante delicto’ with a situation where the husband is found crying and only 19% thought it had something to do with sex. The rest assumed that it is some cooking ingredient.
Let me clarify that I was only close to crying. I was sitting in front of my PC, with my head in my hands, drooping over the keyboard under the weight of heavy angst, shoulders slumped, chest heaving with the arduous load of sniffing, wheezing and muffling the oh-and-ahs of grief. With a bit of encouragement or empathy, those strong broad shoulders could have quivered like a leaf in the Monsoon, probably as drenched too with tears. It is in that state that my wife (and our friends) found me.
She reacted quickly. She turned around, laughed nervously and quickly led the two friends back to the drawing-room. After depositing them there, she raced back to our study-room, stood in front of me with her arms folded, eyes opaque and lips as straight and thin as possible. I blurted out the truth,
‘She does not want to meet me.’
There are two types of wives in this world. On hearing such a statement or something similar, the first type will reach for a heavy paperweight and in a single fluid motion, smash the nose and upper jaw of the speaker. The second will smile and my wife belongs to that category. I would love to add that it is a result of love, care, trust, loyalty and an understanding borne from our years together. In simpler words, the unflattering truth is that she understands my limitations rather well…she knows that she has a better chance of winning the bumper lottery than me striking rich with some other woman. What is that sad but true cliché…yes, for some men, there is only one woman in his life.
So, she smiled and asked gently, ‘What happened?’
‘She says that she wants to keep the two spheres separate – the real and the virtual. Real and virtual! She makes it sound as if they are actually different!’
‘According to her, a virtual relationship is an oxymoron. She has no idea about the bonding that can develop…’
‘Do you know why people want to think that it is different? They are scared to admit that their reality is not that different from their virtual life. Don’t you agree?’
‘Bah…’ In any other situation, I would have told her to stop bleating. But I had more pressing worries…
‘She has met a few, though. But, she says that she never took the initiative. Could have done without it, she implies…’
‘Those who took the initiative to meet her…has she told them that?’
‘Not directly…’
‘Oh, she should…so deliciously cruel…that would be wicked!’
‘But she does not want to meet me. A flat refusal! Oh! Why?’
You have refused to meet a few…’
‘Come on, could I do anything other than refuse those?’
‘What was wrong with that one named Anna…Anna something?’
‘Kournikova…? That turned out to be a guy…’
‘No, not that one…’
‘The one who called herself Anna Hazare…? Believe it or not…she actually looked like him…Brrrrr…’
‘No, the one you called cute…you showed me her photo…’
‘Oh! Ana Conda…?’
‘Ah! Yes. She is cute…she looks like your Chippy…’
‘Chippy is cute…for a cuddly stuffed koala…’
‘See, she could have some reason like that for not wanting to meet you…’ I took that personal jibe in the right spirit. But, I could see that my wife was getting impatient.
‘But listen…it is not just that…’ I tried to explain.
I wanted to tell her the really dark secret but my wife hushed me and indicated that we should attend to our guests.
I shuffled behind her to the drawing room. I greeted our friends warmly. The diminutive and fidgety husband sat next to me on the sofa. He is the author of the bestseller, ‘Honey, I Hate Our Kids’. I have met his kids and initially I had assumed that they were the inspiration for that book. But, my wife tells me, it is a book about discovering the joys of parenthood and filling a vacuum within.
His wife took the armchair next to my wife. It is she who introduced me, my wife (who rarely participates) and her husband to social networking. One of her blogs (‘Size Does Not Matter’) has even gone viral. It dealt with an epistolary confession of a self-sacrificing wife to a physically challenged husband. Women pooh-poohed the blog but the men inundated her with compliments. Apart from being an active blogger, she is a vegan and a vociferous campaigner for organic food. On every visit, she brings along a sampling of her own cooking. This time, it looked like a green (for roughage, she explained) biscuit with yellow and red dots (pure protein, she beamed) and white mould-like beard (‘Surprise! Surprise!’ she squealed and remained unforthcoming with specific details). After hesitating over its appearance and cud-like chewy feel, I found that it had an invigorating uplifting effect. I complimented her.
‘Lovely!’ I lied glibly. ‘The after-effect is rather unexpected.’ I added truthfully.
‘Ah! That must be the kapikachhu…’ she replied.
