Monday, September 28, 2009

Jab They Met

He sat at his desk, looking at his computer and muttering to himself. Doing the same work day after day for years now, was not fun. Especially not if he got blamed by almost everyone for just doing his work.

Hope came floating down the clouds to his desk. "Yo Fate, Wassup dude?"

"Hope, nobody speaks like that anymore. I wish you would stop watching old teen movies from the 80s and then talking like them!"

"Oh come on Fate! Don't be such sour puss."

"You are one to talk Hope! You got it so easy. All you have to do is go to people when they are depressed and just promise them good things in the future! I am the one that has to make things happen according to this big fat book of rules! You think that's easy?"

"Take a chill pill dude" said Hope before floating away to find someone cheerier to talk with.

Fate rolled his eyes and opened the huge book. "14th September, 14 September", he hummed trying to get to that page, flipping furiously. He put on his bifocal glasses and peered down at the first entry.

"Make Sandhya Krishnamoorthy meet Mark Danial Raj so that they can fall in love and get married." His first reaction was one of relief. It was no fun starting the day with making someone fall in the bathroom and break their leg and hearing the entire household curse him the entire day. Making people meet was much more pleasant.

He quickly looked up their stats on his computer. He sighed with relief on knowing that they both lived in Chennai. At least he didn't have to hijack planes and cause train breakdowns to make them meet. Yeah Fate liked this sort of work better. Unfortunately, he wasn't a romantic, so he made soul-mates meet at the line to the restroom, at the auto stand where he was haggling with the auto driver for 5 rupees, or in the early morning when she didn't have her makeup on. So when people tell you that they met when they were reaching out for the same program guide at a concert or when they were both enjoying an early morning swim, you know they are lying sometimes.

Fate's first instinct was to make them meet at a temple before they left to work, but then he remembered that Mark wouldn't want to do that. He then looked up more details about both of them. Sandhya worked as a software engineer in one of the big MNCs in Sholinganallur and he was into sales and moved all over the city. This is easy peasy, Fate thought. He would just make Mark go to Sholinganallur on work and he could bump into Sandhya when they both go to the same restaurant for lunch. Maybe he could spill some coffee on her or something. He started tapping on his computer to set that event into motion.

To say Mark was irritated was an understatement. He had been with his company for a longish time and he had a set of fixed clients. Today his boss had been adamant that he go to this company in Sholinganallur and give a sales pitch. He had been to that company many times before and they had expressed no interest whatsoever in buying anything. He didn't understand what had changed for him to go and try again. His boss must be getting senile, he decided. To top his misery, his bike had been with the mechanic for the past 2 days and he had to use a call taxi to make his rounds.

"Pradeepakanth Down Down" Mark was jolted out of his reverie. He noticed that the taxi had stopped and there seemed to be a huge crowd with pickets and signs blocking the road. He got down from the taxi trying to see what was happening. Pradeepakanth was a leading star of Thamizh cinema who couldn't act to save his life. His movies always had heroines who were half his age and most of them were Bollywood rejects. And for his latest venture, which was to be a huge budget colossal one, he had managed to convince a leading Bollywood actress (after whom he had been lusting for almost 7 years) to act with him. Now these people were protesting that he doesn't encourage Thamizh actresses and were blocking the road until he changes his heroine.

"Saar, these people will not let us pass. Let us take a U Turn when we can and get back into the city. Otherwise we will be stuck here forever." Mark agreed with the cab driver and they turned back into the city.

Fate's face crumpled. He hadn’t accounted for dharnas and for Indians' talent of protesting anything and everything. He had wasted half a day because of this. Maybe he could have them both eat some roadside pani puris and then have diarrhea and meet at the hospital. (Like I said, practical but hardly romantic) But then, if one is writhing in stomach pain, one would hardly be disposed to conversation with strangers. Then a (figurative) light bulb light up over Fate's head and he started typing furiously on his computer.

Sandhya received a call from reception "Ma'am there is a flower bouquet for you." She was surprised; no-one she knew would ever send her flowers. When she went to the Reception desk, there was a glorious bunch of flowers - lilies, carnations, gerberas, roses all arranged beautifully. She took it to her desk and examined it. It came with a card that said "From your admirer M" and a cell number following it. Sandhya smiled and picked up her phone.