Her husband leaned towards me and whispered, ‘Ayurvedic Viagra, man!’ I reached for another biscuit and surreptitiously pocketed a few, too.
‘So, what was happening inside?’ the vegan asked.
‘Oh, nothing…just an Internet problem…’ my wife replied.
‘Ah, really…lately, I have been troubled too…on the network…’ the vegan’s husband offered his predicament as consolation.
‘It is just his imagination…he thinks he has discovered virtual infidelity…’ his wife interjected.
‘She is definitely not my imagination…and I am not the only one she has snared…’ the husband protested and proudly proclaimed.
‘Who is this ‘she’? What’s going on?’ I asked. It can’t be, it can’t be her, I told myself.
‘She is some Mata Hari who has been ensnaring male hearts,’ the vegan said dismissively.
‘What does she do?’ I asked, trying to sound innocent. I could feel my wife’s eyes upon me.
‘I don’t know… man…no one knows…we have even started a forum discussion…what response, man…’ he said.
‘In the first day itself, more than 100 guys…’
‘What do they say?’
‘Just pure undying love…some claim that they have met her…but I think they are fibbing…she is not of this world…can’t be…’ By then, his wife was snoring. She had finished off the green biscuits. I had finished off my stock, too. I could feel the heat.
Just then, I felt a sharp kick on my shins. I looked at my wife. She signaled with her eyes that we should have a private conference within. We excused ourselves from the drawing room and returned to our study room.
‘Is she the one?’ she asked.
‘Who…?’ I asked.
‘The vegan…is she the One…is she up to some tricks on the network?’
‘Hmm…I don’t think so, too…who could it be?’
‘Ha…I have enough problems with one man…’
‘You,’ my wife confirmed her problem. Then, my wife took my face in her hands, stared lovingly deep into my eyes. I felt nearly hypnotized. She asked,
‘Is it you…?’
I woke up from the monosyllabic daze.
‘Me…what…?’ I spluttered.
‘Did you create her?’ my wife demanded.
‘Oh, fantastic…what is this Asimov’s ‘I, Robot’ remixed?’
‘Tell me the truth…’ came the wifely hypnotic drawl.
‘Are you kidding? Do you actually think I created her…or worse…that I am her…and then fell in love with her…with myself?’
‘You are capable…’ came the understanding assessment.
‘But…do you think I can make all those goofies fall in love with me?’ I demanded.
‘Men.’ She offered the obvious explanation.
‘But…still…’ I begged for understanding.
‘Hmm…I guess you have a point there…you have your limitations…’ What did I tell you in the beginning about her understanding of my limitations?
‘Is it some algorithm?’ she asked.
 ‘Are you dehumanizing her?’
‘Is it?’
‘That is what I was trying to tell you earlier…the dark secret…’
‘She can’t be…though much of virtual life and reality can be algorithmic…’
‘Don’t start…’ A husband has to show who is master at times.
‘Bah…’ A wife rarely accepts such a master.
‘Listen…look at basic relationships…it is programmable…of course, there is a bit of fuzzy logic…but it is still based on a limited set…’
My wife remained silent. I continued, ‘For example, take online popularity. It is rather simple. First, join a growing network. Second, link to important people on the network. Third, never be complacent. Once in a while, create an extraneous effect. Some blog (something crap will do…people should feel intelligent enough to post their views on that) or some revelation (like, you slept with your mom…of course, you can later confess that you were a baby then) get my gist. Then, just a few more steps, that’s all…mimic likes, remain visible…personalize to suit the network, cloning and adapting, gathering people that suits your comfort level…real or virtual, we live in our own gated communities…real or virtual, personal or professional, it is programmable…algorithmic.’
‘So, why isn’t she algorithmic?’
‘Do you know why those men feel pure love?’
‘Enlighten me.’ My wife was getting touchy, I could see.
‘She brings in the unknown.’
‘Stop talking Greek.’
‘I swear…even with me, that’s how she did it…she did something which I never expected…it seemed haphazard…but it was as if she revealed a part of me that I had hidden so well…that which even my subconscious has never touched…she seems to understand something about me which I do not fully or partially accept as me.’
‘Bah…’ My wife was definitely getting touchy.