"Dei* Mahesh, I know it's you who sent me flowers!" Mahesh was her cousin who was 2 years younger and was one of her best friends. He had a misguided sense of humor and had tried to pull her leg on various occasions. Once he had his friend call her cell and pretend to be her boyfriend. Unfortunately she got scared and gave the phone to her father and much confusion had ensued. She found it hard to believe that a third year engineering college student had so much money to blow on a prank, but who else could it be? She smiled at the thought that, she hadn't fallen for his prank this time. She crumpled the card and threw it away, convinced that the number belonged to one of his friends.

Fate threw his hands up in despair. He was angry with all the Maheshs of the world whose sole purpose of existence was to thwart his plans. He mentally made a note to submit a written request (in triplicate no less!) requesting that Cupid take care of such matters in the future. Most people credit such things to Cupid anyway and only take Fate's name when something bad happens.

He chewed on the back of his pencil, thinking of some sure shot plan for them to meet. Then it dawned on

This was a Friday and that they both might seek some form of entertainment that night. He dug into both their Orkut profiles and learned that they were both kamal Hassan fans. A quick check of the Satyam Cinemas website showed that there was a new Kamal Hassan movie that they both hadn't seen. Fate smiled gleefully and tapped out some instructions.

Mark's cell phone rang cheerily and even vibrated for an added effect. "Machan**, do you want to catch Unnaipol Oruvan tonight at Satyam?" Mark gave his assent almost immediately, he was always ready to watch Thalaivar's movies!

Sandhya got a text message from her best friend "i m bukin tics 4 unaipol oruvan, u in?" and she replied in the affirmative too.

Fate was happy with what he had done so far. Now all he had to do is make sure Mark's friend bought 2 extra tickets and Sandhya's friend be unable to get tickets. This way she could buy the extra tickets from Mark and they could sit next to each other.

Mark's friend got off from work early and surprisingly his boss didn't have anything snarky to say. Thanking Luck (and not Fate), he zipped off to Satyam to book tickets. But when he went there he saw a huge red "Houseful" board for Unnaipol Oruvan. Fate was surprised. He didn't know that Kamal Hassan's movie was a big hit (considering that in the past, Thamizh people never had good taste and preferred no-brainer masala movies over intelligent meaningful cinema) All was not lost though, he remembered Luck owed him bigtime and thought this was a good time to spend his favor chips. He went to find Luck and persuaded him to get Mark's friend some good tickets for the movie.

Sandhya's friend Preeta stormed into Satyam in an auto one hour before the movie was supposed to begin. She surveyed the "Houseful" sign and thought about what to do. She had spent her first twelve years in Delhi and fancied herself to be half-Hindi (much to the amusement of many people whose real mother-tongue was Hindi) She had a propensity towards "Indhi" movies and looked longingly at the poster of "What's Your Rashee?" She resolutely stood in line to get tickets for that movie and assumed Sandhya would understand.

Fate was trembling in his seat now. Not only did he have just 4 hours to make them meet, he had also wasted the favor that Luck had owed him by getting tickets for Mark. As he was contemplating his options, Preeta had an inkling of doubt. She knew Sandhya loved Kamal Hassan and might not be pleasantly surprised when she got here and found she was watching a different movie. She whipped out her phone and called Sandhya. "Hey tickets for UPO is sold out, want to catch a Hindi movie instead?" She was greeted by loud vociferous expletives from the other end and she discreetly moved out of the line to get tickets. Mark's friend saw her and finding a way to flirt legally, approached her and said he had some extra tickets to UPO. (Although he didn't have 2 extra tickets technically, as 2 other friends were now on their way to Satyam after he called and invited them saying he had 2 extra tickets. Yeah he had never heard of "Bros before hos") Preeta fluttered her eyelashes and happily accepted.

Soon the curtain fell and everyone was seated. Sandhya smiled at the clean cut young man sitting next to her and Mark was thrilled that the pretty girl sitting next to him was smiling at him. Fate heaved a big sigh of relief!

After a year, the wedding reception of sandhya and Mark was happening at the Grand Ballroom of GRT Grand Days. They both stood at the dias, greeting their guests and smiling for pictures. A friend who had come upto to the dias to give them his gift, asked "So how did you guys meet?" to make small talk. Sandhya gushed and said "Oh it was just a simple twist of Fate actually!"

Far above the earth, Fate started laughing hysterically at the irony!

* - Sorta translates to "Hey you guy"

** - When translated, it means brother in law. But for unknown reasons, it's a term of endearment among Thamizh males

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Stranger

Part 2

"I am Mythili Raghavan" she said again, keeping her last name intact. If someone pointed a gun to her head and asked why she faked her name, she would have no answer. Except perhaps wanting a change, a chance for change. She wasn't ready to go home, be transformed and marry one the several clean cut young men her parents had picked out for her. But she didn't want to carry the burden of the her life on the flight. It was easier to pretend, to fit in.

She smiled at Akash and spoke first.

"So do you work in the US?"

"No no, I am a musician, though technically I am lawyer."


Akash chuckled at his own wit. "Well I have studied law and technically working in my Appa's law firm as a Junior lawyer. Appa is a very famous lawyer in Chennai. You must have heard of him too - the famous Rangaswamy Thiruvengadam. But my interest is mainly in music. So I have told Appa strictly that I will work in office only from 9 to 5. After 5 I want to devote myself to music."

Shruthi was amused at his act of rebellion. She hadn't even finished smiling, when the next question was shot at her.
"So what do you do?"

In her panic, Shruthi said the most safest thing she could think of.

"Umm I am a software engineer. I was sent onsite by my company for 6 months and now I am going back home. So what kind of music are you interested in?"

The minute the conversation turned to music, Akash's whole frame seemed to exude some sort of exuberance. He talked about Carnatic music, Hindustani, fusion and even rock and heavy metal. He went on to discus music theory and casually mentioned the many many books he had read on that topic.

Shruthi gaped as her amusement was replaced with amazement. She listened intently, as Akash put various things in perspective and tried to teach her to understand Carnatic music.

The conversation flowed like water and she found herself talking, discussing, arguing. Whenever the topic became personal, she developed her fake personna further, garnished with many fine details. She talked about her 2 brothers and how they doted on her. She talked about Hinduism and her faith in Ranganatha Perumal. She ranted about working with computers all the time and how sometimes she felt the need to connect with other people. Her obsession with orkut and now facebook. And when he vehemently slammed smoking, she nodded in assent and added a bit about how she particularly she hated women smoking.

Shruthi was surprised at how easily she had fit into being Mythili. She wondered if she would have been Mythili if she had made a few different choices in the past. And judging by Akash's smiles and adoring glances, it was obvious that Mythili was a big hit. Akash and Mythili had the same upbringing and they lives were wound around the same things - Madras, filter coffee, Kapaleeshwar Temple, T Nagar. They had lofty aspirations, but they were mostly vertical.

Soon the flight landed in Chennai and they were at the baggage carousal. She got her suitcases first and turned to him to say her goodbye. He looked at her with an awkward grin. He wanted to get her phone number, email address or something, but he wasn't the kind of guy who did that often and he wasn't sure that Mythili would appreciate that sort of forwardness.

Shruthi sensed the gamut of emotions that was running through his head, as if his forehead had some sort of ticker display. What could have been is always magical, seemingly perfect; and reality can never come even close to taht. That was the gift that Shruthi planned to give Akash. He would always remember Mythili and the journey and he would think that if it had worked out to be more, it would have been perfect.

Shruthi smiled at Akash and walked away without a backward glance.

Edited to Add:

1 - I don't understand

Readers, I am in a quandry here. Initially I had wanted a Part 3 to conclude this story. But this ending really seems to finish the thought. So do you guys want this to be continued or do you want me to stop here? If enough people want another part, I will put up Part 3 next Tuesday

P.S I have another story lined up after this. So keep checking my blog :-)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Stranger

"Flight JW149 TO Brussels is delayed by 2 hours."

Shruthi glanced up and looked at the display board with a blank stare. Disheveled hair, dirty torn jeans, a huge backpack on her shoulders that weighed more than she did - she looked like any other Indian going home for a vacation. But she didn't react to this announcement with groans or any visible dismay like everyone else. Lately, things had a way of not working out for her and this just fit the sequence. She lugged her huge bag and walked towards the counter.

"Amma, my flight is postponed. I will be in Madras..."

She glanced at the young man on the phone. His chaste thamizh with a definite Iyengar twinge seemed to take her home instantly. She closed her eyes and stopped for a moment. She felt like a smoke - the simple act of bringing the light to the cylindrical smoothness of a cigarette would take her places that are universes away from Madras, Amma, Appa and the realm. She often used smoking to rid herself of the Brahmin guilt that she had been brought up on - touching an egg, looking a plate of chicken, drinking, a Bindi less forehead. The guilt that racked her thousands of miles away, and years after she left the cocooned home she was born in.