‘Seriously…if it was some type of Big Brother, it would go for the predictable, controllable, susceptible…random and chaotic are meant to be smoothed out. But she is not like Google or Facebook…she does not depend on data to hook the prey…she is not searching for the hidden known…she does not need connectivity to capture your interest. She goes for the quirk…the randomness…the unpredictable…she uses the noise. Which man will not fall for a woman who gives him his unknown need or desire?’
‘Really, it is true…’ I insisted.
‘You make her sound as if she is God or something…’
I remained silent.
‘So…what was it?’ my wife asked.
‘Your hidden need…’
‘I can’t tell you.’
‘Is that so…?’
Something in her voice told me that those green biscuits were going to be wasted.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


When we had planned to meet for dinner, that was two or three days back, I had agreed to pick her up at her place. At quarter to seven, when I should have been on my way, I was still undecided and fiddling with the mobile wondering if I should call her and cancel the date.  
We have known each other for a long time but if I add up the time we spent together, it would not add up to a month, maybe just a few days. That would be the time I call person-time. I prefer thought-time. With time measured in thoughts, relationships gain longevity, even seem immortal.
Somewhere in the beginning, I came to the conclusion that I can’t trust her. I have forgotten the exact reason but I can’t forget that conclusion. It was not the date itself that made me uncomfortable, though dates have been rare recently, and I felt that it must be the idea of going out on a date with a lady I can’t trust. I listened to the ticks of my watch, sitting in the dark in my car, with my hand on the ignition, waiting for some decision to dawn upon me. At five to seven, I started the car and it took me twenty minutes to reach her place.
‘You are late…you are usually so punctual…’ she sounded surprised and pleased with my deviation from habit. I had parked the car in her courtyard and got out to greet her.  
‘Traffic…you look good…’ I held out my hand. She leaned over and kissed my cheek lightly. It came out by rote.
During the drive to the restaurant, she told me about some incident at her house or about how she had been busy. Once in a while, I would take my eyes off the road, look at her and nod as if I was taking it all in. I hardly heard her. I prefer to ignore the silly chit-chat at the beginning of such meetings and pay attention to what the body language is trying to tell me. I try to understand her make-up, her choice of dress, if the underwear is discernible or not, the amount of cleavage revealed, the way she sits, with her knees tilted towards me or not, hands nearly touching or not, so on and on. I liked the message I derived. We were in fairly good spirits when we reached the restaurant. We walked in quite grandly, her arm hooked onto mine elegantly and we were showed to the table I had reserved.
I could see that she liked it when I kept staring at her, smiling, saying little. It always started that way. Then we asked about each other, the little common details of daily life, and then talked about our current interests, barely interested but quite eager to listen, it seemed apparent. Somewhere in between, we placed our order. I nearly cherished those moments, when friendship with its vagueness and fleeting companionship seems comfortable.
During soup or the main course, we touched upon the past. I think I brought it up this time. Or maybe she did. Some old common friend or incident, it hardly matters.
‘We were so young then…’ she said sometime later. I nodded and remained silent.
‘We have never been able to talk about it and get it off our chest…’she had continued. Or maybe, she said that in reply to some remark of mine. I can’t recall if I was sarcastic or bitter or flippant. I laughed it off.
I followed her with my eyes when she went to the restroom. I watched her skirt sway with her undulating wide hips. She still had a slim waist though her derriere had filled well with age. I nearly laughed loud at my observations. I knew always that I could never be her friend. I was like a brother when we were young but it was understood to be a charade suitable for those young times. Maybe, I had hoped to be something more than a friend. I was thinking about that when she returned.
‘A penny for your thoughts…’she said.
‘Worth a lot more…’
Maybe, that ‘whatever’ triggered the final test. I waited for the dessert to be served. Then, I told her about a personal tragedy and how I was still trying to come to terms with it. She listened well, as if she was hearing about it for the first time.   
‘I thought of contacting you then…’ I confided to her.
‘You should have…it must have been so rotten then…on your own too…you should have told me…’
I listened to her without letting her know that I knew she was lying. A common friend who knew about my problems had told me some time back that he had told her all about my crisis. And here, she was pretending, acting so well. Those test results were expected, I admit.
The date continued as if everything was the way it should be. When I dropped her at her house, she kissed my cheek once again. She asked if I would like to come in but she and I knew that it was just for the sake of politeness.
This is where stories and movies will make the loud proclamation that he would never meet her again, feeling betrayed, without trust.
On the way back home, I drove slowly, feeling the cool night air caress the cheek she had kissed, watching the late-night cover and settle down under neon. I knew that I was cruising in a circle. I might hesitate and remain uncertain if I should do it again. I was certain I would be back for more of such dates.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Crooked World

Product of his times…? Part of a subculture...? Those are easy phrases for a difficult subject.
Till the mid-to-late eighties, there were mainly three categories of films. The first was obscure and experimental, trying so obviously to be intellectual. The second dealt with social drama and mostly tear-jerkers, shamelessly melodramatic. The third category included action, soft-porn and other trash. Humour was absent in the first and the other two types of movies grudgingly used it as a filler, with specialized comic-artistes resorting to the slapstick variety. So serious were the circumstances for the irreverent masses that their grim physiognomy reflected the prevalent culture and their lives slowly crumbled under that gloomy weight.
Then, there was a paradigm shift in local cinema. There came along a new breed of movies in which even the hero was expected to be a joker and society and life itself was treated as a joke. The joke still seemed slapstick and hardly subtle or nuanced but it was told seriously and the audience kept their emotions in check because they were not too sure if they should curse or cry or laugh. This uncertainty or deviation appealed to the masses. They had had enough of straight-forward scenes with obvious emotions. Some incorporated this in various forms in their own philosophy of life. I think that is the best way to understand Shekhar.
With Shekhar, the simple or straight-forward were alien concepts, answers seemed irrelevant and the shortest route between points had to be a crooked path.
We were childhood friends and neighbours then. On his old tetanus-infested rickety cycle, we explored the lanes and by-lanes for lasses unfairly kept locked and secure behind closed doors. As a pillion rider, I was supposed to observe, navigate and also apply sufficient resistance since his cycle had no brakes. On those rare occasions when we did manage to spot a prize-catch, his brakeless cycle would zoom past our quarry before we could exercise our charms. In our late teens, he laid that cycle to rest and inherited his father’s old Vespa. My role as a pillion rider was still quite essential. The scooter worked well as long as our journey was downhill. But to go uphill, the scooter had to go downhill first before it started and then turned back towards the uphill destination. And, of course, on a flat road the situation was more arduous. First, we had to find a hill, go uphill, then come downhill, get the scooter started and then proceed on our merry journey.
This convoluted approach started to influence his games and speech. In football, instead of simply going forward with a ball passed to him, he would turn around, move towards his team’s goal post, then flip the ball in the air and execute a bicycle kick to send the ball back towards the opponents’ side. He was more frustrating when it infected his speech. Once I asked him for directions to his father’s office and he replied,
‘Do you know the ice-cream joint in front of Water Works?’
‘Yes, the one next to the temple, right?’
‘Exactly…don’t go there. A kilometer from there, there is this tall building next to the Electricity Board, right?’
‘On the fourteenth floor, there is an office. From outside, you can see that it is the only office in that building with A/c. Ok?’
‘Is that your father’s office?’
‘No. His office is in the small building behind Water Works.’
At times, his approach was life-threatening. A taxi with a dangerously pregnant lady once screeched to a halt next to us and the brusque driver demanded directions to a particular maternity clinic. Shekhar looked suspiciously helpful,
‘When you go straight, you will reach a junction after the next traffic light. If you go to the right from there, you will reach Medical College. If you go left, you will be on your way to the General Hospital. But, if you go straight, you will reach a road that goes past the MLA quarters. Then, you will reach a dead-end. Most people turn back and come back right here.’
‘And…the Clinic…?’
‘How should I know?’
Later, after we escaped from the scene, he apologized to me for being malicious to that rude driver. I asked him,
‘Did you forget about the pregnant lady?’
‘Come on, she has waited for more than nine months…a few more minutes would only make the child seem more adorable…’
 His ways often made him seem undependable. But when it mattered, I found him to be the most dependable friend. Maybe, the only one I ever knew. When my father was admitted in hospital with a prolonged illness, he was a source of great help to me and my family. Then, for the weddings in my house, mine and my sisters’, he worked as hard as I did. Ironically, it was this dependability that ended our friendship. He expected the same in return. When his mother was in hospital, for treatment of breast cancer, I could not help him much. Maybe, I could have. But, I had pressing problems in office. Anyway, after that, we rarely met.