The woman at the counter told her that she wouldn't miss her connection in Brussels to Chennai. Shruthi walked back to the seat in a trance. Resting her forehead on pillar, she mused on her life. It wasn't so much misery as it was disillusionment. She was tired of life at the ripe old age of 26.

"Shruthi, I have packed some of the rettai-appalam1 that you like. I have put it inside the cooker so that it won't break, remember to take that out when you reach. Apram, I have given a Tussar silk salwar material to the tailor to be stiched. Can you go and get that from him? Remember to wear that for Diwali. Enna da kannu2, I feel so bad that you won't be here with us for Diwali. Appa and I are going to feel so bored. Can't you do your B.E somewhere in Madras, or atleast India? Do you have to go to the US for that?"

"Excuse me, is this seat taken?". She motioned that it was free and took the laptop that had been previously sitting on that seat. She opened it and absently started looking through some old pictures. She opened the folder marked "Freshman year"

"Shroooti, what do you mean you've never had a beer before. Wow!! Ok, you've got to do this atleast now."

She flicked through the album, a picture of her chilling in Miami, with friends at the sleazy bar near the university, skiing in the Poconos. Then she saw picture of Jason hugging her. She smiled when she thought of Jason - her first love, her first kiss. The first guy to notice her and reached out to her breaking the wall she had built, the one who ignored her awkward accent, the one she thought she would love forever.

"Shru doll, we must absolutely do the France thing this summer. Imagine us biking through France for the whole summer. You gotta come with me"

"Hello Appa, this is Shruthi. I don't think I can come home this summer appa. My Professor wants me to do this summer project. It would really be a good opportunity for me to do research. Ille amma, not everyone gets an opportunity like this. I will be come home next year though, I promise"

The break up with Jason was ugly. She couldn't believe that he had cheated on her in the 2 months that she had been to India. She had mourned the loss for an entire year before moving on.

"Passengers of Flight JW149 to Brussels are requested to get ready for boarding."
Shruthi looked up with a start, she hadn't realized that 2 hours had gone by. She gathered her things and her thoughts got onto the line to board the flight.

She squeezed her huge bag onto the overhead bin and plonked herself onto her seat. Her mind picked up the thread from before and she started thinking about about Mike. She had been dating Michael for more than 3 years, and had been living with him for more than a year. She loved his blond hair, blue green eyes, his easy way of talking and the way he made her laugh. They had had an amazing time together in the sunny apartment they were living in. They shared an love for the outdoors and went out almost every weekend. Her happiest day was a few months back, when he had proposed to her on top the mountain they had just hiked on her birthday. She said yes almost immediately and had loved wearing the huge diamond ring.

"Excuse me, I think you are in my seat", it was the thamizh speaking young man she had seen earlier in the terminal. She muttered her her apologies and started to get up. "Oh that's ok, I am not very keen on the window seat, I can take the aisle seat if you want" Shruthi smiled her thanks, and settled back into her seat.

She glanced at her bare left hand and sighed inwardly.

"Shruthi kutti3, you are 26 now. Appa and I are worried about your future. You know you are our only child, we want someone to take care of you after we are gone. Why don't you talk to this boy Sridhar? He has done his BE from BITS, Pilani and his MS from Stanford. He is working for Google in California. It seems California is a nice place with lots of Indians. Appa and I can visit you after your marriage. Just talk to him once no?"

"Hi Shruthi, this is Sridhar here. Your parents gave me your number ..."

"Shruthi, Appa pesaren4. Why did you tell Sridhar that you are not interested? Amma is in a shock ever since his parents called us. You know about Amma's heart, why do you do this ma? The doctor says her condition has worsened and he can't perform the surgery unless her palpitations reduce. "

"This is insane!! How do you expect me to "understand" that random guys call my fiancee with an intent to marry her? I understand that your mother is unwell and I agree that we need to postpone the wedding till when she is better, but only if your family knows that you are engaged. You can't expect me to just lay low and not make any noise in my own home when you are talking to your parents or one of the "guys". I am sorry, When I said I would marry you, I meant it, but this sort of baggage is not a part of the deal. This is over"

"Are you alright? Shall I get you some water to drink?" Shruthi realized that her eyes had welled up even without her knowledge. She wiped her tears off and smiled at him. "I am Akash" he said, extending his hand. She took his hand and said "I am Mythili."

To be continued..

1 - A kind of papad
2, 3 - Terms of endearment
4 - Speaking