A few years back, a mutual acquaintance I met during one of my official trips told me about Shekhar’s crooked ways in getting a really good bride, from a family way beyond his station. The girl’s lot was impressed with his advertisement. It was vague and gave the impression of a successful man working ‘outside’ (rather than abroad) - reasonably tall, comparatively fair and not at all bad looking. And, after they met him the girl’s father felt that there was no need to investigate his case thoroughly. Shekhar’s prospective father-in-law had asked him the usual,
‘What do you do?’
Shekhar replied, ‘I guess you know Krish…Krishnakumar? No? You don’t know him…? He is a close friend of Rat…Rat who? Ratan Tata, of course…I think he used to manage the tea business before shifting his attention to more global matters…’
The girl had entered the scene then. Shekhar had to stop his discourse to make the customary appraisal. The girl’s father was already enamored with this company connected so favourably, it seemed, to the aforementioned Krish and Rat. 
My acquaintance also told me that Shekhar had to mend his ways after marriage. And, I realized that as soon as I met him yesterday, quite by chance, on the Inter-city train towards Trivandrum.
I was really glad to find him in the same compartment. He was polite and courteous. I pounded him with questions.
‘How are you, man?’
‘Where are you going?’
‘Business or pleasure…?’
He had changed a lot. A tinge of disappointment on losing that old friend, the crooked one, came over me. I felt rather lost without his convoluted replies that never gave an answer. His direct responses in monosyllables left me speechless.
 When the train stopped at Ernakulam, we sat silently, looking out. I watched a young lady race down the steps from the overhead bridge. She was also waving and smiling at a young man on the platform. The young man turned towards her. At the bottom of the steps, she spread her arms wide, still waving them, smiling broadly and approached the young man fast. The young man was also smiling broadly by then and he hesitantly raised his arms as if to receive her hug. I looked at Shekhar. He was watching the same scene and like me, probably waiting to see the rare public display of intimacy and affection. 
I watched as the young lady raced past the young man, then towards the door of our compartment and entering the same. I looked at the young man. I saw confusion on his face quickly change to anger and then he looked around quickly to check out the size of the audience and then, quickly left the scene, head down with embarrassment. When the young lady deposited herself on the seat next to mine, I wanted to ask her if that had been a boyfriend or at least a friend. I looked at Shekhar. He had a glint in his eyes.
She remained aloof till the tea vendor came along and I requested Shekhar and the young lady to join me for a cuppa. I asked her,
‘Where are you going?’
‘Going home?’
My curiosity got the better of me and I had to ask her, ‘Was that your friend on the platform?’
She gave a dubious shrug. Then she gave me a sweet smile. It is the kind of sweet smile that young ladies give middle-aged men which says, ‘If you mollycoddle me any further, I will sock you in the balls.’
From then, we maintained silence till the arrival of the ticket examiner. When the young lady gave her ticket, the official remarked,
‘This is for the general and not for this reserved a/c compartment.’
‘Exactly,’ she replied and continued, ‘That is what I told him when I bought the ticket. Do you know Mr. Vinay Kumar…I think he is some big shot in Southern Railways? The one whose uncle is a movie star...this uncle used to be in real estate business. And my father is in the prawn business, you see…anyway, I told him my doubts about the ticket but he said it would be ok and that he will do the needful…ah, what a bother…do you want me to call him? I hope the mobile network has range…’
By then, the ticket examiner was satisfied with her ticket. Like before, I was curious to know if the ‘him’ in the account and that ‘Mr. Vinay Kumar’ were one and the same. When I looked at her, she gave me that sweet smile once again and I kept my silence and distance.
Shekhar and the young lady then started talking to each other. From their discussion, I learned that Shekhar would get down at Trivandrum, go further south to Nagercoil, then proceed north to Madurai and then take the scenic route via Pollachi back to Ernakulam and move northwards. The purpose of his trip seemed irrelevant and he had been partially true. He did plan to get home, eventually, though I did not catch the exact location of his home either.
From what the young lady told Shekhar, quite excitedly, I learned that she was going even further south, up to Kanyakumari. Then, she planned to go via the east coast to Chennai and from there to Pondicherry. I guessed that her college would be on the west coast, probably even where she started, and to her this route seemed to be the best and only way to get there.
  After a while, I dozed off. I knew that I had no place in their crooked world.